Modern Caribbean Rum

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.

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Minimalist Tiki

Mai-Kai cocktail review: If you’re ‘Passionate’ about tropical drinks, this one’s for you

The Mai-Kai cocktail review: If you're 'Passionate' about tropical drinks, this one's for you

Updated October 2019

See below: Our Piña Passion review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe NEW
Related: What says ‘Tiki’ better than a drink served in a pineapple?
Mai-Kai cocktail guide

One of the most iconic images of the tropical drink is a vessel made from a hollowed-out pineapple. This over-the-top cocktail experience has been perfected at The Mai-Kai with the classic Piña Passion.

The Mai-Kai's Piña Passion, served in The Molokai bar in June 2016 with a 60th anniversary swizzle stick. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Mai-Kai’s Piña Passion, served in The Molokai bar in June 2016 with a 60th anniversary swizzle stick. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Piña Passion is served in a fresh pineapple that guests can take home. The one exception is during happy hour in The Molokai bar, when you’ll have to settle for having the drink in an old fashioned glass.

If you ever get a chance to take a peek into The Mai-Kai’s main service bar, tucked way behind the kitchen and hidden from guests, you’ll find cases of pineapples awaiting their fate. [See photo]

Drinks in pineapples were staples on tropical-themed cocktail menus across the country during Tiki’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. You can still find them at old-school establishments such as San Francisco’s Tonga Room (est. 1945) and Chicago’s temple of Witco, Hala Kahiki (est 1966). In the Hawaiian language, a pineapple is called “hala kahiki.”

A postcard shows a server in the early years of The Molokai bar holding the welcoming Piña Passion. (MaiKaiHistory.com)
A postcard shows a server in the early years of The Molokai bar holding the welcoming Piña Passion. (MaiKaiHistory.com)

Even in the dark days of Tiki in the 1970s and ’80s, pineapple drinking vessels remained essential on cruise ships and resorts in exotic locales. They go hand-in-hand with the concept of a tropical paradise.

They’re not as easy to find at today’s smaller Tiki and craft cocktail bars, which tend to favor traditional glassware and ceramic mugs. But this is changing in a big way thanks to a new breed of craftsmen who are taking Tiki hospitality to a whole new level.

At Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, one of the most popular events presented by owner Martin Cate and his team is Domingo de Piña (Pineapple Sunday), which features a selection of cocktails served in pineapples. We recommend Cate’s book – Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki (2016) – for more in-depth info and recipes for several tasty drinks served in pineapples.

There's nothing more welcoming than a server in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai with a tray full of exotic cocktails, including a Piña Passion. (The Palm Beach Post / 2005 file photo)
There’s nothing more welcoming than a server in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai with a tray full of exotic cocktails, including a Piña Passion. (The Palm Beach Post / 2005 file photo)

Italy’s Daniele Dalla Pola, who built upon the success of his Nu Lounge Bar to open Esotico Miami in August 2019, is also a big proponent of the spiky fruit. His new exotic bar and restaurant features both food and drink served in fresh pineapples. At The Hukilau 2017, he presented two Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes called “Pineapple Paradise” with information and advanced techniques on using the hospitable fruit in tropical drinks.

Of course, the pineapple is iconic as the worldwide symbol of hospitality. It was so sought-after in colonial times that people would rent them for a day to use as a party decoration. Considered the world’s most exotic fruit, pineapples were brought back to Europe by Columbus and other explorers. George Washington praised the fruit in his diary, noting that among his favorite foods, “none pleases my tastes” like a pineapple.

Because of their scarcity and high price, pineapples were typically served only to prestigious guests, and even those who could not afford them picked up on the image to share the sentiment of a special welcome. Towns, inns and households began displaying images of the pineapple to convey a sense of welcoming. You can find pineapple images on historic buildings around the world.

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Artists shine amid copious crowds at Walt Disney World’s 40th birthday party

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Previous coverage: Disney World celebrates 40 years of mid-century magic
Related: Cocktails come of age at Epcot Food and Wine Festival | More on Disney World

Masses of mouse-minded fans flocked to the Magic Kingdom on Saturday, Oct. 1, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. And while initial crowd forecasts were low, interest in the birthday bash quickly grew among the Disney faithful and resulted in a sometimes overwhelming throng even though actual celebratory festivities were modest.

The Magic Kingdom entrance and train station, as seen in December 1972 and Oct. 1, 2011. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
The Magic Kingdom entrance and train station, as seen in December 1972 and Oct. 1, 2011. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Oct. 1 opening date was selected in 1971 because it was considered the slow season, and it typically remains so today. But Disneyphiles came out of the woodwork for the anniversary party last week and took advantage of the late park hours at the Magic Kingdom (it was open from 9 a.m. until midnight).

My wife and I combined this event with a visit to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival on Sunday, and it’s a good thing we did. The overflowing crowd on Saturday made for a hectic day and not much time to relax and enjoy the Disney experience. That’s not to say it wasn’t memorable. Here are the highlights (and some lowlights):

We stayed at the Caribbean Beach, one of Disney’s moderate resort hotels, and were pleasantly surprised. We had previously enjoyed Port Orleans Riverside, and this was on par with that experience.

The rooms were spacious and clean (with the great details that Disney is known for), the grounds (200 acres, including the 45-acre Barefoot Bay) were huge and full of amenities (be sure to take a walk around the lake) and the theming was spot-on. It was closed when we wandered by early Sunday, but I’ve heard the pool bar makes a great Piña Colada.

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