The Polynesian has gone through some changes since it first opened so lets take a look at how it has changed since 1971. Many of the noted changes over the years in my history section were taken from a list of yearly changes documented by the Polynesian staff.
The Polynesian opened on October 1, 1971 and it had 484 guest rooms (6 being suites) divided between eight guest longhouses across 39 acres. The original buildings were Bali Hai, Bora Bora, Fiji, Hawaii, Maui (later changed to Maori), Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga. The resort was designed by Welton Becket and Associates of Santa Monica, California and WED Enterprises and constructed by US Steel Realty Develpoment. The rooms were constructed fully off-site and each room weighed 8.5 tons.
This was to be the place where everyone from your next door neighbor to the rich and famous, could come to relax and play. The designers wanted guests to be spellbound when they stayed at the Polynesian. Some say the feel of the Polynesian is old or representitive of the 70's, the time from which it was built, but those who know true Polynesian design can see the attention to detail that the original designers had when creating the Polynesian. From the minute you walk into the lobby and see the 2 1/2 story atrium made of lava rock and surrounded by tropical plants, until you venture through the lush landscaping on your way to the white sand beaches that line the lagoon,you will realize what Walt Disney's idea of paradise was.
When the Polynesian and Contemporary first opened the rooms were very similar inside with very little amenities or decorations. Part of the reason for this was a rush to get the resorts open on time and not coming up with a great design that everyone could agree on before October 1971. The rooms had almost nothing on the wall for decoration other than a very contemporary mirror (which I believe was also used in the Contemporary Resort room) and an accent wall with a patterned wallpaper. As you can see from these photos (thanks to Dave Giddings' photo collection), even the furniture looked more modern (for 1970) than it did tropical. This initial design only lasted a few years before something more bold was introduced to the rooms.
The Grand Opening celebration for the Polynesian was on October 24, 1971 and it the official birthday of the resort which is one day before the Contemporary's. The opening celebration featured a spectacular night time luau on the lagoon shore.More than 1,000 guests feasted royally on authentic island delicacies, while dozens of Polynesian entertainers performed the native dances of Tahiti, Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand and Bora Bora.
The Grand Opening celebration concluded with an "Electrical Water Pageant" serpentining across the lagoon. Accompanied by lively music, the pageant starred King Neptune and his court of sea serpents, spouting whales, sea lions, mermaids and other creatures of the deep.
The post card for the opening of the what was then called The Polynesian Village. The back of the poast card says, "A "tropical island adventure" awaits guests at the Polynesian Village resort. Entertainment, food, decor and shopping all blend into a South Seas vacation atmosphere. Palm-lined sandy beaches are just a barefoot stroll away, while the "rest of the World" is reached by outrigger, sailboats, old-fashioned side-wheel steamboats and swift monorail trains."
When it opened the original shops included the Polynesian Princess, Robinson Crusoe, Esq., Trader Jack's Grog Hut and Village Gifts and Sundries. There was 6 miles of bamboo used on the Polynesian. The orignial baby sitting service was the Mouseketeer Club.
Along with the shops the Pepeete Bay Varandah, Coral Isle Coffee Shop, South Seas Room and Tambu Lounge opened along with the resort. The Luau also opened with the resort but was served on the beach since Luau Cove did not exist until a year later.
The small building in front of the Polynesian next to the valet was constructed to store luggage.
The Eastern Winds was docked in the Polynesian Marina in the early years and would take you on a cruise three times an evening. It was a 65 foot Chineese junk (brought over from Hong Hong) that was a floating cocktail lounge. This was back when most of the resort entertainment was more themed to adult entertainment and not as many kid friendly things. The Polynesian resort was meant to be a place for adults to relax after taking their kids to the park all day but over the years things switched from adult to kid themed activities.
The cruise around the lakes took about an hour and a half and offered entertainment and cocktails. Depending on which cruise you took you could see the water ski show, Electrical Water Pageant or fireworks from the deck of the Eastern Winds. (Photo of Eastern Winds thanks to Dave Giddings http://www.jetsetenterprises.com/cruise/Photo%20Gallery%20-%20Vintage%20WDW.htm)
Here are some more photos from Dave Giddings collection. You can see how different things were around the resort. The plants were not very established even in 1973 and there was a lot more empty space around the resort since there were no buildings past what is now Hawaii and Rarotonga.
You can asle see the swim platform out in a roped off swimming area of the lagoon that has a slide into the water. This was back when swimming was allowed in the lagoon. The slide eventually was removed and at one time many years later placed at the East pool but the dock remained into the 80s.
This year saw its first room design change. I can't say I am a huge fan of it but it was a step in the right direction from the boring look of the rooms in the first few years. The furniture changed, different carpet was put in, new light fixtures and more colorful patterns. In this photo you get a rare glimps at a king bed room that use to exist and recently was brought back in the room design change of 2013. With the king bed room of the early 70s you ended up with a day bed next to the king.
You can see in this photo from 1974 that the Bob-a-round boats were still at the marina. They were $8 a hour (which was one of the more expensive marina choices)
Heaters were added to the Luau this year along with the main kitchen for the Polynesian being modified to allow for more items.
December 29th, John Lennon received the paperwork at his room at the Polynesian Village to sign that would end the group called the Beatles. As the story was told by May Pang, he was the last to sign the paperwork in the room at the Polynesian. There are photos of this happening in the room at the Polynesian in her book that can be found at http://www.instamatickarma.com . While staying in Florida someone mentioned going to Disney World with the kids. Hear her talk about it on Lou's podcast http://www.wdwradio.com/2009/01/show-103-jan-25-2009/
The photos of John on vacation wearing the Mickey shirt were often thought to be taken at the Polynesian Village but the photos were taken in Palm Beach during the same trip that they were at the Polynesian Village. Those that were working the resort at the time say that the room that John was in at the time is not exactly known but the building the room was in was Hawaii Longhouse. At that time Hawaii longhouse was what is now Samoa Longhouse and not the Hawaii Club Level longhouse that is there today. In fact the now Hawaii longhouse was not even a Club Level longhouse and had no lounge added to the end of it until the early 1990's.
The Luau area was continuing to evolve and modifications were made in June of this year. The South Seas Room had a rehab and the monorail platform was refurbished with the ticket booth being removed.
The Luau again was getting some additions. The seating in the back had risers added.
Some people that see the Polynesian now say that it looks 70's but very little of what you see now was even done in the 70's. The look of the Polynesian when it was built was completely different than it is now as you can see from the GCH picture (above left). Even the rooms had yellow, turquoise and light green colors. Now you will see earth tones and colors that were used in Polynesian culture so if anything now the Polynesian looks everything but 70's.Thanks to Robert Fleming at Disney Pix for the great photos. For more visit Disneypix.com.
The first expansion of the resort came in 1978 when they added the longhouse Oahu (later called Tokelau). This added 144 rooms, bumping the room count for the resort up to 628 rooms. They also added the East Pool next to this new longhouse that is now reffered to as the quiet pool. The new longhouse and pool are shown in the far left lower corner of this picture below.
I keep hearing people say that the Polynesian never really changed the look of the rooms since they opened and that the rooms and resort still look 70's. Well those are people that never visited the resort in the 70's 80's or early 90's when they had major room renovations to change the look. The resort just about everywhere has changed and updated but stayed with the theme.
You can find many other great old photos at http://jefflangedvd.com/
Rest rooms were added to the Luau
Plants were replaced around the pool area and at the entrance.