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.
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.
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.)
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!)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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.