In Paradise at Disney’s Polynesian Resort

What better way to experience Disney than stay at three different Disney resorts? For our honeymoon, we chose a tropical island oasis at the Polynesian Resort, then a New England seaside vacation at the Beach Club Resort, and finally a wild safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The first, Disney’s Polynesian Resort is my favorite, and I could not wait for my husband to enjoy it too, so we started off here for three days. Upon checking in, we were given a big “Aloha” from the wonderful cast member at the front desk in the lobby. She handed us our “Just Married” buttons and a packet of maps and park information. Then she presented us with two beautiful Hawaiian leis. Mine was made out of fragrant white flowers with bright pink ribbons and my husband’s had the more traditional braided wedding vines. We were led through a little ceremony where we put the leis over each other’s heads. It was a really sweet and memorable way to start off our honeymoon.

Our Hawaiian Wedding Leis  kick off a wonderful honeymoon at Disney's Polynesian Resort
Our Hawaiian Wedding Leis kick off a wonderful honeymoon at Disney’s Polynesian Resort

The Polynesian has great theming which puts you in the center of paradise. White sandy beaches look right out at Cinderella’s Castle. The resort is currently undergoing major renovations, including the construction of Disney’s Vacation Club Villas, modeled after the bungalows that sit out on the water in Bora Bora. I was concerned this would forever block the view of the castle from the beach and reserve this special spot for only Disney’s highest paying customers in the future. Rest assured, the Polynesian grounds have been re-choreographed to allow everyone to still enjoy the view! While the main beach is blocked off for construction, including Sunset Point, and the large pool with the Nanaea volcano slide is undergoing major renovations, the Polynesian still maintains beautiful white sand beaches to the left of the Tuvalu longhouse. When we were there, we had the entire beach to ourselves. Chair swings and lounge chairs were spread out along the beach. The castle is still visible from this beach, as well as a stunning view of the Grand Floridian Hotel.

Pristine beaches to the left of the Tuvalu Guest House at the Polynesian
Pristine beaches to the left of the Tuvalu Guest House at the Polynesian
A beautiful sky backdrop to Disney's Grand Floridian from the Polynesian Resort's beach
A beautiful sky backdrop to Disney’s Grand Floridian from the Polynesian Resort’s beach

The Polynesian has some of the best theming at Disney World. I have traveled to Hawaii, and Disney has indeed done a great job of incorporating lots of details that bring me right back to the oasis of the islands. Everywhere you look there are interesting tropical plants and water features, which creates a convincing lush and relaxing environment. Hawaiian music is piped in through speakers hidden around the resort and at night tiki torches are lit to light the paths to the main ceremonial house.

The Polynesian Resort's lush tropical styling
The Polynesian Resort’s lush tropical styling
You won't get lost, tiki torches light the way
You won’t get lost…tiki torches light the way

Much lamented by Poly enthusiasts is the loss of the interior waterfall feature in the main lobby. This was often a great meeting place for groups going to ‘Ohana and a memorable backdrop for family pictures. During our visit, this area was walled off and hidden from view. It is my understanding that this is now open, with an expanded carpeted seating area similar to other Disney Resorts. Hey, if Tikiman (http://www.tikimanpages.com/poly/) has learned to like it, then why can’t we?

Don’t forget to pick up some Polynesian souvenirs at the main hotel gift shop. Island print sundresses, straw hats, cowrie necklaces, watches, men’s Hawaiian shirts, Disney candy, and kitchen items are available in the shop. You can even mail a stamped coconut shell from the store to your friends back home! Just remember…the Hawaiian sundress that seems so appropriately fashionable at the Poly might not be your style when you get home and unpack (what was I thinking?)

BouTIKI at the Poly
BouTIKI at the Poly

As part of the Poly overhaul, all of the guest rooms have undergone renovation and refurbishment. The new room look is green, clean, and spa-like. The heavy brown comforters have been replaced with white duvets and small leaf-patterned throws for decoration at the foot of the bed (see photo above). The couch, chair, ottoman and curtains also have this same leaf-patterned light green fabric. We found the new design to be pretty and fresh, however, the bathrooms remain dark with black granite counter tops, and the new beds are oddly hard and uncomfortable for a Deluxe resort stay. We wish Disney would return to its princess mattress series, found at the Beach Club resort.

The Polynesian has many dining options in-house: ‘Ohana is the most popular sit-down restaurant and serves family-style brunch and wood-fired dinners. The Kona Cafe serves delicious breakfasts and lunches on the second floor of the main ceremonial house. There is also a coffee bar in the morning that sells pastries and then serves sushi at lunch. Much to our delight, the coffee stand now serves shaved hawaiian ice, which is essential to any truly Hawaiian vacation (just ask my parents who had to stop at EVERY ice stand on Oahu when I was seven to placate my thirst for bubble-gum flavored frozen water).  The luau, a show and seated dinner, is a draw for visitors from all over Disney World. There is also excellent room service, which often comes with a loaf of soft fluffy Hawaiian bread and a sweet honey butter spiked with macadamia nuts (it’s worth it for the bread…seriously…just ask for a tray of bread…and a glass of ice water).

Our preferred options for meals at the Polynesian, however, tend to be the more casual two: Captain Cook’s and the tiki bar. Captain Cook’s is a counter service dining option. It’s refurbishment was already completed before our arrival. It offers breakfast from 6:30 to 11:00 AM including kid-friendly Mickey Waffles, Tonga Toast, and Scrambled Eggs and Bacon platters, as well as fresh fruit and yogurt and a coffee station. I recommend you get your breakfasts covered to go and then eat them out on your patio or balcony  and relax in the breeze. For lunch, dinner, or night snacking, Captain Cook’s makes terrific flatbread pizzas (including the pseudo Hawaiian pineapple and ham version) and a great sesame noodle bowl. We grabbed a couple of flatbread pizzas and enjoyed them by the small quiet pool in our own little wooden pavilion on our first day, before jumping in for a swim.

The Quiet Pool is still open during the Polynesian's renovation
The Quiet Pool is still open during the Polynesian’s renovation

The most popular corner of Captain Cooks was formerly the Dole Whip Machine. Disney’s Dole Whip has a group of addicts, er, I mean fans, who will be overjoyed at the site of the new outdoor Dole Whip Counter, called Pineapple Lanai, located just off the pool area. I’m assuming this was done for the purpose of crowd control in Captain Cooks, as well as new control of the Dole Whip machine by Disney staff, rather than guests. Although I’ve never been much of a fan (blasphemy, blasphemy) the larger Dole Whip stand now offers the Dole Whip in a cup, cone, swirl, or float form. For those of you looking for a brand new Disney souvenir, tiki cups and bowls are available as an upgrade in your order.

Although some may consider the refurbished Captain Cooks “new and improved”, I found it less guest-friendly than before. Previously, you could walk up to one of three computer kiosks and punch in your order, leave to pick out your drinks or snacks, pay, and then pick it up at the counter with your receipt. The computers have now been removed and you order in-person, receiving a small square buzzer that alerts you when the order is ready. This results in waiting, sometimes a large crowd of guests waiting in a small space by the pick-up counter. The dessert case, previously near the pick-up counter, is now gone, with a few options being offered in the refrigerators among the beverages. The overall aesthetic impact is more institutional and less impressive than it was. One nice addition to this is fresh fruit, particularly cut up pineapple, and grab and go sushi, which is offered in plastic containers among the baked items.

One of our favorite evenings was a casual time at the Tambu Lounge, located outside of ‘Ohana. Instead of a heavy meal, we relaxed with appetizers and people-watched. The pulled pork nachos were amazing, made with polynesian chips, pineapple salsa and bbq pulled pork. The beef satay was good, but not memorable. We also shared a “back scratcher”, the signature cocktail of the Tambu Lounge, made with two kinds of rum, POG juice (Passion/Orange/Guava) and whiskey, which comes with your very own souvenir bamboo back scratcher (a magical gift indeed). I also could not resist a light up drink with fairy ice cube (featured in the photo) which changed colors every three seconds. For new visitors to the Polynesian, the Tambu Lounge will soon be joined by a completed Trader Sam’s, based on the wildly successful bar at Disneyland. Although we greatly enjoyed our evening at the lounge, we are really looking forward to visiting Trader Sam’s in the future and having the walls of the new tiki bar sing to us (and after a couple of back scratchers we might just sing back).

Have a magical night with Hawaiian nachos and drinks that change color at the Tambu Lounge
Have a magical night with Hawaiian nachos and drinks that change color at the Tambu Lounge

There is a host of things to do at the Polynesian, from swimming and lounging in a hammock, to watching lizards dart around on your patio, to shopping, to working out in the fitness center, to watching Disney movies on the beach and toasting s’mores at the campfire. Disney resorts are great hosts and offer a variety of opportunities for fun. Pool parties were hosted regularly and provided opportunities for families to play games, hula hoop, and swim to music. As a couple we avoided these, but the kids we saw appeared to be having a blast as cast members led them through games poolside. There is a marina at the Poly, which offers rentals of specially-made Sea Raycers by Sea Ray for two people which you can sail out into Seven Seas Lagoon and even over to Bay Lake. Check out the Castle, Space Mountain, the Contemporary, and the Wilderness Resort from your own boat on the lake. This is a great way to get to know the relaxing parts of Disney World even better. For a higher fee, pontoon boats for larger parties can be rented and sailed during fireworks cruises for evening viewing of Wishes, complete with appetizers and treats.

Wishes fireworks are visible from the Polynesian beaches and some room balconies, which is another benefit of staying on site. The music from Wishes is piped in loud and clear through the speaker system outside, and can be heard even on the beach. In the past, this area has been open to visitors not staying at the Poly, however, rumor has it that access may be more restricted to hotel guests only post-renovation.

In addition to the fireworks, the Polynesian is the first stop at 9:00 PM for viewing of the Electrical Water Pageant. A corny, yet endearing and oddly captivating, light show on the lagoon, the water pageant is a spectacle of lit up dancing sea creatures and patriotism set to music. One of our favorite moments of entire stay at the Polynesian was when the Electrical Water Pageant stopped on the lagoon right outside our room drew us out in the dark onto the patio. The pageant then proceeds on to the Grand Floridian, the Wilderness Lodge, the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds, and the Contemporary.

Sea friends in Disney's Electric Water Pageant
Sea friends in Disney’s Electric Water Pageant

Should you ever want to leave the Polynesian (and why would you want to), it is one of the best-positioned hotels in the Walt Disney World Resort Complex. The Polynesian is located on the monorail system, direct to the Magic Kingdom, with one stop at the Grand Floridian before reaching the park. The monorail is accessed by a covered walkway on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House. The resort is also conveniently located next door to the TTC (Transportation & Ticket Center) which has monorail access to Epcot (leading to points beyond) as well as car parking and buses.

Our preferred way to travel to the Magic Kingdom park is the boat that leaves from the Polynesian’s own dock every 15 minutes. It’s fast, convenient, and you cannot beat watching the Castle get bigger and bigger as you approach the Magic Kingdom from Seven Seas Lagoon. We like to watch for birds, most often cranes, on the small island in the center of the lagoon and enjoy the cool air on the lake. In warmer weather, the boats are small vessels covered by a cloth canopy for shade. On one night of our stay, the temperature dipped low into the forties, and Disney brought out the larger enclosed boats you often find over by Hollywood Studios. Departing from the Magic Kingdom at the end of the night, nothing beats avoiding the crush at the monorail gates by hopping on the boat back to your hotel. There is one stop, at the Grand Floridian, before traveling on home to the Polynesian.

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