Epcot Food and Wine Festival Review: Behind the Scenes at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

We’re continuing our coverage of the 2016 Epcot Food and Wine Festival with a brand new special event at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort!

That’s right… we paid a visit to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto to check out a new Epcot Food and Wine Festival Special Event that’s NOT happening at Epcot. While Signature Dining Events have long been held in and around various restaurants on property, this year is the first time that Special Events have expanded to Disney World Resorts. These debut offerings include Brunch with a Twist at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, The Secrets of Flavor at Disney’s Yacht Club, Culinary Adventures with a Master Chef at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and the Special Event we’re reviewing today: Behind the Scenes of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

Of all the new Resort Special Events, this sold-out option (at a cost of $99.00 per guest) was likely the most in demand, held on four select Wednesdays from 12:00 Noon – 2:00 PM. Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto has been a HUGE hit with Disney World guests since it opened in March of 2015 due to its interactive Tiki-themed atmosphere, crafty cocktails and popular souvenir mugs. An added bonus for Disney fans is that this place is chock-full of nostalgia and Disney history… so much so that it can really help to have a cast of high-energy Skippers at hand to point some of them out (all while mixing drinks and serving up some delicious eats, of course).

So join us once again as we step inside the Grog Grotto…

Behind the Scenes of Trader Sam's Grog Grotto

Behind the Scenes of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

…to show you a little bit about what happens behind the scenes at Trader Sam’s!

Entrance into Trader Sam's Grog Grotto

Entrance into Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

The setup for this Special Event was a bit different than what we’re used to during a regular visit to the Grotto (which typically opens at 4:00 pm daily).

Private Event sign

Private Event sign

The center table was decorated with garnishes and glassware, showcasing some of those famous souvenir mugs and reminding us that a bit of mixology was on order for the day.

Inside the Grog Grotto

Inside the Grog Grotto

Close-up on the Center Table

Close-up on the Center Table

But first thing’s first: a Welcome Drink! We were served the Shrunken Zombie Head (in a smaller glass than usual — you’ll see later on that the Zombie had other duties to fulfill for the event).

Welcome Drink: a Shrunken Zombie Head in a miniature glass

Welcome Drink: a Shrunken Zombie Head in a miniature glass

Made with Gosling’s 151 Black Seal Rum, Appleton Estate Reserve Rum, Bacardi 8 yr Rum, tropical juices, Falernum and cinnamon, this signature cocktail was garnished with one of the Corn-battered Portuguese Sausages that make up one of the lounge’s small plates on the regular menu.

But that was just for settling in and making ourselves at home among the Skippers (the Cast Members at Trader Sam’s). Before we get into the cocktails and small bites we tried, I’d love to share some of the fun details behind the over-the-top, floor-to-ceiling kitsch decor of Trader Sam’s.

Trader Sam's decor

Trader Sam’s decor

We learned these fun facts from the Skippers themselves. The event is hosted overall by one Skipper who takes you on a short tour of the Grotto, pointing out details and sharing stories about the decor and cocktails.

Our Skipper Host

Our Skipper Host

Our Skipper Host

Our Skipper Host, Danny

Of course, he gets by with a little help from his friends

Skipper

Skipper Seth

Skipper Natalie (with Skipper Erica providing the Photobomb)

Skipper Natalie (with Skipper Erica providing the Photobomb)

Antics in the Grog Grotto

Antics in the Grog Grotto

Do you remember that song by The Beatles? Our Skipper pointed to this shelf and told us hidden up there is a pin of a yellow submarine which is a tribute to John Lennon.

Shelf With Hidden Yellow Submarine Pin

Shelf With Hidden Yellow Submarine Pin

The knick-knack was placed here since the Polynesian Resort was where John Lennon signed the termination papers removing himself from the band and officially marking the end of The Beatles.

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Located toward the back part of the lounge you’ll notice a bookcase. Unlike the books lining the shelves inside the Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen, all of the books inside are genuine, including the title, “Eating People is Wrong.”

Display Case

Display Case

Also enclosed is a one dollar bill; it’s the very first one made by the Skippers of the Grog Grotto.

Okay, so you may not need any help spotting Uh-Oa, the tiki goddess of disaster, from her perch high on the back wall of the lounge.

Tiki goddess of distaser

Tiki goddess of distaser

But you may not know that she was brought to the Grotto from her previous location inside the Tiki Room: Under New Management, which ran at the Magic Kingdom for a number of years until the original Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room attraction was restored.

One of the details we loved spotting during our very First Look at the Grog Grotto was this white floating ring.

Maelstrom Ring

Maelstrom Ring

It’s from the Maelstrom attraction, which closed two years ago (already?!?) to make way for the new Frozen Ever After attraction in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion. It’s always nice to see that it found a new home in the nautically-themed Grog Grotto.

Moving closer to the bar area, you might spy with your little eye the “Samoa” sign.

Original Samoa Sign

Original Samoa Sign

Longtime guests of the Polynesian will likely recognize it from the former Samoa gift shop, which is now known as Moana Mercantile.

Now, if you’ve visited Trader Sam’s and perched yourself on a barstool, you may have noticed something a little strange. Maybe, juuuuust maybe, you noticed that the stool you originally sat in isn’t allowing you to belly up to the bar quite as effectively as when you first claimed your space…

The Sinking Barstools

The Sinking Barstools

If so, then YOU, my friend, have been sitting in a sinking bar stool! Better yet, these are the same barstools that used to call The Adventurer’s Club home! But don’t bother asking which ones sink. According to the Skippers, you’ll find out soon enough ;) .

If you can still see the bar from your lowered vantage point, you’ll notice a fairly large collection of Tiki Mugs on display behind the bar.

Tiki Mug Collection

Tiki Mug Collection

Among this Tiki treasure trove is one from Don the Beachcomber, one of the original tiki bars in California from the early 1930s. Keep your eyes peeled for a red and white mug, which is the most expensive one in the Grotto. Its worth is estimated to be around $800. The mug is actually bolted to the shelf; just ask the Skippers, who know the truth about that from personal experience.

But one of our favorite finds of the day was this turtle shell guitar — the very same one used in the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Turtleshell Guitar

Turtleshell Guitar

Considering Trader Sam’s influences are a combination of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Walt’s Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, and the Jungle Cruise, it’s especially fitting.

With story time complete (for the most part!), next we enjoyed a demonstration on how to make some of the creative cocktails served at Trader Sam’s accompanied by four courses of food paired with the beverages as listed on the menu card below.

Menu Card

Menu Card

Our first course featured Passion Fruit Scallop Ceviche.

Passion Fruit Scallop Ceviche

Passion Fruit Scallop Ceviche

Topping the scallops is Hawaiian black sea salt and aioli along with a tomatillo and avocado salsa. Sliced passion fruit are served on the sides for extra flavor.

Ceviche Accompaniments

Passion Fruit Scallop Ceviche

The Skippers chose to pair this with Krakatoa Punch served in Trader Sam’s Krakatoa volcano glassware.

Krakatoa Punch in glass

Krakatoa Punch in glass

Served up with the delicious cocktails and small bites is a side of entertainment (with some well-placed info thrown in!), as guests are shown how to make these drinks for themselves at home. Some details behind the Krakatoa include the unique juices used including hibiscus grenadine and almond, as well as the special “Gorilla Grog…” which is what you get after you take a gorilla and squeeze it. (Bah-DUM-pah! The Skippers will be here all week, folks!)

Skipper Mickey Mixin'

Skipper Mickey Mixin’

Krakatoa Punch also includes Pyrat XO Reserve Rum and Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum (but don’t go yelling “Two Shots of Rum!” just yet… we’re saving that for later). The red lava on the glass compliments the red glow of the drink inside (helped along by aid of a glow cube ;) ). Notice the lemon peel shaped into a heart for the garnish.

Inside the Krakatoa Punch glass

Inside the Krakatoa Punch glass

Why? Because the Skippers lava all of you. (Yep! All week!)

Something not-so-secret about the Trader Sam’s experience is that coordinating special effects happen around the bar when guests order a few specific drinks. And speaking of the Krakatoa Punch… watch out for erupting volcanoes!!

View of the Volcano

View of the Volcano

Volcano erupting

Volcano erupting

The second course featured Deconstructed Shrimp and Guacamole.

Deconstructed Shrimp and Guacamole

Deconstructed Shrimp and Guacamole

By the way, the small plates were presented by a Disney Chef for the event, who was ready to offer some extra detail regarding the dishes.

Disney Chef serving Deconstructed Shrimp

Disney Chef serving Deconstructed Shrimp

The Deconstructed Shrimp and Guacamole features two butterflied oak-grilled shrimp with double-breaded avocado fritters placed on top and plated with picked red onion, freshly chopped pico, and guacamole. (And those avocado fritters are SO! YUM!).

Deconstructed Shrimp with Drinks

Deconstructed Shrimp with Drinks

Paired with the shrimp was a cocktail made specifically for the event (you won’t find it on the menu during a regular visit): the Kentucky Spiced Cocktail, made with Knob Creek Disney Select Bourbon which was created especially for Walt Disney World (110 proof).

Kentucky Spiced Cocktail

Kentucky Spiced Cocktail

Surprised? Me, too, since tiki-themed drinks often feature rum, rum, and more rum. But an Allspice liqueur (like “Christmas in a glass” according to the Skippers) helps to tie in the Kentucky Spiced Cocktail with the tiki-themed beverages.

"Sniffer" glasses passed around the room

“Sniffer” glasses passed around the room

Almond and pineapple juices along with the unusual garnishes of sugar cane and a popcorn shoot finished this terrific drink.

And for the third round? Check out the Marinated Grilled Lamb Loin.

Marinated Grilled Lamb Loin

Marinated Grilled Lamb Loin

The lamb is pepper-crusted with juniper to complement the gin used in the accompanying cocktail. It sits atop roasted sweet potato puree, sautéed bak choy, and shiitake mushrooms while the plate is topped off with a rum glaze.

Marinated Grilled Lamb Loin

Marinated Grilled Lamb Loin

A tiki bar staple, a traditional Fog Cutter, was paired with the loin. But, honestly, what was more noteworthy than the beverage itself in this case was the tiki mug it was served in.

Hitchhiking Ghosts Tiki Mug

Hitchhiking Ghosts Tiki Mug

THIS is where we got our first in-person glance at the Haunted Mansion Hitchhiking Ghosts Tiki Mug that has swept the nation (or at least Disneyland and Disney World ;) ) over the past couple of weeks!

Skipper Danny with the Haunted Mansion Tiki Mug

Skipper Danny with the Haunted Mansion Tiki Mug

We visited the Trader Sam’s event twice, and the first we were not allowed to buy the mugs, but we WERE allowed to purchase them at the second one. (Learn how you can get yours here, while supplies last.) And it was SUPER cool to see Ezra, Phineas, and Gus along for the ride at Trader Sam’s!

Hitchhiking Ghosts Tiki Mug

Hitchhiking Ghosts Tiki Mug

Okay, now. For the drink…

Skipper Seth MIxing Drinks

Skipper Seth Mixing Drinks

To make a classic Fog Cutter, you can include the ingredients we learned about at Trader Sam’s: Rhum Clement VSOP, Beefeater London Dry Gin, Courvoisier VS, and fruit juices… oh, and an Amontillado Sherry floater. Helpful tips include using crushed ice instead of cubed (it better chills the beverage), and topping it with my favorite garnish of the day: a lychee soaked in grenadine with a blueberry placed inside.

Fog Cutter Garnish

Fog Cutter Garnish

To resemble, of course, an eyeball.

Now, remember how I mentioned that our old pal, the Shrunken Zombie Head, would be making an appearance later on? Well, now it’s time for his star turn with our dessert course: Shrunken Head Red Velvet Rum Cake.

Shrunken Head Red Velvet Rum Cake

Shrunken Head Red Velvet Rum Cake

In terms of display for the event, this one was the absolute winner. Served in the Shrunken Zombie Head souvenir cup (by the way, THIS is the glass that guests got to keep!), the cake was domed over the glass. For the final touch, the rum floater on top of the cake was lit on fire.

Shrunken Zombie Head... all fired up

Shrunken Zombie Head… all fired up

The rum, in turn, melted the cake into the glass which held… you guessed it! MORE RUM! But that’s not all he wrote…

To steal a phrase from our good friend Jack Sparrow: “But why is the rum gone?” Well, fret not, Captain. Because there’s still more where that came from with the final cocktail for the event: the HippopotoMai-Tai!

HippopotoMai-Tai

HippopotoMai-Tai

This Hawaiian Mai Tai is a little sweeter than the Captain’s Mai Tai typically served in other Disney bars with its use of agave nectar, almond syrup, orange curaçao, and lime juice (the use of just one type of juice gives this drink its stronger taste). THIS is the beverage which brings on the cry of “TWO SHOTS OF RUM!” — specifically, Coruba Dark Rum and Bacardi Superior — whenever it’s order by a guest. The garnish is a Hawaiian flower with pineapple leaves… ‘cuz pretty much anything goes when it comes to Trader Sam’s.

HippopotoMai-Tai garnish

HippopotoMai-Tai garnish

By the way, do you know the difference between a Hippo and a Zippo? Hippos are REALLY heavy, and the other’s… a little. Lighter.

Trader Sam's Skippers

Trader Sam’s Skippers

That one’s courtesy of your pals at Trader Sam’s!

Overall

I’ve been fortunate to attend many terrific Food and Wine Festival Special Events over the years. And I’ve enjoyed my time at events like The Parisian Afternoon and the Tequila Pairing Lunch immensely. But Behind the Scenes of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto definitely has a distinct feel all its own.

Our good friend @Mealtrip attended for DFB on one evening and kindly provided some thoughts on the event, too, sharing that “this event is very similar to the Tequila Lunch or the Wine vs Beer lunch at Via Napoli in food and beverage quantity. At the Tequila Lunch, there’s more presentation and education. And if you want to know anything about Tequila, having access to Hilda is priceless. This [Trader Sam’s] event is the only one where you’re going to get to try five different cocktails. So if you’re into cocktails, this is the one to go to. You’ll even get five recipe cards for the cocktails in your parting bag.” (Please note, there are copyrights prohibiting reproduction on the cards which is why we can’t share them in this post.)

Essentially, this event leans towards the side of entertainment over education on mixology, but if you enjoy Disney nostalgia paired with some pretty fantastic noshes and QUITE A BIT OF RUM… then you, my friend, may have found your Food and Wine Festival Special Event with this one! We’re really hoping it returns next year so you can add it to your list! (And we feel fairly confident that it will.)

For my part, I can say that Behind the Scenes at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto has already become one of my favorite recent memories in terms of Disney dining. The drinks were strong, the small bites were great, and knowing some of the extra details behind the Grotto will only make my future visits to Trader Sam’s more enjoyable!

Headed to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival?

Don’t forget to treat yourself to the DFB Guide to the 2016 Epcot Food and Wine Festival! Tons of information and recommendations you won’t find anywhere else. Get yours today for 20% off with code CHEFS.

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Would you like to attend the Behind the Scenes of Trader Sam’s event? Please let us know with a comment!

Comments

  1. Dikran says

    Great review! I was wondering if you guys managed to experience any of the other resort specific events. We will be doing the one at the Contemporary in a few weeks and were curious about it.
    Thanks!

  2. Todd landry says

    This event looms great! I’m really happy that you booked two of the four events being offered so you could write s review about an event well never get to go to. Maybe in the future some some respect for others and give them a chance to attend instead of attending multiple days.

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