Monday, March 03, 2014

Chasing Captain Cook

Captain Cook's Hideaway, I thought I was done with you.

Back in June 2010, I wrote - and ammended - a series of articles about Captain Cook's Hideaway, the earliest place for Cast Members to drink in the first ten years of Walt Disney World. Captain Cook's and especially their in-house band, rock-folkies The Salt Water Express, have since risen to something of a place of prominence in Disney circles, thanks to their goofy look and elusive hit single from 1972, "Can You Arrive Alive on 535?"

Footage (and music!) of them even cropped up at the 2011 Destination D event sponsored by D23, where Robert Christopher and Gary Stratton appeared in a mildly traumatic promotional short as pied pipers, leading a group of teenagers on a Magical Mystery Tour to Grad Nite 1975.

I thought I had covered Captain Cook's Hideaway sufficiently. Despite some initial confusion, I even identified where I thought it was located. The lounge is described as follows in a 1973 Vacationland:

"For guests desirous for a dark rendezvous and the strains of a haunting guitar, Captain Cooks Hideaway provides both, as well as an outside patio romantically bathed in soft candlelight."

In many late 70s' souvenir books the following photo appeared, depicting what appeared to be this outside patio:

And working backwards from this photo, I identified an aerial view of the Polynesian Village showing where the patio and thus where Captain Cook's was probably located.

Which, to me, seems to be pretty solid evidence. Well, in the past few weeks I managed to turn up some interesting primary documents from the Polynesian, one of which was a cast member orientation guide from way back in 1971 - far enough back that it was simply called the "POLYNESIAN HOTEL". But the real discovery here was two pages showing exactly where everything was in the Great Ceremonial House and Outrigger Assembly House in 1971.

And - surprise - Captain Cook's Hideaway is in the "wrong" place!

The spot I had previously ascribed to Captain Cook's appears to be filled by the "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse", a child care facility. What's most shocking about this is this space still more or less exists - as the seating area to the Polynesian's cafeteria, still called Captain Cook's. Although the original space appears to have been slightly larger to accomodate a bar, it always has been and continues to be a spot with just a handful of tables weirdly crammed inside it.

Although I'm delighted to learn that this particular space at the Polynesian seems to have always been a tiny room with tables, I was simply agast that this spot in particular was Captain Cook's. This was the hopping Cast Member after-work hangout where Salt Water Express sang about State Road 535? You could hardly fit three more tables in here.

A October 1971 Walt Disney World News also mentions the outdoor patio so there must have been a "spill-over" outdoor section very much like the one that still exists today, only servicing those with alcohol instead of Dole Whips.

I went digging back through my files and found that mentions of the "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" at the Polynesian persist on and off until the mid-70s, when it seems to migrate to the Contemporary Resort Hotel, possibly opening up its original space to an expanded Captain Cook's.

So if Captain Cook's expanded into the old Clubhouse space, then it makes sense that Barefoot Snack Bar would take over the old Captain Cook's space, which is the original arrangement which most of us remember from the late 80s and early 90s. That arrangement still exists today, although the seating area has now taken over the original menswear shop.

I was also able to find a clipping at the Orlando Public Library which mentions Captain Cook's:

53 seats seems like too many for that original 1971 corner location even if they were also counting the patio. Since the article also mentions the Tangaroa Terrace, the family restaurant built in a custom structure outside the Great Ceremonial House in 1974, 53 seats (about fourteen-seventeen tables) may describe the lounge's second location in the former Clubhouse space.

As for Salt Water Express, their story is an interesting one. In March 1975, the Vacation Kingdom's most popular duo moved to the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village to open the lounge attached to the Village Restaurant, hilariously named "THE CHUMMERY":

It was such a short lived stint that they may have never played there at all. Disney was advertising their return to the Polynesian Village within a few weeks.

Bob Christopher and Gary Stratton's contract was renegotiated in 1976, at which point they began appearing under the new name "Stratton & Christopher". In-house references to the group (and their popularity) begin to decline from that point onward, and by the late 1970s seem to vanish altogether. In the early 80s they seem to have moved to a well-reviewed restaurant called Limey Jim's at the US-192 Hilton Resort.

They pop up again in California in 1986, filing a trademark on their name and logo which may be viewed here. I haven't been able to find much past that. Besides the few pictures gathered here, no recordings of either Salt Water Express or Stratton & Christopher seem to survive. Which is a real shame - I know I'd love to hear "Can You Arrive Alive on 535?" at least once in my life.

The Polynesian Resort is now in the process of being dramatically altered - a new wing is going up in what was once open lagoon space, the name is reverting to the Polynesian Village, and sections of the hotel are closing one by one for remodeling. Renewal is a constant cycle of life at the Disney hotels, although none feel as sacred or personal to me as the Polynesian. Since the Tambu Lounge was relocated out to the lobby during the refurbishment which changed the original Papeete Bay Veranda into 'Ohana, maybe this newest refurbishment can bring back more vintage Disney names than just the one for the whole hotel.

Too long relegated to an eatery in its former location selling burgers, it may be time to reclaim the name of Captain Cook and attach it to a new Captain Cook's Hideaway, selling stronger stuff than Dole Whips. It would be a nice nod to the past in the one Disney hotel which seems most thoroughly drenched in it.


The WEDist said...

"...Robert Christopher and Gary Stratton appeared in a mildly traumatic promotional short as pied pipers, leading a group of teenagers on a Magical Mystery Tour to Grad Nite 1975."

I was at that D23 event, and lucky enough to see the film. It was one of the strangest promotional films I have ever seen. I wish I could see it again, because I don't trust my memory (how could Disney have done this?). Great detective work. Thanks for another fascinating article.

C33 said...

Well, plans keep changing and I really don't know what the exact plan is at the moment, but I've heard the idea is to transform what is currently the arcade (originally the MM Clubhouse) into a copy of the Disneyland Hotel's popular Trader Sam's Tiki Bar. As a fan of said Tiki Bar in California that's fine by me, so I'm really hoping it happens.

I've just been told as well that apparently the plan, while Captain Cook's is closed for remodeling, is to actually use the Cast Cafeteria as a temporary service location for guests. That would certainly be a first. At the moment the Cast Cafe is closed to get some new paint and furnishings to prepare it to serve guests when Cook's closes at the end of the month.

philphoggs said...

Amen sister Fox, that would be cool

Brian Miles said...

So a Facebook commenter says they had them at a cast reunion in 2003 and they sounded every bit as good. Fascinating.

yale1427 said...

Anyone know where Stratton and Christopher are now?

Sully Sullivan said...

I'm in the picture the picture in the lounge, I'm at the bottom of the picture with dark hair. Also Gary Stratton is on Facebook and has a car shop in Orlando. We have stayed in touch via FB and email. Unknown about where Bob is.

Eric said...

The floor plan for the Polynesian was a great find! I visited the Polynesian twice in the late 1970s and I'm having a hard time comparing the snack bar in the map to what I remember. What I remember is going thru the women's clothing shop, taking a right then taking a left to go into the snack bar, but the floor plan defies that memory. However, this floor plan is apparently from 1971, I was there in 1977 and 1978, and I'm wondering if changes were made during that time. I also remember the snack bar as having no windows, which seems unlikely, considering where it was located. If anybody that remembers the layout of the Polynesian in the late 1970s can clarify this, it would be greatly appreciated.

Unknown said...

I was a soundman at the Central Washington State Fair for these guys back in the late 80's. Where are they now?

scott said...

I've seen that same picture of the "patio" with the Caftan-clad waitress before, but it was credited as being aboard the Eastern Winds. The thing I notice about it is how high the guests seem when you look at the background--like they are elevated somehow.