3 years ago I’d never heard of Trader Sams.
Gearing up to my first Disneyland trip, I hadn’t really viewed many spoilers from the resort. That’s one thing about me. I’m not a fan of reading about things ahead of time. I’m always terrified the reviewer will say something and it will impact my opinion. If you’re reading this, your life is far less anxiety filled than mine, so good for you.
So I knew nothing of Trader Sams. My friend, the aforementioned Sam, lead me through a magical day at Disneyland and it culminated in going to Trader Sams before we left. As we journeyed to the bar, he started explaining, “We’re going to a Tiki Bar, but it’s unlike any other, because it’s enchanted.” Sam is really good about setting the stage for magic. No spoilers, no cameras, just setting you up for pure Disney magic. So we walked from Disneyland to the Disneyland Hotel and there in the center of the resort sits Trader Sams Enchanted Tiki Bar.
The outside tables were full of people with lovely flower filled libations while a man with a ukulele sang and entertained people on the terrace. I remember thinking, “Oh, so it’s gonna be like the Polynesian (my favorite Disney resort)” We entered and I was shocked by how small it is. It maybe seats 30 people inside. Maybe. And it was packed. But we waited a few minutes and got a table in the back corner. Going inside for your first time is madness. People are talking, then yellling things, then the lights flicker and more things happen.. wait a volcano is erupting, now we’re chanting Uh oh? What is happening?? The tikis around the bar are MOVING!? What is all the stuff on the walls? So you order a drink. I didn’t think to commit to memory what my first drink was, because I had decided I would give my souvenir cup to my dad as his souvenir. I didn’t “get it” yet. But Sam told me it’s basically tradition to go to Trader Sams after the parks. And I have continued the tradition each time I’ve ventured out to California. After visiting Tonga Hut in Hollywood and Psycho Suzis in Minneapolis, I’ve realized what a rare amazing gem Trader Sams is.
Not only is it Enchanted. Which means there is an attraction like quality to it with secret movements and triggers and animatronics, but it’s done in that woody, seedy yet swanky, style that only exists in Southern California. Honestly, if you think you know Tiki and you haven’t been to these places, you don’t know. And thats ok, because you just gotta put it on your list and GO.
Upon coming back to Florida after my last LA adventure in which we went to Tonga Hut, I searched the internet for Tiki Bars here in Tampa, FL. And while some are fun, I found nothing close to the loungey, swanky Southern California style Tiki Bar. It just doesn’t exist in Tampa Bay. I felt sad. I knew that I would always have Trader Sams at Disneyland and Tonga Hut in Hollywood, so I knew I would get by. But then Disney announced they were putting a Trader Sams into the Polynesian.
The Poly has always been my favorite Disney resort, though (spoiler alert) I’ve never stayed there. HOW CAN IT EVEN BE YOUR FAVORITE THEN, STEPHENIE? Well, we just always were…there. Before the days of the internet, we parked there because it was easier than dealing with the Transportation and Ticket Center. We met up there when people came to town. We had Dole Whip building competitions. We rented watercraft. We went to Tambu before going to MK. We pool hopped. It was just ours.
Last year I met the famed mid century modern kitsch king, Charles Phoenix, who took me on a whirlwind tour of his famous mid-century LA haunts and through a blossoming friendship with him, I realized it. I ADORE mid century. And even more than that, I adore the Tiki trend that happened in the 1960s. I’ve always felt I was born in the wrong era, but now I know it. Sitting in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, with umbrella and cherry-fied Dole Whip Float in hand I realized that this is my ‘thing’. And it all started with countless trips to the Polynesian.
So I’ve been on watch for our Trader Sams Grog Grotto to open. When they announced the soft opening would begin Saturday, March 28th, I knew I’d go on day two, because I don’t care about being first and I’m not interested in mingling with those who must be first. I wanted to take my fiance and a few friends and introduce them to my South Seas love affair with Tiki.
One of the things that my bestie, Sam, did for me was to give me really good ways for managing my love of photographing new places and still being able to experience them and it’s so easy that you can do it too.
Rule 1: First time you experience something new, no cameras and no cell phones. You just enjoy it like you did in olden times.
Rule 2: Second viewing, or after you’ve sat awhile, you can take pictures.
But your firsts are your firsts and you can’t get them back. You also will not likely take good enough audio or video with your cell phone or even your camera unless you’re a pro, so leave the phones and camera behind and just enjoy yourself.
Here are my pictures and comments about what’s inside. Trader Sams Grog Grotto is yours to experience in your own way. I had a blast, but saw several people on twitter saying that they didn’t get the hype. And that’s fine, but having said that, you set the stage for the fun you have.
If you dont want to see the spoilers, skip to the bottom where I’ll give you some advice about getting in.
Front entrance booths and Mt. Krakatoa
Looking towards the bar from the booths above
More seating and volcanoes
We sat right under this magical little window of inside jokes. Click below for a little gallery of whats inside.
Waiting to order the Nautilus, though the effects are amazing.
So I think Trader Sams is a hit. Try it yourself! And if you do go here is my advice based on the current environment.
Trader Sams is open 7 days a week from 4pm – Midnight. It’s all ages from 4pm-8pm but after 8pm it’s 21+ only. If you have kids, consider dropping them off at the nearby Lilo’s Playhouse while you enjoy some adult time. The bar is fine for kids, but it’s a bar… and you can only explain the glorification of alcohol by chanting in so many ways to a 7 year old before you’re glorifying alcohol. Slippery slope.
Driving? Park at the TTC (Transportation and Ticket center) if you’re a passholder or if you plan to visit a park that day. You’ll then tram/walk to the TTC and then make a sharp left turn at the ticket windows and you’ll see the path to the Polynesian. It’s a 5 minute walk. You can do valet at the Polynesian if you’re not a passholder and would have to pay for parking at the TTC.
Already at a Disney Park? Take the Polynesian bus from any park, just be aware that transportation to that park will stop around an hour or two after that park closes. Don’t strand yourself at the Polynesian. (Although if you do, just talk to the front desk and they’ll help you)
Visiting from a Disney Resort not on the monorail loop? Take your resorts bus/boat to Magic Kingdom, then walk from the bus/boat landing to the Resort Monorail. Make sure it’s the resort monorail and not the express monorail. Not that I’ve ever mixed them up. Not me. Never.
Once you’re at the Polynesian stay to the left (if you’re entering the front entrance) and head towards Captain Cooks, you’ll walk past it and see Trader Sams Grog Grotto on the right.
If you’re planning to arrive “among the first” at 4pm. Plan to get there an hour beforehand and before you hang out at the door, check that a line of patio chairs hasn’t already started. Join the line and remember that while the inside only holds 50, the patio outside holds more. Yay!
If you arrive between 4pm-8pm, you can expect a wait for the inside from 1 hour to 3 hours. After 9pm, you should be ok to show up and maybe wait 15 min at most.
What do you think? Will you visit it?
I’m a new blog, so give me a like or a share or add me on various social media. If you want a friend to visit Trader Sams with, or would like me to capture your first time, head over to DisneybyStephenie.com and check out my various sessions and we can make magic!