Our 2011 trip was unlike any other trip we had taken. It was the first time in a long time it was just the 3 of us. It was also my first time in October and my first time during the Food and Wine Festival. So much happened on this trip it has taken me months to sort it all out and this is my report of that visit. This was also a special trip to be there when my wife, Disney World and the Polynesian all turned 40 on the same day.
We started out the trip staying at the Dolphin. We had stayed there once before and at the Swan a few times. The last time we were at the Dolphin it was in bad shape but that was in 2004 (2004 trip report http://www.tikimanpages.com/tiki/news/trip-reports/130-july-2004-trip). I enjoyed the Swan because it was not as busy and noisy as the Dolphin but I thought we would give the Dolphin a try again.
Check in was much better this time and we did get a nice room with a view of the pool and Hollywood Studios. The rooms were updated since our last stay and they did a nice job, but there was a huge spot of mold on the wall that I was surprised was not at least attempted to be cleaned. Walking to the room took quite a while and was easy to get lost. I think I could have walked through 3 longhouses at the Polynesian in the distance our room was from the elevator. Just like our first visit, it was packed with people who were there for a convention. Every night when we came up the escalator we were greeted by loud and drunk conventioneers. It was like having to go through a night club before getting to your room. Not really a family friendly atmosphere and nothing like returning to the Polynesian in the evening.
The pool was nice as always but the server from the bar came by once in over an hour’s time. We eventually headed over to the bar and patio restaurant to eat and get a drink on our way back to the room. The food and drinks were good.
I have never been too excited about the transportation from this place. The bus has way too many stops and the boat is so slow that joggers on the path to Hollywood Studios were beating us. I really want to like this place because we use our Starwood points to stay there. I will say it still beats the Value or Moderate resorts for location and amenities but even the walk to Epcot is over 15 minutes just to the International gate (yes we timed it and we were walking at a good pace). If it’s hot or raining it is an unbearable walk. I much rather be sitting on a monorail taking an 8 minute ride and 5 minute walk back to the Polynesian.
Our first night there we headed over to Epcot. A few places had opened to eat in Epcot since I was last there. I use to love eating at Italy but they had opened two new places. One was a little more casual that made wood-fired pizza called Via Napoli. The other replaced the old restaurant and was called Tutto Italia Ristorante. We decided to try Via Napoli. It was a great meal to start off the vacation and very fun atmosphere. I look forward to going back there.
We did the Food and Wine soft opening and I must say that is an event to attend. I had heard about the Food and Wine Festival for years and I was excited we would be there to experience it. I was told to do it during lunch on a week day because it would be less crowded and they still offer all the same items. The only time they did not offer everything was the soft opening but there was still plenty to experience. We really enjoyed the offerings and it makes drinking around the world an extreme sport. I won’t get into all the details of where we ate other than the stuff at the Hawaii kiosk was the best. I could have ate those pulled pork sliders all day and washed them down with the Mai Tais.
I will say that we were very lucky with weather. We left California when it was in the 90s to 100s and get to Florida to be met by rain at the airport but it stopped before we got to the hotel. We did not see a drop of rain until an hour before we left to go to the airport for our flight home. During the week there was one hot humid day and then it cooled down to the high 70s to low 80’s and stayed around the 80’s all week. The crowds were even low except for on October 1st because of the 40th Anniversary stuff.
After a few nights at the Dolphin it was time to go home....I mean go over to the Polynesian. Check in was great as usual and we hung out in the lounge until our room was ready. Joshua gave us all our information and was very helpful as always. There was really a nice group of people working the desks while we were there.
I went right over to Captain Cook’s while we were waiting for our room to be ready and my head almost exploded when I was the Dole Whip Machine was not working!!! I talked to someone who said it froze up but should be back and running in an hour. I still enjoy Captain Cook’s but I must say that some of the unhappiest CMs must get scheduled to work there. Not that everyone that works there is in a bad mood but 90% of them are. I am sure it’s not an easy job but how about a smile once I a while. I remember the days of working with the public and I tried not to take it out on the customers when I was not in a good mood....unless it was their fault I was in that mood
As we got closer to the 1st, things got very busy around the resort. I don't know if it was because the Polynesian was one of the original resorts that opened on the 1st (actually it was accepting guests the day before and officially opened before the Contemporary) or if it was just because it is a popular resort. Initially the Polynesian was going to do a ceremony on the 1st to celebrate when it opened. I had even seen emails that they were looking for guests who had been going since the opening year to be part of the celebration. There was even info that they were going to recreate the ceremony that opened the Polynesian on October 24, 1971. We booked our trip for those dates to see what they were going to do. The 24th is also my wife’s 40th birthday so it was going to be a perfect way to celebrate both special occasions. We then were told that the celebration would be on the 1st along with the celebration of the Magic Kingdom's 40th so we changed our travel dates. As we all know now nothing even happened on the 1st or the 24th except buttons were given out.
Well since nothing was happening on the 1st at the Polynesian we headed off to the Magic Kingdom. We got in early and were a few feet from the stage. It was nice to be there for the event as small as it was. People were in huge lines to get some of the 40th stuff so getting on rides was not too difficult. The interesting thing is just a few days after most of the 40th stuff was down and even out in front of the Magic Kingdom, the 40th decorations were removed. It was sort of like they did not want to acknowledge it.
We left the park and went to Downtown Disney and on a return I was going to meet a friend at the Tambu Lounge but told me he could not get anywhere near the resort. They were stopping people at the gate and not even letting them into the parking lot if they did not have a reservation or were a guest of the resort. The line to drive into the resort was backed up to the TTC. I pulled to the other lane that you can get in using your room card and even on that side someone walked over and asked to see my resort ID. I am guessing they are doing this on big holidays also. I know during the 4th of July in the past they have locked the place down to resort guests only.
Some of the new things around the Polynesian. Well we showed up with our new Motorola Xoom instead of hauling the lap top around and Tara set up her Bionic as a hot spot. We noticed in the Polynesian lounge that there was WiFi. We asked about it and we were told it was the Grand Floridian WiFi but that all the resorts will have it by the end of this month and the wired internet in the rooms will be free until October 24. Since the WiFi from the Grand was not very strong we used the Hot Spot from Tara’s Droid. Later that month free WiFi was in all the Deluxe resorts.
I got to tour the newly refurbished suites. They took everything out and put in new floors that look like dark bamboo, new art on the walls, new furniture and even the bathrooms were redone. I have started to add the photos to my suites pages so go take a look if you want to see more but I will put a few of the photos here also.
The new look is nice but a little to stark for me. I like the dark woods and the flooring is outstanding but the white walls and beds seemed a little plain for me. Aulani rooms are not as dark or colorful as the Polynesian standard rooms but they have more color and are a little more fun than what was done to the suites. I wonder if this is the look all the rooms will go for when they do the next redesign (which has already started with some test rooms). I did notice that the soaps, shampoos and lotions offered are the upgraded stuff that the Grand Floridian has. They also had different coffee makers in the suites than the new ones that are in the standard rooms.
As reported a while ago the camp fire,movies on the beach are now located at the Polynesian. It is located over towards the boat dock on the beach next to the pool. The one thing I noticed is the minute you come out of the GCH you are hit by the smell of camp fire so you will know the nights they are doing it. The movie did not seem to be disruptive and we were in a ground floor room not far from the end of Hawaii that is closest to the movie. I will say that the activities at the pool are fun for the kids but very long and extremely disruptive. I could see doing it for maybe an hour but it goes on too long, the kids get tired of it, the guests can’t relax and it was so hard on the bartenders that they even came out to point the speaker away only to have the activities person turn it back and turn it up. I think they need to limit the length of this activity and turn it down. The kids who are standing right next to the podium don’t need it that loud to hear. As of April 2012 I hear that they cut out the loud music and have eliminated the microphone because of complaints. This is why it is important to let the resort know what is working and what is not.
While we were there the pool was extremely cold. Almost too cold for me to go in and I love that pool. I would go by the back of the volcano and the door to the inner workings of the pool was open. I later found out they were putting in a new heater and it was not working properly. It should be worked out by now but our whole stay it was very cold.
I rented one of the standard cabanas for my family while we were there and it was well worth the money. The standard ones are $197 for a day (10 am to 7pm) which is $122 cheaper than the Premium Cabana and the Premium one only goes from 10am to 5 pm because someone can rent it from 7pm to midnight for a dining experience.
I found the standard one much more private being in an area that is surrounded by plants except for a small opening to the main path that is roped off and stairs down to the pool. Sometimes people would wander up the stairs but usually would turn back around once they saw the cabanas. The standard cabana came with:
Two padded chaise lounge chairs
Two padded straight-backed chairs
32 inch LCD television with cable access and optional earphones
Phone for internal resort calls
Mini refrigerator stocked with complimentary sodas and water
Fruit basket (may not be available without advanced reservation)
You have an attendant who will show you around the cabana and is there to get food, drinks or anything else you need while you are using it. The menu for food is the same as the in room menu but I suggest walking the few steps to Captain Cooks for food.
If you are going to hang out at the resort all day than I suggest doing this. The half day would go by very quick but the full day allowed us to relax and enjoy. When we were done I did tip the attendant even though we did not use him much but the other cabanas ran that guy into the ground. Oh and no jokes about getting my wife a cabana boy for her birthday!
They were asking for resort IDs and handing out wrist bands at the pool while we were there. Some people complained and a few did not have resort ID and were escorted off property. Technically, even the beach area is off limits to non Polynesian resort guests as posted on the signs and on big weekends like 4th of July they have been known to check the beaches asking for resort ID.
While Tara and Kai were enjoying the cabana I decided to shoot on over to Epcot to check out the Touring Plans meet that Aaron DelPrince (friend from past Tikifest and blogger from the DIS Unplugged and Studio Central) told me about when we met up with him at Aloha Isle. There were a lot of people I met in the past and online that were going to all be in one place so I thought it would be a nice thing to check out...oh and it was free food and margaritas at La Hacienda de San Angel. Well once I got there I got to see Len Testa (who had organized and I believe paid for this, Deb from All Ears (always good to spend some time with her and say hello, and I saw Matt Hochberg at one of the tables with a few people. One was Robin Reeve who has the WDW Dads site and we had emailed in the past. His wife Ashley has a site also called "A Cup of DIsney" and I really enjoyed spending some time talking to all of them. I also saw some other members of the Touring Plans team like Henry Work who I had been in contact with before and met Scarlett Litton who does a lot of research for Touring Plans. It was well worth the 8 minute monorail ride to go over and see all of them. I believe some good things will come from these relationships.
After all these years of knowing people who worked at the Polynesian and going to the door around the side of the check in desk to ask if someone was working I finally got a tour of behind the scenes. A new addition to the resort and I think one of their best additions, DJ, invited me back to check out the offices. I knew of some of what went on back there but I was very happy to see a great group of people working hard to make the Polynesian the best resort it can be. I got to see how they keep track of how things are going. How they assign rooms and how they track their ratings. They had some guests comments posted and yes they do read them all. It is not only important to let them know when something is wrong but it is even more important to let them know when someone does something right or above and beyond. They track all these things and it makes a difference to them and the Cast Member. They even post fun facts to educate CMs about the history of the resort. It was nice to see they used some of my stuff to share historical facts.
One of the reasons I keep digging up facts and photos to keep on my site. I did tell them that if they ever take down the GCH they need to build them offices that have windows so they can see the beautiful resort they are working so hard for. I know that the GM now splits time between the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian but I saw his office (located in another part of the resort that will remain a secret) and he does make sure to spend time over at the Polynesian and give it the attention it deserves. For a few years I worried that the Polynesian lost the staff and leadership that it once had in the early 90s but I believe that there are people there that will work hard to get that back.
Just before I left for my trip, a long time friend online had mentioned that our families should meet up. We were celebrating Tara’s birthday and they were celebrating an anniversary so we thought we would do something special. I had mentioned the Grand One and next thing you know my friend was on the phone trying to book it. Since it is so popular it was hard to get booked but Amanda at the Polynesian worked her magic and got it for us. It was about $550 an hour and we booked it for 90 minutes. Along with some of their friends and some of our friends we got to experience the Grand One for touring around Bay Lake, the Seven Seas Lagoon, the Electrical Water Pageant and finish it off with a close up viewing of Wishes fireworks from the Magic Kingdom. The boat was amazing with 3 separate sleeping quarters below, an indoor and outdoor sitting area, bar and upper level for viewing and driving the boat. We were lucky enough to not only share the experience with new and old friends but one of the couples with us was Amanda (from the Polynesian) and her husband Christian (who we met at the first Tikifest). We had a great dinner at La Hacienda de San Angel with Amanda and her mom Lynn and it was one of the best meals I had and one of many great evenings from this trip.
I have to say this was one of the best trips I have had to Disney World in years. There was no stress and I got to spend time with so many different people one on one instead of in a big group. Some times is was for a moment like with Aaron at the Aloha Isle or the night I got to spend some time with Duane and Jen in Epcot. I only wish we had more time to spend with them. There was a couple that I have been in contact for years now but we have never been at WDW at the same time and this time we were going to meet up and enjoy the Food and wine festival. It was Ron and Terri Haber. I was not lucky enough to meet their kids this time but we had a great time together. When I think back to the trip that time walking World Showcase with them was one of the highlights of the trip. I hope to see them again next time I am there.
The Dine in Theaters at AMC was something I wanted to try while I was there. The first night we went to try it we showed up late and the only thing left was the front row. We decided to try T-Rex instead of watching a movie from the front row. BIG MISTAKE! T-Rex was fun to go check out but after waiting in a line for 15 minutes just to put your name in and then another hour and 20 minutes before they let you know they forgot to call you and finally seat you was not a good way to start. After a meal I could get at Applebee’s but twice the cost we decided that would be our last trip to T-Rex. Ok back to the Dine in Theater (sorry for the rant). We went during the week to the last showing of Dolphin Tale so we were one of 4 groups in the whole theater. There were not a lot of choices of movies that kids could watch. You get seated at your chair/ table and there is plenty of room for you and your food. The chairs were large and laid back a little and there was a button to call for your attendant to order anything from your standard movie stuff like popcorn and candy, to full meals, appetizers and drinks from a full bar. Now the bar and lounge area as you come in was nice also and is open to anyone, even if you are not seeing a movie. You can go in and get drinks and food just in the lounge. I would suggest not going when you are tired because after eating and sitting back in those comfortable chairs you will be out right after the lights dim.
One night I returned to the resort and out on the beach they had a film crew over on the beach next to Sunset Point. I walked over and watched it for a while to try and figure out what it was for and someone said it was for the Food Network but I never did get to see it on TV. Was interesting to see what goes on behind the camera.
While I was at the Polynesian I was messaging Kaleo to see when he was going to be around the resort to say hello. Many of you may remember when he was asked to retire because of cutbacks and after a lot of upset people let Disney know how they felt about that, he ended up coming back to the resort to work at the Spirit of Aloha show. He does that a few nights a week but we caught up with him one evening doing the torch lighting ceremony. It was really a nice evening to spend a little time talking with him along with Ku'ulei and Auntie. After the ceremony we talked with Kaleo a little while longer and he introduced us to one of the Spirit of Aloha dancers (Tuni who they call Chief) who was doing the torch lighting with him. As I have said in the past, some of my favorite moments at the resort and just taking some time to talk with the CMs that we have seen there for years.
One of those CMs that we always look forward to and always have a smile for the guests is Ivette in the Hawaii Longhouse lounge. She is always so helpful to all the guests and treats you like family. I know she is not just that way with us because I see her interact with all the guests that way. People like that really make you feel like you are at your second home.
So over the years there has been a debate as to if you could hear the music for the fireworks show from the beach. I know it has been inconsistent over the years but this last trip it could be heard very well from around the pool area and the beach in front of Hawaii.
Speaking of beaches, on my last day I was walking the resort one last time and I noticed that some plant is starting to grow up out of the water along the beach at Tahiti longhouse. That beach use to be my favorite for how quiet it was and so well kept. When I walked to the end of the beach near Sunset Point it had this plant growing out of the water and up onto the beach, almost like a fence along the edge of the water. It seemed odd to me that they would not do something about it coming up the beach that far. I noticed from aerial views that it is growing all along the edge of the water around Sunset Point and at the edges of the Tahiti and Hawaii beach. Lets hope they find a way to get rid of this so guests can enjoy a nice waters edge at the beach and not a plant invasion. I hear there are some changes coming to this beach anyway.
Other than that the resort looked to be in good shape to me and I am interested in seeing what will be come of the resort in the next few years. I know they have started the test rooms for the new design and rumor is that some major work will start in 2013. In the next 5 years the resort will go through a lot of changes and maybe by ny next report I can share more of what is going on.