The Polynesian Resort vs. Real Polynesian Resorts – How Does It Measure Up?

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My absolute favorite resort at Walt Disney World is the Polynesian.  Sure, you say, everyone likes the Deluxes.  But the only Deluxe I’ve ever stayed at and ever wanted to stay at is the Polynesian.  A few years ago when Disney ran the buy four nights, get three free promotion, I had just gotten a new job, and was able to swing seven nights at the Poly.  It was a dream come true for me, because I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii.

Rooms at the Poly...

 

A few weeks ago, I was able to fulfill that dream and go to Hawaii for real.  It was a 10 day odyssey across multiple islands, and it was the trip of a lifetime.  For the purposes of research, of course, I kept careful track of where we stayed, and how the Polynesian measures up to a REAL resort in Hawaii.  How well did Disney recreate the island vibe?  After all, they pride themselves on allowing you to leave the real world and enter a fantasy.  How did they do with the Polynesian?

 

 

...vs a room in Maui

Rooms – The true measure of any hotel is how the rooms fare.  InHawaii, I stayed in four hotels on four different islands, and the rooms were very different.  The consistent things in each one were very comfortable beds, spacious rooms and balconies with a view.  Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  The Polynesian measures up nicely to each of the rooms I stayed in on my trip.  The beds are extremely soft and comfy, most rooms have balconies or patios, and the rooms are among the most spacious on property.   The difference is theming.  The Polynesian rooms are themed down to the tips of the lamp switches, whereas Hawaiian hotels don’t feel the need for that, since you know, they’re actually in Hawaii.

Macadamia nut pancakes - can't get them like this in WDW

 

Dining – This is a big difference.  Don’t get me wrong, the food at the Polynesian is my favorite on property.  Kona Café, ‘Ohana and Captain Cook’s are all great.  They just aren’t Hawaiian food.  ‘Ohana is more like a Brazilian steakhouse and Captain Cook’s and Kona have some Hawaiian themed dishes, but mostly serve American versions of Hawaiian food.  There are various versions of Hawaiian food across the islands, but copious amounts of rice, macaroni salad, grilled meats and fish are almost always involved.  There’s also copious use of pineapple, tropical fruit juices and macadamia nuts.  I loved Hawaiian cuisine and the Polynesian is a pale imitation of it.

Atmosphere – The landscaping, views and theme at the Polynesian are right in line with what I saw in Hawaii.  The lush plants and flowers around the resort are exactly what I saw at the Hawaiian resorts.  If you look out the window of a Poly room towards the beach, the views and vistas are very similar to those in Hawaii itself, with the exception of a large castle.  The number of tikis, torches and longhouse style buildings is actually more robust inFlorida than in Hawaii, and it really helps transport you to the islands.

This view from Kauai could easily be the same at the Poly.

Price – Okay, take out the costs of actually going to Hawaii, which is not insignificant.  A rack rate room at the Polynesian will cost anywhere from $385-630 for a garden view room.  It all depends on a complex algorithm of when you are there and what Disney can afford to charge without scaring you off.  How does this compare with a real Hawaiian resort?  Well, the resorts I stayed at, with the same amenities as the Polynesian, ran anywhere from $125-250 per night.  I didn’t stay at the 4 star resorts, which cost around $250-350 a night, but I did go check them out.  Think of it this way – if you fly toHawaii and stay in  3 star hotel, you may even come out cheaper than a week at the Polynesian.  

A true Hawaiian beach is a point in Hawaii's favor

 

 

So, in the final tally, how does the Polynesian fare when compared to real Polynesia?  I have to say, going into it, I figured Disney was a pale imitation of the real thing.  But after visiting the islands, the Polynesian does an amazing job of transforming a little plot of land inFlorida into a real island experience.  The scenery and atmosphere set the stage, but the rooms are definitely on par, as are the rest of the resort.  While the price may be high and the food not authentic, they are close enough that it does not distract from the theme and the “feeling” you get when staying there.  If you’re unable to get to Hawaii, the Polynesian isn’t a bad substitute.  Have some Tonga Toast for me!

 

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Posted on July 26, 2011

7 Responses to “The Polynesian Resort vs. Real Polynesian Resorts – How Does It Measure Up?”

  • Ryan,
    Very interesting article! I’ve been lucky enough to go to Hawaii on several occasions and I guess that is why I’ve never stayed at the Poly. I was always afraid it would be a pale comparison, especially for the dollars being spent. Now, I’ve done Ohana and strolled the property so I agree with you on the theming and food angle, but in Hawaii there’s a feeling, or vibe, that I get and it’s hard to explain but it’s just so……Hawaiian! I can’t imagine or expect the Poly to capture that so I think I’ll just continue to enjoy Kona Cafe, and Ohana and a mai tai (or two)while strolling the grounds during our next WDW stay.

    • I totally agree with this! I love Hawaii, and the Polynesian is nice to visit for dinner, but I never end up staying there.

  • by Aaron Newton on July 28, 2011, at 2:57 pm EDT

    Interesting article!

    But I have to apologize for picking one small nit:

    “…but mostly serve American versions of Hawaiian food.”

    Hawaiian food is American by definition. ;) It’s like going to a chicken joint in Texas and saying the serve “an American version of Buffalo Wings.” I do get your meaning though. Perhaps an edit to read “mainlander versions” would work?

    • Yes and no. Depends on your point of view, I guess. Hawaii was a separate nation before it was part of America, and the cuisine there was developed then, so it is separate. But I get your point.

      Thanks for reading the article and I’m glad you liked it!

      • by Aaron Newton on July 28, 2011, at 7:48 pm EDT

        I understand where you are coming from… but so were California and Texas, after briefly breaking from Mexico. But the food that natively developed in those areas are American. If you go to Texas and eat Tex-mex, you might say “this is an American version of Mexican food” because developmentally speaking, the food developed out of Mexican traditions but diverged significantly from food that is eaten in Mexico. However, if you came to Kentucky, and ate a pale imitation of Tex-mex, you wouldn’t say “It’s an American version of Tex-mex.”

        I probably sound more argumentative then I intend. :(

  • not wanting to be a nit picker but, my understanding was the polynesian theme is not Hawaii but more the polynesia south seas tonga tahiti etc.. although this is just sour grapes because you got to got to Hawaii and I didnt… still an interesting blog.

  • Well I think it was a great blog article! I have booked our family’s first Disney trip and (after much back and forth between Poly & POFQ) have decided to book the Poly for the whole week. Your article just reinforced my decision. I want this trip to be very relaxing and not hurried. My thought was, the closer to MK, the better. Less bus rides and more time at the parks. Seeing the comparisons in your article just make me more excited to go! Thanks!