by Beth Keating
September 26, 2020
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, a long-time favorite of fans since it opened with Disney World in 1971, is about to get an updated look, and Disney has released a sneak peek at the artist renderings of the new designs.
In time for the park’s 50th anniversary, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort will get a revamped entryway with a new porte cochere, which will “showcase the iconic mid-20th century architecture the Polynesian is famous for.” This new entry features “a high-pitched, open-truss roof covered in a thatch style.”
According to Zach Riddley, Walt Disney World Site Portfolio Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering, “The open and airy design of the entryway will feature dramatic lighting elements, including beautiful chandeliers inspired by glass floats, fishing nets and oversized bamboo elements. The new chandeliers will match the existing grand chandelier in the resort lobby, artfully bridging interior and exterior spaces.”
While the color scheme for the refurbishment is being inspired by the colors, patterns and textures already found throughout the Polynesian Village Resort, Riddley says there will also be a “bold façade that features pops of color complementing the Longhouses found throughout the resort. Along the Monorail station, bold new wooden screens will be covered with geometric patterns in bright, tropical colors that complete an exciting new composition that will greet you when you arrive.”
The Disney Vacation Club rooms at the Polynesian Villas and Bungalows, which are already hosting guests post-COVID-19 shutdown, will continue welcoming visitors, but the rest of the resort rooms will not reopen until summer 2021. The resort has had two previous re-opening dates, including August 12, which was bumped to October 4, but Disney is taking the opportunity to refurbish the resort while attendance numbers are still down.
The resort’s guest rooms are being redone as well, and are expected to feature details, patterns and textures from the Disney movie Moana and her home on the island of Montunui. In the meantime, the Great Ceremonial House, where the dining and shopping facilities are located, will be available while work is underway. Monorail service will be paused beginning in early October while construction takes place at the Resort.
The buildings will not be the only place to get a refresh, with the resort’s gardens and fountains also will be getting some changes.
The Polynesian’s Background
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort opened on October 1, 1971, and its grand opening ceremony, held later that month, was attended by such celebrities as Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. It has played host to numerous famous guests over the years, and much to the chagrin of Beatles’ fans everywhere, it is the place where John Lennon was staying when he inked the final signature on the official papers dissolving the Beatles’ partnership.
The South Pacific-themed Polynesian Village Resort is one of the original two resorts on Disney World property, and it was designed by WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering), Welton Becket & Associates (a California architectural firm) and United States Steel Corp. Like Disney’s Contemporary, the other hotel erected for the opening of Disney World, it was built using “unitized modular construction,” whereby the rooms for the resort were built a few miles away then trucked to the site. Each room was constructed as a free standing unit, with its fixtures, plumbing, air conditioning and décor already installed before it arrived, and was then set in place inside a steel frame in its new home on Seven Seas Drive. There was originally a wave machine in the water just off the beach at the Polynesian, but since it never functioned the way it was supposed to, it was shut off.
The Polynesian’s Offerings
The Polynesian is often at the top of Disney fans’ “must-do” lists, whether it is a coveted stay in the waterside bungalows, or a hard-to-get reservation at ‘Ohana. As one of the resorts on the monorail loop, guests are just two stops away from the Magic Kingdom, or a quick monorail transfer to EPCOT as well. It also is walking distance to the Ticket and Transportation Center, where park-goers can hop a ferryboat to the Magic Kingdom (which guests are likely to do once the monorail stops running from the Polynesian during construction.)
The 39-acre Polynesian Resort, colloquially referred to as “the Poly” by fans, is an 847-room Deluxe Resort located on the Seven Seas Lagoon. It is surrounded by beaches, waterfalls, and lots of tiki torches, and guests can watch the nightly fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom from the beaches and marina at the Poly, or in some cases, from their rooms. The “Electrical Water Pageant” also makes its way past the Polynesian at night.
The Great Ceremonial House is home base at the resort. It is the resort’s lobby, but it also is home to the dining and shopping venues at the Polynesian, including BouTiki. The resort has two pools: The Lava Pool, with its waterfall, 142-foot-long waterslide and kids’ splash zone; and a quiet pool. A stream begins outside of the Great Ceremonial House and continues down to the Lava pool, where a 40-foot high volcano presides. There are poolside bars available for relaxing.
As one of Disney’s deluxe-level resorts, the Polynesian is among the priciest nighttime stays in Disney World, especially if you are sleeping in the Bungalows on the Seven Seas Lagoon. The Bungalows vary in price by season, day of the week, or holidays, but expect to spend in the neighborhood of $3,000 a night (or more). The Bungalows, with their pools on the porch, full kitchen, multiple bedrooms, and washer/dryer units, are like a home away from home, except they are located literally over the water on the Seven Seas Lagoon. You can take a dip in the pool from your waterside porch while eating dinner and watching the Happily Ever After Fireworks.
Most guests staying at the Poly, though, will find themselves in one of 11 different buildings called Longhouses, some with views of the Lagoon or Cinderella Castle, but all are surrounded by lush tropical foliage. Rates for standard rooms can start at $500 and edge upwards toward $900, while theme park view rooms and Lagoon view rooms are in the $684 range to nearly $1200. Club and Concierge rooms are also available, at additional prices, and offer exclusive access to a private lounge with stunning views of Cinderella Castle and the nightly fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. The music for the fireworks is piped into the lounge, and a light buffet and beverages are offered in the lounge throughout the day (as an included cost to your room).
The Polynesian’s Food
The Polynesian is known for great food, and a reservation to its ‘Ohana restaurant is highly prized, and during some seasons, nearly impossible to get. You’ll be getting up at the crack of dawn on the day you are eligible to start making your dining reservations to snag this one. ‘Ohana is an all-you-can-eat Hawaiian feast served family-style at your table. At dinner, you can watch the chefs preparing your meal in the open fire pit in the center of the room, while the youngsters in your group participate in games like coconut races or storytelling, led by cast members. It’s located on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House, and you can also catch the nightly fireworks while you dine if you have the right table, and music from the show is synched into the restaurant. Breakfast at ‘Ohana is a character meal featuring Lilo and Stitch. Note that as of this writing, ‘Ohana is one of the restaurants that has not yet re-opened due to COVID-19, and character meet and greets are on temporary hiatus. (Fireworks have not yet reappeared, either, though EPCOT has been doing some testing lately.)
If you are craving Tonga Toast (a stuffed French toast delight available only at the Poly), you can head over to Kona Café. This second floor restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and their focus is on continental cuisine with an Asian flair. They also offer sushi prepared in an on-stage sushi kitchen. For coffee aficionados, they offer a special Kona Coffee.
The Polynesian’s snack bar/quick serve location is Capt. Cook’s, a need-to-know dining spot on the first floor for the reason that it is one of the few places on property that is open 24-hours a day. (Or at least, it was pre-COVID-19. Right now the hours vary, but it is open later than most.) If your flight gets in late, or if you are boarding early, or just need a quick bite on your way back from closing the parks, the Captain is there for you. It features fast food, snacks, desserts, and refillable resort mugs stations. It’s also the only other location to offer Tonga Toast! In addition to American staples such as chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers, the spot offers Polynesian specialties such as Thai Coconut Meatballs and an Aloha Pork Sandwich.
By the way, it might be worth staying at the Polynesian for quick access to Pineapple Lanai – the counter service location that is home to Dole Whips outside the parks.
As is the case with ‘Ohana, several of the dining venues at the Polynesian are part meal, part entertainment. The Spirit of Aloha show takes that to the next level. Offering outdoor dining at Luau Cove (weather permitting), this open-air theatre includes a full Polynesian-style luau with Aloha pulled pork, Polynesian ribs, roasted chicken, and pineapple guava cake. While you dine, cast members take the stage to showcase fire-knife performers, drummers, and authentic Polynesian dancing. You may even be treated to a hula lesson!
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, on the first floor, is one of several bars on Polynesian property, but it is hard to really classify it as such. If you remember the Adventurer’s Club at Pleasure Island, this place is a nod to that iconic Disney watering hole. It is also named after the “head” salesman on the Jungle Cruise ride...wink, wink. Trader Sam’s is a tiny, not-easy-to-get-into, interactive establishment where volcanos rumble, seats subtly move up and down, and ordering particular culinary selections will trigger certain “responses” in the room. Favorite concoctions include the Krakatoa Punch, Uh Oa!, HippopotoMai-Tai and Shrunken Zombie Head (many served in appropriately themed souvenir glasses, of course), and snacks include Hawaiian poke, sushi rolls, kálua pork tacos, pan-fried dumplings, chicken lettuce cups, or bánh mì sliders. You almost have to be in-the-know to find the unassuming entrance to this hot spot, however. It’s definitely a favorite among park guests for its lively interactions with cast members. (After 8 pm, Trader Sam’s becomes 21 and over, but families are welcome earlier in the day.)
Additional locations to partake of adult libations include Tambu Lounge on the second floor, which offers drinks, coffees, and light meals and appetizers, The Barefoot Pool Bar near the volcano at the main pool, or Oasis Bar and Grill near the quiet pool, serving both drinks as well as slightly heartier poolside fare such as burgers and sandwiches.
If you are looking to work off some of those meal calories while you are staying at the Polynesian, there is a 1.5 mile long jogging path that will take you through the tropical vegetation, around the Polynesian Longhouses and past Luau Cove. There’s a sand-based volleyball court to play on, and the Polynesian is adjacent to Disney’s Magnolia golf course. You can also head to the Poly’s marina, where there are a multitude of different boats and watercraft for your entertainment and exercise. Pontoon boats, sailboats, Water Mouse boats and more are available to rent for a day spent out on Seven Seas Lagoon or Bay Lake, fishing or just taking in the sights.
The resort also offers movies under the stars on the lawn of the Great Ceremonial House, daily resort activities such as contests and musical activities, and a nightly village campfire.
(Please note: As with many of the activities around the Disney World facility, hours of operation and availability can change at a moment’s notice in this COVID-19 reopening era. Right now, fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant have not yet returned, character meet-and-greets are on hold, and dinner shows like Spirit of Aloha are temporarily dark. ‘Ohana and Trader Sam’s are among the still-closed restaurants. This article gives you a peek at the “normal” operations of the Polynesian, but things aren’t necessarily “normal” right now! On Friday (September 25), Governor DeSantis opened the possibility for restaurants to return to normal capacities; that could change Disney operations yet again in the next few days. Check with the Poly directly if you are interested in a particular activity to see when it anticipates beginning operations.)
Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.