Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar – Disneyland Hotel, CA
Regardless what coast or continent you hail from, Disneyphiles know that Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA has become a recognized “must-see” destination at the resort. And, all the hoopla and avail is well-deserved. Naturally, when news first broke in early-2013 that a new Sam’s would be built in Orlando, excitement stirred like an erupting Krakatoa (also the name of one of Trader Sam’s signature cocktails.)
Since opening in May 2011, Trader Sam’s has delighted guests and regulars to a fun atmosphere where artifacts festoon the walls, an array of exotic cocktails garnish every table and countertop, and some Disney “magic” is always in the air. Eagle-eyed guests will also spot some clever “nods” to other Disney parks and properties hidden inside, including a number of references that knowledgeable Walt Disney World regulars will recognize. Later in this article we’ll ruminate about the incarnation of Trader Sam’s planned for Orlando, but right now let’s take a closer look at Disneyland’s Trader Sam’s and hope that the forthcoming version for Orlando can bring the same sense of atmosphere and fun.
What’s the Story Here?
Is Trader Sam’s more Tiki Room or more Jungle Cruise? And what’s up with the myriad of mysterious artifacts scattershot throughout the joint? The truth is, Trader Sam’s has tons of stories. Thousands, actually.
Brandon Kleyla, a Lead Set Decorator with Walt Disney Imagineering who was also involved with the show writing and show directing says there are over 1,600 individual pieces of artifacts, photos, and other objects at Trader Sam’s. Brandon (also responsible for the fan documentary Indyfans: The Quest for Fortune and Glory) also worked as a Lead Set Decorator on Mystic Manor, the new Iron Man ride coming to Hong Kong, and is currently working on the Avatar project underway in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Having grown up in Florida, Walt Disney World was obviously influential to Brandon. He has a special fondness for the old Adventurer’s Club and later became a Jungle Cruise skipper in Disneyland.
As imagineers forged the origins of Trader Sam’s, the concept changed from a more “upscale” minimalist tiki bar to the fun and quirky version we all know today that replicates the sense of humor in some of Disney’s great attractions. The Disney “story” behind Trader Sam’s is that the “head salesman” from the end of the Jungle Cruise ride partnered with the Jungle Cruise Navigational Company to build a place where Sam could show off his “talents for brewing head-shrinking potions naturally gave him experience in mixing exotic elixirs.” So, it’s only natural that the place is crammed with shrunken heads, spears, masks, beads, and trinkets.
In an interview with David Yeh at EndorExpress.com, Brandon sheds some further light onto the conceptual origins saying “what if he [Sam] knew Indiana Jones, what if he knew Jack Sparrow, or Swiss Family Robinson”, you know, all those types of characters.” As Brandon puts it, Trader Sam’s “became Adventurer’s Club meets Jungle Cruise meets Tiki Room.” And, indeed, guests can spot gifts and letter from all kinds of Disney notables -including the Adventurer’s Club- all around the Enchanted Tiki Bar (more on the hidden Disney tributes further below!)
Ins and outs of Trader Sam’s
For those who haven’t yet been, Trader Sam’s is located within the Disneyland Hotel complex, adjacent to the Monorail Pool areas in the middle of the three hotel towers. It’s at the far western end of Downtown Disney and parking is free for the first three hours (be warned, however: Sam’s has been known to make those first three hours disappear fast!)
As you approach the front, you pass by the lanai, which is lit at night with tiki torch gaslamps and faux-tapa cloth lights hanging overhead. Around the corner of the lanai is the entrance to Tangaroa Terrace, a quick serve food location that long-time Disney World fans will recognize the name as being borrowed from the Polynesian.
A view of the lanai area in front.
And, lest anyone think it’s strictly for adults, fear not because Trader Sam’s “family-Friendly”, too. The sizable lanai dining area outside wraps around the side of the building shared with Tangaroa Terrace. Guests on the lanai during afternoons and evenings also get to enjoy a duo of Polynesian singers (Note: Sam’s is only able to serve alcoholic drinks to guests sitting within the area in front of Sam’s. Drinks can be taken to the Tangaroa Terrace sitting area, just not ordered/served there.)
Tangaroa Terrace is a quick service restaurant adjacent to Trader Sam’s.
Minors are not allowed to sit at the bar, but can sit at the tables inside as long as they are accompanied by an adult. However, the crowd can get loud later in the evenings, so it’s probably best to stay outside if you have little ones. There’s also a seating area across the walkway from Sam’s with a fireplace where you can enjoy to-go drinks. To-go drinks can also be ordered at Sam’s and taken into the Pool areas.
As nice as the exteriors are, INSIDE Sam’s is where the incredible eye candy resides. After nearly three years of serving libations, even regular visitors are still spotting things they never saw before. Be sure you sit where you can see one of the two windows looking out onto the tranquil bays in the shadow of some old volcanoes… that may not be as dormant as they appear.
Talk to your bartender or server (or “skippers”, as they call them in true Jungle Cruise fashion) and you might hear tales behind some of the artifacts on the walls around you. They also know where certain things are hidden, which only the shrewdest “Mouse Detectives” could possibly find on their own. (There are at least two hidden Mickey’s that I’ve found –and probably more await discovery! A light or camera flash certainly comes in handy for looking “up” and “down” for them.)
There are photos of locales and people from exotic places around the globe, including some of Sam himself: in front of a familiar looking South American temple or two, meeting Teddy Roosevelt, etc. Just a few fun things to look for:
A whip from Indiana Jones
A letter from Short Round (Temple of Doom)
Old hardback edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Tiki god drummers from the Enchanted Tiki Room
Black and white photo of Dick van Dyke
A tiki mask in the likeness of Imagineer Joe Rohde (known for his “ear wear”)
Trader Sam’s “family tree”
PLENTY of references to the Adventurer’s Club! Look for Colonel Suchbench, Samantha Sterling, and Hathaway Browne.
The Disney Magic
Now, I don’t want to give away too much and spoil things, but they don’t call this an “enchanted” tiki bar for no reason! The centerpiece of Trader Sam’s are their variety of liquid concoctions. There’s a selection of 12 tiki drinks (plus three “No-Booze Brews”) illustrated in their menu, in addition to beer and wines. For an additional cost, five of the cocktails can be served in souvenir mugs that you get to keep (as shown on the menu.) The Uh-Oa bowl drink serves 2-3 people is always served in the mega-bowl with a flaming stack of sugar cubes atop a floating half of lime.
Not only do the “skippers” have a lot of props to play with, certain drink orders “activate” the tiki gods and really bring the bar to life. Be sure to watch the windows to, uh, check the weather (remember those dormant volcanoes?) You’ll also notice the pillars around the bar are carved with familiar faces from the Enchanted Tiki Room. Don’t worry about watching them to much, but they’ll sure keep an eye on you. And try to be keep an eye on that replica of the Wicked Wench inside the giant glass bottle behind the bar (Trivia Time: Adventurer’s Club aficionados: that bottle is an original piece from the Club, however the ship inside was carved for Sam’s by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily.)
I’ve sampled nearly every drink (and non-alcoholic beverage) Sam’s makes, and they are all tasty. If you aren’t sure what to order, consult your skipper. They’ll be able to steer you in the right direction.
Try a Shrunken Zombie Head , but watch out- they aren’t called “zombies” for no reason.
A festive color cube makes the Krakatoa lava-licious!
Sam’s skippers can also make drinks that aren’t listed on the menu, for those wanting more standard mixed drink fare like Old Fashions, Dark & Stormy’s, White Russians, etc. But, you could get those anywhere! And for the truly adventurous, see what novel drink your skipper recommends that’s not on the menu at all. They now have three or four drinks that are “off-menu”, but which all the skippers are now able to make (I recommend the King Kamehameha Mai Tai or the Navy Grog.) Friends of old Adventurer Club will find themselves able to order both the “old” and “new” Kungalooshes, too (just be prepared to give your skipper the proper hand greeting!)
Hope you’ve enjoyed the tour in and around Trader Sam’s so far. Come back next week when we get into some more tie-ins that Sam’s has to Walt Disney World, including information about the Trader Sam’s that is planned for Walt Disney World!
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