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)
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.”
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. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook | RSS feed | See all the past weeks | Archive 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.
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.
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. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * 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.
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.
August 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. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * 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 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.
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.
The 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. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * 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
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.
This week’s top story is the sellout of two upcoming events: the Chicago Area Tiki Tour, and the Vintage Tiki Weekend in Wildwood, N.J. Also, tickets for Tiki Kon in the Pacific Northwest are selling fast. We have news on award-winning Tiki barman Brian Miller’s decision to remain in New York City. Plus, get updates on Aloha Isle and Sunshine Tree Terrace swapping locations in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland, and a Tiki disappointment in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s historic bars contest. Our weekly features spotlight artist Eric October, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid’s new website, the music of Gold Dust Lounge, and the Tambu Lounge at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. The rum of the week, Mount Gay Eclipse, is featured in the The Monaco cocktail. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * Weekly features: Artist | Website | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Events
LAST WEEK IN REVIEW (March 9-15, 2015)
Quick hits: Miller staying in NYC, N.J. and Chicago Tiki events sell out
New York City’s Tiki scene is breathing a collective sigh of relief this week after award-winning bartender Brian Miller had a change of heart and decided to not make a move to the West Coast. After winning “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” on Feb. 20 at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, the host of the popular Tiki Mondays With Miller events said he planned to migrate from the Big Apple to Los Angeles. However, in an e-mail received Sunday, the Tiki pirate said he said he now realizes that “New York City is where I want to be right now.” Miller’s next Tiki Monday shindig is set for April 20 at Pouring Ribbons. You can also catch Miller pouring cocktails and presenting a symposium June 10-14 at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale. [Atomic Grog preview] * Related story: The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown full coverage, photos, recipes
News this week includes a historic bars contest that features four famous Tiki establishments, plus a sneak peak at The Hukilau’s 2015 event mug. We preview a party at the Tonga Hut, ticket sales for Tiki Kon, and Dapper Day at Disney World. A new event joins the Tiki calendar: Vintage Tiki Weekend at the historic Caribbean Motel in Wildwood, N.J. Also announced was a swap in Dole Whip locations at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, plus the Miami Rum Festival’s annual pilgrimage to The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Our weekly features spotlight artist Crazy Al Evans, TheTikiChick.com, classic exotica artist Gene Rains, and acclaimed Tiki bar Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. The rum of the week, Plantation Jamaican, is featured in the Red Tide cocktail. * Keep up with The Week in Tiki: Facebook page | RSS feed | See past weeks | Archive * Weekly features: Artist | Website | Band/music | Tiki bar | Rum | Cocktail | Events
THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS (March 9-15, 2015)
Historic Bars Tournament features four classic Tiki establishments
Every year, there are more and more alternatives to college basketball’s bracket mania known as March Madness. Simply match up a long list of anything in multiples of four, and see who makes the Sweet 16 and Final Four. This year, fans of Tiki and its classic watering holes can vote for their favorites during The Big Tap: 2015 Historic Bars Tournament.
The four are among the oldest Tiki establishments in the country. The Tonga Room opened in 1945, La Mariana and Bali Hai in 1955, and The Mai-Kai in 1956. Make your vote count in this single-elimination tournament. The voting period for each round ends at 8 a.m. Eastern time on Fridays (March 13, 20, 27 and April 3). There will be prizes for the bars that advance to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Besides the Tiki bars, there are dive bars, sports bars, and many historic watering holes that date back as far as 1733.
The entries were culled from the Historic Bars series, which started last June on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s blog, PreservationNation. These were determined through the site’s own research, plus public submissions from Facebook and Twitter followers. They then narrowed it down to 32 for the bracket.
At the colorful crossroads where Disneyphiles and Tikiphiles meet, there’s a new date to be honored and celebrated annually with a rum-fueled fervor. May 2 will forever be known as the day that Trader Sam packed up his collection of curios and headed to Disney World.
His final destination: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, the reimagined flagship hotel that has been rechristened with its original name from 1971’s grand opening, the day Disney World opened its gates in Orlando. More than 42 years later, the vintage South Seas-themed luxury hotel is in the midst of one of its largest refurbishments ever.
And what a name he has chosen for his newest Tiki lounge: Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, which promises to expand on the Adventureland-meets-Adventurer’s Club vibe of his original location, Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. To celebrate Sam’s imminent arrival, we’ve concocted a welcome-to-Florida grog, which you can find below.
After years of speculation and unconfirmed reports, Walt Disney World Resort President George A. Kalogridis made the announcement on Friday, May 2, confirming what everyone could see happening at Disney’s Polynesian Resort and putting all rumors to rest: “This year, we started reimagining the feature pool, and the centerpiece of the iconic resort, the Great Ceremonial House. We’re also adding Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, inspired by the guest favorite at Disneyland. Trader Sam’s will continue the evolution of food and beverage offerings across our parks and resorts.”
The latest marketing effort from the PR folks at the Disney parks urges guests to “show the world your Disney side.” For many fans, that simply means posting photos and video, acting goofy and showing their love for the iconic brand.
But to truly show your Disney side, you first have to find it. My search was a bit more complicated than most. It started with my first visit with my future wife in 2009, involved a trip back in time to 1972 in search of a mysterious turn-of-the-century street, and culminated with a simple haircut.
I recalled most of this story in a letter published in the March/April issue of Celebrations, a magazine for fans of the Disney theme parks, resorts, and films. Below are more details along with the story’s conclusion.
My first visit to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando was in late 1972. I have vivid memories of the Main Street parade, the Haunted Mansion, the monorail, and much more. Over the years, the few photos that remained from that trip continued to remind me of that initial exposure to the magic. But it was another 37 years before I returned, and much had changed by then.
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.