Update: Trader Sam’s could be key part of Disney World’s Polynesian Resort refurbishment

UPDATE: Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto coming to Disney’s Polynesian Village (May 2014)
Bonus cocktail recipe: Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum at Trader Sam’s

New reports have surfaced about renovations at Disney World’s Polynesian Resort that indicate the precise location of Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, plus a subtle re-theming in the spirit of the Disney parks’ iconic Adventureland. The massive construction project that may eventually bring the popular Disneyland lounge to the East Coast now appears certain to begin in September.

The Monorail passes Disney World's Polynesian Resort.

The Monorail passes Disney World’s Polynesian Resort. (Disney photo)

As recently reported here and elsewhere, new information suggests that Trader Sam’s is slated to be included in renovations that will bring timeshare buildings to the Orlando resort. Some of these may include traditional Tahitian huts built over Seven Seas Lagoon with a view of the Magic Kingdom park.

Now, finally, there are confirmed reports that the construction is about to begin. On Aug. 16, the venerable Touring Plans website posted news on its blog that a renovation project at the hotel may affect some of the guest rooms in the Hawaii, Tokelau, Rapa Nui and Tahiti longhouse buildings beginning in September.

The construction will also affect the east parking lot near Rapa Nui as well as beach access on that side of the resort, including the Sunset Point area. The Touring Plans blog makes it clear that there has been no announcement from Disney about the addition of Disney Vacation Club timeshare villas at the Polynesian, but this is not unusual. DVC additions to the nearby Grand Floridian Resort were not announced until construction was well under way.

A view from Seven Seas Lagoon of the Polynesian Resort's Tahiti longhouse

A view from Seven Seas Lagoon of the Polynesian Resort’s Tahiti longhouse. This could soon be the site of Disney Vacation Club timeshare villas, including traditional Tahitian huts built over the water. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, October 2011)

But with work starting to affect guests at the Polynesian, Disney had to announce something. The location of this activity falls in line exactly with all the previous reports of DVC being added to the east side of the resort. The source of most of these reports, Steve “Tikiman” Seifert, posted on Facebook that travel agents are being told about the construction work since it will affect the views and necessitate changing some room categories.

Seifert has said that his sources tell him work will continue for more than two years, until the end of 2015 or early 2016. A big question he hopes to answer soon is if the buildings targeted for DVC (Tahiti and Rapa Nui) will be torn down and replaced, or just converted. Seifert promises updates soon on his website, Tikiman’s Unofficial Polynesian Resort Pages, the definitive source for all things Polynesian.

All this talk of DVC is fine and dandy, but what about Trader Sam’s and other changes in store for the restaurants and amenities at the Great Ceremonial House? That’s the iconic building that was inspired by the royal assembly lodges in Tahiti and serves as the resort’s heart and soul. Seifert graciously filled us in on everything he knows during an interview last week. His information is based on reliable contacts in the Disney company beyond the resort. He lamented the fact that the hotel staff is often the last to know of changes.

Inside the Great Ceremonial House, January 2012

Inside the Great Ceremonial House, January 2012. The waterfall in the background is likely to be removed during upcoming renovations. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Rumors have persisted for years about the Great Ceremonial House being renovated or torn down. Perhaps now the upcoming DVC additions have given Disney the impetus (and budget) to make changes. The addition of DVC usually means an upgrading or refreshing of a resort. Even the Grand Floridian, which was in great shape, got an overhaul.

Seifert said that work should begin on the Great Ceremonial House next year, paired with the work on the pool. “I’d imagine they’re not going to tear up the whole resort all at once,” he said, suggesting that it will be done in stages. But the planned makeover of the center of the resort is vast, covering a wide swath from the entrance and lobby all the way to the beach, he said.

The end result will be a stunning view for guests as they walk in the door. This “wow factor” has become a signature at Disney World’s luxury resorts (see: Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge). The Polynesian has its giant water feature, but a hotel designer might consider it dated. It’s also supposedly a maintenance nightmare. Perhaps the lobby could even be reconfigured with ground-floor sightlines to the Magic Kingdom across the lagoon.

The view of the lagoon is crucial to the redesign, Seifert said. This means removing or significantly scaling back the huge volcano slide at the pool and greatly expanding the patio area between the pool and the quick-service restaurant Captain Cook’s Snack Company. This is also the likely home of Trader Sam’s.

A view of the marina and the back of the Great Ceremonial House, February 2009

A view of the marina and the back of the Great Ceremonial House, February 2009. The section of the building in the foreground houses Captain Cook’s Snack Company and is considered the likely location of Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

As I speculated in my previous post, the Tiki bar will likely end up sharing space in the back of the ground floor of the Great Ceremonial House near Captain Cook’s, the 24-hour walk-up casual eatery known for its unique and eclectic food and self-service Dole Whip machine.

“Linking Trader Sam’s to a new Captain Cook’s makes sense,” Seifert said. The layout would be similar to the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, where the Tangaroa Terrace adjoins and provides food for Trader Sam’s. Those establishments also share a large outdoor patio. Seifert wonders if the redesigned restaurant will also be named Tangaroa Terrace (a reference to a god in the Enchanted Tiki Room) or something else.

While the renovations will take some inspiration from Disney’s Aulani DVC resort in Hawaii, Seifert said he doesn’t think the Hawaiian influence will be too heavy. “The Polynesian is supposed to represent a lot of different islands,” he said. It was a concept put forward by Walt Disney himself. “Walt’s concept included bungalows out on the beach,” similar to the Tahitian huts, Seifert says.

Orignally called Polynesian Village, the resort (along with the Contemporary) opened with the Magic Kingdom in October 1971. Their locations, around the lagoon and on the Monorail route, were selected deliberately. According to Walt’s original vision, the Contemporary was to be a backdrop for Tomorrowland and the Polynesian was to be across the water from Adventureland.

The Polynesian’s ties to Adventureland are minimal, but the Imagineers tasked with the renovation have apparently returned to the original concept for inspiration, a very common occurrence at Disney parks. The feel will be more like Adventureland or the Adventurer’s Club, Seifert said, referring to the beloved Downtown Disney themed nightclub that closed in 2008. Seifert said he doesn’t think it will be too kitschy, but more like Disney going back to its roots with “more details and special touches.” He mentioned that a shipwreck theme has been discussed.

A dining room in 'Ohana, October 2012

A dining room in ‘Ohana, October 2012. Are there changes coming to the 19-year-old restaurant? (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Of course, Trader Sam’s would fit perfectly into this scenario. Not only is it themed heavily after Adventureland, it contains many artifacts from the Adventurer’s Club and incredible detail. [See this recent blog on these special touches]

As for the plans for the rest of the Great Ceremonial House, Seifert speculates that the Tambu Lounge will remain as a service bar for the second floor restaurants (‘Ohana and Kona Cafe). But those restaurants, as well as the bar, could see a total re-theming as well. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Before ‘Ohana, there was the Papeete Bay Verandah (1971-94). Kona Cafe replaced the Coral Isle Cafe (originally Coral Isle Coffee Shop), in 1998.

Also, unless plans change, Seifert said he doesn’t expect the closing of the Spirit of Aloha dinner show, which is located in a secluded waterfront open-air structure known as Luau Cove, away from the Great Ceremonial House. He said he’s heard of improvements scheduled for that building, but nothing drastic. The show dates back to the South Seas Luau, which began in 1971 on a small open-air stage on the beach. It moved to the current 500-seat location in 1973.

In anticipation of what’s in store, I thought we’d end this update with a Trader Sam’s cocktail. Courtesy of Tikiman himself, here’s a recipe that closely approximates the already classic Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum. One of the most popular drinks at the Anaheim watering hole, it must be ordered precisely. If you don’t recite the correct number of “Tikis,” the bartenders will make you do it over until you get it right. Consider it a preemptive sobriety test. Here’s a tip: Just sing the Enchanted Tiki Room theme.

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The Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum cocktail

The Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum cocktail may soon be available at Disney’s World’s Polynesian Resort. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2013)

TIKI TIKI TIKI TIKI TIKI RUM
(From Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar)

* 1 1/2 ounces aged or dark rum
* 1/2 ounce orange juice
* 1 1/2 ounces pineapple juice
* 1 ounce cream of coconut

Shake for 3-5 seconds with crushed ice. Pour into a small cocktail glass. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Drink notes and tips

This is a lighter version of a classic tropical drink, the powerful Painkiller. It’s simple, creamy and sweet with a subtle rum kick. You can try different rums to impart different flavors.

While the folks at Pusser’s Rum would have you believe the Painkiller always featured their rum (and they currently have the legal capacity to force you to do so), that was not always the case. Invented at the Soggy Dollar Bar in the British Virgin Islands, the Painkiller actually originally contained a mix of Mount Gay and Cruzan dark rums, Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry writes in his 2010 book Remixed.

So I’ve gone back to the roots and used one of my favorite rums, Mount Gay Extra Old, in this scaled-down version of the Caribbean classic. It’s smaller and not as heavy on the juice, more akin to a Pina Colada with added OJ. (Be sure to use fresh and/or all-natural juices, by the way.) Feel free to use your favorite aged or dark rum to suit your taste. In its distinctive can, Coco Lopez is the traditional and typically recommended brand of coconut cream. I also like to use Coco Real, which tastes pretty much the same and comes in an easier to store plastic squeeze bottle. Both are widely available at supermarkets and liquor stores.

Don’t forget the cinnamon and nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible) on top. Then sit back, relax and enjoy a taste of Trader Sam’s and what may soon be a Polynesian Resort staple.

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Related links on the Web
* Touring Plans blog: Renovations taking place at Disney’s Polynesian Resort
* Orlando Business Journal: Rumor has it Disney’s Polynesian to add timeshares
* Stitch Kingdom blog: Polynesian Resort Vacation Club plans all but confirmed
* Happy Place podcast: Interview with Steve “Tikiman” Seifert

Past Atomic Grog coverage
* Trader Sam’s one of many changes likely coming to Polynesian Resort
* Is Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar in the mix for the re-imagined Downtown Disney?
* Major changes in store for Disney’s Polynesian Resort?

Polynesian Resort
* Official site | Tikiman’s Unofficial Polynesian Resort Site

Trader Sam’s
* Official site | Virtual tour | Disney Tourist Blog

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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