UPDATES: Disney rushes to finish Polynesian renovations, Trader Sam’s (March 2015)
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto design, merchandise revealed (October 2014)
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto coming to Disney’s Polynesian Village (May 2014)
One year from now, stepping into Disney’s Polynesian Resort in Orlando could be a much different experience. With construction on the 42-year-old iconic hotel’s timeshare additions in full swing, work appears to be moving forward on the resort’s nerve center, the Great Ceremonial House.
Last week, Disney World officially announced that the Great Ceremonial House – the giant A-frame building designed after a Tahitian royal assembly lodge – will be refurbished from March through December. Capt. Cook’s, the 24-hour quick-service restaurant perhaps most well-known for its self-service Dole Whip machine, will be closed during dates to be announced from some time in March until June. The adjacent Wyland Gallery has already closed and won’t be re-opening. No other specific restaurant or store closings or changes have been officially announced.
Disney is tight-lipped, as usual, about exactly what the Great Ceremonial House will look like when work is complete. But Polynesian insider Steve Seifert is reporting on his authoritative Tikiman Pages website that the long-rumored addition of Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar is expected to be completed by February 2015. This report, along with all the official dates, comes with the usual caveat that Disney reserves the right to take as much time as it needs, pushing projects well into the future.
The official Disney announcement also mentions the indefinite closing of the eastern portion of the Polynesian’s beach and Sunset Point, the grassy area that juts into Seven Seas Lagoon and offered picturesque views of Cinderella Castle and the Magic Kingdom. This area has been under construction since late summer, when it was announced that Disney Vacation Club (DVC) would be added to the Polynesian, the last of the expansive resort’s luxury hotels to receive the popular timeshares. DVC construction is expected to continue until at least late 2015.
It’s become apparent that the DVC construction is not only encompassing two of the 11 guest longhouses (Rapa Nui and Tahiti on the eastern end of the resort), but also appears to be expanding out over Seven Seas Lagoon. This is where traditional but lavish bungalows are apparently rising to offer DVC members the most exotic destination yet (outside of Disney’s Aulani resort on Oahu). Despite the usual construction walls (featuring a distinctive Polynesian logo), the goings-on are in clear view of both monorail and boat traffic to the Magic Kingdom. Photos on Tikiman’s Facebook page and other Disney sites are tracking the progress.
It’s likely that eyes will be focused even closer on the Great Ceremonial House, which leads guests from the resort’s tropical-themed entry and check-in area to the massive volcano-themed pool out back. Inside are three restaurants, a bar and numerous stores. It’s likely that guest inconvenience will be kept to a minimum (a Disney trademark), but this project promises to be much more difficult for guests than the recent DVC addition to the nearby Grand Floridian Resort. There, an entire new wing was built behind privacy walls, but work on the lobby was minimal.
Expect work at the Polynesian to come in stages, but what lies ahead is anyone’s guess. Siefert’s sources lead us to believe that the current Capt. Cook’s space will be reconfigured to allow for the addition of Trader Sam’s, which will likely offer patio views of the refurbished pool (minus the obtrusive volcano), the lagoon and the Magic Kingdom. In the meantime, Disney says there will be a replacement counter-service restaurant elsewhere at the Polynesian. The pool work is expected to begin in August and won’t be completed until some time next year.
Seifert pinpoints the location of the temporary eatery as a nearby section of the Great Ceremonial House called Cast Cove. In order to respond to guest concerns, Disney has also just begun circulating an internal FAQ on the refurbishments, which Seifert posted on his Facebook page Feb. 21 [see a copy of the document]. Among the details:
* As expected, work will continue “through 2015.”
* During the refurbishment, guests will be given access to the amenities at the Grand Floridian.
* In what appears to be the first official confirmation of the removal of the iconic atrium waterfall in the Great Ceremonial House, Disney says it “will be reimagined to highlight the cultural elements of Polynesia and provide more expansive views.”
* The operating hours of the temporary Capt. Cook’s location will be 21 1/2 hours instead of 24: From 6:30 a.m. to 4 a.m. But the big shocker, buried at the very bottom of the letter: “We will not serve Dole Whip in the temporary location. We invite you to enjoy the treat when you visit Adventureland in Magic Kingdom Park.”
For many guests, the loss of the popular Dole Whip will be a disappointment. As noted, the only other location for these soft-serve ice cream concoctions on property is Aloha Isle in Adventureland. The Dole Whip gained fame at the original Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland and has become a Disney World staple.
Dole Whips are so popular, in fact, that they’ve spurred a cult-like following that wears collector T-shirts and flocks to the annual Epcot Food and Wine Festival and Flower and Garden Festival for the rare opportunity to taste one with a shot of rum. Perhaps rather than moving the machines to the temporary location, they will be set up in a new location near Capt. Cook’s. Seifert has repeated a popular rumor that the Wyland Gallery space may be reconfigured into an ice cream shop that specializes in Dole Whips (hopefully with rum). In the meantime, he reports, it may become a temporary check-in location while work is done on the front of the building.
While a Dole Whip has undeniable mass appeal, many of us who enjoy adult beverages with our Tiki experience are eagerly awaiting any hard evidence of the arrival of Trader Sam’s, the popular and elaborately themed Tiki bar at the Disneyland Resort. If Trader Sam’s comes to fruition where expected, it won’t be the first bar to inhabit that area of the resort. When the Polynesian Village (the resort’s original name) opened in 1971, one day before the nearby Contemporary Resort, it featured exotic cocktails in the South Seas Room. The bar, which also featured Polynesian entertainers, was in roughly the same spot where Capt. Cook’s is now.
Sadly, all indications are that the lobby’s distinctive feature since opening day – the centerpiece of lush foliage and tropical waterfalls – is on the chopping block, the letter to guests confirms. Previous reports have indicated that the new lobby design will feature clear views to the pool and Seven Seas Lagoon, which would be blocked by a huge water feature. The reference to “more expansive views” seems to confirm this. Also, the dated water system has apparently become a maintenance nightmare. The letter’s reference to highlighting the “cultural elements of Polynesia” is a new, welcomed, development.
There is also speculation that the resort will return to its original name. The letter to guests alludes to a new name for the DVC area, but it doesn’t give details. Seifert recently posted an image of a new sign that was added to the running trail that refers to the “Polynesian Village Resort.” He has also said that he doesn’t expect major changes to the restaurants on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House: Kona Cafe and ‘Ohana, plus the Tambu Lounge, one of my favorite bars in Disney World.
But a refresh would definitely be in order, especially at ‘Ohana, where during my December dinner visit I noticed tattered furniture (not to mention disappointingly mediocre food and ambivalent staff). I was much more impressed with dinner at Kona, which has long been a must-do breakfast destination and home to an excellent sushi bar. To its credit, ‘Ohana does offer a delightful character breakfast (featuring Mickey, Pluto, Lilo and Stitch), but overall has grown a bit tired. It’s also worth noting that the resort’s signature dining experience, the Spirit of Aloha Show, which takes place in a separate waterfront structure, is not slated for any major changes.
Other news on the Web
* TouringPlans.com: Disney’s Polynesian Resort scheduled refurbishments
Past Atomic Grog coverage
* Trader Sam’s could be key part of Disney World’s Polynesian Resort refurbishment
* 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?