Disney’s Kona Cafe and the Polynesian Resort

by Gray Cargill on June 16, 2009

Exotic flowers

Before my recent trip to Disney World, I was asked what I was most looking forward to. The answer was spending an evening at the Polynesian Resort.  I had spent a brief period of time here one afternoon during my last trip four years ago.  That’s all it took to fall head over heels for this tropical-themed deluxe resort.  What’s not to love?  The lush, exotic flowers and trees, waterfalls and tiki torches made me feel like I was in Hawaii, not Florida.  It’s a monorail resort, which makes it very easy to get to the Magic Kingdom.  It’s located on beautiful Bay Lake, with a stunning view of the towering spires of Cinderella’s Castle across the lake.  And it’s got what are generally considered to be among the best Disney resort restaurants on site–Ohana and Kona Cafe.

Torchlighting Ceremony

Sadly, my budget could not afford the $400+ per night price tag of staying at the Polynesian Resort, so I decided the next best thing would be to spend an evening here.  I would go early enough to catch the Tiki Torch Lighting Ceremony at 6pm, explore the grounds taking photos, have a drink at the Tambu Lounge, dinner at Kona Cafe, and hang out until the Electric Water Pageant at 9pm.  To me, it sounded like an idyllic evening at Disney World.  Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans….

The Chief's Fire Dance

I arrived at the Polynesian a little before 6pm and started wandering around the Great Ceremonial House taking photos until the Torch Lighting Ceremony started.  A woman in a long blue dress was passing out leis to people gathered in the lobby.  I did not get one, which is just as well, since it would have gotten in the way of my camera strap. I went with the others out front to watch the Ceremony–which lasted all of five minutes.  It was a bit of a let-down, to be honest.  I mean, what there was for a “ceremony” was very good–the young “Chief” who lit the torches also did some impressive fire-dancing (which became very impressive when he finished up with the flaming stick between his legs. Talk about brave!).  I guess I just expected it to last a bit longer, that’s all.

Poly Pool and Cinderella's Castle in the distance

I continued to wander the grounds taking pictures, but this didn’t take as long as I thought it would.  So I decided, since I had plenty of time before dinner, to walk along the white sand beach to the Grand Floridian to check out that hotel.  It was a lovely walk, but very, very hot. I heard the luau as I was passing by, but couldn’t see it through the hedge.  After taking pictures at the Grand Floridian, I hopped on the monorail to catch a ride back to the Polynesian.

1st floor sitting area

I still had about 20 minutes until my dinner reservation, and decided to go to the Tambu Lounge for that drink. . .and found the entire upstairs of the Grand Ceremonial House was mobbed with people–in the lounge, in the seating area, in the shops and just standing around (obviously waiting for their ADRs for either Ohana or Kona Cafe).  There were several families with kids in strollers.  There were so many people packed into the Tambu Lounge, I couldn’t even see the bar, let alone get near it.  And it was ungodly LOUD.

I decided to check at the Kona Cafe to see if there was any way I could get in early.  No such luck.  It was packed, too. I was given a pager.  Now I really couldn’t stray too far, so I found a spot by the railing to wait.  And wait.  And wait. The sound of a hundred voices all talking at once echoed through the building. This was not the relaxing, enjoyable evening I had envisioned.


I was finally beeped into the restaurant and was led to my table.  It was a cozy nook, but I was surrounded by groups.  I saw no other solo diners in the restaurant while I was there.  I did not like the fact that the restaurant is open to the lobby, which made it just as noisy inside the restaurant as outside. My server, Reba, was good (and busy!).  My first food-related disappointment came when I discovered that the restaurant’s infamous sticky wings–which have the reputation of being the best item on the menu–are only served as a two-person appetizer. Talk about solo-unfriendly!  I asked if I could get a portion size for one person–nope.

Kona Salad

So I ordered the Kona Salad, a rather plain-looking salad which was surprisingly flavorful.  It had very vivid, contrasting flavors and textures, from the Maytag blue cheese to the thinly sliced pears and greens in a tangy dressing, to the bite of the red onions.  This was a good choice.  I also ordered the potstickers, which were okay, but nothing special.  I ate them all because I was starving.  I also dug into the bread that came with dinner for the same reason, even though I had already had bread once that day.  (This bread was really good.)  The Mai Tai  that I ordered with my dinner was certainly worth the price–it was so strong I wasn’t sure I’d be able to drink it.  (Somehow, I managed.)

Dinner was decent and worth the price, but I can’t say this was the most solo-friendly restaurant on Disney property (by any stretch of the imagination).  By the time I was done there, I decided I would not stay for the Electric Water Pageant.  I was sick of people and noise and could not wait to get out of there and go back to my resort, Coronado Springs, and its relative peace and quiet. Ultimately, I was very disappointed with this evening.  Not because there’s anything grossly wrong with the restaurant or the resort (other than the fact that it’s too popular and crowded); but because I  had built up very high expectations and an idyllic image of the Polynesian in my own mind, based on one brief visit four years ago, in the middle of the afternoon (when everyone was at the parks!).

On the bright side, I’ll never again feel bad that I can’t afford to stay at the Polynesian resort.  After being in the crowded parks all day, I really don’t want to have to fight my way through crowds to get to dinner in my own hotel at night, too. And I certainly don’t want to be told I can’t have the best item on the menu because there’s only one of me. For solos who have their heart set on dining at Kona Cafe, I’d recommend doing so during lunchtime, when most people are at the parks and it might be less crowded.

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