Paradise found: Why you maybe shouldn’t stay at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
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My very first trip to Walt Disney World was as a 10-year-old girl. That was our one and only big family Disney trip.
It was clearly a pre-internet trip, so we’d sent away for the brochures, read the books and drove from Texas to Orlando as $39 flights and easily accessible airline miles from credit cards weren’t a thing in the early 1990s.
From Space Mountain to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, we rode absolutely everything that existed at the time during our weeklong visit. We stayed on Disney property at the then-still-new Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. It was a grand trip, and while it sparked my love of Disney World, it took 2 1/2 decades for a return stay at a true Disney World resort.
Mostly because of budget, I started my adult-era Disney visits sleeping on the floor of a friend’s Orlando timeshare, then Priceline-ing a $29 hotel about 30 minutes away from the parks. I graduated to using points at the nearby Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress and then eventually using free night awards to stay at the on-site Disney Swan and Dolphin.
Then, things changed.
I finally returned to a real Disney World resort in 2017. And on that trip I shot for the stars, living out my childhood dreams by booking Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. It had been a decades-old dream to stay at that themed resort right on the monorail, and that stay forever changed how I experience Disney World.
Fresh off my fourth or fifth stay at “the Poly,” I’m here to tell you why you might want to not stay there.
The reason? Just like when you turn left on the plane to enjoy first class, it’s hard to want to sit in the back again on your next flight.
And that’s true now more than ever with the Polynesian fresh off a pretty substantial renovation that kept the classic soul of the hotel while modernizing the theme and rooms for today’s guests.
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The theme and rooms
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is not bashful about its theme.
From the lei greeting to the piped-in island music and beyond, once you step foot onto these grounds that Walt dreamed up, you are in Disney’s version of the South Pacific. As someone who loves all things Disney and island vacations, this is a five-star combo.
Once you have your welcome lei, walk past the waterfall and through the lobby, and you will have the option of relaxing on the open grassy area in the shade. Or if your tummy is rumbling, perhaps you could even pick up a cool Dole Whip from the Pineapple Lanai that you’ll encounter as you exit the lobby.
But relaxing with a Dole Whip under the shade tree with some Hawaiian music in the background is almost too perfect, so you definitely shouldn’t start your vacation by doing that.
And you certainly shouldn’t do that if you have kids who may also love this taste of Disney without the crowds and chaos of the parks.
When it’s time to check in to your room, be ready for a modern-meets-“Moana” theme, offering a little something for everyone.
Just reopened with this look in the summer of 2021, the new Polynesian rooms have touches of “Moana”-inspired decor, hardwood floors, many more outlets for charging your devices than before and all-new bathrooms.
For someone who wants modern conveniences but fun Disney touches, these might be close to perfect. So you definitely don’t want to stay in these rooms.
You probably don’t go to Disney World to stay in your room the whole time, so odds are high you’ll want to go for a swim in the Poly’s main Lava Pool or maybe even relax in its secondary Oasis Pool.
The Oasis Pool is certainly nice, but the Lava Pool is the main attraction. It’s open until 10 p.m. and has a zero-entry area, a very impressive toddler play area and a 142-foot-long waterslide.
On top of all that, you can see the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the pool itself, which of course I’m sure you’d never want to do — ever.
Day or night, the Polynesian’s pools are almost too good.
Speaking of almost too good, when you stay at the Polynesian, you are very close to both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
For trips into the Magic Kingdom, you’ll probably want to take the monorail from the second level of the lobby. It will drop you off at the Magic Kingdom starting one hour before the park opens in the morning. Remember, when you stay at a Disney resort like the Polynesian, you get in 30 minutes early, so the monorail starts dropping guests off at the parks half an hour before that time.
To get to Epcot, it’s potentially easiest to walk the five minutes to the Transportation and Ticketing Center to get a direct shot on the monorail from there. Otherwise, you need to transfer from the lobby monorail to the Epcot monorail at the TTC.
Being able to clear security at your hotel and enjoy a monorail ride straight to the parks without the same hassle experienced by the guests of most other resorts is almost too good.
When you are done visiting the parks at night and take the monorail back to the Poly, there are still things to do.
First, you can see the Magic Kingdom’s evening fireworks not only from the pool but also from the beach area — with the piped-in music timed perfectly to the colorful explosions in the air.
There are also outdoor evening movies, dance parties and more on the lawn, ensuring you can stay as active as you want into the nighttime hours without having to stray too far from your room.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort not only has one of the best pools and locations in all of Disney World, but it has some of the best food and restaurants, too. Again — it’s kind of too good.
Who wouldn’t want a cool pineapple drink with dark rum?
Related: Best restaurants at Disney World
Or maybe you prefer smothered pulled pork nachos or noodles with veggies from the quick-service Capt. Cook’s?
Or, let’s say you are in the mood for a cheeky tiki bar. The Poly has that, too: the infamous Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, which is easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it. Kids are welcome until 8 p.m. and then it turns into an adults-only spot — which is very popular, so plan accordingly.
If sit-down restaurants are more your thing, you’re in luck here. You have a choice between Kona Cafe and the ever-popular Ohana.
Kona Cafe is generally easier to get into than Ohana, and it has some great menu items like true Kona coffee in a press pot, Tonga Toast (which is banana-stuffed French toast rolled in cinnamon sugar), sushi rolls and poke and noodle bowls, to name a few options.
Then there is Ohana, which used to have a kids parade and character breakfast but is still a little subdued since its 2021 reopening.
But slightly subdued or not, this is a very popular spot so make reservations 60 days in advance to have the best shot at grabbing a table. Ohana will serve you all-you-care-to-enjoy noodles, salad, dumplings, wings, chicken, steak, peel-and-eat-shrimp, its famous bread pudding dessert and more.
And if you time your reservation carefully, you can see the fireworks from the dining room.
Having this plethora of some of Disney’s best restaurant offerings steps from your room is probably just too enticing.
Why you really shouldn’t stay here
After avoiding the “real” Disney resorts for decades, once I stayed at the Polynesian for the first time in 2017, it was all over for me — and my wallet. I’ve now stayed at most of the best hotels at Disney World and find it quite difficult to go back to the more affordable options that once served me well.
And while I love several Disney World hotels, the Poly firmly sits in the very top spot.
Enjoying the downtime at your resort as much as you do your time on the rides in the parks can get addictive, so I caution you against giving it a shot.
Due to the current staffing levels and the pandemic, I must note, with sincerity this time, the Poly isn’t 100% perfect at the moment. Service was sometimes slow, empty glasses were left around for too long and there’s still no nightly housekeeping.
But beyond those very real but hopefully temporary gaps, don’t stay at Disney’s Polynesian Resort unless you’re ready for it to be your best Disney experience ever. It is so good that it will be hard to stay elsewhere knowing how easy, relaxing and enjoyable things can be at this on-the-monorail deluxe resort.
Once I experienced how fun and easy Disney could be when you stay at the “right” spot, I kept coming back. I’ll barely stay off-property now that I’ve had a taste of the Polynesian good life.
Some dreams aren’t as sweet in reality, but this resort lived up to the decades of hyped expectations I had. That was true not only on that first 2017 visit but time after time and now once again as it is fresh off its remodel.
Just be careful when you start dabbling your toes into the best-of-the-best deluxe Disney resorts — you may then not want to do Disney any other way.
Here’s a look at the 2017 visit to the Polynesian that changed Disney forever for us:
Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.
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