The Best Dining Options at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
Last month, MickeyBlog evaluated the five main restaurants at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. At the time, I marveled at the depth of topflight offerings at Walt Disney World’s most luxurious resort. This property is the height of haute cuisine, but even as I wrote the piece, I realized that it’s not my favorite. Today, let’s discuss that one as a counterpoint about the joys of comfort food over fancy feasts. Here’s a ranking of the best restaurants at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
Unranked: Tambu Lounge, Pineapple Lanai and Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto
This list is intended as an evaluation of the restaurants onsite. Neither of these establishments technically qualifies, but I’d feel remiss to exclude them. The presence of Pineapple Lanai is one-dimensional, but WHAT A DIMENSION! This is the only place at any resort that sells Dole Whips. As such, there’s almost always a line for Disney’s miracle dessert.
Tambu Lounge is a wonderful place to unwind when you need a break from the chaos at the parks. You may think of it as the front of ‘Ohana, but it’s actually a bar with high-quality drinks and a few light bites. For lunch, you can even grab a full (but light) meal such as Barbecue Pork Taco or Asian Noodle Bowl. Plus, the sitting area features some televisions if you want to watch live sports or Disney cartoons. This hockey fan got to keep up with Stanley Cup playoffs while hanging out at the lounge.
As for Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, I cannot speak to the quality of the beverages for a funny reason. The last three times we’ve tried to order here, we couldn’t even find a place to sit! The glow-in-the-dark drinks here have created such a buzz that there’s a constant flow of traffic, even late at night or early in the afternoon. This place is like Cheers in that it’s the happiest bar in town, and people cannot get enough of it.
4. Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show
Differentiating between this restaurant and two others on this list isn’t easy. They share some of the same foods prepared in the same kitchen. To explain this ranking, let me take this opportunity to remind you of how I rank restaurants. I emphasize bang for the buck. This thought process explains why the show that I attend literally every time Walt Disney World finishes lowest out of the dining options.
Spirit of Aloha isn’t cheap. It costs two credits on the Disney Dining Plan, and the meal is $70 per person out-of-pocket. What do you get for that money? Well, I maintain that you see the best show at Walt Disney World, a topic that I’ll explore in further detail at a later date. Polynesian cast members, some of who have worked on this show for a decade or longer, sing and dance for 90 minutes. This builds up to the final segment, a fire-dancing segment that’s truly breathtaking.
When the timing works out, the show ends just in time for guests to exit the area and head over to the adjoining beach. Here, you can watch the Happily Ever After fireworks display. The combination is magical, even by Disney standards. And I love the food here, too. The ONLY catch is the price. If it were less expensive, this would be the finest dining option at the resort.
3. Capt. Cook’s
Yes, I’m ranking a Quick Service restaurant ahead of Spirit of Aloha. And yes, that’s probably crazy. Here’s the thing, though. Capt. Cook’s is one of the best Quick Service restaurants of any Walt Disney World resort. It eschews burgers and nuggets as baseline foods, instead embracing the flavors of the South Seas.
Lunch and dinner items at Capt. Cook’s include Pulled Pork Nachos, Thai Coconut Meatballs, and Curried Seafood Stew. Yes, they do sell a burger, but they also sell several variations of Pan Asian Noodles plus the obligatory Hawaiian flatbread. And I legitimately had the best Ham and Cheese sandwich of my life here, a dish so impacting that it single-handedly changed my perception of pesto.
Pro tip for couples staying at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: order the Bounty Breakfast Platter. For $11.49, it’s more than enough food to provide a hearty breakfast for two. Plus, you get to have a plastic utensil fight for the last couple of bites, which is always endearing.
And that’s the great thing about this restaurant. You get tremendous value and flavor for the price. Capt. Cook’s may seem ordinary. If you look closer, however, you’ll realize it’s one of the hidden gems at Disney.
No, this isn’t the best restaurant at the hotel in my opinion. Yes, I can feel you turning on me. It’s admittedly an unconventional ranking for the Polynesian.
Let me state the obvious. ‘Ohana is a wonderful meal. Disney serves all-you-care-to-enjoy (AYCE) entrees that will fill even the emptiest belly. In fact, I recently named it as the best AYCE restaurant at Walt Disney World on a different Disney site. How is that meal not the best one onsite? Again, the answer comes down to value.
‘Ohana costs as much as $45 per person, and it’s not a character meal at lunch or dinner, only for breakfast. What do you get for that money? The answer is a seemingly infinite supply of delicious proteins. Servers bring out gigantic serving dishes full of honey coriander chicken wings, pineapple coconut bread, sweet and sour chicken, grilled shrimp, and sirloin steak. For meat lovers like me, ‘Ohana feels like the mother ship is calling us home.
What’s remarkable about this restaurant is that I maintain the best dining experience happens first thing in the morning. The Best Friends Breakfast featuring Lilo & Stitch is one of my favorite things overall at Walt Disney World. The meal is an endless onslaught of sausage and bacon, and the kids do a fun walk to Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride, the unforgettable ditty from the movie. The food is better for lunch and dinner, of course, but Lilo & Stitch are the best aspect of ‘Ohana.
1. Kona Café
Last year, I spent my birthday at Walt Disney World and yes, my wife insisted that I wear the button. While she’s usually in charge of our meal itinerary, she let me pick the eateries for that day. Faced with the options of all Walt Disney World establishments, I picked my two favorites. For lunch, we ate at Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant and for dinner, we ate at Kona Café.
Why would I choose Kona Café for that meal? As hinted above, I’m a carnivore. I love steak and potatoes dishes the way that most people love their children. And while other establishments get the hype, Kona Café cooks THE best steak at Walt Disney World. Trust me on this one. It’s the one food where I’m a connoisseur.
To a larger point, Kona Café is my kind of place. One side of the restaurant has sofas where you can lounge, just like if you were at home. A couple of choice tables are right by the entrance. They give you the view of all the marvelous passersby at the Polynesian, many of whom are still kinetic about their recent trip on the monorail. Plus, the hypnotic smell of the Polynesian lobby meshes wonderfully with the aromatic fragrances seeping out of the kitchen.
As for the food, Kona Café has one of the best menus at Walt Disney World. Part of the restaurant is a sushi bar, and other seafood plays heavily into the entrée selections. The Dashi Noodle Bowl, Pistachio-crusted Tile Fish, and Grilled Chili-dusted Shrimp are all exquisite, and the Duo of Pork is the second-best of its kind onsite (California Grill of course claiming the title of Best Pork Two Ways Entrée). What’s remarkable about this menu is that the entrees I’ve listed here average out to less than $23, a huge bargain by Disney Table Service standards.
But I haven’t even gotten to the best part. Kona Café has countless desserts that are worth your attention. I’ve sampled literally all of them, and each one has its merits. The most decadent of the bunch, however, is the signature one that bears the restaurant’s name. The Kona Kone is ostensibly a cone of chocolate and vanilla ice cream in the same way that Kevin Durant is a basketball player. The restaurant serves it on a pile of cotton candy and tops it off with an edible chocolate Mickey Mouse face. And did I mention the M&Ms stacked on the dish? Or the hot fudge? Yeah, this thing is a special sort of decadent…and a stunning value at $7.
That’s the overall theme of Kona Café. It offers spectacular dishes at reasonable prices. I’d eat here on a weekly basis if I lived in Orlando. The food is that consistently exquisite. While all of the restaurants listed here are worthy of an Advanced Dining Reservation, Kona Café is the ultimate dining experience at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
Post-note: I used TripAdvisor’s Orlando restaurant rankings for the Grand Floridian discussion. If you’re curious about the Polynesian, TripAdvisor voters suggest agree with me about fourth place but then list the top three as: Capt. Cook’s (289th best restaurant in Orlando) third, Kona Café (191st) second, and ‘Ohana (96th) as the best. The one thing this exemplifies is how much better the perception is of food at the Grand Floridian, a perception I dislike. We generally schedule at least three meals at Polynesian when we travel to Walt Disney World as opposed to one or two at Grand Floridian.