Thursday, May 26, 2016

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: A Walt Disney World Original

By Brittany Bell

Much like the Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is a true Walt Disney World original that still possesses the charm of the early days of Disney since its opening in 1971. Intended to be an extension of Adventureland, the Polynesian Resort came during the end of the Tiki craze, where Pacific-island culture began to sweep across the United States. This resort, fondly referred to by many as simply the “Poly”, is still as romantic and relaxing as a Hawaiian getaway, with the perks of being a monorail resort. Now, let’s journey further into the history of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, the second of the Magic Kingdom resort hotels…

With construction of Walt Disney World well under way, Disney Imagineers began to brainstorm ideas for resort hotels. As mentioned in my recent Contemporary Resort history article, these resorts were to be built in the first phase of the project (the “project” being Walt Disney World Resort). Early concepts for the Poly were modeled after the high rise hotels that were popping up in Hawaii at the time. The resort was to feature a 12-story tower with a number of smaller, similar looking structures nearby. The main building would have included the lobby, retail shops, restaurants, meeting space and guest rooms, as well as a “South Seas” dining room. This design was meant to complement the layout and structure of the Contemporary resort. Here are some early design photos for the Polynesian...

The idea for the 12-story high rise eventually gave way to the “village” layout and style of the resort we see today, with the focal point of the resort being instead a ceremonial house. Imagineers decided to take this route because it became evident that this layout would be a more authentic Polynesian getaway for their guests. By the time all of the final decisions were made regarding layout and structure, construction began in February 1971, only eight months before the first guests were scheduled to arrive.

While most guests are aware that the Contemporary was built using modular construction, it may come as a surprise that the Polynesian was built with the same technique as well. Like the Contemporary, the rooms for the Polynesian were built off-site, about 3 miles away. They were then transported to the construction site and lifted into place. The rooms for the Poly were specifically designed to be three stories without needing additional support, hence the design of the longhouses at the resort today.

The resort opened in 1971 under the name Polynesian Village. It opened with eight longhouses featuring 492 rooms, a central swimming pool, a putting green, and the Great Ceremonial House. In 1978, an additional longhouse was added along with a second pool and the Tangaroa Terrace Restaurant. In 1985, the Poly experienced its first name change, becoming Disney’s Polynesian Resort.

The early years of the resort proved to be successful as excited guests flocked to the resort to get their tropical getaway all while being in close proximity to the Magic Kingdom. In the early 1970s, Disney installed a wave machine near the beaches of the Poly, intended to create artificial waves for guests to learn how to surf. However, the waves caused major erosion to the surrounding areas, and the experience was scrapped.

An early areal view of the Poly featuring the infamous wave machine at the top

Disney didn’t give up on entertainment at the resort, though. With Magic Kingdom often closing early during its maiden years (usually around 6 or 7 p.m.), the Polynesian offered a new nighttime entertainment option: The Spirit of Aloha Show at Luau Cove. Although its name has changed many times over the years (Polynesian Revue, Kaui-Pono Polynesian Revue, South Seas Luau, Polynesian Luau, and Mickey's Tropical Revue) as well as its presentation, it still enchants guests at the Polynesian to this day. The various Luau shows throughout the years at the Polynesian have traditionally been some of the most entertaining and underrated of all on-property entertainment.

In 1999, most of the longhouses at the Polynesian Resort got a name change to better represent the Polynesian islands. These changes included: Bali Hai becoming Tonga; Bora Bora becoming Niue; Hawaii becoming Samoa; Maori becoming Rarotonga; Moorea becoming Tahiti; Oahu becoming Tokelau; Pago Pago becoming Rapa Nui; Samoa becoming Tuvalu; Tahiti becoming Aotearoa, and Tonga becoming Hawaii. These changes also reflect a more accurate representation of the actual geographical locations of the islands as you can see in the map below...

Recently, the Poly has undergone some changes and updates. In 2015, the first phase of the DVC expansion at the Polynesian opened with the “Bora-Bora Bungalows” and converting the Moorea and Pago Pago buildings into Deluxe Studios. The name of the resort also experienced another change in early 2014, with its name going from Disney’s Polynesian Resort back to Disney's Polynesian Village Resort to further accommodate the expansion. Take a look at the beautiful new buildings and landscapes of the Polynesian Village Resort...

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is still one of the most popular (and expensive!) resorts on the Walt Disney World property. It’s completely immersive and luxurious experience is one that visitors of all ages can enjoy. It’s nostalgic charm, exotic feel, and phenomenal amenities create the perfect environment for a relaxing and memorable vacation destination. And, if all of this doesn’t convince you to try a stay at the Poly, maybe knowing that John Lennon signed the paperwork that officially broke up the Beatles at this very resort will… or the awesome Lava Pool at the least.


Brittany Bell grew up in Lewiston, Maine, about 45 minutes away from Portland. She is currently studying Public Relations and Journalism at Boston University, and hopes to one day work for the Mouse himself. She grew up in a Disney-loving home, and would watch Sleeping Beauty on repeat as a little girl. Her first trip to Walt Disney World was in the summer of 2000, at four years old. Ever since then, Brittany and her family take annual trips to the World, and have no intention of vacationing anywhere else. Her favorite places in Walt Disney World are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. She can’t go without seeing Fantasmic! at least once each vacation, even though she chokes up a little at the final scene. Brittany is fascinated by how one man’s dream became an empire—one that makes dreams come true every day.

Before she became obsessed with Frozen and Queen Elsa, her favorite Disney characters were Princess Aurora and Mulan. She loves everything and anything Disney, from the parks, to the movies, to the Broadway musicals. In the near future she hopes to participate in the Disney College Program and work as a “friend of a princess”.

You can find all of Brittany's articles here.

No comments:

Post a Comment