Polynesian Resort Report: Construction, Christmas & Cuisine

We’re back at Walt Disney World, this time at the Polynesian for a look at the resort during the Christmas season as the hotel undergoes construction. In this report, we’ll share breakfast, dinner, and dessert photos; a look at progress on the reimagining; and some of the Christmas decor.

Let’s start by recapping the current ‘status’ of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Although it was previously scheduled to be open by now, Walt Disney World announced a Moana-Inspired Refurbishment Pushing Back Polynesian’s Reopening earlier this fall. This would feature a makeover to guest rooms and “enhancements” to the Great Ceremonial House that would keep the hotel closed until Summer 2021.

Details were vague at the time, leading to a lot of speculation about the scope of work to the Great Ceremonial House and whether the Poly would become a “character hotel.” A couple of weeks later, Disney released concept art for a new porte-cochère and clarified that the Great Ceremonial House would remain open, but that the monorail station would close. No new details have been released since then, but construction has begun…

Note that only the hotel side of the Poly is not operational. Meaning that the longhouses with regular hotel rooms are closed and their windows covered. Great Ceremonial House (minus the monorail, ‘Ohana, and Trader Sam’s) is still open, as are the Deluxe Villas and Bungalows.

In other words, the Disney Vacation Club ‘side’ of the hotel, which encompasses the Pago Pago, Tokelau, and Moorea Longhouses plus the over-the-water Bora Bora Bungalows all remain open. This is a bit confusing, since DVC units can also be booked as regular hotel rooms. Basically, the Poly is open, albeit with a significantly reduced room inventory, no monorail, no ‘Ohana or Trader Sam’s, and lots of construction walls.

These may sound like huge problems and red flags to avoid Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort until Summer 2021.

Well, yes and no…

When it comes to the monorail, the walkway to the Transportation and Ticket Center is open, allowing for convenient access to the monorail and ferry boats to Magic Kingdom. That’s literally faster and more efficient for guests staying in the DVC longhouses than the Great Ceremonial House monorail. So no issue there.

The Grand Floridian walkway is also now open, so Poly guests can walk all the way to Magic Kingdom. It’s a long and sometimes confusing trek, so probably not recommended for most guests. We did it and found it to be quite pleasant in the 65º degree weather, but your mileage may vary.

All things considered, the transportation situation is a non-issue.

Dining is more of a mixed bag. No ‘Ohana or Trader Sam’s will be big blows for a lot of guests. Those are two Walt Disney World fan favorites, and it’s very unfortunate that they’re not open right now.

However, the upside of no ‘Ohana is no noise from ‘Ohana. Don’t get me wrong–I love it, but the restaurant is perpetually overbooked, meaning the waiting area is overcrowded. That plus Tambu Lounge and the open-air Kona Cafe, makes for a loud environment. That side of the upper floor normally has serious “mall food court” vibes and that sound echoes through the cavernous lobby, making it anything but tranquil.

Not so right now. With ‘Ohana closed, Kona Cafe operating at reduced capacity, and fewer than half the number of guests staying at the resort as compared to normal, the Great Ceremonial House is often devoid of people and downright serene. It feels like a different place entirely.

That is, when there isn’t intermittent construction noise. Depending upon the work scheduled and time of day, you might get unlucky and experience just as much–or more–noise than normal. Or none at all. It was pretty random for us. We found it delightfully peaceful in the morning and midday, but noisy at night when welding was occurring outside on the crossbeams. (Not what we guessed would’ve been the case.)

There are Cast Members at the front desk, but most arrivals and departures are not happening here since the porte-cochère is closed.

It’s not as empty as Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House, but the Great Ceremonial House is also not nearly as busy as it normally would be during Christmas. The resort is operating at less than half its normal occupancy, and is seeing far fewer day guests.

Above is a look at construction to the monorail station and new porte-cochère.

The most visible work that has happened thus far is the removal and replacement of the iconic crossbeams on the Great Ceremonial House. This is still in progress, but all of the ones you see above are new.

Here’s a wider look at the whole porte-cochère and monorail station. A good chunk of the parking lot is also walled off as a staging area and for construction vehicles.

We’re totally on board with the new porte-cochère. Disney has done a great job with these in recent years, including the DVC one at the Poly. Given that the old arrival experience here was nothing special, the end result can pretty much only be an improvement.

As for the longhouse construction, there’s a surprising amount of it.

When this was first announced, my cynical suspicion was that the “Moana makeover” was a pretense for shuttering a hotel because Walt Disney World realized occupancy rates were not going to justify it until at least next summer. I figured there’d be a light soft goods refurbishment to the rooms, but nothing major.

In walking around the resort, we observed a ton of construction workers and pretty much nonstop activity.

This isn’t simply an idle job site with minor tasks proceeding at a lethargic pace. There’s a ton simultaneously happening in multiple longhouses.

The good news is that all of this is currently happening on the side of the Great Ceremonial House closer to the Grand Floridian.

You cannot see or even hear this work from the DVC buildings. Of course, that could change if/when work starts on Hawaii and the other longhouses closer to the villas.

In walking around, it’s also patently obvious just how badly Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort needs a large scale refurbishment. The longhouses are looking pretty rough.

We haven’t stayed in the hotel rooms in a couple of years so I can’t speak to those, but the villas are already showing a lot of wear and tear.

This is all fairly remarkable given that the Poly received a top to bottom overhaul only a few years ago.

Yet, it’s in worse shape than resorts that have only received preventative maintenance during that time–not even something like a soft goods refurbishment.

It’s not our intention of making this a bleak update–a lot of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is looking good. Great Ceremonial House and the Disney Vacation Club side of the property still look fairly fresh.

That’s especially true as the resort is decked out for Christmas.

The Poly doesn’t do a ton for Christmas–it’s notably the highest profile Deluxe Resort that does not have an icon Christmas Tree–but it still looks nice.

I love the color choices and floral motif. It’d be nice if there were more, but what’s there is perfect for Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. It’s also nice to sit by the tree in relative solitude, which is often the case with so few guests around.

In other news, Duffy’s turtle friend has made his way to Walt Disney World due to the protracted closure of Aulani and need to move overstock merchandise. Fitting, since this turtle was created as a thinly-veiled merchandising initiative to get more Japanese guests to book trips to Hawaii and join Disney Vacation Club.

While we’re admittedly quite cynical about the turtle, we’ve really come around on the Duffy & Friends characters. We’ve adopted two plushes and our Christmas tree topper is Gelatoni (arguably the best Duffy Cinematic Universe character). This is all discussed in excruciating detail in our Duffy Phenomenon article.

In addition to a ton of turtle merchandise, there’s also this gift basket with a Santa hat.

Unfortunately, it features the two worst friends of Duffy embroidered on it. Hard pass.

Moving on to dining, which is presumably of greater interest to most of you.

Kona Cafe is open, both the seating area and the Mobile Order To-Go option in My Disney Experience.

Still avoiding indoor dining, we opted for Mobile Order To-Go and ate in our room.

(These photos were taken after Kona Cafe closed for the night. We would’ve done dinner there had it been this empty!)

Sarah ordered the Steak Salad: Sunny-side Up Egg, Kona House Vinaigrette, Sweet Bell Peppers, Kale and Arugula Blend. Hers was not noteworthy and not recommended.

I ordered the Lobster and Crab Macaroni & Cheese, which is “only” an appetizer. I had intended upon also ordering a poke bowl, but there was some confusion (between us–nothing to do with the restaurant), and this ended up being my entree.

That was fine as the Lobster and Crab Macaroni & Cheese was filling and fantastic.

Rich and heavy, with an abundance of lobster and crab meat and mix of quality cheeses. We both loved this, and would highly recommend it.

For dessert, we ordered the Holiday Elf Dome Cake: Vanilla Dome Cake with Egg Nog Spices and White Chocolate Ganache from Captain Cook’s.

When I first saw the stock photo for this in My Disney Experience, I was downright giddy. It instantly transported me to a simpler time, and reminded me of an old friend:

In case you’re unfamiliar with this little gem, it’s the Yoda cookie made by Disneyland Paris last year. That might look like an unmitigated disaster—a kindergarten art project gone horribly wrong. It’s also the stock photo–the best case scenario for how that Yoda cookie could look. In actuality, many had misplaced eyes, devilish grins, etc. Pure nightmare fuel. I loved it.

The Kindergarten Art Yoda Cookie brought me more unadulterated joy than anything else Disney did last year. Sure, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance was nice, but its problems were headache rather than laugh-inducing. This was the highlight. Given how things have gone in 2020, I was hoping the real-world Elf Dome Cake would have similar energy to the Kindergarten Art Yoda Cookie. There was no way the Elf could look as good as the stock photo, and it was the win I needed.

Sadly, it is no Kindergarten Art Yoda Cookie. To my immense disappointment, the Elf Dome Cake looked great. I mean, it’s a bit of a conceptual odd ball, but the appearance is spot-on. It’s a quality cake with professional presentation and attention to detail.

The Elf Dome Cake was delicious, too. The egg nog flavor was on-point and the textures worked well together. It looked and tasted like something that could be served at Amorette’s Patisserie, which is the highest praise possible for a Disney dessert. What a colossal disappointment!

When it comes to delicious food, the Tonga Toast is never a disappointment. It’s one of the most iconic Walt Disney World foods for good reason.

This is served at both Kona Cafe and Captain Cook’s, but is cheaper at the latter. We ordered it from there, because you’ll never convince me that strawberry compote is worth $6.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to make a strong recommendation when it comes to booking Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort between now and Summer 2021. It’s undeniable that half of the resort is a construction zone, key dining is temporarily unavailable, and there’s no monorail service. Some of those losses are significant, and mean big compromises by any guests booking now.

However, some of those losses are totally insignificant, and there are also upsides to the compromises. Due to fewer than half the rooms being available, fewer than half the guests as normal are staying at the Poly. That means the pools and other amenities are underutilized. No ‘Ohana means that the Great Ceremonial House isn’t always busy and raucous at breakfast and dinner-time. We found the balance to be in our favor, but others could very easily reach a dramatically different conclusion.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What are your thoughts on visiting Walt Disney World right now? Are you eagerly awaiting your next vacation ‘escape’ to Walt Disney World, or still apprehensive about everything going on right now? Think Wilderness Lodge would be a good place to stay? Do you have any questions about the current resort experience at Walt Disney World? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this summer or fall, or are you waiting until 2021 or beyond? 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!

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