Trader Sam’s Backstory & Details
In our review of Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel, we called it “one of the greatest things Disney has built in years.” Our visits to Trader Sam’s since then have confirmed that, and it remains one of our favorite experiences at Disneyland Resort. With this post, I wanted to share photos of 10 of my favorite details (and what they’re referencing), along with the backstory of Trader Sam’s.
Beyond the tiki culture, the big draws of Trader Sam’s are the kinetic energy and layers upon layers of detail. The “bar” aspect of the establishment is a nice perk, but we’d love Trader Sam’s just as much if it were a waffle house (which is one of the big reasons why we recommend Trader Sam’s even to guests who don’t drink).
For regular guests of Disneyland or Walt Disney World, Trader Sam’s will be a familiar place, even upon their first visit. So goes the backstory of Trader Sam, a quirky adventurer and entrepreneur who has worked the shores of Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise as the “Head Salesman” of the jungle. There, Trader Sam is a wheeler-dealer, selling some of his “treasures” that he has collected and making that famous offer of “two of his heads for one of yours.”
Let’s take a look at some of the other details and show elements at Trader Sam’s…
The backstory of Trader Sam’s bar is told through various letters on the walls. Here’s a basic overview: Trader Sam decided to open an Enchanted Tiki Bar where “his expertise in head-shrinking potions grew into an interest in mixology.” Being a very connected man in the import/export business, Sam called on his friends at the Jungle Cruise Navigational Company, to help him decorate the bar. With the artifacts provided by them and his letters and photos from his travels, he managed to thoroughly adorn the walls of Trader Sam’s.
I think it was a savvy move on Disney’s part to tie Trader Sam’s into the Jungle Cruise through its Navigational Company, as that opened the door for “artifacts” from locations all over the globe that share this type theming. Much like how Mystic Manor has expanded the S.E.A. (Society of Adventurers and Explorers) found at Fortress Explorations in Tokyo DisneySea into a worldwide Disney theme parks thing, the Navigational Company allows Trader Sam’s to have Easter Eggs from Disney parks around the globe without these being merely hat-tips or homages to those parks. So far, I’ve spotted artifacts or correspondence from Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Typhoon Lagoon, Indiana Jones Adventure, the Tower of Terror at Tokyo DisneySea, the Adventurers Club, Lost River Delta at Tokyo DisneySea, Sunshine Tree Terrace, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I’m sure there are more references that I missed.
Trader Sam traveled all over the world to collect the ingredients for “Sam’s Gorilla Grog,” which is his secret base formula for his drinks. He faced many dangers along the way as he sought after these ingredients, and because of this, some of the drinks he serves have mystical powers. Ordering these drinks “disturbs the tiki gods,” which triggers special effects in the restaurant. We have more about the menu in our Trader Sam’s review, but in short, it’s spectacular, as are the special effects that go off in the bar when certain drinks are ordered.
Unfortunately, in an era where something as insignificant as Starbucks coffee being served on Main Street USA leads to hundreds of blog posts and tens of thousands of forum posts that all more or less say variations of one or two things, there is almost zero documentation on the awesomeness that is Trader Sam’s. We want to do our part to remedy that, and to share some of our favorite details with those who haven’t visited this hidden gem…or who might have visited, but can’t quite remember the details of their visit for some reason or another. 😉
Here’s a look at some details–enjoy!
I’ve heard that there are several nods to the Adventurers Club in Trader Sam’s, but I only have spotted a couple. This postcard is from Samantha Sterling, who was one of the Club Members (a cabaret singer) at the Adventurers Club. There’s also a letter from Pamela Perkins on Adventurers Club letterhead.
You know you’re a Disney theme park geek if you instantly recognize this tribute. It’s to Joe Rohde, Executive Designer and Vice President, Creative at Walt Disney Imagineering. Rohde is the Imagineer responsible for the Adventurers Club, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Aulani Resort. He is also known for his various “ear-wear” and somewhat eccentric style. Based upon his portfolio and look, he’s the perfect Imagineer to honor in Trader Sam’s. (Heck, the restaurant should be named after him, but perhaps legal thought better of that…)
This should be fairly recognizable to anyone who has seen the Indiana Jones movies. There are a few correspondence that tie the restaurant to Indiana Jones–I just wish there was something from Sallah. Thanks to the Indiana Jones Adventure pre-show, he’s now my favorite character from that franchise.
H. Goff stands for Harper Goff, who is a lesser-known original Imagineer who has been dubbed “Walt’s Second Imagineer.” He was a prolific banjo player and was incredibly influential in the original design of Adventureland. He also has a tribute in Adventureland at Disneyland; you can see that tribute and read more about Harper Goff here.
Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room is probably the best-represented attraction at Trader Sam’s, and these animated columns are one such example. Although this is inspired by the columns in the Tiki Room, it also reminds me of the Adventurers Club Mask Room.
This family tree of three shrunken heads is obviously Trader Sam’s family tree, and is a reference to Sam’s position as head salesman of the jungle on the Jungle Cruise. Interesting that Sam is shrinking the heads of his own family…perhaps the three heads he’s trying to trade for your head are his relatives?! Or, perhaps this “family tree” is just a combination of a pun and a nod to the Jungle Cruise joke, and not actually Sam’s family…
This shelf is filled with a variety of artifacts and Disney references (just a bit further down is the coin jar from Up). Most noticeable here is a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea book and a can labeled “Gorilla Grog,” which is Sam’s secret elixir blend.
I really like this one, but it’s perplexing. I have no idea what this “Game Ball Playoffs ’37” is referencing. I know the Adventurers Club opened in 1937, but I don’t know enough about the Club’s history to know if that’s the extent of this reference, or if there’s something more to it. I’ve pondered this question and tried to get help from others, all to no avail. Right now, it remains my great Trader Sam’s unsolved mystery (even though there are plenty of other things I’m sure I’ve missed). Anyone know the answer? Also note the Tiki Drummer in the background.
Thought this was appealing! Get it…? This is an Orange Bird bank sold at Walt Disney World in the 1970s and 1980s, which was installed in Trader Sam’s before the Orange Bird returned to Walt Disney World. I wish the Orange Bird received better representation than a souvenir bank (not exactly what I’d call an artifact), but I’m nonetheless glad that he’s represented.
This one should be pretty obvious to Walt Disney World fans. That’s Mount Mayday, the icon of Typhoon Lagoon. Miss Tilly a shrimp boat that found its way there during a devastating tropical storm and became impaled upon a mountain. Either the boat learned to write, or its namesake sent Sam this postcard, which appears to reference both the storm at the heart of the Typhoon Lagoon backstory and a particularly intense night of drinking that the two shared.
These are just a few of the hundreds of details inside Trader Sam’s that make the place so much fun to explore. Kevin Kidney and the whole team behind the restaurant did a great job with it. The ambiance is spectacular, the drinks and food are great, and it exudes that old level of Disney detailing and storytelling. Hopefully this helps explain why Trader Sam’s is a place where we could spend hours relaxing and conversing–and why it should definitely be a stop on your next Disneyland trip!
For actual Disneyland trip planning tips and comprehensive advice beyond these quick and random tips, make sure to read our Disneyland Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
For updates on Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the latest news, discount information, and tips, sign up for our free monthly newsletter!
Which part of Trader Sam’s theming is your favorite? Do you hope to visit Trader Sam’s one day…possibly if one opens at Disney Springs in Walt Disney World? Share your thoughts in the comments!
This is such a great post – and this post was the reason I ended up visiting Trader Sam’s last year.
1) Would always welcome more detail about Trader Sam’s at DLH. When I’m there looking around, it’s all very interesting, but is more interesting when there is an explanation behind what you’re reading!
2) Have you visited the Trader Sam’s in WDW yet?
The postcard with Mount Mayday on is wasn’t written by “Miss Tilly” it’s signed by “Crew of Miss Tilly,” so the boat didn’t magically write a postcard to Trader Sam 🙂
Minor detail. 😉
I just want to start a petition for this place to serve the Lapu Lapu from the Poly here! Any ideas? I have made the recommendation each time I walk in there. I think it would be the perfect signature drink addition!
BTW, thank you for this article but it gets soooo crowded in there at times, I wish less people knew about it. ;>)
I spent every night at Trader Sam’s on my New Years trip. I am glad you found many of the items from other locations and I would love to see them all listed somewhere eventually. I was trying to explain on a Podcast how there were so many things that referenced or came from other Disney attractions. I would love to link to this blog for my next article that talks about the Trader Sam’s going in at the Polynesian Resort if that would be alright. Just shoot me an email if it is okay.
I wonder what items they will gather up for the Trader Sam’s out east. I hear that the Imagnieers are going to retheme much of the Polynesian to have more of an Adventureland feel than it already does.
Great review! My family hasn’t stayed at the Disneyland Hotel since before the renovation, but we’re heading there in a few weeks. In the past, we’ve used the hotel primarily just as a place to sleep, but after reading this site we’ve decided to spend a day dedicated to simply enjoying the resort, and Trader Sam’s looks like it will be a highlight. I’m a massive sucker for Disney trivia, so this restaurant will be Nirvana.
Thanks for the excellent work on this website. It’s an outstanding resource!
Oh my goodness! This is mine and my spouses absolute favorite hangout at Disneyland Resort. We liked the Lost Bar but LOVE Trader Sam’s. Every time we go, we pop in usually once a day! We always find something new to look at and have tried every one of the signature drinks! We love it so much we are going to Disney World in Sept for the first time and I wanted to stay at the Polynesian just to get something close!
Tom, first of all, I loved the article and the accompanying pictures. Second, this is just a hunch, and may be a bit of a stretch, but “Game Ball Playoffs ’37″ may be alluding to Sammy Baugh. In 1937, he was a rookie for the recently moved Washington Redskins.
The Redskins won the NFL Championship that year, 28-21 over the Chicago Bears, thanks in large part to Baugh’s 4th quarter 35 yard pass for a touchdown.
The NFL didn’t start giving out “playoff” MVP awards until 1967 when they merged with the AFL and had the first Super Bowl, so it can be inferred that Baugh may have been given the game ball.
I wonder if the Imagineers are suggesting that Trader Sam and Sammy Baugh are one and the same…or maybe the coconut is supposed to be what Trader Sam used as a football (while prentending to be Sammy Baugh) when he played a game of football with some locals on a trpopical island.
That’s just a guess and if it’s not the explanation, than I too am out of ideas.
That would be a really obscure reference, but it wouldn’t surprise if one of the Imagineers is a fan of the Redskins. My money is still on it being an Adventurers Club reference that I’m just missing…
Well… a couple of more Adventurer’s Club notes. First, that basket in the second is filled with AC artifacts. That puppet, “Slappy”, was worked by the Colonel in some memorable outings. Note Zeus, “God with Rod”, a Maid’s feather duster, Hathaway’s scarf, and other items. Second, although it is not mentioned in the drink book, the bartenders can (and will) make a Kungaloosh, and should know the club salute. (We even did the creed and sang the club song in the bar). Third, the sinking ship effect is out of the AC. Fourth, there is a yacht with a small colonel piloting it, representing the permanent members out on their cruise with Marcel. The yacht also supposedly has a small gorilla (Marcel) a peacock plume and leopard scarf. Fifth, they have the sinking barstools. Sixth, outside, you will see the diver’s helmet from the Samurai diver. There is probably more. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?
I can’t believe I’ve missed so many of those things. Although in fairness, we only went to the Adventurers Club maybe 4 or 5 times before it closed, and my memory isn’t the best from a few of those evenings.
We’ve had both the “old” and “new” Kungaloosh at Trader Sam’s. I only ever had the “new” one at the Adventurers Club, but both are good at Trader Sam’s.
Thanks for adding to the list. Really appreciate it!
Though its hard to narrow it down, some of my favorites in Trader Sam’s are the inclusions of art from current tiki artists. There is a carved mask by Kirby on the wall in the southwest corner. Tiki Tony has a small painting behind the bar on an upper shelf. One of Bosko’s carved masks is on the East wall. And the impressive front doors were carved by Leroy Schmaltz of Oceanic Arts. I’m sure I am missing countless others in this abridged list.
The large “ship in a bottle” over the back of the bar is another relic from the Adventurers Club. I spent two evenings at Trader Sam’s last week and had an absolute blast. Makes me miss the Adventurers Club even more . . .
You might be right, however the ship in the bottle is the Wicked Wench from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily have some pics of them working on that (along with most of the major decor in the bar.)
does this have any similarities to the enchanted tiki room at magic kingdom? We’ve never made it into the Enchanted tiki room at MK, but I thought it was an attraction/show. Are they at all related?
They are thematically related. This is a bar, the Tiki Room is a (family) show.
We’re going to visit Disneyland this summer – a thought that really hadn’t much crossed my mind until reading your blog. On the day we get into town we plan to make a stop at the Tiki bar, again, largely on your recommendation. We’ll call this the Bricker-sponsored trip! (no pressure)
As long as “Bricker-sponsored” doesn’t mean I have to pay for it! 😉
You can totally write a part 2, 3, 4, etc. to this article. There’s so many details left to mention and I’d love to read more!
I wholeheartedly second Julia’s motion!!! Excellent post Tom, would love to read more. Kungaloosh!
Like you said, there are hundreds of details that can be mentioned. One of the ones I always liked: Located above the Short Round note is a newspaper article from the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They show the article briefly in the film when talking about the “monster” and the Professor.
Oh wow, that’s pretty obscure. You’d probably have to be a fan of the movie to spot that one!
Haha, I suppose so. I loved the movie when I was young and watched it many times. The article features a picture of a flying “dragon” attacking a ship and that image is something I remember clearly. You should be able to spot the newspaper with the dragon on it pretty easily next time you drop in to Tader Sam’s.
I’m sooooo there in July- it’s on our list of must-do’s for our first Disneyland trip!
My favorite are the two Toy Story 3 Tiki Mugs found on the walls (to the left of the bar). One side shows Buzz, the other side shows Woody. I don’t have a picture of them in Trader Sam’s, but they look just like these:
They’re pretty rare since only 500 were made and given as gifts to the TS3 crew by Lee Unkrich. I only noticed them when a Pixar employee who happened to be there pointed them out.
Wow, that’s beyond awesome. Way cooler than what I pictured in my head before clicking the link. Too bad those were never made available to the general public.