When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, the Disney Company hoped to distinguish the Central Florida property from its predecessor. In the souvenir book, The Story of Walt Disney World, the new endeavor was described as “a completely new kind of vacation and recreation wonderland…an entire community designed for total family enjoyment.”
While guests were coming for the Magic Kingdom Park, the hope was to entice them to stay for the Vacation Kingdom of the World, and many of the offerings of that world would rest within the boundaries of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
To celebrate a half-century of Disney’s tropically-themed accommodations, this series continues to take a look at 50 facts from the resort’s past and present, with this next entry reviewing the former and current activities and recreational offerings at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
1. In the early days of the resort, there was only one swimming pool. Instead of the Oasis Pool, that area was home to a putting green which was very much in keeping with the numerous recreational opportunities available throughout the Vacation Kingdom of the World. It remained until the resort underwent its first expansion in 1978.
2. Throughout the resort’s history, there have been a number of watercraft available for rental or as part of a group excursion including: Capris, Sunfish, Pedal Boats, Sea Raycers, Sailing Outriggers, Pontoons and more. However, one watercraft rental stands out in the history of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. The Bob-A-Round Boat was a circular watercraft that looked akin to the tub that the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker floated off in in the classic nursery rhyme. Sadly, they were difficult to steer and were known for stalling in the middle of the lagoon, requiring guests to be towed back to shore.
3. In addition to boats that could be piloted by guests, there were group watercraft excursions. Two unique options were the Eastern Winds and the War Canoes. The Eastern Winds was a 65-foot Chinese junk imported from Hong Kong. Guests could board what advertisements billed as a “floating lounge” for one of three nightly sailings which included cocktails and entertainment. The War Canoe excursion was available for up to eight people in a group who would board a 40-foot canoe to paddle around the Seven Seas Lagoon.
4. For decades after the opening of Walt Disney World, guests staying at resorts along the Seven Seas Lagoon were allowed to swim in its waters. But in the Vacation Kingdom’s early days, the waves headed toward the Polynesian beach were just a bit larger due to the installation of a wave machine just off of Beachcomber Island. The intent was for guests to be able to surf in the lagoon; however, the manmade tides led to beach erosion and the equipment was eventually removed.
5. Before the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon was punctuated by the height of the Lava Pool’s volcano, a very different pool could be found nestled amidst the foliage just off the beach. Instead of a towering peak, there was a lava rock wall with several alcoves, waterfalls, and a much shorter waterslide.
6. In 2000, the landscape out the back of the Great Ceremonial House was drastically altered to include a hot spring which bubbled up just outside the rear exit and ambled down to the Nanea Volcano Pool (today called the Lava Pool). While the spring did not run into the pool itself, it was made to look as if it did. The area of the pool it led to had a number of heated jets which gave the feeling that the volcanic spring was heating the pool.
7. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort has had many versions of the Child Care Center since the resort opened in 1971. Originally located in the northwest corner of the Outrigger Assembly House (Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto today), the Mouseketeer Village Clubhouse was considered to be a nursery and was available for parents to drop off their children while enjoying an evening out on their own. It included a main room, music and craft area, and a theater offering puppet shows and Disney cartoons. Later, this service was moved to the former Tangoroa Terrace location and was renamed the Never Land Club which was open to children ages 4-12. It operated until 2014 when it was re-themed as Lilo’s Playhouse which remained open until 2018.
8. From 1975 to 2002, both Protestant and Roman Catholic religious services were offered at Luau Cove. Each Sunday morning, one nondenominational Protestant service and two Catholic masses were held. The services were led by a rotating set of pastors and priests from the area. A number of factors including a priest shortage, religious parity, and space issues led both Disney and area ministers to decide to end the services and encourage guests to visit local places of worship, much like was done via a brochure when the resort opened in 1971.
9. Outside the Great Ceremonial House’s east exit (leading to the marina), a sign can be found at the bottom of the steps which shows a map of the resort and a running trail. For guests who enjoy keeping up with their exercise/running regiment while on vacation, there are two possible paths to be taken around the resort with both ultimately leading past Disney’s Wedding Pavilion and on to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.
10. Today, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort offers a number of activities in keeping with the spirit of the Vacation Kingdom of the World. Whether guests are enjoying lawn games, a campfire with s’mores, trivia contests, dance parties, movies under the stars or more authentically South Seas themed activities such as making a Kukui Nut leis and learning to hula dance, there are more than enough goings-on to keep families busy for an entire “resort-only” day. Offerings vary depending on the week (and are often themed to coincide with upcoming holidays), so guests are given a flyer upon check-in and signs are posted around the resort.
Marina photo copyright Disney. Lead image and all other photos from the author’s personal collection.