Construction report (updated Feb 19)
Some updates to what is going on around the resort. As we all know most of these reports have not been officially released. While some people are being notified when they make a reservation, others who already have a reservation don’t seem to be getting updates from Disney. Also from what different people are telling me they are being notified about, some are being told more than others. I have had people tell me they were sent a letter telling them about the construction on the east side of the resort with no disruption to the pools or lobby. This is the same letter I posted last October. Others have been told a little more.
Guests are also calling the resort for information. I know for many of you this is going to sound like a broken record but for those of you new to this site, calling the resort number is not actually calling anyone at the Polynesian Resort. It is a call center that takes the calls for the resort. I know people are even told they are talking to the front desk at the resort but that is your first indication that something is not right because front desk phones are not capable of taking outside calls. When you call and ask what is going on at the resort or what will be going on months from now, they often do not have that information. Since they are not at the resort they can’t even go and look to see what is going on. Many times someone will be told nothing is going on at the resort and all renovations are done. We all know that construction is going on but these Cast Members are reading the information that they have and it will say that the room renovations are completed but makes no mention of the construction going on for DVC. Also much of the news about what is coming will not be shared with the call centers until just before or right when they start working on these things.
I keep updating my time line on my DVC page to show how things are progressing. You can visit that page here http://www.tikimanpages.com/poly/the-resort/dvc/item/191-disney-vacation-club
We all know that even when they set dates internally they often change. We have seen the dates for the pool construction change many times since 2012. Disney even sent out official notice of the pool closing last year and it did not. The latest bump to the pool schedule pushed it from closing in May to closing in August. It is still projected to be closed for about a year.
The Neverland Club was to close on the 28th but closed a few days early. The schedule Disney had showed it reopening in April but that has since changed to show the kids club closed for the rest of 2014. Recently the April reopening date has come back up with a notification that went out to some Travel Agents saying that the reopening date would be April 27. I will wait for April to come and see what happens. The club will reopen with a new Hawaiian theme and not be called the Neverland Club. By the permits it looks as if it might be growing into the old arcade area adjacent to the kids club.
Tahiti finally closed but as of today Rapa Nui remains open. I would expect Rapa Nui to close soon.
Wyland Gallery closed to prepare for the first stage of the Great Ceremonial House renovation. It will not be the location for Trader Sam’s but reports have it being a temporary check in location. This may indicate that the check in area will get done first but we will have to wait and see if that is true and when that will happen. There is some information that suggests that the plans for that area after the new check in is completed is to have it become an ice cream shop or something to do with Dole Whips. A possible schedule for Great Ceremonial work to start and be completed is March to December but this is not confirmed. The whole building will not close. Only sections at a time.
As of today I was informed that it is true that work in the Great Ceremonial house will start in March and it looks like Captain Cook’s will be one of the first things that will close to be worked on. As of now Captain Cook’s is scheduled to close March 9th. It is expected to be closed about 6 months. A temporary quick service food location will be set up over in a building near the old Tangaroa Terrace called at Cast Cove inside the Great Cermonial House. Cast Cove is currently used at a Cast Member cafeteria.
There is also word that Trader Sam’s is expected to be completed by February 2015 but no start date has been mentioned. Not too long ago, people were being told by CMs at the resort that Trader Sam's was not going to happen. I think with all the information now out there about things going on at the resort a lot of false rumors are starting to be spread.
Work continues around the lagoon with the structures and walkways for the bungalows. Work is expected to go on until late 2015. I get a lot of questions about what will be happening when but even when I have dates they often will change and for many things I don’t have any expected start or completion dates. We just know that they have a lot to do in many areas of the resort and I am sure there are even some projects we don’t even know about.
When the pool construction starts I can see it affecting the whole middle of the resort similar to what happened in 2000 when they built the current volcano pool. The new pool will not really be a new pool but a new area surrounding the pool. The pool and slide will remain as they are but the volcano structure around it will be reduced to some sort of rock formation and the pool deck will expand and change. Work will be going on right outside the walls of the Great Ceremonial House and all the way to the beach. Look at how that area looked in 2000 when the same area was affected. This will limit all traffic to going through the GCH instead of around it and there could be no access on the beach end of the construction. Construction is expected to start late July and go until March 2015.
Permits were filed at the begining of January to do maintenance on both pools. This was originally going to be done in January but was pushed out. This is not the redesign to the Nanea pool. It is time both pools will be shut down to do normal maintenance so I would expect to see the East Pool (aka quiet pool) to close before we see the Nanea Pool close. I have no dates at this time for this to happen.
Additional permits were posted to work on all walkways around the resort so expect sections to be blocked off from time to time. Work to elevators in the longhouses will also affect some buildings over the next few months.
As I mentioned on a forum lately, predicting what construction will be happening months from now is like predicting the weather. We know that a lot of work is planned but we don't know when most of it will start or be completed. Like a weather forcast, we won't have a good idea of how things will be until about a week or so before.
I want to again say thank you to all of you who help with photos, information and live reports. I have some inside contacts that tell me what is going on or what will be going on but having people at the resort is extremely helpful. I could not do all this without you. I also am thankful to those that tell me old stories and send me old photos to grow my history section. It is hard to dig up old stuff so that we do not forget what it was all like. I have boxes of stuff that I hope to share with everyone who visits the site so they can see it all. I have even been working on getting some of the original blue prints of the buildings. I unfortunately lost the bid on the plans for the Great Ceremonial House but I hope to get some of the other ones this ex-Cast Member has. That way we can all see them instead of one person getting them and hiding them away. My goal is to collect as much information, items and photos as I can to share with everyone.
So many Cast members and guests over the years have made my site what it is today.
Changes good or bad?
I go back and forth on how I feel about all the changes but when I was working on my history section I realized that since the Polynesian has opened it has changed drastically. For the most part, it became better. I know many long time or original guests of the Polynesian are gasping at the thought that it got better. I keep hearing how they are ruining it and it will never be the Polynesian that they remember. Well Many times over the 42 years it has been around it has changed to “not be the Polynesian you remember”. Some people even say as a negative that the Polynesian looks old and dated and does not change. While I believe everyone deserves the right to have an opinion, I usually lose all credibility in anyone who says that because it shows me they know very little about the resort.
In my mind the Polynesian has gone through 5 phases and is now entering a 6th phase. Now I am no more an expert on this than most people who have been to the resort many times since it opened and my knowledge of the resort before 1983 is more based on information I have dug up than personal knowledge so you can take this article for what it is worth.
I see the first phase of the resort as being the first 3 or 4 years. The very first year (1971) was only a few months since it opened in October. When it did open and guests were checking in it was still waiting for the paint to dry. It was also the time when not everything was set up and working perfectly. Even the room decore was very boring and not well designed. In fact it shared much of its design with what was in the original Contemporary rooms. The room design did not last long and was changed by 1974. This was the start of a cycle of changing the look of the rooms every so many years.
The luau show was just a smaller version of what they did for the grand opening ceremonies and had no place to live other than out on the beach. The wave machine was an experiment and not everything was up and running all the time. After they worked out the bugs the Polynesian was known as a quiet, isolated resort that seemed miles from anything and often was the place that the rich and famous were coming to stay when going to Disney World. The kids club at the time was the Mouseketeer Club and nothing like the Neverland Club of today. That building did not even exist yet.
They were starting to figure out what worked and what did not. The wave machine did not work the way they wanted and the Luau needed a building to make its home. The building for valet to store your luggage was built. 1975 and 1976 continued the addition of things and other things were showing their wear and were in need of rehab. In 1976 larger projects started and were going to expand the Polynesian into the large grassy, beach lined area between the resort and the Transportation and Ticket Center.
The second phase of the Polynesian came in 1978 when a new longhouse opened called Oahu. We now know it as Tokelau. It was a totally different construction with rooms that were a few feet longer. The hallways were wider and all upper floors had balconies. Some of the rooms had different configurations because they were test rooms for what was to come years later. No doubt a change that came from comments from guests in the first few years.
The old putting green area was replaced with an additional pool and a new building to house laundry, arcade, quick service and table service food as well as take care of in room dinning was added with the new longhouse. This was a big change to the resort. Do you think that people said they would never go back because they were ruining the resort by expanding it? Maybe they did but the Polynesian continued.
These early ears are often referred to by the Polynesian lovers as the best years but my love for the Polynesian comes from my love of Pacific Islands. When I look at the rooms, lobby, amenities and even the menus from those first years I have to say they were awful. While they were great for the 70s they were as authentic as a plastic tiki torch from your local party store. The colors were bad with all the teal and yellows and the menu items were basically your normal food with fruit or a fancy Hawaiian name added to it. Nothing close to the authenticity of the food offered today. Want a Hamburger Hawaii? It’s a cheese burger with a pineapple slice. How about a Diamondhead sandwich? It’s a triple decker, corned beef, turkey, Swiss cheese grilled on rye. Nothing says Hawaii like grilled rye.
This trend of un-authentic look and feel will continue into the early 90s…but lets not skip ahead.
The early 80s had some room decore changes and some new looks to the stores and restaurants. It also continued to add or remove things to the overall resort that they felt were needed or had outlived their usefulness. The South Seas buffet seemed like a strange casualty since it was not replaced until the club level lounge came along. I wish I knew the story behind that. Coral Isle Café and Pepeete Bay’s kitchen started to expand but that was the precursor to adding more rooms. The end of 1984 saw the push of the Polynesian property move all the way to its limit.
The third phase was the last and largest expansion the resort has seen and ever will see. I still have yet to have long time visitors tell me they panicked when they saw all the construction or that after it was no longer the Polynesian they loved. This expansion added 217 more rooms with the addition of Pago Pago and Moorea. Along with this a parking lot was added and at one time an additional check in was going to be in Pago Pago (Rapa Nui). The original longhouses got all new designs to the rooms and hallways as well as some new items for the Great Ceremonial House. This was very similar to what just happened the last couple of years with the new room design and the new construction only the construction now is much smaller than it was then. Many changes and rehabs continued over the years until we get to the most significant time as far as I am concerned.
The early 90’s brought in a new manager (Clyde Min) and every one I talk to that has worked at the Polynesian for the past few decades says this was the biggest change to the resort even if it was nowhere near the construction that has been involved in the past or to come later. This is what I see as the 4th phase.
Clyde and his staff wanted to change the look, feel and attitude of the Polynesian to get away for the 70s and 80s look and go more authentic. They brought in representatives from resorts in Hawaii. This is when the Great Ceremonial House got a huge makeover (like it will again soon). They went away from the teal tile and used natural stone. They used authentic clothes and materials on everything from the GCH to the rooms. The thing that all Cast Members remember the most is they brought in something called the magic of Polynesia and the Aloha Spirit. The Cast members felt valued and the idea was that you could feel good about your job if you could make others feel good. Share the spirit and they did believe in it. I am told to this day that it was a whole new attitude that spread to the guests. This was when I believe the Polynesian first started to represent the islands and not some 70s or 80s version of a Disney Hotel wrapped in a longhouse. From that point on each redesign involved more added authentic details. If anyone who has seen the Polynesian since the early 90s and says its dated or tacky they just don’t get it.
Other major changes in the 90s were things like concierge level (what is now called Club Level). The Polynesian has always been a test bed for new things. It almost always gets to test things before other resorts have them introduced. Concierge Level was first at the Polynesian in 1985 but it was a lounge located in the Great Ceremonial House where Boutiki is now. You had access to the food and drinks in the lounge if you were booked Concierge Level and you had your own concierge. At the time any lagoon view room could have Concierge added onto it as an added level. In the early 90s the lounge was removed from the Great Ceremonial House and moved over to Tonga Longhouse (Now Called Hawaii). Only rooms in Tonga and Bali Hai (now Tonga) could have Concierge level as part of the room
Things at the Polynesian had a normal cycle of changing every 3 to 5 years like room decore and even exteriors of the longhouses. The longhouses started out with a natural wood color with the brown roofs and dark brown trim. Later the natural wood color was painted white, then brown but in the renovations that started in 1996 the resort became more colorful. The accents on the roof beams and the walls of the longhouses all got new colors. I have had a few debates on when these accents were added to the longhouses and Great Ceremonial House. It was said that the colors were there from the begining but not only did I visit in the mid 90s when the colors were not there but the next year the colors were added. You can also see it in this early photo taken by Disney that shows that there were no accent colors added to the longhouse or the top of the GCH. I believe the colors were added because of so many comments of how dark the resort seemed but I was not much of a fan of the bright colors. To me it made things seem a little too cartoonish.
In other areas things were starting to change for the better. Although the 90s were when we lost Tangaroa Terrace is was where we gained two of my favorite places to eat, ‘Ohana and Kona Café. Around the time that Kona Café replaced Coral Isle Café is when I see the 5th phase happening. The push for more authentic food and atmosphere was continuing and drastic changes were going to happen around the resort. We continued to see new room designs in 96-98.
In the year 2000 they had a lot of things being planned out but first they had to do some major behind the scenes stuff to spruce up the resort. This is what I see as the 5th phase. There was a lot of good ideas and bad during this time in the resort. None of it turned out as good as it could have been because a new philosophy was taking over at the resort. That is more why I consider this another phase. Not because the overall look and feel changed drastically but the way it was being run was a big change. Budgets were affecting the quality of everything and replacing old things was the priority.
They did have some good additions in this phase with the new pool, but even the plans for the pool were scaled back because of budgets. Imagineers initial ideas were squashed into what you see today. The rest of the budgets were going toward redoing the rooms in all the original longhouses to remove asbestos and fill in the gaps in the foundation to eliminate the moisture problem. With all this money going to behind the scenes stuff, things were being cut back in other places. Staff was being reduced, pay was being reduced, they started eliminating positions like entertainers. Much of the onsite staff that would do repairs and such or build things for the resort were let go to be replaced by offsite contractors. Even the offerings in the Club Level lounge were being cut back in quality. Many did not notice the change but long time visitors of the resort could tell. They seem to take much longer to do things and things just never seemed to be done right.
A new room design came in with a big write up showing the new rooms for the Polynesian and Contemporary but what started in 2005 took 4 or 5 years to finish completely. They went through most of the longhouses on schedule but towards the end there were longhouses like Tahiti that had a mix of furniture from the old and new design for years. Even the new numbers for the doors were done poorly. Instead of going out and ordering new room numbers for the doors like all the other new rooms had, they had some where they would piece together numbers and glue them to the doors. A number 3 would be an 8 that someone hacksawed in half or a 1 would be a cut piece of scrap wood painted white to look like a number. I thought this was a temporary thing but a few years visits I would see this or I would see rooms with the drapes open that had all the new furniture but the old head boards and mirrors, years after the other rooms were done. Around this time complaints about housekeeping was so bad that most people decided they were not going to return and pay those prices to come back to a dirty room every day. They were going through managers and Cast Members like crazy but something just was not working at the resort. To this day I am not sure they have turned all of these problems around.
While prices at the resort continue to go up without all of these issues addressed it seems that someone figured that it was time to do something to get people to pay attention to the resort because from what I see they were losing longtime guests year after year. Now we enter what I see as the 6th and current phase of the resort. It was not only time to do another room redesign (as the normal cycle seemed be) it was time to add some new things. One of those things and the most controversial is revisiting the idea of Disney Vacation Club. This had been discussed many times over the years and now it was going to happen. It comes on the heels of a new room design which I think gets away from the themeing a little but is trying to make those who’s complaints are the loudest happy. It lightened up the room and made it feel a little more modern. I like it but it does not have that feel I remember from the Polynesian of the past. I am sure for some that is the whole point.
As with many things that Imagineers design for the Polynesian, the concept for DVC was cut way back from the original idea. That is good for those that did not want to see a lot of change but I think they are not offering up a good product. The bottom line is they will sell even if it is half as good as the original design.
I have read many comments about how adding DVC will ruin the look and feel of the Polynesian and it will never be the same. While they are taking away a very popular longhouse by turning Tahiti into DVC units (Rapa Nui is converting also) I don’t see adding 20 more rooms with the bungalows as being any bigger of a change than the last two major additions to the resort. Then again the location of these bungalows will be taking away the Tahiti Beach, Sunset Pointe and much of the viewing from Hawaii’s beach. This is unfortunate for sure but do I think if you stayed in Tokelau, Rarotonga, Niue, Samoa, Fiji, Aotearoa, Tuvalu, Tonga or even the garden side of Hawaii will be affected once DVC opens? No. The only affects I see are to the lagoon side of Hawaii. I don’t see crowds being much heavier at the resort with the addition of 20 more rooms. Those rooms will be so expensive that I don’t even see them being booked all the time. If anything with some of the new restrictions of access to things like the pool area for non-resort guests, things may be less crowded.
The other hot topic on the changes coming are the redesign of the Great Ceremonial house. This is needed for a few reasons but the main reasons are to become ADA compliant and remove the asbestos. The roof needs to be replaced and it’s just time for a redesign. This is not the first time the GCH has gotten an extensive redesign. Now the biggest problem I and many others have is the removal of the iconic water feature in the lobby. While I hate to see it go there have been some good reasons that they have for its removal. If you have seen it shut down or drained over the last 10 years you know that they have had issues with it for a while. They also need to get equipment in to remove and replace the skylights that are constantly leaking. Until we see the replacement design in place, I will hold off my judgment about it being a good thing or a bad thing.
I guess if there was a point to this story it was that the Polynesian has gone through changes in the past that are just as drastic or more than what it is going through now and it lived on to be a resort that many of us enjoy visiting. I think we all have to take a deep breath and see how it all turns out before we say they are ruining the resort.