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Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: 50 Facts for its 50th Anniversary – Part 2

Heading image for the blog series entitled, "Disney's Polynesian Village Resort: 50 Facts for its 50th Anniversary - Part 2"

Ask anyone what sets Walt Disney World apart from other family vacation destinations, and you will most certainly get one of two answers: “the Cast Members” or “the theming”.  These two components are undeniably crucial to what makes Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort some of the most sought-after accommodations on property. 

As the celebration of a half-century of Disney’s tropically-themed lodgings continues, this second entry in the series takes a look at 10 more facts about the Cast Members and the location that have made Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort’s an ideal destination for five decades. 

1. According to the opening manual from 1971, the motto for Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is “Aita Peatea” (ah-ee-tah-pay-ah-te-ah), which means “There will be another day tomorrow just like today.”  This is a very fitting motto for a resort known for its laid back aesthetic.

2. For decades, Aunty Kau’i Brandt could be found in the Great Ceremonial House giving hula lessons or making leis.  Kau’i Brandt moved to California from the island of Oahu in 1971 to perform at the Tahitian Terrace in Disneyland.  When Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort opened, she moved to Florida with her husband to lead the luau as well as the nightly revue at Papeete Bay Verandah.  Aunty Kau’i not only performed for years, but she served as a Cultural Ambassador for the resort until her passing in 2020.

3. The Polynesian beach and Luau Cove were both featured prominently on Disney Sing Along Songs Walt Disney World Beach Party.  “The Hukilau Song” was performed by the cast on a pontoon which docked at the beach.  Then the children ran ashore, received leis, and watched as performers from the luau sang and hula danced to “Pearly Shells.”  Also, the final song of the sing along, “Slicin’ Sand,” was filmed on the beach at night.

Screenshot from Disney Sing Along Songs Walt Disney World Beach Party, copyright Disney.  The hula dancers are performing the song "Pearly Shells".
Copyright Disney

4. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort holds the distinction of being the only resort from which guests are able to walk to the Transportation and Ticket Center.  The beautifully landscaped pathway puts guests within short walking distance of all three Monorail lines.

5. Over the years, Cast Members at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort have greeted guests with a joyful “aloha.”  “Aloha” is a Hawaiian greeting used to express warmth, affection, compassion, and peace.  Those attending the resort’s nightly luau were taught that if someone said “aloha” to them, they should respond with an even larger “aloha” in return.  These “alohas” have also been known to be accompanied by a “shaka.”  This hand gesture done with thumb and pinky finger extended (like the ASL sign for the letter Y), is most often connected with the phrase “hang loose”, but it has been associated with the spirit of aloha as well as the Hawaii mindset slowing down and letting go of worries.

6. Behind the Great Ceremonial House is a large tree with special significance.  This unassuming piece of foliage is a Kukui nut tree that was transplanted from its native Hawaii and is believed to be the only one of its kind in Florida.  It was donated to Walt Disney World by the people of Hawaii where these trees stand as a symbol of peace and protection. 

7. The background music heard throughout the resort features a number of artists and includes tracks such as Kananaka (from the album Lei Haliʽa), Hotu Are’a (from Chants Et Danses De Tahiti), E Toro E (from Chants et danses de Tahiti), Queen’s Jubilee (from Kanaka Maoli), Lahainaluna (from Ke’alaokamaile), and Nani Ka’ala (from Cyril Pahinui).

8. Salt Water Express was the guitar and bass playing duo of Bob Christopher and Gary Stratton who appeared nightly at Cap’n Cook’s Hideaway (not the Captain Cook’s of today, but instead a lounge located in The Outrigger Assembly House).  They were known for their folk songs and jokes and helped to make the location a popular late-night spot for Cast Members.  After three years at Cap’n Cook’s Hideaway, the pair began performing at the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village in a location known as The Village Chummery.

9. From 1971 to 1994, the astounding fire-knife portion of the nightly luau was performed by Homer Leapai.  Homer grew up on the island of Samoa where he learned how to fire dance, but he eventually moved to Hollywood, CA, and then finally to Orlando, FL, when he got the job at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.  He retired from the show after 23 years but continued to work for Disney as a door host at Pleasure Island.

While this photo was taken in 1994, it is unknown whether or not this is Homer Leapai or the dancer who took his place upon his retirement.

10. Five nights a week, the current fire-knife dancer leads the Torch Lighting Ceremony which begins in the Great Ceremonial House.  The performer starts the ceremony by blowing a conch shell.  Then, a chosen family greets the ‘Ohana (at the Polynesian, everyone is family) and all in attendance are led through the backdoors and outside where the torches are lit with one of the fire knives and a portion of the fire-knife dance is performed. (Note: During the pandemic, this offering has been unavailable.)

Lead image and fire knife dancer photo from the author’s personal collection. Screenshot copyright Disney.

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: 50 Facts for it’s 50th Anniversary – Part 1