Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: Why one of Disney World’s original resorts remains one of the best
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When Walt Disney World first opened in 1971, the resort had just one theme park, the Magic Kingdom, and three resort “hotels”: Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
Before his death in 1966, years before Disney World was completed, Walt himself dreamed up a few more themed resort concepts that didn’t make their way into reality, but those three Walt-original ideas were built and remain open today.
It goes without saying that the three original properties remain very special, and with Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary at full steam, both the Contemporary and the Polynesian have recently debuted new, fresh looks.
This is a bit of a spoiler alert for the rest of the review, but I’ll “warn” you upfront that the Polynesian is so good, it is almost “dangerous” to book a stay there, in a tongue-in-cheek way. This is because it can be hard to go back to more budget-friendly options once you experience themed-resort life on the monorail.
From “Moana”-inspired decor to authentic Kona coffee, the property offers everything you need to feel like you’re in Hawaii without flying there yourself. Here’s what it is like to stay at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
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Related: Best hotels at Disney World
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is one of the most expensive resorts at Walt Disney World. However, it’s also one of the best all-around choices on Disney property.
The rooms were recently updated with bright “Moana”-inspired decor, there’s a zero-entry pool with a volcano and a 142-foot waterslide, and fun dining options are plentiful.
Not to mention, when you stay at the Polynesian, you almost get two vacations in one.
You enjoy easy access to both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot via the monorail and ferryboat, along with all the trappings of a deluxe Disney World vacation. Plus, everything from Hawaiian-style music playing in the background to Asian-influenced bites and Disney’s signature Dole Whip drinks and cones is available here, so you’ll instantly feel like you’ve been transported to the tropics … for a price.
There are two different types of lodging options in the modern-day Polynesian Village Resort.
In addition to traditional hotel rooms and suites, you’ll find Disney Vacation Club studios and overwater bungalows. Walking around the property, you can’t tell the difference between the various buildings, er, longhouses, but this distinction is important to know.
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The traditional hotel rooms and suites at the Polynesian are the ones that have the true “Moana” theming and are available to book directly with Disney World.
However, the studio villas and overwater bungalows offer a couple of booking options. You can book them directly with Disney (though availability this way is often hit or miss), or you can rent Disney Vacation Club points to cover your stay.
While the rates to rent points can vary depending on where you rent from, it’s very possible you will save money renting points over booking directly with Disney when there is availability. Additionally, when you stay on DVC points, you get free self-parking, which saves $25 per night.
Traditionally, points rented from major DVC rental companies can go for $19-$20 per rented point, with studios at the Polynesian starting at 14 points per night in the lowest-demand season and 37 points per night during the peak season. While that can save you some cash, keep in mind that bookings made with rented DVC points are typically less flexible than traditional hotel stays.
Cash rates for standard rooms at the Polynesian start at more than $500 per night, though they can easily exceed $800 per night during busy periods like holidays and school breaks.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is one of three “monorail resorts,” meaning they sit on the monorail loop that circles Bay Lake.
That puts this property one monorail stop away from the Magic Kingdom. You can also take a nonstop monorail from this property to Epcot if you walk a short distance east to the Transportation and Ticket Center.
While the resort is in the heart of Disney World (and Central Florida, for that matter), it feels a lot like you’re in Hawaii as you walk around the grounds, jump into the Lava Pool and sit on the sand overlooking the lake.
The pandemic permanently altered the check-in options for a Walt Disney World stay.
Before March 2020, you could only check in by having a face-to-face interaction with a receptionist in the lobby. Now, you can visit the check-in desk in person or use the mobile check-in option and head straight to your room once you’re notified in the app or via text that your room is ready. Either way, don’t forget your welcome lei.
You should be able to open your room door with either your Disney MagicBand or with the My Disney Experience app. However, note that technology doesn’t always work as intended, so the surest bet if you don’t want to risk a trek back to the lobby is to get a keycard at the front desk … just in case.
There are about 10 different longhouses at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort that are home to a mix of traditional hotel rooms and DVC studios. Standard rooms with different views are available, as well as Disney club-level rooms and one-bedroom suites.
It’s a relatively large property, so know that there can be a long walk to the main building, pool, monorail, etc., depending on which building your assigned room is located in. It also gets quite dark on the property at night and can be easy to get turned around if you aren’t 100% sure where you are headed, so you may want to keep a copy of the resort map with you when you’re out and about.
The standard hotel rooms have been redone in a palette of colors inspired by the Pacific Ocean and its many islands. The bathroom tiles are inspired by the sandy ocean floor, according to Disney, and on the walls and in artwork, you’ll notice characters from “Moana.” Keep your eyes peeled for a couple of “hidden Mickeys” worked into the design, too.
The bathrooms are spacious, offering a double vanity and either a walk-in shower or a combination of tub and shower, depending on if you are in an accessible room or not. Large pump bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash hang in the shower, and a selection of H2O+ toiletries are available by the sinks. Several sets of plush white towels are provided as well.
The DVC studios at the Poly (as fans affectionately refer to this property) have also been recently refreshed, but they feature a lighter, “Moana”-free touch. However, the update did include one key change: replacing the pullout sofas with pull-down Murphy beds.
In addition to the traditional room options, there are 20 overwater villas that sit side by side above the lake. It’s a life goal of mine to stay in one of the two-bedroom overwater villas, which each come with a private plunge pool. Just be warned: The villas typically cost more per night than some actual overwater bungalows in Bora Bora.
Disney’s Polynesian is stuffed to the brim with activities and amenities. While not all of its pre-pandemic offerings have returned, there’s still plenty to do when you’re not at the parks.
Let’s start at the top of the volcano with the two on-site pools.
There’s the main Lava Pool, where you can zip down the 142-foot waterslide, play with little ones in the splash area or lounge by the zero-entry area. Lifeguards are available, too, for extra peace of mind.
The pool is a lot of fun but can get full during peak hours, so plan on arriving early if you want more elbow room.
Know that there’s also a hot tub tucked away in this main pool area, but it gets quite busy in the evening hours.
The other option, the quieter Oasis Pool, doesn’t have a waterslide or splash area, though it does feature some cabana-like areas you can reserve, as well as its own hot tub.
Normally, there’s also a poolside restaurant and bar area.
This pool stays open later than the main pool and varies from empty to very busy, with its thickest crowds generally being when the other pool is closed. During my previous visits, I’ve noticed some ducks swimming alongside poolgoers.
In the evenings, you’ll often find an outdoor Disney movie playing at the Great Ceremonial House Lawn, which sits between the main pool and the lobby. There are also on-site boat rentals and evening campfires available.
Another fun perk of staying at the Polynesian is the prime location. Every night, you’ll enjoy a phenomenal view of the Electrical Water Pageant on Seven Seas Lagoon.
Then, to cap off the day, you can watch the Magic Kingdom’s nighttime fireworks show, Disney Enchantment, while listening to music piped into the resort to correspond with the spectacular display happening across the lake.
There’s something special about ending your Disney day watching fireworks from the Polynesian’s pool.
When it’s time to go back to the parks in the morning, the best amenities Poly has are the on-site monorail and boat transportation, which take you directly to the Magic Kingdom. The boat leaves from the dock off the back of the resort.
The monorail stop for the Polynesian is on the second level of the main lobby area. What’s extra magical about this transportation option is that you complete your security screening here, so you don’t have to go through it with hordes of fellow parkgoers when you arrive at the Magic Kingdom. Typically, the monorail will drop you off at the Magic Kingdom starting an hour before park opening.
I love the food at the Polynesian. As in, I’ll come to the resort to eat even when I’m staying elsewhere.
Poly has its own Dole Whip counter at Pineapple Lanai. If you are not already in the know, Dole Whip is a pineapple-flavored, dairy-free ice cream at Disney that’s become a cult favorite. The only place to get it at Disney outside the parks is at the Polynesian.
While there are several versions of Dole Whip, the basic cup starts at $4.99. I usually opt for the $5.99 float.
Although the all-ages options are great, the rum-infused variety is pretty good, too.
There’s also Kona Cafe, a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; it offers mobile ordering and takeaway service as well. Many menu items draw inspiration from Asian and Polynesian fare.
Related: Best restaurants at Disney World
While this restaurant is general easier to get into than others, it can fill up from time to time, so be sure to make reservations in advance.
On the menu, you’ll find options like a California roll from the sushi bar ($18); a veggie bowl made with jasmine broth, glass noodles and pineapple tofu ($21); and a tuna poke bowl ($18).
If all of that sounds too adventurous for your crew, don’t worry: There are also really good mainstream options, such as glazed chicken wings, pot stickers and even a cheddar bacon burger.
The free sweet bread is also worth a mention — and occasionally even a second helping.
Additionally, you’ll find Capt. Cook’s, a quick-service restaurant, at the property. You can order food here via your phone and pick it up after you’re notified that it’s ready to grab.
This spot serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For breakfast, there is the Tonga toast ($9), a guest favorite. The massive deep-fried sourdough bread concoction is stuffed with bananas and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Knowing how famous it is, I had to try it, but it didn’t knock my socks off quite like I was expecting.
Also available are breakfast burritos ($8), Mickey waffles for kids ($6) and other made-to-order, grab-and-go options.
For dinner, the menu features items like Aloha pork sandwiches, Pan-Asian noodles and vegetables, cheeseburgers and chicken wings, among other options.
The best dish here, though, has to be the pulled pork nachos, which come with cheese, spicy mayonnaise, pineapple salsa, pico de gallo and, of course, pork.
Then there is Ohana, one of the most popular restaurants in all of Disney World. When it reopened after more than a yearlong closure in 2021, it did so without some all-time favorites on the all-you-care-to-enjoy menu. After a recent visit, though, I can say that the bestsellers are back, and everything is still delicious (albeit slightly subdued compared to the pre-pandemic times).
The restaurant is open for both breakfast and dinner, with dinner pricing at $55 for adults and $33 for children 9 and younger. My advice: Come (very) hungry, as you’ll receive a lot of food throughout the family-style, multicourse meal.
While it is tempting to fill up on the peel-and-eat shrimp, Ohana noodles, honey-coriander chicken wings, pork dumplings and bread, you must save room for the grand finale of Ohana bread pudding served with vanilla ice cream and warm caramel sauce. (Pro tip: If the dessert is all you want, you can order it from the lounge next door.)
For breakfast, Ohana serves scrambled eggs, pork sausage, fried potatoes, Mickey waffles and pineapple-coconut bread. There’s even real Kona coffee available here, making the restaurant a fun island-inspired spot to enjoy a meal when you’re not rushing to the parks.
The breakfast service is less expensive than dinner at $25 for adults and $13 for kiddos, so if you’re trying to reign in your Disney expenses, consider skipping Ohana at night and grabbing breakfast instead.
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto
Last but far from least is my favorite bar in all of Disney World: Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. Trader Sam’s is open to families until 8 p.m., then it switches to an adults-only establishment.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the Enchanted Tiki Room show at the Magic Kingdom, it offers elements of that mixed with a bit of Jungle Cruise antics.
It rains, the volcano erupts and servers scream when certain drinks are ordered. It’s an all-around good time that fills up fast, so get there early.
It doesn’t get better than the Polynesian for a big trip to Disney World, especially when you are going heavy on visits to the nearby Magic Kingdom and Epcot. There’s just something special about staying at an original Walt-era resort on the monorail loop.
On top of that, you get some immersive Polynesian theming that gives you a taste of the tropics without venturing 5,000 miles west to Hawaii. Sure, it’s a Disney version of a Pacific island, but it’s still a lot of fun.
Whether you choose to stay in one of the Disney Vacation Club studio villas, a standard hotel room, a club-level accommodation or a dreamy overwater bungalow, it’s hard to not enjoy a trip to Disney’s Polynesian Village.
I’ve enjoyed every one of my trips to the Poly, and after each one is over, I can’t wait to book a return visit.
Head to TPG’s hub for all things Disney, or keep reading other Disney World hotel reviews:
- Review of Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Review of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Review of Disney’s Riviera Resort
- Review of Disney’s Gran Destino Tower
- Review of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.
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