UPDATE: New monorail fleet in the works? Disney World denies rumors

The current Walt Disney World monorail fleet, known as the Mark VI design, has been in service since 1989. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2013) The current Walt Disney World monorail fleet, known as the Mark VI design, has been in service since 1989. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2013)

Updated on May 15, 2018

Walt Disney World should soon be getting replacements for its aging fleet of monorails, according to the retired imagineer who designed the original iconic trains for Disneyland as well as the Orlando resort. But officially, theme park officials say there presently are no such plans.

Bob Gurr, an 86-year-old Disney legend who was hired by Walt Disney in the 1950s, appeared to confirm recent rumors during a question-and-answer session at the end of a panel discussion near Orlando on April 28. Later, however, Disney indicated that there are no immediate plans for new trains.

The current fleet of 12 monorail trains at Disney World has been in service since 1989. “I call this the duct-tape monorail,” said Gurr. “When you get up in years, you find a lot of duct tape stuck on yourself to keep you running.”

A monorail train winds through Epcot at Walt Disney World in November 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward) A monorail train winds through Epcot at Walt Disney World in November 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Disney World’s futuristic monorail trains have come under scrutiny after several recent incidents that suggest they may be nearing the end of their life span. In January, video posted on social media by a passenger showed malfunctioning doors wide open while the train was moving. Last June, a large piece reportedly fell off a train into the Epcot parking lot.

“Machines do not last forever,” Gurr said during the April 28 event in Celebration, the Disney-designed town just south of the Kissimmee theme parks. “You typically design them in the transportation industries for 20-year service. We’re close to 30 years of service here.”

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The Year in Tiki 2015: Legends lost, but revival becomes renaissance with new bars, music, art and more

The Year in Tiki 2015, clockwise from left: Shag, the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau, the late Robert Drasnin, The Tikiyaki Orchestra at Tiki Oasis

The Year in Tiki 2015, clockwise from left: Shag, the Tiki Tower Takeover at The Hukilau, the late Robert Drasnin, The Tikiyaki Orchestra at Tiki Oasis.

It was a year of both sadness and elation, when some legends were lost but the world of Tiki made great strides. As we mourned the deaths in 2015 of musicians Robert Drasnin and Ernie Menehune, plus artist The Pizz, we were bolstered by the fact that a new generation of artists and musicians are taking inspiration from the past and creating an incredible new body of work. And Tiki culture was embraced and celebrated across the country at sold-out events and a whole new wave of bars. After our first year of The Week in Tiki updates, The Atomic Grog takes a look back at the memorable news of 2015.
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See below: Month-by-month recap | The Year in Tiki 2015 Awards

The year 2015 marked a turning point in the 21st century Tiki scene. If there was ever a time to declare that the “revival” had become a full-blown renaissance, it’s now. It’s been building for some years now, but last year seemed to be the tipping point. Just look at the evidence in our favorite topics: Events, music, art, cocktails, and culture. Then, take a chronological look back at the biggest news of the year, month by month. Finally, find out our selections for the top artist, band, bar, website, rum, and cocktail of 2015 in our first Year in Tiki Awards.

****************** EVENTS ******************

The Alika Lyman Group's performance at The Hukilau was their only scheduled U.S. mainland appearance of 2015. (Atomic Grog photo)

The Alika Lyman Group’s performance at The Hukilau was their only scheduled U.S. mainland appearance of 2015. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Long gone are the days when you spent the entire year planning for Tiki Oasis and The Hukilau. Smaller events, such as Tiki Kon and Tiki Caliente, have risen up to challenge the trend-setters. And the Fraternal Order Of Moai has filled a gap by providing a plethora of regional events from Ohana: Luau At The Lake to the Chicago Area Tiki Tour, and more. All of the above were wildly successful in 2015, with many events selling out in advance.

The top dogs continue to raise their game: The Hukilau moved to the iconic Pier 66 Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach and attracted some of Tiki’s biggest names, most notably the gathering of four of the world’s top bartenders for the Tiki Tower Takeover. Tiki Oasis keeps getting bigger, breaking its own attendance records, while newer events such as Mod-Palm Springs and Ohana: Luau by the Sea have carved out their own niche. Rum and cocktail events – such as Miami Rum Renaissance Festival and Tales of the Cocktail – have refined their successful formulas, spreading their message to an even wider audience.

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The Week in Tiki (Nov. 30-Dec. 13, 2015): The Mai-Kai anniversary party, The Hukilau updates, Jungle Cruise restaurant at Disney World, Polynesian Resort lights torches, plus more!

The Week in Tiki There’s a lot of news to report in this belated but special holiday edition of The Week in Tiki. We have details on The Mai-Kai’s 59th birthday party on Dec. 28, plus updates on The Hukilau in June. There’s a new restaurant in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland that celebrates the Jungle Cruise, plus more news from the Polynesian Village Resort. Holiday features include event recaps and photos, plus last-minute gift ideas and a special Christmas Day broadcast. Quick sips include 50 days of Fwaygo Rum recipes, a special Aloha shirt from Shag, news on FOM fundraising efforts, plus updates on Tiki bars across North America. Regular features spotlight the master ceramists known as Munktiki; instrumental legends The Ventures; new Las Vegas bar The Golden Tiki; and Professor Cocktail’s website. The Rum of the Week, Seven Tiki spiced, is featured in two seasonal cocktails: the Devil’s Island Daiquiri from Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, and Hapa Holidaze from The Atomic Grog.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

The Mai-Kai says mahalo with 59% off at Dec. 28 anniversary party

The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale is giving back to its loyal fans and followers on Dec. 28 during its annual Mahalopreciation Party. In honor the historic Polynesian restaurant’s 59th anniversary, all guests in The Molokai bar will get 59 percent off most drinks and appetizers starting at 5 p.m. and running all night.

A postcard from the 1960s. The large Tiki still stands on the northeast edge of the property.

A postcard from the 1960s. The large Tiki still stands on the northeast edge of the property.

Voted the best Tiki bar in the world by Critiki.com users and recently named to the National Register of Historic Places, The Mai-Kai is considered to be the mecca of mid-century Tiki culture. It opened on Dec. 28, 1956, on sleepy Federal Highway and has survived decades of changing tastes by relying on its status as one of South Florida’s top tourist dining destinations and its legendary Polynesian Islander Review, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii.

Just as crucial to The Mai-Kai’s success is the amazing decor, much if it brought back from the South Seas by original owners Bob and Jack Thornton, and more than 50 tropical drinks that are hailed by some of the world’s top cocktail enthusiasts. The secret recipes are descendants of some of the original drinks created by Tiki cocktail pioneer Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s. Bob Thornton took over the restaurant in 1970, and his family still runs The Mai-Kai to his exacting standards.

Original Mai-Kai owners Jack (left) and Bob Thornton. (Courtesy of The Swank Pad)

Original Mai-Kai owners Jack (left) and Bob Thornton. (Courtesy of The Swank Pad)

The Dec. 28 party will include live music by guitarist-vocalist Rose-Marie starting at 6 p.m. The bar typically stays open until midnight, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy classic cocktails such as the Zombie and Barrel O’ Rum while partaking in the many pu-pus (Polynesian Chicken, Javanesian Beef, Spinach Salad) and new sushi rolls. You can easily make a meal out of the “small plates” in The Molokai.

In related news, longtime Mai-Kai historian Tim “Swanky” Glazner has announced details on his upcoming book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of The Iconic Tiki Restaurant. Glazner, who has been passionately researching The Mai-Kai for more than 13 years, has channeled all his efforts into this 176-page, hard cover book due out early next year. It includes rare photos and images, plus first-hand stories that document the heyday of the mid-century Tiki era. It tells the story of The Mai-Kai’s creation, and its reign as the playground of celebrities and playboys in the 1950s and ’60s. [See previous Atomic Grog coverage] Swanky reports that the book should be available for pre-order soon. For updates, follow the links above or subscribe to his email list.

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The Week in Tiki (Aug. 10-23, 2015): Tiki Oasis soars to new heights, plus D23 thrills Disney fans, The Hukilau 2016, more summer news and events

The Week in TikiAugust was a cavalcade of Tiki news and events, with thousands gathering in California for Tiki Oasis in San Diego. Meanwhile, Disney fans flocked to Anaheim for the D23 Expo. We also have recaps of the Tahitian Terrace Diamond Luau at Disneyland and the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival in Hawaii. Event previews include the Southern Surf StompFest, Ohana: Luau by the Sea, Mod-Palm Springs, Tiki Mondays With Miller, and the Rum Renaissance Caribbean Cruise. We also have news on The Hukilau and new Tiki bars in Las Vegas and Toronto. Our regular features spotlight artist Christine Benjamin; the new album from The Tikiyaki Orchestra; the historic Tonga Hut in Los Angeles; and Internet radio site Luxuria Music. The rum of the week, Koloa Dark, is featured in Kahuna Kevin’s Escape Pod cocktail.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Tiki bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

Thousands have a blast as Tiki Oasis soars into retro space on 15th anniversary

At 15 years old, the world’s oldest and largest Tiki event is now the equivalent of a rowdy teenager. Bursting with energy and ambition but also wild and a bit out of control, Tiki Oasis lived up to its reputation Aug. 13-16 during its annual bacchanal in San Diego, drawing 4,000 people from around the globe for a party like no other. Inspired by the mid-century retro-futuristic theme “Yesterday’s Future Today,” guests and performers alike turned the event into a crazy, Tikified version of a 1960s B-movie.
See below: Browse a Tiki Oasis 15 photo gallery

The Tikiyaki Orchestra headlines the opening-night party at the iconic Bali Hai restaurant. (Photo by Jeff Chenault)

The Tikiyaki Orchestra headlines the opening-night party at the iconic Bali Hai restaurant. (Photo by Jeff Chenault)

The event launched like a Mercury rocket on Thursday night with the Blast Off Party at the Bali Hai smashing previous attendance records, organizer Otto von Stroheim said. More than 1,000 packed into the historic Shelter Island restaurant, topping the previous mark by 200. Live entertainment included King Kukulele, Fono 66, Project: Pimento, and The Tikiyaki Orchestra, who were joined by Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid.

Friday through Sunday was wall-to-wall fun at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, featuring a 100-vendor marketplace, car show, dozens of live bands and DJs, more than 30 educational symposiums, an art show, a mixology competition, and late-night performances by some of the top names in burlesque. And don’t forget the room parties. Tiki Oasis attendees take this simple concept to another level with elaborately themed and decorated soirees that put all others to shame.

Man or Astro-man? perform at Tiki Oasis on Saturday, Aug. 15. (Photo by Christie "Tiki Kiliki" White)

Man or Astro-man? perform at Tiki Oasis on Saturday, Aug. 15. (Photo by Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White)

For von Stroheim, the highlight was Saturday night’s headlining performance by Man or Astro-man? on the poolside stage. “It was a super rockin’ set that ended with them jumping in the pool with their clothes on, then returning for a two-song encore,” he said. The band rarely does encores, von Stroheim was told, and even then it’s never two songs. The out-of-this-world surf combo from Alabama put on a spectacle, blasting through many of their instrumental classics and even lighting a theremin on fire during the performance.

Many other bands performed over the weekend, including The Phenomenauts, The Chocolate Watchband, The Phantom Surfers, Clouseaux, The Outta Sites, The Neptunas, Els A Phonics, Jason and the R.I.P. Tides, The Rosalyns, and The Ding Dong Devils. Symposium presenters included Don Preston (Mothers of Invention), Rod Roddenberry (Star Trek), Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove, Sven Kirsten (Tiki Pop), Charles Phoenix, Jeff Chenault (The Kahiki: Crown Jewel of Polynesian Supper Clubs), and Eric October.

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The Week in Tiki (March 23, 2015): Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto about to open, new Polynesian Village Resort merchandise

The Week in TikiThe latest news from Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort includes the pending opening of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, plus DVC and construction updates plus new resort merchandise. There’s also news on a possible Jungle Cruise restaurant coming to the Magic Kingdom, plus a preview of next month’s Miami Rum Festival. Weekly features spotlight artist N! Satterfield, Tikiman’s Polynesian Village Resort website, surf rockers The Intoxicators, and Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago. The rum of the week, El Dorado 12, is featured in the El Dorado Mai Tai.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Website | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Events

THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS (March 23-29, 2015)

Trader Sam’s soft opening imminent, new Polynesian Village merchandise

A rendering shows the reimagined Great Ceremonial House at the Polynesian Village Resort

A rendering shows the reimagined Great Ceremonial House at the Polynesian Village Resort, including a scaled-down water feature and recently added Tiki in the middle of the lobby.

There’s lots of activity at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort this week as the soft opening of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto approaches. On Monday, the long-awaited “Poly Tiki” appeared on top of the new fountain and rock formation in the Great Ceremonial House. And all week there have been sneak previews of both Trader Sam’s and the new Bora Bora Bungalows, both scheduled to officially open on Wednesday, April 1. Meanwhile, work continues frantically on the refurbished pool and patio outside the Great Ceremonial House.

Inside the massive lobby, which recently completed an extensive refurbishment (see our previous coverage), the resort’s signature logo Tiki made his appearance in the early a.m. hours Monday. It’s the last stage of the new rock waterfall centerpiece, as pictured in concept artwork released in the early stages of the project (see above). Though Polynesian Resort purists have bemoaned the loss of the original plantscape and water fall, which dominated the entire lobby, many are calling the new design much more friendly and inviting. In fact, the final touch will be the addition of leis draped across the Poly Tiki’s arms, welcoming visitors to his refurbished domain.

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