Over the last two years, Disney's Polynesian Village has undergone an extensive renovation which basically stripped away most of the unique theming that made the resort great. In the early days, when you walked into the Polynesian resort, it didn't just look, smell, and sound like a lush tropical resort...it felt that way too. Sadly, this key component to theming, and that which has always set Disney apart, seems to have been forgotten by the folks in Imagineering and the Polynesian is their latest victim. Yet in total contrast to this dumbing down of the Polynesian's design is Trader Sam's - the most brilliantly themed space to open at Walt Disney World in at least two decades.
Arriving to Trader Sam's, it's pretty hard to escape the feeling that this is no ordinary watering hole. The nondescript front door was so much so that we literally walked by it twice not realizing it was the main entrance. I mean, sure there's a little sign that says Trader Sam's, but it looks more like a side exit or something. Once the door was open, however, the chorus of Alohas made it clear we were in the right place...
We had heard about horrendous, multi-hour wait times to get in when Trader Sam's opened - the venue is quite small and only holds about 50 people - so we made sure to get there early. Checking-in with the host, we were told it would be about a 30 minute wait. A true testament to the popularity of Trader Sam's, given it was 5pm on a Thursday.
After stalking the front door as folks were leaving, our buzzer signaled it was time for our adventure to begin...
It's important to know going in to Trader Sam's that it's different... very different. For starters, your buzzer going off doesn't mean there's a table or assigned chairs waiting for you. You may walk in to find an open table or two seats together at the bar... Or you may come in and find the only two open chairs are at a four-top table, where another couple is already sitting. Just go with the flow and ask to join them...chances are they had to do the same earlier.
Once settled, get prepared to be slapped in the face by your surroundings. The mish-mash of kitcsh on the walls might first seem like Ruby Tuesday's gone terribly wrong, but that's when it's important to know the story of Trader Sam himself...
In a nutshell, Trader Sam from the Jungle Cruise opened a bar...
Throughout his travels in search of the finest, most exotic ingredients for his beverages, he collected a few trinkets along the way, which ties together the seemingly random decor.
After soaking in the surroundings for a few minutes, we ordered an "Uh-Oh-Ah" and a round of the Chicken & Pork Sliders. When the Uh-Oh-Ah arrived, the lights in Trader Sam's dimmed and then turned a frightening shade of blue. The Tiki God on the ceiling was angry, and shot her piercing stare our direction. Thankfully, no one crossed paths with her paralyzing gaze. We chanted "Uh-Oh-Ah..Uh-Oh-Ah" and tossed our tributes into our flaming drink, which seemed to ease her fury...for now.
|MJ was eventually caught in her gaze.|
A few more drinks came out for other tables... The "Volcano" brought an eruption from not just one, but two flaming peaks on each side of Trader Sam's, prompting the cast to ask a very good question... "Who builds a bar between two volcanoes?"
|The erupting volcano outside our "window."|
Meanwhile, there was a volcano bubbling over in my mouth. The sliders were quite tasty, but one in the middle had a tiny little red pepper that I didn't see when I chomped into it. I spent the next 15 minutes in agony...This was the single hottest thing I had ever eaten, and I thought passing out was a real possibility. Think I'm exaggerating? I probably am...but try it and see for yourself...
|My friends at the Disney Food Blog capture the little red devil.|
But like any great theme, the feeling that one gets while visiting Trader Sam's comes first and foremost from the cast members. They buy in 100% to their "show" and it sets Trader Sam's apart from every other bar at Disney.
|The East Coast Branch of the Family Tree. |
The West Coast branch resides at the Disneyland Hotel
Then again, to call it a bar isn't really a fair description... A visit to Trader Sam's really is an adventure. It's a journey to tropical paradise, built by a man of some questionable sanity, where they serve anything but your run of the mill pina colada. Most importantly, however...Trader Sam's embodies something that used to be Disney's trademark, yet today is a rare commodity...
Theming at its finest.
Enjoy Your Stay