Minimalist Tiki

Disney World announces refurbishment schedule for Polynesian Resort, but no word on Trader Sam’s

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.

Previous post: Trader Sam’s could be key part of Disney’s Polynesian Resort refurb

Construction sign at Disney's Polynesian Resort
Construction sign at Disney’s Polynesian Resort.

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.

Modern Caribbean Rum
DVC construction at the Polynesian Resort, as seen from the monorail
DVC construction at the Polynesian Resort, as seen from the monorail. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2013)

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.

What changes are in store for the Polynesian Resort's main building?
What changes are in store for the Polynesian Resort’s main building? (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2009)

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.

A view from the upper floor of the the Great Ceremonial House in May 2011. The giant tropical jungle and water feature at the center of the resort may be removed in the coming months
A view from the upper floor of the the Great Ceremonial House in May 2011. The giant tropical jungle and water feature at the center of the resort may be removed in the coming months. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

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.

 Hurricane Hayward enjoys a Lapu Lapu at the Tambu Lounge in December 2013
Hurricane Hayward enjoys a Lapu Lapu at the Tambu Lounge in December 2013. (Photo by Susan Hayward)

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
* 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?

Drink recipes
* Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum at Trader Sam’s
* The Backscratcher at the Tambu Lounge

Related posts
* Walt Disney’s Tiki Room celebrates 50 years of enchantment
* Modern Retro Disney World: Walt Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room
* All Disney World posts

18 Replies to “Disney World announces refurbishment schedule for Polynesian Resort, but no word on Trader Sam’s”

  1. this place SUCKS now, it’s like a shopping center compared to in the 80’s and 90’s when it used to feel like a movie. the creativity and artistic genius put into projects since frank wells and jeffrey katzenburg left disney are shocking. I could gut out a space and renovate it to look better and more bohemian than this no question. Hire me to do it .

  2. Everything about Disney sucks now. I’m there now at the Polynesian and will never visit a Disney resort again. Nothing is for the customers, just the bottom line. There are NO lounge chairs at the pools with umbrellas. So to recline you must bake like a slab of meat in the hot Florida sun. No bottles of water on the concierge floor so you must pay for water in the park even though you’ve forked over the money for the concierge floors in the hotel. What a huge waste of money. 30 years ago it was what Walt Disney envisioned, including the fact that it be affordable for young families. He must be doing flips in his grave. The food is beyond awful, everything is a ripoff. A few cute rides does not a fabulous vacation make. Spend your cash anywhere else!

    1. Cindy, sorry you had a bad experience but you should really have complained immediately about the lack of water and umbrellas. Disney is typically great about addressing customer complaints on the spot. The fact that the resort is in the midst of one of its biggest renovations in history may have something to do with it being in disarray. Still, those are valid complaints.

      As for the food being “beyond awful” and everything being better 30 years ago, I beg to differ. I’m not sure where you’re eating, but the food and beverage options across property are light years ahead of where they once were. Just look at what they’re doing at the Food & Wine and Flower & Garden festivals. And 30 years ago there was just Magic Kingdom, Epcot had just opened and there were only a handful of resorts. You could maybe argue that the late ’90s were the heyday when everything was at its peak, but I’m not even sure about that.

      Sure, money has become a driving factor of growth and profits (isn’t that happening everywhere?), but you have to look beyond that and you’ll still find plenty of magic at WDW. Try staying at a new resort like Art of Animation (which is fairly affordable) to see all the new and creative amenities (and great food) that defines today’s WDW. And it’s incredibly family friendly. Walt would be proud of that. After the refurbishment, I won’t be surprised if the Polynesian also raises its game to match its hefty price tag.

  3. HH ……This is just my opinion, some people love Disney. Some things like the overall service and friendliness is very good, but we’ve been rushed through dinners and everyone I know says the food is awful, so that is a majority. I didn’t believe that until I experienced it. Maybe I am just used to good restaurants but I think they really need to raise the quality of the food here. As for staying anywhere here again, that won’t be happening. There are much nicer places on earth. I’ve had enough of the Disney magical rides that last 3 minutes to last me a lifetime. I also had a disheartening experience with a lifeguard last night at the Grand Floridian pool. Dear sweet little granddaughter was told she was an inch too tall for the slide, even though she had been on it for 15 minutes with all of 3 other children, one being her twin brother who was allowed to use the slide. Not cool! So little girl is then crying on a chair while the other kids play. She waited all day for that slide, so I have to disagree with your comment that they are accommodating. That really made me angrier than hell since she is one of nicest kids I’ve ever met and sweet to other kids. And this is Disney? Enough of my rant. I’ll take my money and all the other grand kids someplace nicer.

    1. Cindy, I’m certainly not trying to excuse Disney for any mistakes, and I don’t want this to become an ongoing debate, but I must reply one more time for the benefit of my readers. It’s my blog, so I get the last word :>) … I will also note that this blog is obviously not geared toward grandparents, parents or children. There are plenty of other sites with that focus. My point of view is more adult-oriented, but I think much if it can apply to anyone.

      I’m very sorry you had a bad experience with a cast member. But I’m certain that this is the exception rather than the rule. Disney as a brand and WDW as a theme park are recognized for providing among the best customer service anywhere. This is an accepted fact. No other resort theme parks come close to the “magic” that cast members have been known to provide to guests. Now, are there bad apples among the staggering number of more than 66,000 cast members working at the resort? Undoubtedly yes. But, typically, bad experiences are few and far between. To keep that many workers all on the same page and providing the best service is a daunting task. So again, I would encourage anyone who has bad service or other issues to immediately complain to a supervisor or to Guest Services and that issue will likely be dealt with eventually. Will that erase the transgression? No. But you need to shrug those things off and trust that the next experience will be better.

      As for your dismissal of the food as awful, I’m totally perplexed. I listen to many Disney podcasts, read books and magazines, browse websites and blogs, and it’s almost unanimous that Disney World offers not only some of the best food you’ll find at any theme park resort, but also some of the best family-friendly dining experiences, period. There are entire blogs and sites dedicated just to the food. People make trips specifically for the dining. Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian is the only AAA five-diamond restaurant in central Florida. You’ll also find great food at the California Grill, Flying Fish Cafe, Jiko, Le Cellier, Bluezoo, Yachtsman Steakhouse, and many other signature restaurants. Most of the World Showcase restaurants at Epcot, especially in France, are superior representations of each country’s authentic food. But with more than 100 restaurants operating at the resort (not to mention all the food kiosks), of course there will be clunkers and bad meals. I would encourage everyone to do their homework before deciding where to eat. But I’m confident that most people, Cindy’s friends not included, will find many food (and drink) options to their liking. I don’t have children, so I can’t speak to character meals or buffets (which I know are sometimes lower quality), but there are exceptions there too. You have to check the reviews.

      One other point: There are so many other things to do besides “magical rides that last 3 minutes” that need to be pointed out. You can go horseback riding, golfing, boating, fishing and partake in many other recreational activites. There are many special tours, stage shows, educational opportunities and so many things to do that veterans who have been going for decades still have not seen everything. It can be daunting with kids or grand kids, but you have to tailor your trip to their particular likes and dislikes. I will agree that Disney World is not for everyone, so by all means explore other vacation options if you feel so inclined. I have a feeling, however, that you’re not going to find anything with the depth and breadth of what WDW has to offer.

  4. My family is going to Disney in Sept. We always go to Kona for lunch first day. We are not staying on property this year. Can we still go for lunch and shop there? I heard they will tow car if not staying on property?

    1. Your best bet is to get an advanced dining reservation. Anyone with reservations should be allowed to park at the resort. If not, just park in the Magic Kingdom lot and jump on the monorail (or walk to the Poly from the TTC).

  5. I’m going to disney in november of 2014. I want to eat at kona cafe for dinner. Will the refurb take away from our experience while dining?

    1. That’s tough to say. They just took the Kona coffee/sushi bar out of operation, and the cafe may be next. But on the other hand, it may be finished and looking nice by November. If you plan to go, definitely make an advanced reservation. They will not offer reservations if the restaurant itself is closed. As for the rest of the Great Ceremonial House, it’s a work in progress so there’s no telling what shape it will be in November. You could always cancel or move your reservation at the last minute if things look bad. I would follow Tikiman’s website and Facebook page for the latest updates:

  6. My family is not going to Disney until April 2015. Do you think that the pool will be completed at the Polynesian by then? Also, do you think they will have the spring offer like w
    They had last year for 30% off? We are trying to decide between Wilderness lodge and the Polynesian. What are your thoughts?

  7. We are so very upset with Disney for taking away the most amazing center water at Polynesian village. Our family has been staying there every year since the Poly opened it’s doors. WE try to come one to two times a year. WE have skipped this year so far because we are so upset with this news of taking it out. WE really hope Disney management changes their minds, the water fall in the great ceremonial house is a landmark and should not be touched. It makes the Polynesian not the Polynesian that makes our xmas pictures look amazing every year. sad very sad

  8. We are going in March and I knew I was taking a chance on the pool, but why do they have to tear the whole place apart at one time? I’m really disappointed that my trip could be terrible. The Polynesian does have a smaller pool that will be open right?

    1. Becky, yes the small pool is open for guests. And you may also be offered water park tickets when you check in. If not, I would ask.

      Regarding the construction, it’s actually nearing completion (except for the pool). It was a real mess several months ago when the Great Ceremonial House lobby was all walled off. The DVC rooms are nearing completion, Trader Sam’s should be opening soon and work is ongoing on the front of the resort. The pool is the final stage.

  9. below unsatisfactory- architecture and original blueprints do not match the correct motif which has a name I’m omitting – the signature scent is gone, the staff are considerably worse and they are invasive and weird ,no more bath robes, no matching merchandise like originally. the food is not authentic Hawaiian and beside that it sucks… the textiles and fixtures have no bohemian nostalgic quality . the real Hawaiian shops are gone, the staff costumes are not true to theme, yes the concierge food and vibe and service since the 80’s has gotten pathetic – it’s human warehousing

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