The sounds of steel guitars and ukuleles skip across the lagoon and you immediately think “mahalo.” Sun sets off to your left as you sway peacefully in a hammock between two palm trees on the beach and you truly believe you are in heaven. To me, these are just a couple of the things I equate with my happy place, otherwise known as Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Now for those of you who don’t know, I love almost all things Hawaiian. My house is decorated in Hawaiiana, with tropical accents, travel posters, surf boards large and small, hibiscus prints, and even some vintage maps of the islands. This is right up my alley, but let me explain why so many others agree with me in choosing the Polynesian as their favorite deluxe resort at Walt Disney World.
One of three resorts that opened at WDW in 1971, along with the Contemporary and Fort Wilderness, this classic features some of the most beautiful landscaping on property. The resort is situated on the shores of the man made Seven Seas Lagoon and is directly across the lagoon from the Magic Kingdom. It is one of the three monorail resorts that is accessible to the Magic Kingdom, and it also offers boat transportation. I personally prefer the peaceful cruise by resort launch to the theme park as it relaxes me and is often less crowded than the monorails tend to be. The main building, the Great Ceremonial House, is home to the shops and restaurants as well as the front desk and monorail station. There are two shops on the first level in Boutiki and the Wyland Gallery. Boutiki is where you find mostly the latest and greatest Disney gifts and apparel in addition to resort specific merchandise. The Wyland Gallery is home to beautiful oceanographic art, some even featuring Disney characters in the paintings and sculptures. Upstairs you find Samoa Snacks (appropriately named for snacks and drinks) and Trader Jack’s which is aimed more at the kids with clothing, toys and games.
Disney’s Polynesian Resort features standard rooms that accommodate up to five guests plus an infant under three with two queen sized beds and a day bed, in addition to club level rooms and larger suites that can accommodate up to nine plus an infant. This is the only one of the deluxe resorts that can guarantee the bedding of two queens and a day bed, whereas it is a request at the other deluxe resorts aside from Animal Kingdom and Wilderness Lodges which offer two queen beds standard. The rooms are some of the largest at WDW and offer a mini fridge, coffeemaker, ceiling fan, full bath, desk area, complimentary wifi, and either a patio or a balcony.
A great draw to the resort is the variety of restaurants and bars between the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show (a luau!!!), ‘Ohana, Kona Cafe, Kona Island Coffee/Sushi Bar, Capt. Cook’s, Barefoot Pool Bar, Tambu Lounge, and of course, private dining. Now, being that this is my favorite resort in all of Walt Disney World, I have experienced the majority of these dining experiences with the exception of ‘Ohana for the character breakfast, Kona Cafe for lunch and private dining (WDW’s nomenclature for room service).
The Spirit of Aloha in Luau Cove was a great time with good food and fun for kids and the adults with a story at the beginning and more adult geared cultural information and dances towards the end of the show. Capt. Cook’s is a wonderful counter service location on the first level of the Great Ceremonial House, and is one of only a handful on property that is open 24 hours (the grill is usually closed from 11pm to 6:30am). One of my favorite things ever is here in the self serve dole whip, which you can get in either pineapple, vanilla, or my favorite twist. I have been known to take my dole whip creating to a whole new level. 😉
Kona Cafe is located on the second level of the Great Ceremonial House and features awesome meals for breakfast like the infamous Tonga Toast (which you can also get at Capt. Cook’s), a thick slice of sourdough bread stuffed with sauteed bananas and covered in cinnamon sugar. Another great breakfast find is Kona coffee in a French press and the pineapple macadamia nut pancakes. Lunch and dinner offer nice salads, sandwiches, pot stickers, coconut chicken and an awesome teriyaki strip steak. The adjacent Kona Island Coffee Bar in the morning and Sushi Bar at night, shares the same menu and also offers a few other grab and go items in the morning. The tuna poke at the Sushi Bar is one of my go to quick, but delicious sushi meals on property. It is awesome being able to watch the sushi chefs prepare your meal right in front of you if you are lucky enough to get a seat right at the counter.
Now if you like meat ‘Ohana is the place for you to go for dinner. The restaurant has an open concept and serves their meals family style, bringing the meat straight from the open wood fire grills. Shrimp, pork, chicken and beef are served off of giant skewers that are brought table side by the servers. Side dishes are just as tasty as the meats and accompanying dipping sauces. The salad features a honey lime vinaigrette that is one of the best in my opinion. Coconut bread, asian noodles, pot stickers and broccoli are also served with the meal. And then comes dessert. The bread pudding. Oh my goodness the bread pudding. Now in general, I am not a fan of bananas cooked in things or banana flavored food, despite the fact I love bananas themselves, but the bread pudding at ‘Ohana and the Tonga Toast at either Capt. Cook’s or Kona seem to be the exception to the rule. I don’t know what they do to it, but that bread pudding is magical. Thank goodness it is all you care to eat because you will be asking (maybe even begging) for more! As I mentioned, I haven’t had the breakfast at ‘Ohana, but I have heard great things about it and have snuck in to take a few pictures for the sake of reporting back to you fine folks. It looks like it is a great time with Mickey and friends (please be aware characters may vary), which on the day I visited featured Mickey in a very festive Hawaiian shirt as well as Pluto, Lilo and Stitch.
Tambu Lounge is probably my favorite place to stop for an adult beverage at Disney World. It offers great views of the grounds and even a peek at Cinderella Castle across the lagoon. On top of this, it also is home to one of my favorite drinks, the backscratcher. This is not for the faint of heart as it consists of rum, more rum and some Jack Daniels, along with some tropical fruit juice and is typically garnished with an orange, a cherry, and of course a backscratcher. No, I’m not kidding. The drink is served in a hurricane type glass and comes with a backscratcher, which is usually placed in your drink by the bartender. It is fruity, but not too sweet, and hits the spot if you are just looking for a nice drink to help you unwind while in this tropical paradise. They also make a killer zombie as well as the standard fare found in almost all the bars across property. If pool bars are more your thing, check out the Barefoot Pool Bar for gorgeous views of the Nanea Volcano Pool and the beach as well as the Magic Kingdom. If mom and dad want to have an evening to themselves while enjoying a few cocktails they can always look into enrolling the kids (ages 3-12) at the Neverland Club from 4pm – 12am. This is the Children’s Activity Center located right at the Polynesian and offers a kid’s club atmosphere with dinner, snack, movies, games, arts and crafts (call for pricing). Hey, parents are on vacation too you know!
Speaking of pools, the Polynesian offers two: the aforementioned Nanea Volcano Pool, which is the main theme pool complete with a slide running down the volcano and zero entry at one end, and the quiet pool. For views, I don’t think the main pool can be beat with a beautiful panorama of the beach and lagoon as well as a direct sight line to Cinderella Castle. The only thing I feel the resort is lacking is a hot tub. They offer great private cabanas with poolside service, restrooms and showers by the pool, hammocks on the beach, lounge chairs and the bar. Other recreation options at the resort can be found in pool activities and games like trivia, name that tune, diving for toys in the pool and dance parties. The resort also has its own marina, called the Mikala Canoe Club. Sea Raycers, pontoon boats, Boston Whalers, sailboats and bicycles can all be rented here. For those who favor more of the indoor activities, the Polynesian also has an arcade called Moana Mickey’s, which is next to Capt. Cook’s on the first level of the Great Ceremonial House.
The beach at the Polynesian is beautiful and offers sweeping views of the Magic Kingdom resort area with the Wedding Pavilion and Grand Floridian to the left, the Magic Kingdom straight ahead, and Bay Lake Tower and the Contemporary to the right. One activity that I love to partake in when I stay at the Polynesian is the nightly movie on the beach. Each night (subject to cancellation due to inclement weather), the resort inflates a large movie screen and sets up lounge chairs on the beach for guests to watch a Disney movie free of charge. This is a great way to spend a nice evening at the resort relaxing after being on the go in the parks all day. Sometimes they even set up a small fire pit and sell smores kits or marshmallows to roast. Another classic, not to be missed nighttime display is the Electrical Water Pageant, which has been around since the 1970s, shortly after the resort opened. If you are lucky, you may even be able to time it right to where you can see Wishes from the beach of the Polynesian with the water pageant in front of you. Talk about magic!!!
I don’t know what it is about this resort that makes it just feel like home to me. Maybe it is the welcoming smell of grilled meats and the flickering tiki torches along with the mellifluous sounds of familiar (to me) Hawaiian music. Or it could be that I have a hammock on the beach that I have claimed as my own and I have spent many hours there enjoying the sounds of the faint train whistle off in the distance of the Magic Kingdom across the water. Perhaps it is the aesthetically pleasing tropical decor found across the common areas of the resort and in the rooms. Backscratchers are always a compelling draw, but no, I think it must be the dole whips. 🙂
Please check out my youtube video of some more pictures from the Polynesian.
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