Polynesian Paradise

by Jack Spence, AllEars® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the
April 22, 2008 Issue #448 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Last year, I wrote an article about the Contemporary Resort. In it, I stated that this hotel was my favorite Disney World property -- and it still is. But the Polynesian Resort is a very close second.

I first stayed at the Poly (as I call it) in October 1986. The Contemporary was booked so I was forced to stay at this "other" resort. And I'm glad I was. The Poly is a wonderful spot to "get away from it all."

The Poly is spread out over 39 acres. The Great Ceremonial House (GCH) is located in the center of this complex and the front desk, restaurants, and shops can all be found here. The 853 rooms of the resort are located in 11 two- and three-story buildings called longhouses. Each longhouse is named for a different Pacific Island. One additional longhouse houses the Tangaroa Terrace and the Neverland Club.

As you approach the entrance of the Great Ceremonial House, you walk through a lush jungle of tropical plants -- a fountain and waterfall flanking you to either side. As you enter the lobby, you'll come face to face with another jungle positioned in the middle of the building. Here you'll find a large rock formation with waterfalls and numerous tropical plants. It almost looks as if the building was built around this "natural" formation. And be sure to notice the Mickey Mouse embedded into the rockwork of the floor.

The check-in and concierge desks are located to your right and this is where your Polynesian adventure begins. As the check-in procedures conclude, you will be asked what color lei you want, pink, yellow, or red. Now don't get too excited, they're not real flower leis, but they are festive and help get you into a laid-back mood.

One important note when booking your room... For some odd reason, the designers of this resort did not include balconies on the second floor of several of the longhouses. So if a balcony is important to you, be sure to request one when you make your reservation, and again when you check in. Disney will note your request; however, they cannot guarantee anything. For a complete list of which buildings do and do not have second floor balconies, check the Polynesian Fact Sheet on the AllEars.net website.

Being one of the original Disney World resorts, the rooms here are some of the largest on property. Most rooms have two queen-sized beds and a day-bed. Five guests can be accommodated plus a child under 3 in a crib.

All of the rooms were recently refurbished. A South Seas influence is strong, but doesn't overwhelm. In addition to the beds, you'll also find a chest of drawers with a flat-screen TV above it, a desk, with a pull-out "nesting" desk underneath, two cushioned chairs, a hassock, and a drum table. Those rooms with patios or balconies also have two outdoor chairs and a small table.

The bathroom is spacious with two sinks and plenty of counter space. The only drawback is that there is no separate water closet.

In my review of the Contemporary, I complained that Disney had done away with the Mickey Mouse toiletries in favor of H20+ products. I'm happy to report, H20+ has added a small outline of Mickey's head to the bottom of their bottles. It's not nearly as cute as the old toiletries, but at least there's some indication that these products are specially made for Disney. The soap also sports an outline of Mickey's head.

The room's entry area has two lighted closets and more counter space. Here you'll find a small refrigerator, a safe that is activated by your room key-card or credit card, a coffee maker (with coffee) and an ironing board.

High-speed internet access is available for $9.95 for 24 contiguous hours. The nested desk (mentioned earlier) is built with laptops in mind.

And if you like the amenities you find in your room, you can now purchase many of them through Disney. On your bed you'll find a "Disney Resort Collection" catalog, selling mattresses, linens, pillows, and toiletries. So if you find that you had the best night's sleep ever at the Poly, you can now purchase the very same brand of mattress for your home. Disney logo branding is minimal -- if at all. These items are strictly for those of you who really like the amenities found in the room. They would not be considered Disney souvenirs or collectibles. For more information, check out the website: www.disneyresortcollection.com

On my last visit to the Poly I stayed in a ground floor room in the Tahiti Longhouse with a Magic Kingdom view. After I checked in, I spent more than an hour sitting out on my patio, looking over a verdant lawn, a white sandy beach, and the Seven Seas Lagoon, with Cinderella Castle and Space Mountain as a backdrop. I had tickets for "Mickey's Pirate & Princess Party" that evening. To be honest, I had a hard time tearing myself away from my patio to leave for the Magic Kingdom. It was just too darn nice sitting out there enjoying the atmosphere to get up and go someplace else.

With the exception of a few rooms that look out over a parking lot, most of the rooms have a decent view. If you're not looking out at some portion of the Seven Seas Lagoon, you're positioned to see the Marina, one of the two swimming pools, or garden area. And even the rooms with parking lot views have a fair amount of foliage between the room and the asphalt.

The Poly has two swimming pools, the Quiet Pool and the Nanea Volcano Pool. The Quiet Pool is reasonably large and is meant to be used by adults and more mature youngsters. Lounge chairs and tables surround the pool, providing the perfect spot to relax, read a book, and nap in the sun. But don't forget your sun block! This pool is surrounded on all sides by longhouses and gardens so there is no panoramic view to be found here.

The Nanea Volcano Pool, on the other hand, is meant for fun, not peace and quiet. As the name implies, a wonderful swimming pool is situated next to a smoldering volcano. Kids will love the waterslide that careens down its slopes and adults can enjoy the Barefoot Bar, which sits in the mountain's shadow. This pool also features a zero-entry area. Rather than steps or ladders, this section of the pool gently slopes from ground level down to deeper areas. This section is perfect for toddlers to splash around or for persons in specially designed wheelchairs to gain easy access into the pool.

Some guests have complained that this pool is entirely too small for the amount of use it gets. As I always use the Quiet Pool, I have no opinion, but I can certainly see their point as the Volcano Pool often looks crowded.

Near the Volcano Pool, surrounded by plants, is another wonderful spot for young children. Jets of water randomly shoot out of the ground from a number of spouts. Kids never know which one will erupt next and it keeps them guessing as they run from fountain to fountain.

When Disney first purchased the land that would become Walt Disney World, the Seven Seas Lagoon did not exist. It was just a swamp. As excavation began to clear away the muck, engineers found white, powdery sand beneath the decaying growth. This unexpected find was used to line the beaches of the Polynesian and Contemporary Resorts.

The beach at the Poly is wonderful. It's fun to walk barefoot and wiggle your toes in the sugary sand. Along the shore you'll also find lounge chairs, several bench-style swings, a volleyball court, and a number of hammocks strung between palm trees. Please note, there is no swimming allowed in the Seven Seas Lagoon and there is no lifeguard on duty in this area. However, children often sit in the shallow water and build sandcastles. At night, the Electrical Water Pageant makes its first stop off of the Poly's beach at 9 p.m. This is also a wonderful spot to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks.

In the early years of the Poly, a wave machine was installed and tested on one of the islands offshore. The idea was to create artificial waves that guests could surf and play in. Unfortunately, the waves eroded the beaches (among other problems) and the idea was eventually abandoned. For many years you could see the remains of the machine, but it has since been completely removed and now just a rock wall marks the spot of this failed attraction.

If the pools and beaches aren't enough to keep you busy, you might think about renting a Sea Raycer. A Sea Raycer is the nifty little one- or two-man speed boat that you see people enjoying as you take the ferry to and from the Magic Kingdom. And if you're looking for something with a slower pace or for a large group, consider renting a pontoon boat for a leisurely tour around Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. I especially like to get a "lunch to go" at Captain Cook's and spend an hour or so enjoying my meal out on the water.

Fishing excursions and surrey bikes can also be rented at the Marina and an electronic game arcade is available in the Great Ceremonial House. And for those of you who wish to stay in shape while on vacation, you can use the Health Club at the Grand Floridian at no additional charge. This health club is actually located between the two resorts so it's more practical to walk than to ride the monorail. Also, a 1.5 mile jogging course is offered. Ask at the front desk for a map.

When searching for something to eat, the Polynesian has a number of choices. Captain Cook's, which I mentioned earlier, is a counter service restaurant and serves sandwiches, salads, and flatbreads. Ice cream and other snacks are also available. It is located on the first floor of the Great Ceremonial House with indoor and outdoor seating available. Many people buy their lunch here and enjoy it poolside.

The Kona Cafe, located on the second floor of the GCH, is a table service restaurant and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The one "must try" menu item here is the Tonga Toast. This French Toast-like concoction is made with sourdough bread and is stuffed with bananas before it's rolled in cinnamon sugar. It is served with a strawberry compote and your choice of ham, bacon, or sausage. You will not be disappointed and you will not need lunch as you will still be stuffed come noontime. Note: Boatwright's Dining Hall at Port Orleans - Riverside offers a similar breakfast item.

And finally, there is 'Ohana, which means family in the Hawaiian language. Breakfast and dinner are offered here and as you might expect, served "family" style. There are no menus as one price includes a wide range of selections. Breakfast is a character meal and features Lilo and Stitch. Dinner does not offer characters, but little ones will be entertained with hula-hoop contests and other group activities. Dinners are also unique as the various selections of meat are brought to your table on long skewers and portions are slid onto your plate until you tell the server you've had enough. Do not eat at 'Ohana if you're looking for a relaxing meal. The energy level here is high as is the noise level. But it is a unique dining experience that definitely should be tried.

Reservations are suggested for Kona Cafe and are ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for 'Ohana. Call 407-WDW-DINE well in advance.

For you old-timers, the Tangaroa Terrace Restaurant is no longer open to the general public. It is now used for special events such as wedding receptions and banquets.

Also located at the Poly is "Disney's Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show." Presented Tuesday through Saturday at 5:15 and 8:00 p.m., this show features an all-you-can-eat meal served family-style in an outdoor covered theater. The show features fire-dancers, hula girls, and Polynesian music tied together by a loosely knit story. Reservations are a must and payment is due when you book your show.

I've been to two previous incarnations of this show and was never blown away. I was bored with the production and the food was mediocre. I haven't been to this latest version so maybe things have improved. (To be honest, luaus have never been my thing anyway. I've been to Hawaii five times and have never once attended a luau, so I might not be the best person to judge this show.)

Another thing I like about the Poly is the transportation options. First of all, it's a "monorail" hotel. The resort's station is located on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House and gives you easy access to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. And if you find you're lodging in the Tahiti or Rapa Nui longhouse, you might want to consider walking to the Transportation and Ticket Center if you're heading for Epcot. The walk is comparable to that of the GCH and you can catch a direct train to Epcot rather than riding all the way around on the Resort Monorail and then transferring to the Epcot line.

Another transportation option is the cute little boats that transit between the Poly, Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. I love these boats as they are a very peaceful way to get to and from the Magic Kingdom. The breeze off of the water feels wonderful after a stressful day in the park. If you're in a hurry, these boats probably aren't your best bet, but if you have the time, it's worth the wait.

And finally, buses are available to take you to Downtown Disney, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Shopping is also fun at the Poly. The new Boutiki shop, found on the ground floor of the Great Ceremonial House, is chock full of Hawaiian fashions found no place else at Disney World.

Next to Boutiki is Wyland Galleries. Here you'll find artwork and jewelry with an ocean or Polynesian theme. Artist Robert Wyland occasionally stops by for personal appearances. Call the gallery at 407-824-9635 for times and details.

On the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House you'll find Samoa Snacks where sundries, film, newspapers, and other essentials are sold. Next to Samoa Shacks is Trader Jack's. Here you'll find an array of Disney souvenirs. While you're there, take a look at the grass shack outside the store. You'll see a sign that says either, "Out to Lunch, Back in August" or "Out to Lunch, Back in February." Somebody has to remember to change this sign twice a year.

As a "deluxe" hotel, the Polynesian Resort carries a hefty price, but if you can afford it, you won't be disappointed. Its spacious rooms, many activities, great location, and lovely grounds add up to a great place to while away the hours. The Polynesian Resort has a motto: Aiita Peatea, which means, "There will be another day tomorrow, just like today." It's true. It's always a pleasure to visit this resort.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Polynesian also offers the Neverland Club for child care and concierge "Club" level service in the Hawaii longhouse.

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Related Links:

Polynesian Fact Sheet: http://allears.net/acc/faq_poly.htm

Polynesian Photo Gallery: http://allears.net/acc/g_poly.htm

Reader Reviews of the Polynesian: http://land.allears.net/reviewpost/showproduct.php?product=18&cat=3

Reader Reviews of the Polynesian Concierge: http://land.allears.net/reviewpost/showproduct.php?product=18&cat=31

Other articles by Jack Spence: http://allears.net/btp/jacks.htm

Jack's Blog: http://land.allears.net/blogs/jackspence/


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.