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April 2, 2015

Families will find a lot to enjoy at renovated Polynesian Village at Walt Disney World

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One of the original hotels at Walt Disney World, Disney's Polynesian Village has long been known as a favorite among families. And the completion of the recent renovations and expansion have reinforced that family comes first at this South Pacific-inspired resort.

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The biggest change certainly is the addition of Disney Vacation Club villas and Walt Disney World's first over-the-water bungalows. The Polynesian is the third and final hotel on the monorail loop to add DVC accommodations. Although DVC membership appeals to many types of repeat visitors, there's no denying that families often consider the timeshare company because it allows them more room and more dining options when traveling.

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"With the DVC bungalows and studios, you have so much more flexibility," said Kate Melody, a Disney Parks Moms Panelist and DVC member. "I have four children and so really the bungalows would be a better choice for us. Being a larger family, we like the flexibility of the villas. The new setup for the studios actually has a split bathroom, so for us in the morning trying to get four children plus Mommy getting ready - you want to look good for those PhotoPass photos - is a little bit of a challenge in a standard hotel room. That's one of the reasons we purchased Disney Vacation Club."

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Kate Melody (left) and Juliette Merchant

Juliette Merchant, another Disney Parks Moms Panelist, DVC member and mother of four, agreed, adding that she enjoys cooking when staying at Walt Disney World. "I cook every day of the week at home except Fridays. And when I come to a DVC resort, that's what I do," she said. "We may do one meal outside the villa each day, and that's probably lunch so the kids get a little bit of a treat. I cook breakfast in our villa, and I cook dinner. I love being able to feed my family the foods that I want to feed them. Of course, it's cheaper, but I know that they're going to eat what they're used to eating. For our family, coming to the resort is such a big draw for them they don't feel deprived if we're not going to every park (or restaurant.)"

Regardless of whether guests stay in hotel rooms or the DVC villas and bungalows, they share access to the resort's many amenities. The centerpiece for many families is, of course, the pool deck. At the Polynesian, the main pool -- the Lava Pool - has been under construction for almost a year. It's expected to reopen within the next two weeks with an additional 35,000 square feet of deck space, said Polynesian Village General Manager Norm Noble.

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Norm Noble

"The volcano [by the pool] has been redesigned, and it has a much more natural feel," he said. "I think people are going to connect with that. It's unique and different."

In addition, a new children's interactive water play area, Kiki Tikis Splash Area, has been added. It contains two smaller slides, while the volcano in the Lava Pool still houses one water slide.

A new eight-person infinity hot tub that overlooks Seven Seas Lagoon opens with the Lava Pool this month. That's an addition that guests repeatedly have requested because the Polynesian was the sole deluxe resort at Walt Disney World without one. A renovation completed in 2001 added warmer water areas and seating to one end of the pool, but they were a far cry from a hot tub.

The quiet pool is set to close for renovations when the new Lava Pool opens to guests.

"Nothing has changed with the marina and its offerings," Noble said. "However, the one thing we have created is the lawn where we are going to be able to do some different experiences. We're going to be able to move the lighting of the torch that we typically would do at 6 o'clock every evening. That's now going to be done on the lawn. And then we're also going to show movies for kids on the lawn. We did show them on the beach."

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You can read about other entertainment, such as hula lessons with Disney Legend Auntie Kau'i and the Spirit of Aloha luau, in my blogs from when we stayed at the Polynesian two years ago. Those entertainment aspects remain unchanged. Also, my AllEars newsletter feature gives an overview of our vacation experiences.

Disney's Polynesian Village houses two table-service restaurants, Kona Café and 'Ohana, plus two bars on the second floor of the main Ceremonial House. The recent renovations extended to the quick-service Captain Cook's restaurant and the new Pineapple Lanai, home of the famous Dole Whip ice cream, on the first floor.

The most-talked about location for adult beverages and small plates of food, however, is the new Trader Sam's Grog Grotto. This intimate, interactive bar and lounge is modeled after its very popular counterpart located in the Disneyland Hotel. The Florida edition also has additional seating outdoors at Trader Sam's Tiki Terrace, which has its own bar with live entertainment that is Polynesian-themed.

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Trader Sam's is the first bar at Walt Disney World to restrict access during some hours to those only 21 and older. You can read more about the policy in my previous blog.

In California, Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Room is set in the 1930s, while the Orlando location has 1,200 props based on a 1960s theme. And that timeframe is indicative of the newly designed areas throughout the resort.

"What we had here was an opportunity to look at that time period when tiki really hit its stride: post WWII to mid-20th century," said Kyle Barnes, the Imagineer responsible for overseeing the design and direction for the entire renovation at the Polynesian Village. "So we took that era as an inspiration for our furniture and then melded that with the original design of the resort itself."



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March 31, 2015

Should Walt Disney World bars and lounges serve only adults?

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Visitors familiar with Walt Disney World know how difficult it can be to get reservations at some of the most sought-after restaurants on property. Travelers scramble to secure hot tickets, like Cinderella's Royal Table and Le Cellier, when the booking opens 180 days in advance. And Be Our Guest (Beast's castle) in the Magic Kingdom? Forget it! You basically need to be staying at a Walt Disney World resort so you can book it even sooner or luck into a cancellation. So is it any wonder that some families have found a way to experience some of the top Disney restaurants without a reservation?

Recently, we have observed families with young children eating at the bars in restaurants such as the California Grill at the Contemporary hotel or lounges such as Tune-In adjacent to the 50s Prime Time Café at Hollywood Studios. Bar seating doesn't, of course, require a reservation, and may be the only way to gain entrance to a particular eatery that is booked solid six months in advance. Our family has never tried this, but I'm curious how other adults feel about sitting at a bar next to unrelated children. Do you feel like that area should be restricted to adults of legal drinking age or is first-come, first-served the best way to handle the open seating?

Walt Disney World has introduced a policy with its newest lounge, Trader Sam's Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village, that is something of a compromise. The bar opens at 4 p.m. daily and welcomes all guests until 8 p.m. After that, access is limited to guests 21 years and older until closing time at midnight. Trader Sam's is modeled after the original lounge at the Disneyland hotel and serves "light bites" in addition to an extensive menu of specialty drinks. It is a highly anticipated addition to the re-imagined Polynesian hotel. Although Trader Sam's doesn't take reservations, it's expected to have hours-long waits for at least the first few months of operation, so I wonder if this clear-cut policy will make guests grumble or accept the inevitable. (Trader Sam's is in soft opening now and is expected to have its official opening toward the end of April.)

So, is eating at the bar a great tip for families or something that is best left to the adults? We'd love to hear what you think in the comments!



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May 16, 2014

Details revealed about the new Club Disney child-care center at Polynesian Resort

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Walt Disney World has been teasing us this spring with a steady stream of details about the renovations that have begun at the Polynesian Resort. Among the less-publicized changes is a complete makeover for the kids' child-care center, which is set to reopen June 14, a Disney representative told me.

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The center, which formerly was known as The Never Land Club, has been renamed Club Disney and characters from the story of Peter Pan have a much smaller role, though they certainly have not been banished altogether. The themes inside Club Disney are based on tales in classic Disney Little Golden Books including "Alice In Wonderland," "Pinocchio" and "Lady and The Tramp."

Young guests ages 3 to 12 enter the activity center through a book-page portal, I'm told, and they will find additional storybook pages decorating the walls and floor to help bring the various beloved stories to life.

In the section of the center themed to "Alice in Wonderland," children will see Cheshire Cat grinning at them from above five two-person stations set up for video game play with PlayStation consoles. Game players will perch on chairs made to look like mushrooms.

"Lady and The Tramp" is represented with a recreation of the alley scene in the story, in which the two share their infamous meal of spaghetti and meatballs. There are tables, which will be used for making crafts and also dinner, which is included in the price of child care. The adjacent Stromboli Theater shows Disney movies.

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A mural of Christopher Robin's window looking out to the Hundred Acre Wood from "Winnie The Pooh" serves a backdrop for story time and nap time. The iconic castle from "Cinderella" is a structure that has been built and furnished with royal pieces and gowns to encourage dress-up. Last but not least, a play area will allow kids to fly to Never Land to help Peter Pan take on Captain Hook.

With a month to go before Club Disney's opening, the meal plans have yet to be finalized. However, I'm told the procedure is likely to be the same as before -- children and their parents can order their dinners when they are checked in, and the food will arrive between 6 and 8 p.m. A cast member told me that kid favorites, such as cheeseburgers and hamburgers, will be available. Club Disney also is expected to offer more healthy options to suit a variety of palates, including grilled shrimp skewers, grilled chicken, grilled fish, a cucumber roll or vegetarian sushi.

The cost of having your child entertained and fully engaged so you can enjoy adult experience at Walt Disney World? Priceless, of course. In U.S. dollars, that translates to $11.50 per hour per child with a two-hour minimum.

Reservations can be made now by calling 407-WDW-DINE for June 14 and dates going forward. Cancellations must be made one day in advance or the parent will be charged $23. Walk-ups are welcome, based on availability, and you don't have to be staying at Walt Disney World for your child to be cared for at Club Disney. Club Disney will be open from 4:30 to 11:55 p.m. daily.

My children have spent time at other child-care centers at Walt Disney World: The Sandcastle Club at Disney's Yacht and Beach clubs and Camp Dolphin at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. (Read about those experiences in the links.)

Disney representatives told me that Club Disney will continue to host children's birthday parties with the same format and pricing as The Never Land Club. You can read about all the options in my story about Walt Disney World birthday parties here.



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July 30, 2013

Captain Cook's at Polynesian Resort serves many of Disney World's most popular foods

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I'm pretty sure the most important thing you need to know about Captain Cook's Snack Company at Disney's Polynesian Resort is that it sells Dole Whips. (Yes, there is a place outside the Magic Kingdom where you can get that popular pineapple dessert!) But you might not be aware that some equally popular Disney foods can be found at Captain Cook's, too.

First, the skinny on the Dole Whips. For years, the only place to find the frozen, soft-serve concoction was at Aloha Isle in Adventureland. Though the stand is not heavily advertised, you know it when you see the queues, which rival some lines for popular rides. Clearly, Dole Whips have a cult-like following. Aloha Isle sells pineapple Dole Whips in a cup ($3.79) or as a float with pineapple juice ($4.99).

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When Captain Cook's was renovated in late 2006, a Dole Whip machine was installed. The beauty of this addition is that customers help themselves after paying for the bowl. There is only one size bowl and the price is comparable to those at Magic Kingdom. (Pineapple floats are not available at this location.) During our stay at The Polynesian, we saw some very skillful Dole Whip architects getting the most for their money.

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If Dole Whips aren't reason enough for you to pop into Captain Cook's, consider two other Disney favorites on the breakfast menu.

Tonga Toast, which has its own share of passionate fans, is served at the quick-service counter in Captain Cook's. For those who have never heard of Tonga Toast -- gasp! -- it's a thick sourdough bread stuffed with bananas that is lightly fried and topped with cinnamon and sugar. Tonga Toast has been served at the Polynesian since the resort opened in 1971.

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And my absolute favorite breakfast food, a Mickey waffle, is available in several varieties. A kid's meal offers two smaller Mickey waffles with yogurt and seasonal fruit. A large Mickey waffle can be purchased with or without strawberry topping. Breakfast is served from 6:30 to 11 a.m.

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Big deal, you say? Mickey waffles are served across Disney property. They are a signature food, after all. That is true. But most of the places where Mickey waffles and Tonga Toast are served require reservations because they are table-service restaurants. This also means your meal is likely to be more expensive. I like knowing there is a spot where I can pop in at my leisure without a lot of planning and be served the Disney foods I love.

During slower periods, you may be able to park at the Polynesian if you tell the parking attendant you are going to Captain Cook's. At busier times, it may be necessary to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center and walk or ride the monorail to the resort.

July 11, 2013

Review: Spirit of Aloha luau at Disney's Polynesian Resort

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During my family's recent stay at Disney's Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World, we had the opportunity to attend the Spirit of Aloha dinner show, which is modeled after a traditional luau. Although I have been to an authentic cultural feast in Hawaii, I was looking forward to experiencing Disney World's long-running version for the first time.

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Category 1 luau seating

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Categories 2 and 3 luau seating

The event begins when the check-in opens at the Great Ceremonial House about 45 minutes before show time. The luau is offered twice each night -- at 5:15 and 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. In general, seating is based on the category of table you select when you book the luau. For example, we paid for Category 1 seats (the most expensive) and were in the second tier of tables off to the side of the stage. A cast member told me the front row and the center tables were released to those who checked in before me. So, checking in as early as possible is key for getting those seats.

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Also, getting to the lobby early means you're less likely to have a long line ahead of you for the professional group photos being taken there. There is no obligation to purchase the photos, so why not get a shot of the family wearing leis in front of the waterfall? A PhotoPass photographer will bring prints of the photo to your table at the end of the meal. One package is offered: a 5 x 7 and four 4 x 6 prints of your group, plus a stock photo of the luau performers, for $35. We chose to buy the package, even though it was expensive, and my husband appreciated that I stopped asking him and the kids to pose in front of the waterfall afterward!

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After photos, guests can wander back from the Great Ceremonial House to Luau Cove, a short walk along the waterfront and beside the beach toward the Grand Floridian. Once seating begins, it moves quickly, but there is quite a queue in the beginning. A hostess explained that the meal is served family style, so we should ask if we would like more of any of the foods brought to our table. Also, she said, kids meals could be ordered separately (at no additional charge).

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The appetizers were waiting for us at our table: pineapple-coconut bread, mixed greens with honey lime vinaigrette, mango slaw, soba noodle salad and fresh pineapple. My husband and I enjoyed trying each item, but our young kids zeroed in on the bread and waited to see what was coming next.

Unfortunately, that's when our experience really went off course. It took our server at least 15 minutes to stop by to take our drink orders, and he was very rude and rushed in that first interaction. The inappropriate behavior continued when we tried to ask for more pineapple and bread and order a kids meal for my 8-year-old daughter. I have never been treated so poorly by a cast member in all the years I have been going to Disney World, and I was shocked at how he was behaving. So, as the stage production was beginning, I left the table to find a manager and ask for another server. That took quite some time, and the manager was of no help, either, stating that he could not reassign our table to another server. He offered no solutions himself.

So, I headed back to my table disheartened and angry that I would have to continue dealing with our server for the two-hour experience. There was no incentive for his behavior to change because the gratuity is included in the price of the luau, which is expensive, even with the inclusion of alcoholic beverages. The total for our family of four was about $250. (See full pricing information on the AllEars.Net resource page.)

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By now, I had missed the set-up for the show, so I had no idea what was going on, and the main courses already had appeared at our table. They included Aloha pulled pork, BBQ pork ribs, roasted chicken, jasmine rice with nori and a vegetable medley. My 10-year-old son was happy with the ribs, and my daughter settled on baked chicken nuggets. My husband and I tried each of the dishes, but weren't overly impressed with any of them.

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We tried to focus on the dinner show, which tells the story of Auntie Wini hosting a fun-filled luau to welcome home one of the local girls who has been living on the "mainland." It moves along slowly, but seeing the Hawaiian Wedding Song and the Birthday Hula performed are fun touches. Audience members are invited to join the professional dancers several times near the stage.

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The main attraction, however, is the final third of the show, which features traditional dances from Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Hawaii. The dancers and the costumes are mesmerizing, and who could look away when the Samoan fire knife performer takes the stage? A dessert of warm pineapple bread pudding with caramel sauce is served during this act, and we found it to be the best part of the meal.

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Still, our server's behavior, though out of character for most Disney cast members, certainly affected our evening and left my husband and I with little spirit of aloha (which means love in Hawaiian). We walked out of the open-air restaurant feeling like the dinner show was overpriced for what we received. Our kids weren't as aggrieved as we were, so perhaps the show is best recommended as a tropical -- though expensive -- diversion for youngsters after a long day in the theme parks. Aside from this, though, it's hard to think that our family will be saying aloha to this show again any time soon.

July 9, 2013

Auntie Kau'i at Disney's Polynesian Resort teaches guests to hula dance and make leis

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Disney's Polynesian Resort offers its guests many ways to be immersed in the South Pacific cultures it represents. For my young daughter, that meant spending time with Kau'i Brandt, better known as Auntie Kau'i, in the first-floor lobby of the Great Ceremonial House each day during our recent stay. At age 81, Auntie Kau'i is a Disney Legend, having been with the Polynesian resort almost since it opened.

She moved from the Hawaiian island of Oahu in 1971 to first open the Polynesian show at Disneyland and then a similar show at Walt Disney World. She was the master of ceremonies during the shows and has served as a cultural representative at the resort since its beginning.

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Guests can find Auntie Kau'i in the lobby of the Polynesian five days a week making leis at her table in the corner of the children's area. She is quick with a friendly smile and, when asked, an explanation that the leis she creates from real flowers are given to couples celebrating honeymoons or anniversaries. (All resort guests receive cloth-flower leis when they check-in or go to an activity.) These special leis also can be custom-ordered in the adjacent gift shop for $20 apiece. Auntie Kau'i said she creates about 20 such leis each day, mostly from carnations and ribbons.

My 8-year-old daughter was fascinated with the process of making leis, and Auntie Kau'i offered her and a friend the opportunity to try it themselves with enough cloth flowers to make bracelets. The girls were surprised that the kits contained pieces of Mickey-shaped pasta to use as spacers between the flowers. Now, those are truly hidden Mickeys!

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After serving cookies each afternoon, Auntie Kau'i also teaches guests how to dance the hula. The lessons are complimentary and last about 15 minutes. Women and girls are invited to don grass skirts and are given instruments to play to accompany the ukulele music. During the lessons, Auntie Kau'i and another cast member take turns demonstrating the movements while the guests mimic them. Then, the guests put it all together for their finale. Hula time each day couldn't come soon enough for my daughter -- even with all the competing activities at Walt Disney World.

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Auntie Kau'i, who has been dancing since she was 6 years old, also teaches lessons for two hours on Saturday mornings at the Polynesian resort. These, too, are free, and Auntie Kau'i told me she has many local residents who come regularly. In fact, some of the most dedicated are practicing for the Ho'ike dance competition on July 27 and 28 at the Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive. The two-day event features dance contests; vendors selling arts, crafts, jewelry, clothing, fresh flowers and hula implements; and a professional Polynesian production. Tickets can be purchased online at hoikehawaii.com.

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Auntie Kau'i clearly enjoys representing her culture on the mainland. When she was interviewed for an article in "Eyes and Ears," a Disney World cast member publication, Auntie Kau'i said, "I think I have the greatest job on earth. It is a lot of sharing [of her culture], and that is what it [aloha] is about."


July 6, 2013

Review: Lilo and Stitch Best Friends Breakfast at Disney's Polynesian

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One of the highlights during my family's stay at Disney's Polynesian Resort this week was the Lilo and Stitch Best Friends Character Breakfast. My son was really looking forward to this experience -- which we had never done before -- because he would get to meet with his two favorite characters, Mickey Mouse and Stitch. I was looking forward to sharing the experience with my family and good friends. Plus, I was eager to enjoy my favorite Mickey waffles, too.

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The Best Friends breakfast is served from 7:30 to 11 a.m. daily at 'Ohana on the second floor of the resort's Great Ceremonial House. Our reservation was for 10:30 a.m., and even with the holiday crowds, we were seated on time. Entering the restaurant, the host explained that the word " 'Ohana" means "family" in Hawaiian, and the meal would be served family-style. That started as we passed a kitchen counter and my daughter was asked to carry a basket of sweet breads to the table. She was happy to help, given how delicious the bread appeared.

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A good number of tables at 'Ohana are situated near large picture windows that offer views of the grounds and Bay Lake. (If you're having dinner at 'Ohana close to the time of the fireworks, you may want to request a table near the windows. There is no guarantee that the request will be granted, but the cast members do try to accommodate as many diners as possible.)

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Soon after being seated, our server arrived with a fruit platter and we were offered our choice of coffee, milk and juice. The juice is a smooth blend of passion fruit, orange and guava that is delicious. Then she brought a huge bowl that contained scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, biscuits, breakfast sausage and smoked bacon for us to share. There was plenty for the six of us, though our server told us she would bring more of any foods we requested. And then she returned with what I had been waiting for -- a bowl of Mickey waffles. (See prices and more photos of the breakfast on the AllEars.Net menu page.)

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The food, the service and the setting for tropical-themed breakfast were all excellent. But the character meet-and-greet segment of our morning was very much like an Experiment 626 adventure gone wrong.

We had just about finished eating before we saw the first of four characters: Lilo, Stitch, Mickey and Pluto. At first, we thought the timing was perfect. My husband and I have been to plenty of character meals at other Walt Disney World sites where we were getting up and down so frequently as the characters arrived at our table that we rarely ate much of the meal as we tried to take photos and arrange autographs.

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It quickly became apparent, however, that this morning's schedule wasn't well-paced, either. All four characters arrived in our corner of the restaurant in quick succession, which meant that guests at most nearby tables were up and trying to take photos at the same time. As anyone who has been to a character meal knows, there is no designed place for taking those photos -- you have to pose in small spaces on the fly. Still, the individual attention diners usually receive at character meals makes them a worthwhile experience for many.

Unfortunately, the character appearances at our Lilo and Stitch Best Friends Breakfast were chaotic, at best. There was only one handler for all four characters -- which a cast member told us is the new Disney World policy -- and that clearly wasn't working well on the day of our meal.

For example, characters appeared confused about where they were supposed to go. At one point, we had two characters at our table at the same time, and neither stayed long enough for me to get photos of both children with each of them. We also saw a character ignore another waiting family, which certainly was not the type of memory Disney strives to create. Having a dedicated handler for each character would have prevented these unfortunate situations.

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Before we left, we spoke to a manager about our experience, and she did bring one of the characters back to our table so we could get the photos we missed. That went a long way toward smoothing things over for my kids, who were at first upset over missed opportunities to meet certain characters or get coveted autographs. (Another downside to the new character handling policy is that often the characters need help signing autograph books. Without a handler nearby to help position books and pens, they sometimes don't pull it off well - such as this particular morning when one character signed his name over the autograph page signed by another character. The mistake left my son in tears until the manager could correct the mistake with a second signing.)

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One aspect of the character experience that did work well was the short parade through the restaurant. Kids were given maracas to shake to the beat of a Lilo and Stitch surfing song as they marched along with the characters, and they all seemed to enjoy the activity.

If 'Ohana means family, then - like in any family -- you often overlook the small things and focus on the positives. Though the character-greeting aspect was disconcerting for the adults at the table, my kids left the restaurant talking about how great it was to see their favorite characters at breakfast. In their eyes, they were still enjoying a tropical South Seas paradise just as they expected.

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About The Polynesian

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the The Polynesian category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Polynesian Village is the previous category.

The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.