The Polynesian is as synonymous with Walt Disney World as the Monorail, and maybe even the Magic Kingdom itself. So, is it worth all the hype (and money?) Read on the find out.
Bottom Line Up Front: I will come out and say it–Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort (the “Polynesian” or “Poly” for short) is worth every precious dime. From its location, to its theming and food, the Polynesian is in a league of its own. And it is only getting better.
What is the Polynesian? Disney’s Polynesian is a Disney Resort perched on Seven Seas Lagoon just outside the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. It is an opening-day Disney Resort, meaning it opened in 1971 along with the Magic Kingdom (the first of the four theme parks that comprise Walt Disney World). It is themed to the South Pacific, featuring tropical palm trees, a Great Ceremonial House, and an all-around island vibe.
Theming. The Polynesian is perhaps the best-themed Disney Resort. From outside, its iconic longhouses draw you in with their low-slung, mid-century-style red roofs that extend into every direction. Palm trees surround the longhouses, providing a lush, tree-covered canopy that stands in contrast to other Disney Resorts. Water features and waterfalls surround the entry way that consists of two levels. The lower level is for guests arriving by car or bus, while the upper level serves as the resort’s monorail station stop; from the upper level you can enter straight onto the second level of the Great Ceremonial House.
The Great Ceremonial House is the lobby and the crown jewel of the Polynesian. It is a large, multi-level hub that includes the check-in desks, shops, restaurants, and an exit to the main pool area and the longhouses. At the center of the Great Ceremonial House is a statue welcoming you home, large bulbous lighting hanging from the ceiling, and numerous plants, resulting in one of the best, if not the best, lobbies at Walt Disney World. This theming effortlessly extends to every facet of the resort, with little hints of the tropical vibe appearing in the decor on the elevators, in the resort rooms, and even on the menus at the restaurants.
Transportation. In terms of sheer transportation options, the Polynesian is arguably the best situated among the Disney Resorts on the “Monorail Loop.” And I say this as a person who is obsessed with how close Bay Lake Tower is to the Magic Kingdom (for my review of Bay Lake Tower, check out my article, Disney Resort Series: Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort).
- Monorail. Though the Polynesian has its own monorail station, it actually offers access to two monorail stops. How, you ask? Well, as mentioned, there is a monorail stop on the second level of lobby, known as the Great Ceremonial House. From there, you can take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, with one stop at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (“Grand Floridian”) along the way. You can also elect to not stop at the Magic Kingdom, and ride the monorail around the loop until it reaches Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Transportation and Ticket Center (“TTC”), or back at the Polynesian. Speaking of the TTC—the Polynesian is a short walk away, meaning you can head straight there and take the monorail to EPCOT and avoid riding the entire monorail loop. For a guide to navigating the TTC, see my article, Disney Transportation Series: What is the Transportation and Ticket Center?
- Boats. Because it is located at the southern tip of Seven Seas Lagoon, the Polynesian is uniquely served by boat transportation. Below is a quick breakdown of the boat options at the Polynesian; for a full primer on the water transportation options at Walt Disney World, check out my article, Disney Transportation Series: What are Disney Ferries, Boat Launches, and Friendship Launches?
- Ferry. As mentioned, you can walk to the TTC, but the TTC also contains a Ferry stop. Once there, you can elect to take the Ferry–which often has a shorter wait than the monorail–straight to Magic Kingdom. The Ferry travels back and forth to the same location, so upon return to the TTC you can either walk the path back to the Polynesian, or hop on the monorail heading to Magic Kingdom, and the Polynesian station will be your first stop.
- Water Launch. Several, smaller boats referred to as Water Launches or Water Taxis service the the resorts in the Magic Kingdom area. The boats travel different routes, each indicated by the color of a flag. The Gold Flag takes guests between the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom.
- Pro tip: this can be the quickest way home during the post-fireworks rush when guests leave the Magic Kingdom.
- Walkability. The Polynesian’s walkway to the TTC enables guests to travel to both EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom. Another walkway leads to the Grand Floridian, which has its own walkway to the Magic Kingdom–meaning Polynesian guests can technically walk from the Polynesian all the way to the Magic Kingdom! Note, however, that it is not a short walk, so plan ahead.
Layout. The Polynesian is a classic Disney Resort in that it consists of multiple buildings spread out from the central hub. However, the footprint of the Poly isn’t too large, so the walking distances between buildings and amenities aren’t overwhelming. There is definitely more walking than a tower-based Disney Resort (think Disney’s Contemporary Resort or Disney’s Riviera Resort), but less than say Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa or Port Orleans – Riverside. The main entrance faces a parking lot to the south, and the northern portion of the resort abuts Seven Seas Lagoon. The walkways between buildings are surrounded by lush trees, giving the experience an encapsulated feel.
Pricing & Rooms. The Polynesian doesn’t come cheap. It is classified as a Deluxe Resort, and it is one of the most expensive Disney Resorts on Disney property. The Polynesian mainly features Standard Resort Rooms featuring two queen beds or a king bed. The prices range based on the view: Theme Park View, Pool or Marina View, Lagoon View, or Standard View (the latter of which faces a parking lot). The rooms were recently updated and themed to Moana, which aligns with the Polynesian theme nicely. There is a Club Level option–which costs more, of course–that permits guests staying in a Club Level room with access to a lounge with some food options. Club Level lounges at Walt Disney World each have names; at the Polynesian, it’s called the King Kamehameha Club.
Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. The Polynesian is one of several Disney Resorts that feature regular resort rooms, and in some buildings, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) rooms. The DVC rooms are located in the Pago Pago, Tokelau, and Moorea longhouses. Also unique is that the DVC rooms in those longhouses at the Polynesian are limited to “Deluxe Studios,” which are not full villas, but instead, expanded studios with a kitchenette.
The Polynesian also offers one of the more unique DVC room types, known as the Bora Bora Bungalows, which stand above the water of Seven Seas Lagoon. The Bungalows feature a full kitchen, living and dining areas, separate bedrooms, a washer/dryer, and a private deck with a small pool.
Parking. Disney Resort parking fees are one of the least-discussed costs of a Disney trip. I call these “hidden fees” because many don’t realize that Disney charges parking fees for each night of your stay–yes, for every night of your vacation. And the price range depends on where you are staying. For a full breakdown of the hidden costs of a Disney trip, check out my book The New Parents’ Guide to Disney World.
Parking at the Polynesian costs $25 per night; the fee will be added to your hotel folio at checkout, so be ready for these costs to hit your credit card bill. Note that, like other Disney Resorts, if you are only dining or shopping (and not a guest) at the Polynesian, parking is ostensibly complimentary. But you may need either a Dining Reservation or a confirmed Mobile Order at one of the restaurants to be permitted entry into the resort (if traveling by car).
Food. The Polynesian truly shines in its food offerings, featuring both a high quantity of options, and a high quality of tastes sure to impress the foodies in your family.
- Captain Cook’s: This is the quick service option at the Polynesian, featuring quick meals and snacks with a small seating area. Food here is also available for Mobile Order. It is open from breakfast until late in the evening.
- ‘Ohana: The most popular of the Poly dining options (and for good reason), ‘Ohana is located on the second level of the Great Ceremonial House. It is known for its all-you-can eat breakfast, which features Pog Juice, Hawaiian Bread, both Mickey and Stitch-shaped waffles, and a view of Cinderella Castle in the distance. For dinner, try the storied ‘Ohana noodles: you won’t regret it.
- Pro Tip: Stitch is returning to ‘Ohana Best Friends Breakfast featuring Lilo and Stitch on September 27–plan ahead and making an advanced dining reservation!
- Kona Cafe: This restaurant is also located on the second level the Great Ceremonial House, where it overlooks the lobby. It features Asian-inspired food, and perhaps most importantly, Tonga Toast, which is stuffed with cinnamon and banana.
- Kona Island: Located between Kona Cafe and the second floor entrance from the monorail station, Kona Island is essentially a coffee bar offering beverages, pastries, and later in the day, sushi.
- Barefoot Pool Bar: This bar is next to the large Volcano at the Lava Pool, and offers tiki-themed cocktails, beer, wine, and a small food menu.
- Oasis Pool Bar & Grill: Located at the Oasis Pool, this bar, like the Barefoot Pool bar, offers drinks and a small menu.
- Pineapple Lanai: This outdoor walk-up window is located next to Captain Cook’s and features various types of DOLE Whip. This is a great option for DOLE Whip outside of a Disney park!
- Tambu Lounge: This bar is located on the second level of the Great Ceremonial House, adjacent to the entrance to ‘Ohana. A small lounge area with seating and a TV is next to the bar. The lounge area is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, offering a view of the resort grounds, and Cinderella Castle in the distance.
- Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto: This small bar is hidden gem inside the resort, close to Captain Cook’s internal entrance. It is themed to a Grog Grotto, with a tiki bar where servers are known for their theatrics. It is kid-friendly before 8:00 PM, and limited to guests 21 and over after that. There is an outdoor section called “Tiki Terrace” that is great if the indoor section is full, or if it is crowded (considering we are still in a pandemic). As a heads up, this place used to be a well-kept secret for in-the-know guests, but thanks to social media it has become a popular hotspot.
Shops. There are two shops at the Poly: Moana Mercantile and BouTiki. Moana Mercantile features clothes, souvenirs, and a smaller convenience store with food, beverages, and personal items. Moana Mercantile appears to cater more to those shopping for kids. BouTiki also features clothes and souvenirs, but it is noticeably larger and pricier than Moana Mercantile.
BouTiki is notable for selling ‘Olu Mel merchandise. ‘Olu Mel is a friend of Duffy, who is a bear that belongs to Mickey Mouse. (Duffy and Friends are a line of characters that are immensely popular at International Disney Parks. They are gaining popularity stateside. ) ‘Olu Mel is the official mascot of Aulani, Disney’s Hawaiian Resort. Basically, this is one of the few places where guests can buy ‘Olu Mel merchandise!
Pools. The Poly features two pools, the Lava Pool and the Oasis Pool. The Lava Pool is the main attraction, with a large volcano, waterfall, and 142-foot water slide that swirls around the volcano. There is also a zero-depth entry for smaller kids. This pool is lively at all times of day, due to its size and proximity to the Great Ceremonial House. Kid-Friendly music plays all day, and at night, the music to Disney’s Enchantment, the fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom, plays along with the fireworks show in the distance. The Oasis Pool is a large pool located nearby in between several longhouses. Though is is for all-ages, it caters to a slightly older crowd, offering a quiet experience in an otherwise bustling Disney Resort.
The Beach. The northern portion of the resort that abuts Seven Seas Lagoon features a small beach with seating, bench swings, and volleyball nets. You cannot enter the water here for obvious reasons, but there is a large, sandy area where you can relax or let the kids run around. This area is where people gather to watch Disney Enchantment.
Is it Kid-Friendly? The Polynesian gets this parent’s seal of approval. The location is nearly unmatched, offering Monorail, Ferry, and Water Launch access to the Magic Kingdom. The ability to leave your car behind, and travel to and from the Magic Kingdom–especially during nap time–saves precious time for beleaguered parents. The same can be said for the access to EPCOT, and the restaurants, pools, and shopping at the nearby resorts. Simply put, it makes parents’ lives easier when they can quickly get to their destination without loading the kids in and out of the car and finding parking.
As if that wasn’t enough, the resort itself offers one of the best kids-focused pools at a Disney Resort (the Lava Pool). ‘Ohana offers a great breakfast with Stitch, a fan favorite, and Captain Cook’s offers tons of kid-friendly food options. Additionally, the beach is a great area to let your kids have fun and release some of their energy. Lastly, the resort is easy to navigate with kids because it is not too large, and the buildings are either two or three stories tall. As a parent, this matters because (1) the walk between the amenities are relatively short, which is helpful with kids in tow after a long park day, and (2) shorter buildings means less time waiting to board elevators with your stroller!
Fireworks Views. Polynesian guests can enjoy Disney Enchantment every night from the resort. One of the best views is from the beach area, and guests sometimes gather around that area an hour or so before to get the best view. But you can see the fireworks from around the Lava Pool and other outdoor areas, too. The speakers around the resort play the accompanying music, and there is something truly magical about taking in the nighttime spectacular from the beach, away from the crowds and the rush to the monorail.
The Electrical Water-Pageant. Colorful, creative, and electrical, the Electrical Water Pageant consists of water boats dressed in lights to look like sea creatures that travel across Seven Seas Lagoon each night. There are several viewing areas in front of each of the Magic Kingdom area resorts, including the Polynesian. The Pageant, which was recently updated to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World, is to me, one of the most magical Disney experiences. It is a can’t miss, and a huge perk of staying at the Poly is the ability to take in this water show.
The Future of the Polynesian. Disney recently announced that a new Polynesian DVC tower will be arriving sometime in 2024 on the site of the former Spirit of Aloha Dinner show. It is unclear how this will impact a stay at the Polynesian, or whether a new monorail station will be constructed. To learn more about the new Polynesian DVC tower, read my article Disney Vacation Club Announces New Polynesian Resort Tower. Until then, follow this blog or follow me on instagram at @defactodad for more information.
The Verdict: So, should you stay at the Polynesian? Yes, yes, yes. Though it is not my favorite resort, it is magical, the quintessential Walt Disney World experience. I will admit that I was a skeptic until the moment I stepped foot into the Great Ceremonial House, when I was instantly immersed into the Polynesian’s clutches. People often speak of the Disney bubble, of that unmistakeable feeling of being transported somewhere magical for the duration for their stay; the Polynesian welcomes you into that bubble. The Polynesian pulls off the ultimate trick of making you feel a world away while being steps from the Magic Kingdom (and other Disney Resorts). This is an undeniably good thing when you are staying there. This is an undeniably bad thing when you are staying elsewhere, when you begin to unfairly compare other Disney Resorts to the Polynesian. As you may be gathering, no other Disney Resort can compare. There are other, cheaper resorts, there are resorts closer to the theme parks, and there are newer, flashier resorts, sure. But there is only one Polynesian.
Are you a fan of the Polynesian? What is your favorite Disney Resort?
Follow Defacto Dad on instagram @defactodad.