I got a small taste of Tiki Caliente for the first time last year, when I made a 32 (yes 32) hour trek out to Palm Springs from my home in Dallas. By the time I caught my flight back, I knew I would have to return to experience the event in its entirety, and this year, I got to make that dream a reality. Even better still, I got to take Todd with me this time. We were so amped up, and after getting our feet wet with a night at the Tiki Ti, we headed out to Palm Springs to rest up and prepare for the four days that followed.
From the moment we registered the next day until the last time we left the resort, it was an absolute blast. The event producer, Rory Snyder, really outdid himself with this year’s event. So many wonderful musical acts, crazy fun room parties, and the kind of camaraderie you can only find in the world of Tiki. We met some fantastic new friends, made lots of good memories, and drank a LOT of rum! I’m super excited to share some of the highlights of our vacation.
Day 1 started out with a visit to the resort early to pick up our wristbands, event mug, and buy some swag. We walked around a little bit to scope out some of the action, and then decided to take a break and visit the Bootlegger Tiki, and my friend Chad Austin. Chad was the man responsible for my venture into cocktails, as he gave me the Mai Tai recipe that I used to make my first drink back at home. Big shout out to him for being so awesome and generous with his knowledge. No visit to Palm Springs is complete without a visit to Bootlegger Tiki. The drinks are sublime, and made with the precision and care of a damn surgeon. My drink of choice was a Demerara Dry Float, which came with a “shot of danger”…an amazingly delicious passionfruit-heavy drink, but not a drink to take lightly (or too fast)!
After heading back to the Caliente Tropics, we ordered some drinks, and had a blast watching DJ Baz’s Korla Pandit tribute to “Misirlou”. It was so entertaining – singing, dancing, and even a sing-along with a bouncing ball. After that, came the start of many room parties, some with utterly hilarious themes, including one tribute to the failed FYRE festival, with a white disaster tent cover, and all. Our evening ended with a crazy performance by TikiTronic, which got the crowd moving!
We spent most of the first half of day two on the grounds of the tropics, perusing the vendors who were set up, and meeting some new friends. The room parties kicked off once again around 1 PM. The one called “Just Keep Swimming” was a crazy sensory experience! Music from “The Little Mermaid” played on the speakers, while guests were encouraged to play “Finding Rory” throughout the room. Bubbles, streamers, and delicious cocktails entertained everyone who walked through the door.
After getting our room party fix, we decided to stop in at the Tonga Hut for some drinks, and to see our good friend Lawrence, who works there. We were just in time for happy hour Mai Tais, which was convenient. We hung out on the balcony, and people-watched while we sipped our drinks. If you’ve never been to the Tonga Hut, you are missing out. They have a great menu of balanced drinks, and delicious food. The balcony area is a perfect place to kick back and enjoy a nice view, and they have beautiful Witco art inside, including in the “secret room”. Be sure to ask about it when you go!
After several rounds of drinks, we went back to the Tropics to catch the evening entertainment. Among the highlights were Marina, the Fire-Eating Mermaid, who performed with Jason Lee and the R.I.P. Tides, and the Lost At Sea Room Party (complete with a ship’s wheel). We finished up at the Tonga Hut’s awesome room party, How to Stuff A Wild Bikini. The room had a fun beach setting, beach party videos projected on the wall, and squirt guns filled with rum. I’ll just leave it at that!
Saturday (Day 3) started out much like Friday, with more room parties to get us warmed up (although the heat did a good job of that anyway). First up was the Hollywood Lanai, which won a contest among room parties for the best cocktail. Indeed, it was fantastic – and they used actual Luxardo cherries in their garnish. Yum! The Curse Of The Lost Spirits room was super fun, with the hosts dressed in their Scooby-Doo finest. After visiting the room parties, we went down to check out the amazing Handpainted Mug Show. The Tiki Caliente event mug was sent to various talented tiki artists, with each painting it or styling it in their own fashion. The result was an incredibly varied and awesome collection of mugs, all which went up for auction at the event.
My friend Adrian of the Inside The Desert Oasis Room podcast was on hand to do a live broadcast from inside the Tropics. A bunch of us got up there to introduce ourselves, and answer all kinds of fun questions for prizes, like what crime we’d commit if we knew we would get away with it without consequence. After the podcast was over, it was time to get ready for one of the highlights of the week – the “Amongst The Tikis” symposium, given by none other than the artist Shag. The talk focused on the role of tiki in Shag’s upbringing, and art. We got to see lots of fun photos of Shag during childhood, as well as photos of some of the cool places he lived in and visited while in Hawaii. It’s the second Shag symposium I’ve been to, and he is a wonderful and engaging speaker. I was kind of sad when the talk was over! Todd and I did get to say hello to him afterward, and have him sign a print he did that was released that day.
We decided to head out and get some dinner at the Tonga Hut again with some new friends we made on the Buzz bus (shout out to Scott McLean & his family), and got to sit in the private room, too, which was way fun. Incidentally, you meet all kinds of interesting characters on the Buzz bus. It kind of makes the experience all the more fun – think of it as mobile people-watching.
When we returned, it was time for more room parties! One of them was outdoors, and featured a pig Elvis, a replica of the Tropics entrance, and an erupting volcano. We also got paid a visit by Elvis himself, complete with a bamboo bicycle that powered a drink blender. It was sheer insanity, and I loved every minute of it. We also managed to catch Meshuggah Beach Party, a Jewish surf band, who performed in full-on rabbi regalia. By this time, we were both feeling pretty good, so it was nice to dance some of it off. They were so much fun to watch – it’s not every day you get to hear a surf rock version of “Hava Nagila”. There was even a kick line that a few of us started – which is challenging to synchronize, even before the drinks are involved!
The final event of the night was the Tonga Hut’s 2nd night of their “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” room party. What made it even more fun was that we got the chance to help out. We were given some water guns filled with Don Q rum, and tasked with squirting arriving attendees in the mouth. It was incredibly fun! It was an honor to help my friend Marie, the Tonga Hut’s head mixologist. I met her during one of my earliest visits to Palm Springs, and she has a special place in my heart, thanks to her kindness.
We were pretty partied out after Saturday night. We did return to the resort the next day to make sure we didn’t miss anything vendor-wise, then stayed an extra day to decompress. We had such a wonderful time, and we’re excited at the prospect of returning next year for the 10-year anniversary. In closing, I’ll leave you a really awesome photo of the Tiki Caliente ohana, taken by the amazing Kari Hendler of Poly Hai. Aloha, friends!
Will I see you next year? I hope so!
Palm Springs, CA