Walt Disney World has announced plans to build a new DVC tower at Polynesian Village Resort. In this post, we’ll share details and a timeline, permit plans, construction photos, our opinion of the Disney Vacation Club expansion, and why this is likely happening. (Updated July 21, 2022.)
Located on the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon and on the monorail line to Magic Kingdom, the proposed project will replace Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, a luau featuring traditional Polynesian dances, live music, and an all-you-care-to-enjoy tropical feast. Spirit of Aloha has not reopened since the closure two years ago, and is now permanently closed.
For those unfamiliar with Spirit of Aloha, the new Disney Vacation Club wing will essentially be between the existing Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Wedding Pavilion, which itself is adjacent to the Grand Floridian. This high-profile Magic Kingdom resort area has already become crowded in recent years with the addition of the Villas at the Grand Floridian.
“It’s no secret that our Members and guests love the monorail resorts at Walt Disney World,” said Bill Diercksen, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Vacation Club. “Expanding our Disney Vacation Club offerings at the Polynesian would give our Members and Guests yet another incredible option for staying close to the magic while making vacation memories that last a lifetime.”
Per Disney Vacation Club’s announcement, Imagineers working on this project were inspired by the early concepts for Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. They claim to be honoring the past while furthering the resort story with this addition.
The proposed Disney Vacation Club tower addition that’s being built at Polynesian Village Resort is currently slated to open in late 2024 at Walt Disney World.
The DVC expansion would join the rest of the Poly in offering stunning views of the Magic Kingdom. Proposed plans would offer additional rooms, new recreation offerings and dining options. DVC indicates that more information and project details will be shared at a later date.
Since debuting in 2015, Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows has been a favorite resort destination, offering an island paradise at one of Walt Disney World’s most popular resorts.
Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows currently has 380 Disney Vacation Club villas, including the largest Deluxe Studios at any Disney Vacation Club resort at Walt Disney World. There are also the unique over-the-water two-bedroom Bora Bora Bungalows, which are not nearly as popular and have been problematic for their impact on the points pool.
This follows other work around Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort last year. That included enhancements to the Great Ceremonial House, a new porte-cochère, and rebuilt monorail station. All of that looks good, a nice step forward for the resort that maintained its thematic integrity while bringing needed improvements to the aging property.
Since the original announcement, Disney Vacation Development has filed new permits with the State of Florida. The plans in these permits offer a little more insight into the new tower, its amenities, and placement in the Luau Cove area currently occupied by the Spirit of Aloha dinner show and beach.
The plans pictured above show the pool area, splash pad, building layout, its position relative to the beach, and parking lot. The plans also confirm that there will not be a monorail station inside the new Polynesian resort tower.
Above is a Google Maps overlay I cobbled together that offers an approximation of where all of this will be built relative to the existing Polynesian Village Resort and the Wedding Pavilion.
On the plus side, at least it’s not taking out any of the existing longhouses.
July 23, 2022 Update: We recently headed over to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort to check out the area where the new tower will be built and what it’ll replace.
We’ll start with a view from the Highway in the Sky, as we took a ride on the monorail for an aerial view on the demolition work as the company prepares the Polynesian for the upcoming Disney Vacation Club tower. Above is a look at the edge of the construction site, approaching from the Grand Floridian and Wedding Pavilion.
As the entirety of the construction zone comes into view, it’s clear that Spirit of Aloha has been totally demolished. What little is left is rubble, being removed as Disney largely clears the site.
Demolition began a little over two months ago. When we last visited, Spirit of Aloha was closed but the building was entirely intact. So this is progressively relatively quickly by Walt Disney World standards.
Very little remains of the structures that housed Spirit of Aloha. There was also a lot of foliage and trees cleared from this area.
One exception to that is the iconic banyan tree that was the focal point for wedding ceremonies and the backdrop for countless Christmas cards. While all of this has been controversial with longtime fans, there was a vocal contingent that was particularly upset about the loss of this banyan tree.
Based on what we could see of the site, it appears that Disney intends upon saving the banyan tree.
It’ll almost certainly need to be relocated, hopefully to somewhere else on Walt Disney World property where it’ll continue to serve as a memorable backdrop for guest photos. Banyan trees are awesome. Much better than tower hotels being shoehorned into small parcels of land where they’re incongruous with their surroundings.
For now, the walkway between the Polynesian, Wedding Pavilion and Grand Floridian remains open. The construction fence literally is on the edge of the sidewalk, though.
This will likely have to close after demolition and site clearing concludes and actual construction commences. This is small parcel relative to the footprint of the expansion, and it appears that modifications will be made to the shore as part of the expansion. I don’t see how this sidewalk can conceivably stay open during construction given that and the space constraints. Hard to say when it’ll close, but I wouldn’t expect it to be open by early 2023.
I realize change is inevitable, but I’ll miss this path and the beaches it passes. I’ve spent many a morning photographing the sunrise over here, using the twin and triplet palm trees on these beaches to frame the Polynesian’s longhouses.
Newer Walt Disney World fans may not realize it, but this stretch of land was once relatively tranquil. I don’t recall what it was like before the Wedding Pavilion was built in the mid-1990s, but up until the Villas at Grand Floridian, it was a peaceful area with large swaths of beach and green space between the Polynesian and Grand Floridian. Now, there’s a lot of parking and development, with more on the horizon. Really has a “paved paradise to put up a parking lot” kind of feeling to it.
One thing that’s still unanswered by the plans and announcement is whether the new Disney Vacation Club tower will be part of the existing condo association, or a new one. The ongoing expansion to the Villas at Grand Floridian(above) will be part of that resort’s current condo association, but that’s also a conversion rather than a new build.
With the Polynesian expansion, it might make sense to roll this into the existing condo association to dilute the impact of the Bora Bora Bungalows. There’s probably a compelling counterpoint for treating the new wing differently, but it eludes me right now.
However it’s categorized, my sincere hope is that the Poly tower is built as if it were a standalone resort like Riviera Resort or the planned Reflections, rather than in the style of Bay Lake Tower or the Villas at Grand Floridian. Meaning, that it contains counter and table service restaurants and other amenities.
The last time we stayed at the Polynesian, the beach was packed with guests during the Disney Enchantment fireworks–to the point that there was literally no available space–and the lobby was incredibly crowded with people waiting to be seated at ‘Ohana and elsewhere. The existing Polynesian infrastructure is often already stretched to its breaking point, and this tower needs to provide relief to that. Adding guest rooms without amenities will further exacerbate those problems, so we really hope that isn’t the plan.
Regular readers will recall that I was harsh about the proposed Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge(above), which was supposedly a “nature-inspired” resort. It was slated for the former River Country water park location along the shore of Bay Lake between Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness.
Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge was one of the projects put on indefinite hold as a result of the closure. Based on Walt Disney World’s activities on that construction site and scrubbing all references to Reflections from the internet, the project was safely assumed to be cancelled. I was ecstatic. Absolutely over the moon in response to its cancellation. Reflections was a half-baked plan from the start, and Disney not proceeding with it was a good thing.
This Poly tower news makes me wish that Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge were never cancelled. Not because I’ve suddenly had an about-face on Reflections (far from it), but because it would mean that this very-similar looking project at the Polynesian would not be happening.
Perhaps it would be simply a matter of forestalling the inevitable, with the site between the Grand Floridian and Polynesian Village Resorts slated for future expansion down the road. I’d still roll the dice on that. At least delaying development might mean getting something that looks appropriate for the area, and has some semblance of theme.
As for commentary about the design, I had to check my calendar when I first saw the Poly tower concept art, thinking maybe it was April Fools’ Day. Much to my disappointment, this is not a lame joke. (It is lame, just not a joke.)
I won’t rehash all of it here, but my criticisms of this new DVC tower at the Polynesian are nearly identical to those of Reflections. That’s in no small part because this project bears a striking resemblance to the cancelled Reflections tower. (My bad–Imagineers were inspired by the original Poly plans. Sure thing, Bob.)
Disney’s recent approach to developing hotels adjacent to existing resorts doesn’t inspire much confidence, and this looks like a generically modern design that would be at home in Holiday Inn’s portfolio.
Anyone who has been to pretty much any major metro area in the last few years has undoubtedly seen something at least vaguely similar to this Polynesian addition. It looks a lot like mixed-use developments in Anaheim–not to mention the upcoming Disneyland Hotel DVC tower (below), or even the cancelled Reflections plan.
That these three designs are virtually indistinguishable despite being located a three very thematically-different resorts should say all that needs to be said. Despite Disney’s best efforts to invoke past plans and history to preemptively stymie criticism of this unambitious addition, the actual “inspiration” is simply modern, generic hotel/condo/apartment towers.
Perhaps some of you will dismiss this as needless negativity, especially those who were looking forward to Reflections or are big fans of recent Walt Disney World resort additions. That’s obviously your prerogative, and to each their own.
The thing is, we have not been negative about every hotel change at Walt Disney World. To the contrary, we’ve been more positive than the average reader about recent resort reimaginings, changes, and expansions. The DVC conversion at Grand Floridian makes complete sense, and those rooms look nice. The new lobby at the Contemporary is fantastic.
Beyond that, most of the new room designs in the last few years are generally good, with Riviera Resort (above) providing the template for how those should be done. I’m even (mostly) optimistic about the recently-announced BoardWalk restaurant and reimagining, aside from the lobby.
For the most part, it’s the new builds that I find problematic. In the last few years, Imagineering has really found its groove with the interiors, including room redesigns. By contrast, it seems like the prevailing sentiment is that the exterior and integration of theme simply does not matter.
When you compare Walt Disney World resorts built before the mid-1990s to ones built or redesigned in the last few years, there’s generally a clear division. Current projects are often interchangeable with real world Holiday Inns or other mid-tier chained brand hotels.
Look at the difference between BoardWalk Inn or Beach Club and the new casino tower at Coronado or the Fairfield Inn Des Moines Airport Riviera Resort. There simply is not the same depth of detail in the designs with new builds at Walt Disney World–they are not themed.
One explanation is that Disney simply doesn’t want to spend on themed architecture, which eat into profit margins on DVC contract sales. This makes sense, and also explains why Disney is adding these towers alongside existing resorts rather than making them standalone properties. By building adjacent to current hotels, they can share infrastructure or don’t need to offer every amenity on-site.
Another explanation is that the company wants to make things as crowd-pleasing as possible so as to not alienate any potential customers. The thing about this approach is that when you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one. Either way, I don’t get it.
I’m not entirely unreasonable about development at Walt Disney World, I just think it needs to be done in a sustainable way, and one that’s respectful of what already exists. Like Gran Destino Tower or Disney’s Riviera Resort, I have no doubt that this Poly tower will have great guest rooms, offer worthwhile features, and functional enhancements to the Poly.
I’d imagine it’ll also add 1-bedroom and larger rooms to Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, something that has been requested by DVC owners for years. From that perspective alone, I suspect many members will consider this addition a “win.”
As much disdain as I have for the exterior appearance of Gran Destino and the Riviera, they are both excellent resorts if all you care about is their substantive offerings and view them only from the inside, or in isolation. To be fair, that may be the case for many of you.
The outside appearance of Four Seasons Orlando isn’t exactly anything special, but it’s a great hotel on the inside. The critical distinction is that Four Seasons is known for superlative service, not Disney design–and the Four Seasons didn’t impact the existing ‘skyline’ of Walt Disney World when built.
Personally, I think it’s very fair to say that Walt Disney World should aim higher as themed design and immersive environments are its calling card. Exterior design being “good enough” for downtown Anaheim should not be the bar by which Imagineering is measured. Something being sufficient to “complement” Angel Stadium is not quite the same as it fitting with the flagship Grand Floridian or iconic Polynesian. Those are exemplars of themed design, and if additions aren’t capable of matching their look, they simply shouldn’t be built.
At this point, I feel like I’m wasting my breath with all of this, though. If you don’t look at the concept art for the Polynesian tower at the top of this post and immediately think that it’s out of place, there’s probably nothing I can say that’ll change your mind. We simply have different tastes and expectations about the caliber of product Walt Disney World should be delivering given the costs and its rich legacy. To me, this is all very obvious, but I suppose reasonable minds may differ.
What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about a new tower being added to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort? Happy that DVC is expanding the Poly Villas, or wish they’d build a new stand-alone resort? If you’re a Polynesian (hotel) fan, are you upset by this or indifferent to it? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!