Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort review — Original Disney World resort remains one of the best
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When Walt Disney World first opened in 1971, the resort had one theme park (the Magic Kingdom) and three resort “hotels” — Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Before his death in 1966, years before Disney World was completed, Walt himself had dreamed up a few more themed resorts that didn’t make their way into reality, but these three originals made it and remain open today.
The three opening-day Disney World hotels remained the only three hotels on Disney World property for almost 17 years, when further hotel expansion took hold, starting with the Grand Floridian. And while I certainly enjoy several of the newer Disney hotels, in this case — the original three remain very special and are all toward the top of my Disney favourites list.
But only one hotel can hold the true top spot of my favourite Disney World resort hotel, and that award goes to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
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In fact, I loved it so much the first time I stayed there several years ago that I warned others not to try it. Once you’ve been immersed in easy monorail or boat access to the Magic Kingdom, all of the Disney deluxe resort amenities (and my all-time favourite Polynesian decor), you know what you’re missing when you go back to more budget-friendly options.
This particular stay at the Polynesian happened in the middle of a pandemic, so there were big logistical differences across all of the Disney World resort hotels for safety reasons. But while some things are very much changed, the classic Disney magic of this 49-year old resort proved to be resilient through it all.
There are two different types of lodging options in the modern-day Disney Polynesian Village Resort.
There are traditional hotel rooms and there are also Disney Vacation Club studios and even two-bedroom suites. Walking around the property, you can’t tell the difference between the various buildings, er, longhouses, but this distinction is important.
When Disney World began the process of reopening its hotels in late-June 2020, the Disney Vacation Club properties reopened first.
Ultimately, my original reservation in a traditional hotel room was moved to the Contemporary by Disney as the normal hotel rooms have still not reopened at Disney’s Polynesian. However, the DVC rooms have reopened, so I rented Disney Vacation Club points to rebook my two-night stay as I was craving the relaxing sounds and sights of the Polynesian for this trip, over the ‘futuristic vibe’ of the Contemporary.
I paid $17 per rented DVC point for this stay, so it cost around $900 for the two-night stay. That is less than my original paid rates directly with Disney. And when you stay on DVC points, you get self-parking for free, which saved $25 per night.
The cost to rent points varies dramatically right now. Right now, you may find steals for as little as $9 per point. Traditionally, points rented from major DVC rental companies can go for $19 – $20 per rented point. Keep in mind though that what you may gain in cost savings by renting DVC, you typically trade away in flexibility.
You can book a stay at the Polynesian, even often in the DVC rooms, through Disney to take advantage of more flexible cancellation terms.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is one of three ‘monorail resorts’ that are on the monorail loop that circles Bay Lake (the other two are the Contemporary and Grand Floridian). That puts this property one monorail stop away from the Magic Kingdom. You can also take a nonstop monorail from this property to Epcot if you walk a short distance over to the Ticketing and Transportation Center from the closest side of the resort.
But while the resort is in the heart of Disney World (and Central Florida, for that matter), it feels a lot like you’re in Hawaii as you walk around the grounds, jump into the lava pool or sit on the sand overlooking the lake.
The check-in process has forever changed at Disney World.
The lobby was empty or nearly empty every single time we walked through.
You can still visit the traditional check-in desk located in the massive lobby, but you really don’t need to — and Disney would prefer you didn’t. If you have set everything up in advance and have the Disney My Experience app at the ready, you should be able to complete check-in inside the app when your room is ready. You can then head straight to your room assignment displayed in the app.
You’ll be able to open your room door with either your Disney Magic Band (provided free with Disney resort stays through the end of 2020) or with the My Disney Experience app.
There are about ten different longhouses at Disney’s Polynesian Village that are home to a mix of traditional hotel rooms and DVC rooms. There are standard rooms available with different views, Disney club level rooms and one-bedroom suites.
It’s a relatively large property, so know that there can be a long walk to the main building, pool, monorail, etc. depending on which building your assigned room is located in.
In addition to the more standard room sizes at the Poly (as fans affectionately refer to this property), are also the 20 overwater villas located over the lake. I’ll be honest, a life goal of mine is absolutely to stay in one of those two-bedroom overwater villas and enjoy the private plunge pools. (Just be warned, the villas typically cost more per night than some actual overwater villas in Bora Bora.)
But, regardless, that hopeful day to experience the grand villa is not today. This time, we were in a standard DVC studio villa.
These studios are rated for up to five people, though one of those five would have to be a small kiddo to fit in the pull-out bed that comes out from below the TV.
The couch also transforms into a bed, and while we didn’t do that on this trip, it has worked well on previous trips when there were four of us in the room. Here’s a look at the pull-down bed from under the TV on a prior trip.
The studio villa also has a very small kitchenette area with a mini-fridge, microwave, toaster, coffee pot and a sink. You won’t be whipping up gourmet meals here, but you could certainly do a few basic microwavable favourites.
What makes these DVC studios great in my book is that there are kind of two bathrooms. The first has a tub/shower combo, sink and toilet.
The second has a sink and a shower.
You still only have one toilet, but you have lots of places to hang swimsuits and have multiple people getting ready at the same time, which is a feature you won’t find in the basic hotel rooms.
Our ground-floor room in the Moorea building (which was pretty darn far from almost everything) also had a patio, though in July heat I can’t say that was utilized on this trip. On previous trips in different buildings, we’ve used the patio as a quick escape route to the pool.
Right now, no Disney hotel room has daily housekeeping. The norm right now is every other day towel and trash removal. However, even during normal times, when you stay on DVC points you don’t get daily housekeeping unless you pay extra, so factor that into the equation. Right now it’s not a big deal since that’s the norm for stays booked with cash or DVC points.
Disney’s Polynesian is normally stuffed to the brim with activities and amenities. Right now, that’s dialled back a notch or two, but there are still things to do outside of going to the parks.
First, off there are two pools a the Poly.
There’s the main lava pool with the big 142-foot waterslide, splash area with smaller waterslides, a zero-entry area and lifeguards.
This main pool is a lot of fun but can get full during peak hours.
Know that there’s also a hot tub tucked away in this main pool area.
The other quieter oasis pool doesn’t have a slide or splash area, though it does have some cabana-like areas you can reserve and its own hot tub.
There’s also normally a poolside restaurant and bar area.
This pool stays open later than the main pool and varied from empty to pretty much busier when it was the only open activity at the hotel. Keep in mind that masks are not required while in the pools at Disney, so we wouldn’t swim when the pools looked busier than we were comfortable with. (Also know that ducks like to swim with you in both pools — just don’t chase them!)
In the evening, you’ll find an outdoor Disney movie shown in the “Great Ceremonial Lawn” area between the main pool and the lobby. This is happening even during the coronavirus-era.
Boat rentals and the evening campfire are currently suspended at the Poly but exist during normal times. Also currently suspended is the Electric Boat Parade pageant that normally makes a lap around the lake each evening and is viewable from the Polynesian.
Here’s a peek at what the evening fireworks you can also view from the Magic Kingdom, which are currently suspended, look like from the Polynesian.
But when it’s time to go to the parks, the best amenities Poly has available are the onsite monorail and boat transportation options. We took the boat this time for open-air socially-distanced transport. It leaves from the dock off the back of the resort.
The monorail stop for Polynesian is on the second level of the main lobby area. What’s extra great about this transportation option is that you complete your temperature check and security screening here, so you don’t have to repeat that when you arrive at the Magic Kingdom.
I love the food at the Polynesian. Sadly, several of my favourites aren’t open right now, but there was still enough to make us smile.
First, Poly has it’s own Dole Whip counter at Pineapple Lanai. If you aren’t familiar, Dole Whip is a pineapple-flavoured cult favourite ice cream at Disney.
There are several versions of Dole Whip, one some even including a coconut rum floater. The basic cup starts at $4.99.
We usually get the $5.99 float.
Then there’s Kona Cafe, the only true restaurant open right now at the Polynesian. This restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with many menu items carrying with them an Asian or Polynesian flair.
Related: Best restaurants at Disney World
Be sure and make reservations in advance, especially right now with many tables closed for social distancing. You’ll scan a QR code to access a digital menu.
We hadn’t been inside a restaurant in over four months, so we went a little nuts with the ordering.
We enjoyed a California roll from the sushi bar ($18), a veggie bowl made with jasmine broth, glass noodles and pineapple tofu ($21), and a tuna poke bowl ($16).
If all that sounds awful to your crew, don’t worry. There’s also really good glazed chicken wings, potstickers and even a cheddar bacon burger.
The free sweet bread is also worth a mention. We may or may not have had two servings worth.
The other restaurant we visited at the Polynesian was Captain Cook’s quick service. Room service is suspended for now, but we’d order from Captain Cooks the Disney app and pick up our meal to-go when it was ready. You can then just take the meal to-go back to your room, or enjoy it outdoors.
Here you’ll find breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For breakfast, we tried the famous Tonga toast ($9), which many love. It’s massive deep-fried, banana-stuffed sourdough bread with cinnamon and sugar. I had to try it, but it wasn’t my all-time favourite.
Also on the menu are breakfast burritos ($8), kid Mickey waffles ($6) and other made-to-order and grab and go options.
For dinner, the menu items were noticeably shortened for now. But you can still find a good Aloha pork sandwich, Asian noodles and vegetables or crowd-pleasers like cheeseburgers or chicken wings.
My favourite place to eat at the Polynesian is ‘Ohana. Normally, it serves an all-you-care-to-enjoy breakfast and dinner. Breakfast normally has characters such as Mickey in a Hawaiian shirt, Lilo and Stitch present and costs $42 for adults and $27 for kids.
You’re served a family-style platter of eggs, pork sausage, fried potatoes, Mickey waffles and pineapple-coconut bread.
They even have real Kona coffee available. It’s a fun meal for a non-park day.
Dinner at ‘Ohana doesn’t have characters, but I love the food even more. It’s pricier at $55 for adults and $33 for kids, but is also served family-style and has pork dumplings, chicken wings, meat skewers, noodles, stir-fried veggies and the epic ‘Ohana bread pudding for dessert.
Normally, you can also order this set-up via room service if you are staying at the Poly.
If you are in the mood for a luau in Central Florida, in normal times you can find Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Luau available with all you care to eat food and a show. When the show is running (it’s currently suspended) tickets for adults range from $66 – $78 and kids are $39 – $46.
Last but far from least, is my favourite bar in all of Disney World, located right at the Polynesian — Trader Sam’s. Trader Sam’s is open to families until 8 p.m. and after that, it becomes adults-only.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the Enchanted Tiki Room show at the Magic Kingdom, it’s kind of like that mixed with a bit of the Jungle Cruise antics.
It rains, the volcano erupts, serves scream when certain drinks are ordered. It’s an all-around good time. Right now the bar is — you guessed it — closed due to coronavirus.
But, when normal returns, a few drinks here are more than worth it during your stay at the Poly, or even worth a trip if you aren’t staying at Poly.
The Polynesian is great for a trip to Disney World, especially when you are going heavy on visits to the nearby Magic Kingdom and Epcot. There’s just a large extra dose of magic when you are at an original Walt-era resort on the monorail loop.
But on top of that, you get some immersive Polynesian theming that does give you a taste of the Pacific, even though Hawaii is almost 5,000 miles away.
Sure, it’s a pineapple Disney-ised version of a Pacific Island, but it’s still a lot of fun. Whether you choose to stay in one of the onsite Disney Vacation Club studio villas, a standard hotel rooms, a Club-level room, or you hit the jackpot and rent an overwater villa, it’s hard to not enjoy a trip to Disney’s Polynesian Village.
I’ve enjoyed every one of my trips to the Poly and can’t wait to return — hopefully when some old favourites like Trader Sam’s and ‘Ohana are once again back in action.
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