How did all this get started? Thanks to all the readers who have emailed me over the years, these web pages turned from a one page collection of some trip photos to a multi-page information site about one of the most loved resorts. I never intended these pages to become what they did but as I saw there was a need and many enjoyed reading about the Polynesian, I decided to expand the pages to hopefully supply the demand. I have been in contact with so many people that I would otherwise never know if it were not for these pages. That has made it all worth the effort. Hopefully this site will help you decide if the Polynesian is right for you. If not, Disney has many other resorts with different themes and price ranges to choose from.
The things that allowed me to create all of this my experience with travel, my friendships formed with Disney staff and the information I get from many of the readers. The “Tikiman” nickname came about on a discussion forum where someone called me that because my Avatar was a Tiki. Others started to refer to me by that name and it sort of stuck. I don't mind the name since I have a great love for tikis and the history and culture behind them.
As the pages grew the interest in the site grew and the questions I got increased. Since I started getting so many of the same questions I decided I would put the information on the site. I wanted to be able to answer all the questions so I would spend entire days at the resort walking every path and every longhouse, taking photos and writing notes as well as sitting and talking with the staff to see what is new or what might be happening in the future. I have had many conversations with people at Disney that are behind the scenes who where there when it all began. From these discussions with staff I ended up with a better understanding of the resort and how it worked behind the scenes.
These pages are not to talk you into staying at the Polynesian but to give you a better understanding of the resort. There is much misinformation about this resort and hopefully these pages will give you the facts so you can make your own choice when it comes to either picking this resort or not. I have no reason to talk you into staying at the Polynesian but if you do than I hope you have as good an experience as I have. Mostly what you will find on these pages are facts (not opinion). Also any links I have to other sites or products are only things that I recommend or use myself.
As I learned about the Polynesian from those who were there when it all evolved I was amazed myself at how much detail when into the creation and continuing renovation of the resort. One of the things that helped me enjoy the Polynesian Resort was to have an understanding of the culture that the designs came from.
The thing that confuses me the most is how some call the Polynesian resort dark, 70’s or (my favorite) Brady Bunch. I should not blame anyone for these opinions because it is just from a lack of exposure to the authentic Polynesian style. The Polynesian was built in the 70’s and the original look and feel of the common areas and rooms reflected that. From the 40’s to the early 70’s there was a big Tiki pop culture but if you look at the original photos of the Polynesian in the 70’s you will see that when they updated in the early 90’s they got rid of the 70’s stuff and replaced it with the same materials and colors that you would find in old Polynesia. They even order fabric and building materials from Hawaii for the Polynesian. As far as the Polynesian being too dark, well that is a matter of opinion and I cannot imagine the Polynesian being bright with pastel colors like the Grand Floridian. I realize some hotels in Hawaii do look more upscale and are decorated like the Grand Floridian but in Hawaii many of the long lasting hotels had a huge influence from the British since they found the islands. Some resorts on the islands are true to the culture and do have the bamboo furniture and the Hawaiian prints. I have seen many that look much like the Polynesian. The other thing to understand is the Polynesian is not just Hawaii. It represents many islands and even some of the look and feel of Adventureland. If you go to many of the islands that the longhouses are named after you will see those dark Earth tones and natural materials used. The Disney designers spent time in places like Samoa,Tahiti,and Hawaii to come up with the designs. The design for the Great Ceremonial House (GCH) was inspired by the royal assembly lodges in Tahiti. The longhouses were designed after authentic Hawaiian longhouses. My belief is they were going for more of an immersion into the theme (sort of like walking into Adventureland) and not trying to be the Royal Hawaiian (on Oahu).
So lets start from the beginning. The name Polynesia was given to the Pacific islands by a French explorer Charles Brosses which came from Greek words “Polynesian” (many) and “nesos” (islands). Later Dumont d’Urville defined the Pacific region by breaking it into 3 parts. These were Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. Polynesia actually only covers the area with in the triangle formed by Hawaii, New Zealand (Aotearoa), Easter Island (Rapanui). Melanesia, located west of Polynesia and below the equator, includes Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Solomon Islands. Micronesia is home to Palau, the Marshall Islands and Guam which is north of Melanesia. All of these cultures are knows as Oceania.
When the Polynesian Village was first built the design of the longhouses and the garden areas was very representative of the Polynesian culture but even I will admit that the décor inside the rooms and the GCH had some hints of bad 70’s design. I am sure at the time it was “groovy” to most but I am glad it did not last into the later 90’s.
The rooms were full of plastic furniture and patterns that represent that time period. The halls and pool areas overflowed in turquoise, but in the late 70’s when Oahu (now called Tokelau) was built they were starting plans for expanding and changing the Polynesian for the future. Oahu was built with “test” rooms that would give them a chance to see what room layout they liked best. This is why in some rooms of Tokelau you will find different floor plans but only in a handful of rooms and most that work there do not know what room numbers these “test” rooms are.
After the expansion of Oahu (Tokelau) in 1978 they added on the last two longhouses Moorea and Pago Pago (now called Tahiti and Rapa Nui) in 1985. The rooms were brighter but still representative to the Polynesian look. Many worry about the age of the Polynesian but even the Grand Floridian is only a few years older than the newest longhouses at the Polynesian. The Polynesian sees a lot of traffic and this is why every 2 years or so it gets a soft rehab to all of its rooms. A soft rehab is usually replacing damaged materials, a thorough cleaning and a fresh paint job. The Polynesian has seen major redesigns to the rooms over the years. About every 7 to 10 years they usually do a complete redesign of the rooms. IN many cases they have gutted the rooms down to the structure of the room so nothing inside the rooms is original or even older than 10 years.
During the rehab in the late 90’s I never did feel like the construction was a distraction or had an impact on my stay. I felt the same way when they were doing the recent rehab in 2002 and now in 2005. Also in the 90’s the concierge lounge was taken from the Great Ceremonial House lobby and added it onto the Hawaii longhouse. Then concierge (Club level) went from all the lagoon view rooms to just in Hawaii and Tonga with the lounge for both located in Hawaii.
After another soft rehab in 2001 for all the longhouses they started a major reconstruction of the original longhouses in October 2001 and finished in 2003.
The longhouses have had problems with moisture because of 2 things. One is because they are made of wood on the outer structure and since the original longhouse rooms were constructed using the modular rooms and stacked like blocks, there is space under the floors where water is getting trapped. To fix this they took everything out of the rooms down to the structure and cementing the floors as well as redoing some of the landscaping to keep the water from flowing towards the buildings. They are also replacing much of the wood on the outer surface of the buildings and stairways of the longhouses.
The Polynesian does its best to keep the place up since they get the most repeat guests out of all the Walt Disney World resorts and they also were 1st in the amount of Honeymoons and Anniversaries. With all the work that goes on and replacement of materials there is very little you can see around the resort that is original or even more than 10 years old. Inside the rooms is even newer since they are getting a new room design in 2013. Every part of the Polynesian that you can see has been replaced and updated in just the last few years or in some cases the last few months. I have seen reports that people say it is looking dated or needs some attention. Some even say the landscaping is getting old. That riught there is an indication that they have a misperception about the resort because even the landscaping gets redone every few years.
I hope to see the Polynesian continue to work hard to make the place a wonderful vacation destination for years to come. It has so much to offer with one of the largest standard rooms on Walt Disney World property, the best view of all Walt Disney World resorts (my opinion) and all the activities and food you could want. On top of all that I believe they have the best staff of any Walt Disney World resort. Soon it will offer up the largest Disney Vacation Club rooms when they open DVC at the resort in 2015.
I do try other resorts and have visited almost all of them but the Polynesian is my destination when visiting Walt Disney World.
To find out where the idea of the Polynesian came about you have to dig inside Walt Disney's head in the late 50's. Walt was a frequent customer of Polynesian supper clubs and loved the food and atmosphere. Because of this he wanted to open his own Tiki restaurant that would be better than any other in the world. The thing he wanted to add that made it different but sticking to the true Polynesian design was to animate the decore. He wanted to make the Tikis, birds and flowers move and talk. This was not only the birth of the idea of the Polynesian resort but Audio Animatronics which is at the heart and soul of all the Disney parks.
The project was to have 225 robotic performers directed by a fourteen-channel magnetic tape feeding 100 separate speakers and controlling 438 separate actions. This was going to be too much to put into a restaurant and still have room for tables and a kitchen so this became the Tiki Room attraction in 1963 at Disneyland.
So what does this have to do with the Polynesian Resort. This is not only when he thought about creating a resort that was themed like the Tiki room but the designs for the Tiki Room worked their way into the original designs of the Polynesian.
One of the people Walt used to design the look that later found its way to the Florida project was artist Rolly Crump who designed the statues.
Another artist who worked on the design was Marc Davis who was an animator for Snow White, Bambi and 101 Dalmations. He had an interest in Paupuan New Guinea art.
All of the signs around the Polynesian were created by Oceanic Arts which was one of the original Tiki carvers in the US and it created Tiki for places like Don the Beachcomber in Hawaii and even Trader Vic's.
You can still to this day find an old reject sign from the construction of the Polynesian Village Resort hanging in Oceanic Arts in Southern California. You don’t get much more authentic than that on the mainland when it comes to carvings.
The Polynesian has grown over the years but the heart and soul that Walt gave it will remain.
The Ka’anapali Beach Hotel has served as a role model for other large-scale operations, such as Disney's Polynesian Resort. Clyde Min, Director of Hotel Planning and Operations, said, "The Ka'anapali Beach Hotel is a great role model and 'living laboratory' for evaluating our process at Disney."
I was chatting with a long time CM at the Polynesian about the Kaanapali Beach Resort and this is what the response was:
"The Kaanapoli Beach Resort also worked with our resort a few years ago on bringing more culture etc to our resort. That was when Clyde Min was the General Manager. A lot of updating and changes started happening then. Instead of just being a Polynesian themed hotel, more culture and knowledge of the islands were brought in. There was a cultural specialist that came to the resort and worked with our General Manager on making those changes so they were as authentic as possible. It was neat to see the changes take place."
As you click through the pages I hope you learn more about the Polynesian even if you decide to never stay there. Every resort has its fun facts but with the Polynesian being part of the original Walt Disney World concept if gives it something a little more special than most of the resorts.