The last weekend in May, I visited Florida for a long weekend to visit friends and family. My friend Jon Hempfling picked me up from the airport and drove me straight to … Trader Sam’s. That night, a whole cast of my Disney friends were in attendance, including Jon, Sparkly Nicole, Asia, Jon and Amy Plant, and many more. Our visit lasted about four hours, and we tried almost everything.
We started our on the Tiki Terrace, where we took a seat while we waited for our table inside. The servers said there’d be a 45 minute wait for a table in the Grotto, but we really only waited a half hour. We were able to seat ourselves, and a waiter came over to our table to take our order. But you can walk up to the window and order food, if you prefer.
Our 30 minute wait went really quickly in such a lovely space: It’s totally comfortable and there was great live music (in the form of a man with a uke). The only problem: The service was incredibly slow because the bar was backed up. And when our table was finally ready, it took forever to cash out at the Terrace because the two restaurants are totally separate.
Inside, only 6 of our party of 8 were there, so the host had me text a super-secret password to my friends, so they could gain entry. (The password changes every day!) And when they showed up … the password worked! We felt like spies.
At first, we took up most of the bar, and when a table finally opened up, we moved to the table. We were lucky to be able to all sit together, but take note: If you come with a large party, the hosts can’t guarantee that you’ll all be seated together because the bar is very small with a variety of seating options.
The space is small, but it’s also freezing, dark and wonderfully comfortable. There’s a very happy atmosphere, and the decorations are extremely eclectic with fun cues and in-jokes to different parts of the Parks and Disney history. It wasn’t too loud: We could definitely hear each other as we talked and caught up.
But! Beware the sinking chair gag! Jon was sitting on a stool at the bar, and slowly … sloooowly … over the course of the evening, his seat kept sinking lower and lower … and lower. At first, we thought it was broken. We tried to fix it, but we couldn’t. Jon was really confused. He actually started to feel badly because he’s lost a bit of weight this past year.
And then, a bit later, the stool just popped back up on its own. Then we were even more confused … until we looked around and watched it happen to a few other people around the bar. And then we had a good, long laugh because there are a few pneumatic stools around the bar, which sink and rise throughout the night, just to troll guests. Which delights me, of course.
Out of all of the wonderful things in Trader Sam’s, I think my favorite may be the people who work there. The bar tenders are actual bar tenders. These guys could hold their own in any bar on South Beach. I appreciate that because sometimes, you know, the Disney bartenders are just servers who got assigned to the bar that week. And the hosts and servers were extremely knowledgeble, and their service was on point. Which was good because we ordered a lot of food.
In fact, over the course of the evening, we enjoyed Roasted Chicken and Pork Báhn Mì Sliders, Kalua Pork Tacos, Corn-battered Portuguese Sausages, Pan-fried Dumplings, Chicken Lettuce Cups and Hawaiian Poke. Though I didn’t try the lettuce cups or the tacos, I can personally attest that everything else was top notch. The poke was definitely sushi grade and totally delicious. The sausages were not greasy at all. And I really liked the sliders. For me, they were the winner, but I’m a slider guy.
On the drink side, we ordered nearly all of the drinks that come in souvenir cups: Nautilus, Uh-Oa!, HippopotoMai-Tai, Krakatoa Punch, Shrunken Zombie Head and the rum flight. We also ordered Rosita’s Margarita—I actually didn’t try it, but my friend loved it. He said it was so good, he didn’t even mind that it didn’t come in a fancy glass.
I think the Uh-oa! won the prize for best presentation. It arrived at the table on fire, and there are little pinch pots of cinnamon, so you can throw the spice into the fire to create little burst of flame. The Nautilus was fabulous—a delicious, tropical submarine-full of liquor. It had orchids floating in it. And the glass is beautiful. (It’s for two, but I drank it on my own.)
The rum flight was surprisingly delicious—especially the middle rum, the Pyrat XO Reserve. It was so good, in fact, that I bought a bottle immediately when I got home. It’s a great sipping rum. The only disappointment about the flight was that we didn’t get to keep the surfboard; just the glasses. But the Krakatoa Punch was my favorite—and later I learned it had has the XO Reserve rum in it, so that explains why I loved it so much.
One thing to note: While some places on property wash your mug and then return it to you before you leave, Trader Sam’s does things a bit differently. Here, you take your receipt to the front of the bar, and they give you a wrapped, padded box that’s ready for shipping or flying. (And, if you’re me, you then leave your perfectly-packaged drinks in the Polynesian Resort lobby, where they’re scooped up by Lost & Found, and Steven Miller retrieves them for you three days later … Thanks, man!)