“Hark, the jungle drums are calling.”
That’s how Walt Disney introduced the Tahitian Terrace dancers from Disneyland in an episode of the Magical World of Disney television show many years ago. If you’re curious, you can still see the old clip. You will hear the drums, watch the Tahitian hula dancers, and catch the ooos and aaahs of the guests. Moments later, a dancer walks on fire to the amazement of the crowd.
That fire dancer was none other than Tahiti Gil’s uncle.
Tahiti Gil is the man behind the Faré Mananui, the all-out tiki AirBnb located in Kissimmee, Florida. Designed and built with the expert eye of Typhoon Tommy, this tropical hideaway is minutes from Walt Disney World. It all started with a call from Gil – “Will you tiki out my place?” When Typhoon Tommy first heard the question, he thought it was one room, but when Tahiti Gil responded with “no, a whole house,” it became clear that something phenomenal was about to take place. Tommy’s reputation as the designer of the Suffering Bastard and other tiki spaces was well-established. Tahiti Gil had an amazing collection of tiki-era family heirlooms. By combining forces, the two men could create a perfect escape for Disney and Tiki Ohana. And that, they did. Today, the Faré Mananui is one of the most popular destinations on AirBnb. Like Disney, you better make your reservations early.
Tahiti Gil is an artist and tattooer, a man of nostaglia, and a lover of all things tiki, Disney, or mid-century modern. He’s the third-generation owner of Tahiti Felix’s, the second oldest tattoo shop in the United States, which dates back to 1949 and has tattooed many a GI. Gil’s father worked for Disney Studios. Tahiti Felix, Gil’s sister’s father in law, was the tattoo artist and the leader of the Regal Tahitians. Gil’s uncle was fire dancer at Disneyland’s Tahitian Terrace, and his sister was a dancer at the grand opening ceremonies at the Polynesian Resort.
Typhoon Tommy is a master craftsman and designer. Tommy’s parents were Disney lovers, and he has carried on that tradition. His parents honeymooned at the Polynesian. Tommy’s birth was announced at the Polynesian. Many years later, Tommy proposed to his wife at the Polynesian. Growing up in California, he remembers being inspired by the details on the set design of the Matterhorn, which likely led to his career in design. Furthermore, Typhoon Tommy’s chosen tiki name is a nod to the song “A Whale of a Tale” from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
When you stay at the Mananui, you’ll quickly realize that you’re surrounded by family stories and memories. You’ll see the drum that was played in the Regal Tahitians. You’ll see pictures of uncles and sisters who danced at the Tahitian Terrace. You’ll admire tikis that were carved for Tahiti Felix. There is a strong sense of Ohana.
You’ll also share Tahiti Gil and Typhoon Tommy’s deep love for Disney. You’ll notice the sheet music for all the songs that are sung in the Enchanted Tiki Room surrounding your bed. You’ll find hidden clues (do not pull!) that reference Disney rides and attractions. You’ll take a selfie in the bathroom that is a replica of the selfie spot bathroom in Trader Sam’s, complete with the identical mirrors, lamps, and wallpaper. There are layers upon layers of Disney memorabilia.
I felt fortunate to spend a few days at the Faré Mananui. Tommy shared that one of his father’s favorite things to do when visiting is to sit and watch 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on the (made to look like) vintage television set. The idea sounded perfect, so I had to do the same. After my long and fun day at the Magic Kingdom, I poured myself a drink, curled up on the sofa and watched Captain Nemo avenge the wrongs of the world one more time.
I knew I was in a happy place – I had Ohana all around me.