The New Look of the Great Ceremonial House at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

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Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort was one of the original resorts that opened at Walt Disney World in 1971. Last year, the South Seas-inspired hotel began undergoing major renovations. Some changes have been universally welcomed (Trader Sam’s!), while others are more controversial.

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The “re-imagined” interior of the Great Ceremonial House (i.e. the lobby) was unveiled in December 2014. Many longtime fans of “The Poly” lamented the removal of the grand centerpiece of rock waterfalls and dozens of varieties of tropical plants.

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The new focal point is now above — an impressive display of giant netted fishing floats and rattan lamps that give off a subtle glow. Venture upstairs to see them in all their glory (and get a drink at Tambu Lounge if it’s after 1 p.m.)

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A much smaller waterfall feature has been installed in the middle, but it seems kind of silly in comparison. The concept art included a statue of the Polynesian mascot on top of this, but it hasn’t made an appearance yet. (I’m guessing that’s still part of the plan since the Disney Parks Blog had a merchandise preview for a mini-figurine based on it.) (3/23/15 Update: The tiki has finally arrived!)

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From a practical standpoint, it makes sense why they removed it. (Rumor has it that the maintenance was a major factor.) It also opened up the space for more seating areas for guests waiting to check in or just relaxing. (And if you squint you can see Cinderella Castle off in the distance.)

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The downside is the feeling of stepping into a Hawaiian tropical rainforest has been lost. Hopefully they’ll be able to recapture some of that when they finish the waterfalls along the entrance path from the parking lot.

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Near the elevators you’ll find beautiful concept art from two of my favorite Disney Legends: Rolly Crump for Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Mary Blair for the New Guinea scene of It’s a Small World.

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Just outside the far end of the lobby is Pineapple Lanai, a new walk-up counter serving Dole Whip (pineapple, vanilla or swirl) with the option of getting a souvenir tiki bowl. This is where you get your fix since they removed the self-serve Dole Whip machine from Capt. Cook’s.

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So far, the restaurants ‘Ohana, Tambu Lounge and Kona are still relatively the same, but Capt. Cook’s recently received a makeover. (Stay tuned for a full review.) And as I mentioned, on its way very soon is Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, Orlando’s own version of Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar.

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On top of that, there’s the April 1st debut of Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, featuring 20 brand-new Bora Bora Bungalows perched over the Seven Seas Lagoon. They were built for Disney Vacation Club members but guests can also rent these two-bedroom accommodations for upwards of $2,000 per night, reportedly. (I love Disney, obviously, but that’s more expensive than staying at some of the actual overwater bungalows in Tahiti…)

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For more information on the renovations, I suggest checking out Steve’s updates on Tiki Man Pages. He also discussed Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto more in depth on episode 71 (March 2, 2015) of the Enchanted Tiki Talk podcast.

Tiki Treasures from The Story of Disneyland Exhibition & Auction at Van Eaton Galleries

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Right now, the two-room space at Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks (LA area) is so full of Disney treasures that it may be the next best thing to visiting The Happiest Place on Earth itself. (Also, it’s free and you’re probably less likely to catch measles.)

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It’s all part of The Story of Disneyland: An Exhibition and Sale, one anonymous person’s massive collection that will be auctioned off piece by piece on February 28 & March 1, 2015. A substantial portion of the items are on view to the public through February 27, Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

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The colorful castmember uniforms ($400-$600) from Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room were so popular that the fabric was sold in Adventureland stores. There were a few different patterns, with my favorite being the one featured here on the left (closeup on Instagram). On the right is a vintage hostess costume ($900-$1200) complete with nametag from the now-defunct Tahitian Terrace restaurant. In the middle is an original Enchanted Tiki Room attraction poster ($10,000-$12,000).

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The Adventureland piece with the highest bidding estimate — $20,000-$30,000 — is this animatronic member of the Enchanted Tiki Room’s chorus from the 1970s. It was apparently purchased from an Imagineer who worked on the Tiki Room and it still has all the original hardware inside.

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The same can’t be said for this feathered friend, so he’s valued a little lower at just $18,000-$20,000. How did this little birdie fly away? A cast member received it as a retirement gift from their supervisor! (Sure beats a gold watch.)

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Recognize this? It’s the finial that sat atop the A-frame ticket booth at the entrance to the Enchanted Tiki Room. According to the catalog, an Imagineer rescued this one-of-a-kind piece ($15,000-$20,000) from demolition when the bamboo and wood structure had to be torn down in 2000. Later, renowned carver Leroy Schmaltz of Oceanic Arts was commissioned to make a wooden base for it.

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Not everything will cost you beaucoup bucks, though. There are lots of things in the $100-$200 range, like these Disneyland Moai salt and pepper shakers from 1956. (These seem to appear on eBay for less every now and again, but the attention for this particular auction will surely drive up the price.)

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Now this face I really couldn’t place. Turns out it’s one of three handpainted “Nature Tree Masks” ($2,000-$4,000) that adorned the trees near the loading area of the Jungle Cruise for a few years around 1956.

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There are also six “Tangaroa-Ru Babies” that descended from the flowers of the Tangaroa tree of life at the end of the Enchanted Tiki Room pre-show. Disney Legend/Imagineer Rolly Crump designed these based on Polynesian carvings. They’re estimated to go for about $3,000 each. The deep-pocketed collector could be well on their way to building their own authentic Enchanted Tiki Room.

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Rolly Crump also designed these smaller ceramic versions ($200-$400) that were sold as souvenirs at Disneyland. The catalog notes that they’re rare finds.

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Many of the artifacts were once Disney property or official souvenirs, but there are also stashes of visitors’ personal slides and photographs from over the years. I adore this picture of these ladies posing with the Marquesan tiki that used to be in Adventureland. It’s part of a bundle of 10 amateur photos at Disneyland circa 1956-1959.

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You can browse through the entire collection in the 300-page online catalog, which is also available for purchase in a soft-cover version ($30) and a hard-cover edition ($95, including a complimentary soft-cover copy). (There’s a section dedicated to Disney World’s Polynesian Resort starting on page 287.)

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Which of these items would you bid on if you had unlimited funds? I’d love this flower boat ($12,000-$15,000) from Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room as the centerpiece for my own tiki room. Or perhaps the Pirates of the Caribbean skeleton ($60,000-$80,000) guzzling liquor for more of a Smuggler’s Cove style…

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The Story of Disneyland
Van Eaton Galleries
13613 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
818-788-2357

Try Your Hand at Audio-Animatronics at the Walt Disney Family Museum – San Francisco, CA

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“It’s like a trip to Disneyland itself…It’s the third happiest place on the planet, behind Disneyland and Disney World.” That’s what Tom Hanks said about visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum when researching the man behind the mouse for “Saving Mr. Banks” — and I think many Disney fans would agree.

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First off, it’s located in a gorgeous historic building, a restored 1890s army barracks in the Presidio overlooking the San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. I highly recommend getting a snack and coffee from the cafe and enjoying the views out on the veranda when you need a break between walking through the exhibitions.

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After buying your tickets, the first room you’ll enter is filled with various awards, including the honorary Academy Award (and seven little Oscars) that Shirley Temple presented to Walt Disney in 1939 for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” It’s such an iconic moment in Disney history so it’s neat to see these statuettes in person.

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The non-profit museum, which opened in 2009, was co-founded by Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller and chronologically narrates his personal and professional history. “My kids have literally encountered people who didn’t know that my father was a person,” she told The New York Times. “They think he’s just some kind of corporate logo.” (Here’s the Disney family leaving Honolulu on the Matson Lines‘ SS Lurline after a Hawaiian vacation.)

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Walt Disney led a pretty interesting life even before he became a household name. While he was still a teenager, he lied about his age so he could enlist for World War I. These were the little souvenirs he brought back from France where he drove trucks and ambulances after the armistice.

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Another random piece of ephemera that caught my attention was this handwritten list of Walt Disney’s favorite foods that he’d made for the housekeeper. (The paper was rediscovered decades later tucked in a magazine at the house.) Spam and eggs with biscuits and honey, FTW.

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A centerpiece of the ninth gallery, “The 1950s & 1960s: The Big Screen & Beyond,” is the 12-foot model of “The Disneyland of Walt’s Imagination.” He considered the park to be an ever-changing entity and the map features original attractions as well as ones that were in the planning stages during his lifetime. If you look closely you can see Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Tahitian Terrace.

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New to this section as of this year is “Pepe del Presidio,” a replica of the “Barker Bird” that used to beckon guests outside the entrance to the Enchanted Tiki Room. (It made its debut at a tiki-themed Animate Your Night! party presented by Tiki Oasis and Smuggler’s Cove — I bet there will be more of these in the future as the first two seem to have been pretty successful.)

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After a few minutes of video on the history of Audio-Animatronics, guests can use the joystick to control the bird’s movements and make it open its beak, nod and turn its head, move its body forward and back, and puff out its chest. Such a fun, interactive element!

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Naturally, a stop at the gift shop is a must. In addition to numerous books, pins, jewelry and shirts, there were Kuku and MarqMarq mugs designed by Tom “Big Toe” Laura for Tiki Farm.

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It was all I could do not to collect all of these Enchanted Tiki Room charms: all the parrots (Jose, Fritz, Pierre and Michael, plus the Barker Bird for $6.95 each), two designs for the tiki drummers and totems, and an E ticket ($8.95). They’re exclusive to the Walt Disney Family Museum, just in case you needed another incentive to make a visit.

Walt Disney Family Museum
104 Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA 94129
415-345-6800