Trader Sam’s Review, A Visit to Captain Cook’s for Dinner, Merchandise, And A Walk Around the Polynesian Village Resort – 9/7/15

We’ll spend some time inside Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and take a stroll around the resort to check on construction, in addition to grabbing dinner at Captain Cook’s and seeing if there’s any fresh resort-specific merchandise available.

The vast majority of the construction walls around the resort are gone.

It wasn’t so long ago that the waterfalls on both sides of the main entrance were boarded up.

Remember? The picture above this one is what’s behind the wall.

From the front of the resort, construction and walls should largely be a non-issue. There is one section of the parking lot behind walls hiding heavy machinery, but that’s about it.

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/polylookingdown.jpg

The arrival of the Disney Vacation Club Villas and the Bungalows in front of the resort brought a major refurbishment to the main pool complex, which is now called “Lava” instead of “Nanea.” The pool itself looks the same for the most part – someone may need to chime in on what’s different/better/worse.

Like other pools, there’s now a fence around it, largely due to safety concerns.

The resort’s first hot tub was also installed as part of the project.

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/polypool2.jpg

Wider: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/polypoolbadpano.jpg

Disney also built a splash area aimed at kids off to the left of the pool.

It’s nicely themed, elaborate, and looks to be the sort of thing that you wish was built when you were a kid.

From afar, it looks like the changes to the pool are all for the better with the additions of the play area and hot tub.

I am a little disheartened that they gutted the stream area leading up to the back entrance/exit of the resort.

In related pool news, the old quiet/east pool is entirely behind walls as upgrades are made.

Wider: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/polyquietpool.jpg

Unless something has changed, we’ll see some major changes to what is expected to be called The Oasis Pool as well. Additions should include a pool bar and grill and another hot tub.

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/polynesian_village_resort_map.jpg

This is a current map of the property with the area circled in red indicating where the quiet pool is and where the majority of the walls are located.

Walls also line the building marked with a “P” above.

The map also marks the jogging/walking path, in addition to the location of the quiet/east pool that the current map omits.

If you’re planning a stay over the next nine-ish months, you may want to request a room on the other side of the resort.

The State of The Poly is in the best shape its been in well over a year, but you may not want to walk out onto your balcony to see this or arrive at a face full of wall when stepping out onto the patio.

Of course, the other big change is the oft-talked-about Bungalows that now line Seven Seas Lagoon and run a minimum of about $2,000 per night. I don’t hold as much disdain for these things as some people, but the brown on brown color scheme is kind of unattractive. On the other hand, doing just about anything else would call even more attention to them.

I wrote my original Trader Sam’s review all the way back in May. That covers several food items, the majority of the drinks, and the Tiki Terrace outside. The Terrace is surprisingly pleasant I think, even in the summer heat. The umbrellas do a nice job of keeping the sun off and there’s usually a breeze off the water. Add the live music, waterfall, and charming atmosphere and you have what is probably the best outdoor bar area on property.

Trader Sam’s is one of the least obvious places at Walt Disney World. You’ll find it on the ground floor past Captain Cook’s quick service.

Around the corner.

That’s it. Seriously. There’s a sign on the single, barren brown door. But that’s all you’re going to see. To get to the Tiki Terrace, you exit the door and immediately take a hard right.

Trader Sam’s is currently open from 4pm to midnight daily. After 8pm, the bar is 21+ only. It’s usually busiest from 4pm-8pm as people visit before their dining reservation or fireworks. You ideally want to arrive by 3:30pm to pick up a pager outside the bar to be among the first 50 or so people admitted inside. Or you want to wait until after 8:30pm. Saturdays are typically busiest as you might imagine with non-holiday weekdays seeing the fewest people.

The inside bar has an official capacity just north of 50 people, and there are really only about 45 places to sit. The person working the door will often quote a wait of 60 or more minutes from 4pm to 8pm, which is usually exaggerated. But they don’t know how long people are going to stay, so they’re very conservative about it. Arrive during a recommended time and you should just have to wait until the bar opens at 4pm or wait just a few minutes later in the evening. On my last visit on Monday September 7th, the quoted wait time was 90 minutes at 4:45pm.

I’ll discuss the interior a little without spoiling any of the many interactive effects. If for some reason you want to see what happens ahead of time, you can search “Trader Sam’s Disney World” on YouTube or something.

As I mentioned earlier, the bar clears out in the evening. This is 10:30pm on a Wednesday in June and I’m part of just three or four parties in the entire place.

Here at 9:30pm on Monday August 31st, it’s a little fuller but there are still empty tables and no wait. Subtract three hours and you’d probably be waiting 30ish minutes. A menu refresher is below. The prices underlined in blue include the souvenir vessel. The Spikey Pineapple is only available outside on the Terrace:


As you might expect, I’ve sampled (consumed in full) all of the (alcoholic) drinks here.

My favorite and far and away the best value is the HippopotoMai-Tai, which includes the souvenir glass to take home for $15. With the exception of the plastic Polynesian Peal cup, you don’t take home the glass that you drink from at the bar. You’ll be given a receipt at the end to take to the desk near the exit to collect a new, nicely packaged vessel. It’s a nice touch as it makes it a lot easier to transport and you’re not carrying around a sticky, smelly glass for the duration of your visit.

Speaking of the $16.25 Polynesian Pearl, I think it’s the worst value of the bunch, though the drinks remain incredibly popular. It’s also a good choice for someone that doesn’t necessarily “like alcohol” as you’re getting a creamy, cinnamon-y drink that doesn’t have any real hard liquor in it. So keep that in mind.

If you’re not interested in a souvenir, the Dark and Tropical Stormy with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, fresh Lime Juice, Ginger Beer, and Falernum at $8 is your best bet.

The Castaway Crush – Leblon Cachaca, Cream of Coconut, Pineapple, Cinnamon, and fresh Lime Juice is the strangest drink on the menu. It arrives kind of as a thin smoothie/Slurpee hybrid. I think you can kind of see some of the pineapple and coconut sticking to the sides of the glass and it congeals at the bottom of the glass in a sort of unpleasant clump of fruit bound to stick to your throat. On the plus side, it’s ice cold, and if you like coconut, pineapple, and cinnamon, you’ll probably like this drink. Just keep in mind that the flavor profile is a little out there.

Rosita’s Margarita is an above average cocktail for Disney World. It’s a few dollars more expensive than the Dark and Stormy, but it’s a little more involved in its preparation. Very good and recommended if you’re in the mood for something not rum.

The $39.50 Uh-Oa – Myers’s Original Dark Rum, Bacardi Superior Rum, Orange, Passion Fruit, Guava, Pineapple, and Grapefruit Juices, Falernum, Cinnamon, and fresh Lime Juice is probably the most fun of the drinks. It arrives with sugar cubes doused in 151 proof rum that are then set on fire. What could go wrong?

Cinnamon is provided to toss on the fire and summon the tiki gods. One warning on the cinnamon front – it does affect the flavor of the drink quite a bit and while it’s fun to throw as much on as possible, keep in mind that you’re probably going to want to then drink what you just paid 40 bucks for.

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/trader_sams_bar.jpg

If you’re not a rum person, Sam’s does stock a variety of whiskeys and vodkas, including Grey Goose, Jim Beam, and Maker’s Mark. Distributed by InBev, the Kona brews on draft are decent, but nothing special. Remember that the flight doesn’t currently include the wooden surfboard.

On the food front, I think you’re better off heading elsewhere for the most part. Nine bucks for these three sausages isn’t a great value. For Sushi, Kona upstairs would be better and less expensive. But there is a decent variety and it’s obviously a lot more convenient to order something at Sam’s if that’s where you are. I’m just saying you might not want to plan a big meal there.

This is a horrific picture, but you’re going to be hard pressed to find a better value than Tambu Lounge’s $9 Pulled Pork Nachos or a slice of ‘Ohana’s Bread Pudding for $5. A look around the bar:





Personally, I have sort of a love/hate relationship with Trader Sam’s. The thing I like least about it is the seating situation. If the bar is full and you’re given a pager, when it finally goes off there probably isn’t going to be anywhere to sit. Like I mentioned above, they let in about 52 people, but there are really only about 45 seats even if you want to get cozy with whatever bloggers or off-duty cast members that are currently populating at least half of the bar. Cast will invite you to head up to the corner of the bar to order a drink, but who really wants to stand awkwardly while trying to share a $52 Nautilus? Inevitably a group will get up and leave, but it can be an unpleasant few minutes of awkwardly standing in a corner. That’s particularly true if you just barely make the cutoff to go in at 4pm. Because nobody is probably going to leave for 45 minutes or more, you’re better off getting another pager and coming back later. You can mitigate this problem by visiting later in the evening.

When it’s crowded, it’s very loud. The space isn’t very large and there’s nowhere for the sound to really go other than into your brain. The size also makes it impossible to get away from that one group that’s a lot louder and just a little drunker than everyone else. Several of the souvenir drinks arrive with effects and show elements, which are distracting if you’re trying to enjoy a more intimate conversation. Trader Sam’s is probably not the best place for a business meeting unless you go after 10pm. When you’re looking at the bar area, I’d avoid the tables directly off to the right as they’re next to the bell and the area where the servers appear screaming about volcanoes or rising seas.

Parking can theoretically be an issue, but we haven’t had any problems at the gate by simply stating that we’re headed to Trader Sam’s. On very busy days the resort may be on lockdown with only those staying at the resort or with confirmed dining reservations allowed to park. If that happens and you’re driving, you’d need to head to the Transportation and Ticket Center and either monorail or walk over. Obviously using Disney transportation won’t result in those issues and may be preferable if you’re visiting over a major holiday. Valet parking is also available.

Trader Sam’s doesn’t offer any discounts.

So…

  • Arrive by 3:30pm and collect a pager from the bar entrance or try to visit after 9pm if possible.
  • Don’t discount the Tiki Terrace, which has a surprisingly pleasant ambiance and serves the same menu as inside, in addition to the very good drink mixed with rum and pineapple Dole Whip.
  • Consider the HippopotoMai-Tai with souvenir glass or the Dark and Tropical Stormy for a less expensive drink. You can order a vodka rocks or something off-menu as well.
  • Food quality and value are arguably better elsewhere at the Polynesian. Consider filling up at Tambu, Kona, or Captain Cook’s before or after visiting.
  • Inside can be a lot of fun depending on who else is there and your temperament. I am not personally a small, loud, annoying bar person, but Sam’s can be fun in small doses.

I really can’t recommend the late nights enough.

I wrote extensively about Captain Cook’s refurbishment just about a year ago in this post and won’t rehash much of that here.

Larger: http://www.easywdw.com/reports13/captaincooks.jpg

It doesn’t look like there are many changes since the reopening. The House-made Tuna and Turkey Sandwiches are no longer listed. The Caesar Salad has also been phased out.

The quick service reopened with exactly one person taking orders. At least fairly late at night that person had been eliminated with the sign pointing to the cashier to order.

We’re joined by Mr. The Tom Corless, which is a name you might recognize from WDWNT.com. These are very similar/the same as what you’ll receive upstairs at Tambu for the same money. The fried wantons really help elevate the dish, in addition to the contrasting sweetness from the pineapple and the saltiness of the pork and the spiciness of the mayo. They’re a no-brainer for a shareable snack.

Lisa ordered the $8.99 Pho Noodle Bowl with Shrimp with Rice Noodles and Seasonal Vegetables on Bui Broth. It’s served in a sort of takeout container that had us worrying a little bit that it would leak, but it ended up holding together just fine. This was surprisingly high quality with several large shrimp, tender rice noodles, and a few shreds of vegetables in a flavorful broth. And it’s very different than just about anything else available. Recommended too.

I went boring with the Hawaiian Flatbread. As I’ve mentioned countless times, Disney does pretty well with these things at the various resort quick services and you’ll see a few on the menu at virtually every Deluxe resort, though they’re less common at the Values and Moderates. This one is exactly what you would expect from a Hawaiian pizza, though it was a little overcooked and the far left side lacked cheese or toppings.

I’m not sure how I’ve never had Cook’s Tiki Toffee, which is made with macadamia nuts, ginger, coconut, chocolate, Grand Marnier, and orange juice, among other things.

I may start bringing a couple bags of this stuff home with me whenever I visit. It’s a surprisingly good value at $4.19 for 4.5 ounces and the quality is very good.

Captain Cook’s is usually a good stop for a quick service meal and this experience wasn’t any different. It would be a great stop for a less expensive meal before Wishes from the beach or a visit to Trader Sam’s. And of course, if you’re staying at the resort.

A look at the resort-specific merchandise:












There are also a few holdover items from the previous, non-Village collection:


And a few items you won’t find many other places:








You can actually ship the coconuts. They cost about $17 and postage is around $5.50.

A visit to the Polynesian Village Resort is always enjoyable. While construction persists on the east side of the resort and particularly around what will become the Oasis Pool area, things are a lot better than they have been.

Comments

  1. andrew says

    I’m guessing it’s just the new 2.0 version. I was in Disneyland in July and we bought one and it was the 3 pronged one and brought it home. Like an idiot I was thinking there was a difference cause the WDW version was 4 pronged during the first month or so when we got one then but didn’t buy the cup. Already bought the Nautilus at that sitting and didn’t feel like spending the extra $20 kinda wish I had.

  2. Matt says

    Hey Josh, thanks for the great Polynesian Update. Have you been at MK since the 7th? I know you mentioned that the crane for the CC lights was on sight, but im wondering if you knew if its began putting them up yet or not.

  3. HelenB says

    Is it possible to get the Trader Sam’s drinks (the ones with the effects when they’re served) without alcohol? We don’t drink, but we’d love to enjoy the experience.

    • Andrea W says

      I’m wondering the same thing – not that we don’t drink, but I’m afraid it will make me sleepy too early, but I want the souvenir glasses/effects!

          • says

            I think it will depend on the server. They might be nice and let you have one of the “No Booze Brews” or soft drink in the souvenir cup, but you’ll still get charged the full amount. From my first visit: “Matt and I were told that (at least for right now) if you want one of the souvenir glasses to purchase, you must buy the drink that comes in it. So no swapping one concoction and having it served in another glass. BUT. A person nearby who could not consume alcohol asked for a non-alcoholic drink in a specific glass, and claimed they were told this would not be an issue while on line. The CM inside needed to double check, but the guest was able to get said drink in the souvenir glass. Whether it was just a virgin version of the drink or something else, I do not know. Just passing that info which I witnessed on to you.”

  4. Kate says

    those tropical dark and stormys are delicious! I wish they served them out here at the DLH Sam’s. Also, WDW Sams spicy pork tacos are a tasty though small appetizer. Which also is not on the DLH menu.

  5. Tammy says

    Upon seeing the pic, I immediately had a flashback of the pulled pork nachos! God! I had forgotten about those salty things! First bite of our shared plate? Nice, ummmm, nice but a little salty, perhaps. Think 5 mouthfuls later….OMG! Background: I LOVE salty food! I really do, especially on fried eggs and french fries! Yum! but the one thing we noticed overall, on our road trip from Ontario, Canada to Florida is that you Americans must like your food salty. (By the way, when are you gonna start providing vinegar for us Canadians (so many of us!) who love it on our fries?! Yet, every server looks at us like we are completed whacked out. Just sayin ☺️

  6. Brian says

    Just got back a week ago checked out the Tiki Terrace before Ohana (by the way the sheppards pie is the best on property :)

    AKA We had the Hippopotto-Mai Tai and the Shrunken Zombie head. Both drinks were very good but I agree I tried the wifes Mai Tai and was very good.

    We got the glassware so it was a bit pricey but so cool. I thought the Mai Tai glass was very well made pretty good value considering the price.

    Finally FYI the Tiki Terrace does allow minors after 8:00 pm the Grotto does not.

    Thanks for the great post Josh!!

  7. says

    I’m always on the lookout for Micky Hawaiian shirts.. I’ll have to swing over to Poli to pick that one up when we are there in November.. did you happen to catch the price?

  8. Jenna says

    I second the noodle bowl at Captain Cooks. We like to eat here before heading to Magic Kingdom in the afternoon or on the way back at night.

  9. Brocktoon says

    Still a bit confused (as usual), but can you order the Trader Sam’s drinks WITHOUT the glass for a discounted price? I may end up there a few times and have a few drinks … don’t mind a couple souvenirs but really don’t want to come home with 10 shrunken heads (1 is fine for me) … do they have a drink only price?

    • Grover's Bathtub says

      According to Josh’s first review, you can save $ by opting out of the souvenir glass for everything except the Polynesian Pearl plastic container, which you have to keep (or toss in the trash, I guess) no matter what.

    • Brian says

      Those prices you saw Josh put them on the actual menu has no prices listed.

      Our waiter asked us if we wanted the drinks with the glass we did so we were charged for the glass and drink.

      Since you don’t take the glass that you drank out of with you the drink will still come in the appropriate glass.

      If you payed for the glass you take your marked receipt to the cashier in Grogg Grotto who then gives you the glassware that was purchased it’s cool too. The shrunken zombie came in a thick box and the hippo Mai tai came in some pretty good wrap.

      We put them in our carry on they probably would have been fine in checked luggage as well especially the Mai tai glass that was a pretty thick glass.

      If

      • Brian says

        Also yes if you only order the drink that’s all you pay the glass is extra which again optional. I am sure if you ask your server they will explain it as well.

  10. Melissa says

    So, it sounds like visiting Trader Sam’s at 9:00 and then heading out to the beach on a 10:00 Wishes night might be a good idea.

  11. OneCrownThreeTiaras says

    Where is the best area to sit in Trader SAMs to see all the cool effects? We will arrive before 3:30 as we have a minor in our group, and I hope to make a beeline to the best spot. Any suggestions are appreciated!

  12. Alcachofa says

    The hippo mai tai is now $10 for the drink alone, plus another $10 for the glass. So it is around $20 with the glass now, not $15. :o(

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