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Waterfall Garden

in the Great Ceremonial House

Disney’s Polynesian Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

It’s not unusual for a hotel lobby to have a fountain or indoor plants. But the atrium garden in this “Yester World” lobby is one-of-a-kind.


Welcome to the centerpiece of the Great Ceremonial House, as it looked for more than 40 years. Where other hotels have seating or a lobby bar, there’s a lava mountain with colorful orchids, bromeliads, ginger, and anthurium plants, topped by a canopy of ferns, palms, ornamental banana plants, and other tropical foliage. Waterfalls cascade into small ponds—making the whole small mountain a visual and auditory delight.

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Below the skylight

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Cascading water and cascading gardens

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Resting in the lobby

Although the waterfall garden fills much on the lobby, there’s seating too—just not very much of it.

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Wyland Gallery in the Great Ceremonial House

Superstar cg2944 Easblu Trainers adidas Originals Boys' cblack ftwwht When you finish admiring the waterfall garden, take a look in the nearby Wyland Gallery for marine life art by Robert Wyland and other talented artists. Decorate your house with paintings of whales, sculptures of sea turtles, and works featuring Disney mermaid Ariel with dolphins and other marine friends.

Boys' Superstar Originals Easblu cg2944 Trainers adidas cblack ftwwht Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Drummer tiki in a lobby alcove

The style of the Polynesian Resort owes more to the tiki bars of the 1960s than to the authentic culture of Polynesian islands such as Hawai‘i. A drummer tiki looks like nothing you would find in Honolulu’s Bishop Museum, but he (and other tikis like him) are a lot of fun. For real Hawaiian culture, Disney has Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i.

The Polynesian Resort is a delightful place to visit for a meal in one of the themed restaurants or to stay a few nights in a tropically decorated room.

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Originals Easblu Superstar adidas cg2944 Boys' ftwwht Trainers cblack The waterfall garden in the Great Ceremonial House will be there forever, right? Such a big, imposing feature would be too difficult to remove.


Polynesian Village was one of two Disney hotels when Walt Disney World opened October 1, 1971. The other was the hollow Black Leather shoes women pregnant shoes sole soft flat shoes breathable comfortable FLYRCX shoes work BIw6UtU.

ftwwht Trainers Boys' Easblu cblack Superstar cg2944 adidas Originals In 1985, Polynesian Village became Disney’s Polynesian Resort, without “Village” in its name. In 2014, “Village” returned, giving the resort its current name, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

The floor around the waterfall garden was originally covered by a checkerboard pattern of square blue and green tiles. Smaller tiles covered the walls around the garden.

In the 1987 edition of Steve Birnbaum’s Guide to Walt Disney World (Houghton Mifflin & Hearst Professional Magazines, 1986), travel writer Stephen Birnbaum described the tropical garden in the atrium this way:

The mood is set by a 3-story-high garden that occupies most of the lobby. To call the construction at the center a fountain is to do it a grave injustice; it’s more like a waterfall that a wanderer might suddenly come upon in the jungle. The water cascades over craggy volcanic rocks. Coconut palms tower over 250 square feet of some 75 different species of tropical and subtropical plants—1,500 anthuriums, banana trees, ferns, gardenias, orchids, and other greens. The climatic conditions are nearly perfect, so everything is verdant year round.

The natural rock slab floors and walls in the photos above were installed during a major update to the Great Ceremonial House in 1996.

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Disney rendering, released May 2014, showing “Re-Imagined” lobby

On May 2, 2014, the Disney Parks Blog published a short entry announcing that, “As part of a complete re-imagining, Disney’s Polynesian Resort is returning to its original, 1971 opening day name: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.” Four images accompanied the entry. One showed a sign on a lava rock wall with the new name spelled out in Blippo Bold, an iconic 1970s font. Two showed renderings of “Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto – based on the popular themed lounge at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif.” Many fans were thrilled that Trader Sam’s was on its way to Florida.

So far, so good.

But one image caused alarm among many loyal fans of the Polynesian Resort. It’s not what the image showed; it’s what it didn’t show.

The waterfall garden was missing from the “Re-Imagined” lobby!

As construction walls went up around the waterfall garden, fans posted their disappointment on forums, Facebook, and blogs—even on the Disney Parks Blog itself. Keith Mahne, the owner and producer of the Disney Avenue blog and the Disney Avenue Podcast, initiated a petition on Change.org that attracted more than 2,600 supporters. Here are a few sentences from the petition.

cblack adidas Originals cg2944 Easblu Superstar Boys' Trainers ftwwht Removing the waterfall from the lobby is like removing Cinderella Castle from the Magic Kingdom. There are many with the opinion that the tropical waterfalls in the lobby make the hotel feel ‘Polynesian’ and that it is the centerpiece of the resort. Several people visit the resort during their stay at other WDW resorts just to see it and be reminded of their childhood. We always schedule a breakfast during our trips there specifically for that waterfall as I know others do. If they do move forward with its removal, there will be many sad and disappointed guests. One can only hope that this petition will open the eyes of Disney management so that they will reconsider this change.

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The Orlando Sentinel published an article (“Disney’s vintage Polynesian hotel gets makeover” by Dewayne Bevil, May 15, 2014) that included Disney’s official reasons for the removal:

The new look will set the tone for visitors to the Polynesian, which opened with Walt Disney World in 1971.

“You’ll feel you have arrived in a relaxing South Seas kind of experience,” said Tom Wolber, senior vice president for resort operations.

adidas Easblu cblack Originals Boys' Trainers Superstar ftwwht cg2944 For decades, the centerpiece of the Great Ceremonial Hall has been a large waterfall. It is going to be removed. More space is needed because of the amount of foot traffic at the Polynesian, Disney officials have said. Even more people will be there after the Disney Vacation Club opens waterfront villas at the Polynesian next year.

“I think this will provide a lot of relief and open space and give everybody enough room,” said Debbie Petersen, creative development executive for Walt Disney Imagineering. The waterfall removal also will enable guests to see the lagoon from the lobby.

In addition to the official reasons, there was speculation that the high cost of maintaining the aging water feature, dealing with moisture, and controlling bacteria also contributed to the decision to remove it.

In December 2014, the construction walls came down. The beloved waterfall garden was gone.

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Easblu cblack Superstar Boys' ftwwht Originals Trainers adidas cg2944 Itty bitty waterfall

adidas Boys' Easblu Trainers Originals ftwwht Superstar cg2944 cblack Or, it could be said that the waterfall garden shrunk down to a tiny fraction of its former size.

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Homage to the original waterfall garden

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

From the second level

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

New collection of light fixtures, now the visual highlight

Trainers Boys' cblack Originals Easblu adidas Superstar ftwwht cg2944 Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Plenty of seating

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Boys' cg2944 Superstar adidas cblack Easblu Originals ftwwht Trainers Orchids are back

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

The former tiki drummer alcove with a DVC kiosk

An odd change is that there’s now a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) kiosk where the tiki drummer previously stood. It looks temporary.

cg2944 cblack Superstar adidas Boys' Easblu ftwwht Trainers Originals Another change is that Wyland Gallery closed permanently at the end of 2013. Its space is now used by Pineapple Lanai (serving Dole Whips and other treats) and by a DVC office. There’s still a Wyland Gallery at Disney’s BoardWalk Resort.

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2016

Tiki fountain

With the addition of a tiki atop the small waterfall garden in 2015, the new lobby was complete.

Even without the huge waterfall garden, the lobby exudes a restful tropical atmosphere. Anyone who was afraid the updated Great Ceremonial House would come across as a generic hotel lobby need not have worried. Disney’s goal of providing a “relaxing South Seas kind of experience” with more room for guests has been successful. Hawaiian music fills the air. New planters surround the columns. Patterns, colors, textures, and materials harmoniously contribute to the desired effect.

But there’s no getting around that the Polynesian no longer includes what many guests considered to be its signature and its heart.


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© 2015-2017 Werner Weiss — Shoes Door Tomato Womens Mens Clog Garden Unisex Waterproof Gardening Out 7RzqX

Updated August 15, 2017.

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