Last updated: 10:30 PM ET, Sun June 28 2015

Disney World's Coolest Summer

A 'Frozen' sing-along and revamped Polynesian Village top list of what's new

Agent@Home | Destination & Tourism | Greg Shillinglaw

Disney World's Coolest Summer

PHOTO: Harambe Market at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a new quick-service food and beverage location offering street-inspired dishes. (Courtesy of Matt Stroshane)

When it comes to selling Walt Disney World this summer, there’s a simple word, hardly spoken in Florida until recently, that you need to keep in mind: “Frozen.” The 2013 animated blockbuster, which made more than $1.2 billion worldwide at the box office and has left youngsters (and some parents) belting the ultra-popular Idina Menzel ballad “Let It Go,” is the driving force behind Disney’s “Coolest Summer Ever” promotion for the theme park complex.

At the Magic Kingdom, Olaf, Frozen’s summer-loving snowman, voiced by actor Josh Gad, hosted a kick-off event on Memorial Day Weekend to mark the traditional start of the summer vacation season. The stick-armed, carrot-nosed character helped welcome guests in the early morning hours to the park, which stayed open for 24 hours straight.

Starting June 17, Olaf was also featured at Disney’s Hollywood Studios along with his fellow “Frozen” characters for a procession dubbed the “Frozen Royal Welcome,” featuring an ice palace float and horse-drawn sleigh. Naturally, guests are encouraged to sing the film’s hit song during the parade. There’s also a comedic retelling of the movie in a nearby theater with new effects added to make the show a “truly immersive” experience, according to Disney officials.

While “Frozen” is certainly receiving lots of attention this summer at Walt Disney World, other parts of the entertainment complex have also been completely revamped. For example, the Polynesian Village Resort, one of Disney World’s original hotels, has been refurbished and there are several other new attractions for the summer. Here’s a look at what’s new:

Resorts: It’s not every day you find people waiting three hours to get into a hotel bar. But that’s the demand for Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, which has been returned to its original, 1971 opening-day name. The lounge debuted this spring, serving small plates and tropical drinks, including one that will literally incite a storm thanks to special effects inside the 50-seat bar.

Founded by Adventureland’s famous “head” salesman, Grog Grotto has some similarities to the Anaheim original at the Disneyland Hotel. But at Disney World, the bar’s décor meshes with the resort’s South Pacific theme, including the animated Tiki goddess of disaster, who looks down on patrons. Prime-time hours are from 6:30 to 10 p.m., and it’s suggested that guests head there earlier or later if they want to avoid holding a pager for an extended period of time. If there’s a wait, Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace serves the same food and drink outside with no wait. As for the food, some of the small plates are inspired by the Disneyland Trader Sam’s menu, including chicken lettuce cups with hoisin ginger sauce and the Hawaiian poke with Sriracha aioli and wonton chips. New to the Disney World menu are kalua pork tacos with shredded cabbage and pickled vegetables; pan-fried dumplings with soy-sesame dipping sauce; and roasted chicken and pork pâté bánh mì sliders with pickled vegetables. These dishes cost between $9 and $14. To wash it down, guests can enjoy a rum-based Nautilus or Tropical Dark and Stormy. Prices for alcohol are $7 to $52.

When it comes to accommodations, Polynesian Village’s 20 freestanding, over-the-water Bora Bora Bungalows are the first of their kind at Disney. The two-bedroom, two-bathroom bungalows sleep up to eight guests and offer views of Magic Kingdom along with a private boardwalk. Amenities include a full kitchen, flat- panel televisions, family-friendly split bathrooms, washer and dryer, two hidden pull-down beds, and a private plunge pool on the back deck.

PHOTO: The Bora Bora Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows sleep up to eight guests and feature a plunge pool on a private deck. (Courtesy of Ryan Wendler, photographer)

Prices for guests booking a bungalow during value season (Aug. 16–Sept. 24) start at $2,137 per night. Most of the 360 deluxe studios are now available for booking. A standard deluxe studio price for guests booking at value season starts at $439 (Aug. 16-Sept. 24).

The bungalows are part of the first phase of Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, the newest resort in the growing Disney Vacation Club portfolio, which opened April 1. There are also 360 deluxe studios, which will be made available to guests in phases. Each sleep five guests and feature tropical décor complete with prints, bamboo-style fixtures, a hidden pull-down bed and split bathroom.

The new accommodations are part of a dramatic overhaul at the resort, which includes the refurbishment of standard guestrooms. Final construction will continue into the fall. There’s also an all-new childcare area rebranded as Lilo’s Playhouse, a new children’s water play area and an enlarged deck to accommodate poolside seating. The Great Ceremonial House lobby area has been completely renovated, with the Pineapple Lanai kiosk serving Dole Whip, a soft-serve treat that costs about $4.

Theme Parks: Animal Kingdom is undergoing its largest expansion since it opened in 1998. While James Cameron’s Avatar-inspired section of the park is still two years away from opening, a number of other new attractions have recently debuted. For example, Harambe Market began serving guests in late May with vendors in walk-up windows selling East African-inspired street food. The menus at the shops are said to reflect the personalities of the establishments’ “owners.”

Kitamu Grill, for example, serves up skewered chicken and a kabob flatbread sandwich. Famous Sausages sells a corn dog inspired by a South African sausage called a boerewors, which is dipped in curry-infused corn batter. You can also find a spice-rubbed karubi rib — intended to be Animal Kingdom’s version of the giant turkey legs sold in other Disney parks — with green papaya-carrot slaw at Chef Mwanga’s. A fourth window, called Wanjohi (“brewer” in Swahili) Refreshments, entices adults with six South African wines by the glass.

Disney Imagineers say the marketplace is loosely based on a small seaboard town in eastern Kenya, which boasts a confluence of cultures. It’s intended to be a stopping point for guests before they venture to check out the animals in the Africa section of the park. For sun-weary visitors, there are 200-plus shaded seats in the marketplace.

Another relatively new experience worth noting requires guests to wake up early. “Backstage Tales” provides a look at the ways Disney studies and cares for the park’s collection of more than 1,500 animals. The tour is nearly four hours long and includes stops at the aviary on Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, the black rhino and elephant barns, and the animal nutrition center. “Backstage Tales” replaces the “Backstage Safari” tour and is offered from 7:30–11:15 a.m. daily. It’s available to guests age 12 years and up and costs $90. Theme park admission is not included.

At Disney Hollywood Studios, “Frozen Summer Fun LIVE” features the previously mentioned royal welcome, scheduled twice a day, and the remastered “For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration” show.

Epcot is also beefing up its entertainment offerings in time for summer. A new five-member a cappella group called American Music Machine performs Wednesday through Sunday, singing and beat boxing a range of contemporary and classic pop hits with custom arrangements by Tim Davis, best known for his work on “Glee.” And the “Sounds Like Summer” concert series returns from June 7 to July 25 with tribute bands singing hits from U2, Journey and the Bee Gees.

Downtown Disney: By the time it’s completed in 2016, Disney Springs, the reimagined Downtown Disney, is expected to double the number of shops and restaurants from the current 70 to nearly 150. In the meantime, Downtown Disney will be abuzz with construction this summer as four distinct outdoor neighborhoods are built and the site transforms into Disney Springs. Several new venues are already open, including The Boathouse, a 600-seat waterfront restaurant serving up steaks and fresh seafood and featuring a raw bar.

Located on the water in The Landing, one of the new neighborhoods, the eatery offers guided tours aboard The Venezia, a 40-foot wooden Italian water taxi replete with champagne toasts and chocolate-covered strawberries onboard at an extra cost. A multimillion-dollar fleet of 19 rare boats is also on display. In addition, diners can try out amphibious automobiles called amphicars, which launch from land, enter the water and take guests on a 20-minute tour of Downtown Disney. The cost is $125 for a 20-minute ride for up to three adults.

The Boathouse (, 407-939-BOAT) is open daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m, with guided tours beginning at 10 a.m. Some dining plans are accepted and dinner can cost anywhere from $30 to over $60 per adult, not including alcoholic drinks.

Other restaurants expected to open in the coming months include Morimoto Asia, the brainchild of Chef Masaharu Morimoto, who’s known for his appearances on Iron Chef America. Nearby, one of the largest STK locations in the world will also open, adding to a chain of steakhouses with locations already in New York and Milan.

Water Parks: Fans of the Disney Channel original “Teen Beach Movie” can enjoy the “Teen Beach 2: Beach Party” at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. Running through July 5, a DJ will spin “retro” tunes four times per day as guests participate in beach-themed games and hula-hoop contests. A new one-day waterpark ticket is also available for $60 that allows guests to park hop between Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.

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Agent@Home Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the June 2015 issue of Agent@Home Magazine.