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You know everything that you think you know about
Hawaii? That island paradise with the luaus and the tiki torches (not to
mention the concrete canyons of Honolulu) ?
Well, you can forget about all that when you visit at
Aulani, Disney's new resort and spa which just opened at Ko Olina, Oahu.
According to veteran Imagineer Joe Rohde, the whole point of this $800 million
project is to celebrate the real Hawaii.
"There's this image of Hawaii, this rambling grass-shacky,
beachy thing that is really not very Hawaiian. The actual culture of Hawaii is
tremendously elegant and has this deep sense of tradition," Rohde explained in
a June 2011 interview with JHM. "And we wanted our Guests to have that
impression from the very moment that they arrive at Aulani."
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Which is why - as you roll up to the entrance of this
combination hotel / Disney Vacation Club destination - you won't find the usual
lush garden loaded with birds-of-paradise (which - FYI - isn't even native to
Hawaii. The crane flower actually comes from South Africa). Instead you'll see
a working taro farm.
"Taro is the staple plant of Hawaii. The plant that feeds
the people," Rohde explained. "Taro is
identified with the culture of Hawaii. Which is why we turned the entire front
of this resort into a beautiful working garden. That's real. That's really
real. That's Hawaii."
"So when does the elegance begin?," you ask. As soon as you
enter Aulani's lobby area, which is known as Maka'ala. Which is the Hawaiian
word for "Open up your eyes and look. If you look, you will see. If you see,
things will happen to you."
"Hawaiian names are not just labels for things. They are
descriptions of what things actually are," Joe continued. "And if you stand in
Aulani's lobby, you will see these fantastic murals and carvings. Many of which
are done by some of Hawaii's contemporary artists. And it's in this place that
we hope that this resort's sense of elegance will first begin to wash over you.
Where you then become aware that the Hawaiian culture is one of perfection, of
beautifully polished objects, of finely, finely finished details."
And let's not forget about the island's natural beauty.
Which Disney's Imagineers deliberately tried to showcase through the careful
positioning of this 21-acre resort.
"As you step out of the lobby onto the balcony, you can see
that Aulani is wrapped around this miniature valley which rolls right out to
the sea," Rohde stated. "And the Imagineers put a lot of effort into making
this part of the resort just as authentic as they possibly could. Just like
with a real Hawaiian valley, it's deep and jungle-y on the high grounds toward
the center. And then this area becomes more desert-like as it rolls past these
huge lava rock-extrusions. Which were deliberately designed & colored to
look like the very old rock that you find on Oahu. Not that black stuff that
you see on the big island of Hawaii."
Of course, Aulani just wouldn't be a Disney resort if there
wasn't some whimsy & magic folded in along the way. Which brings us to the
Menehune Adventure Trail.
"The Menehune are the little people of the Hawaiian island
who build stuff. And the Adventure Trail is where our Guests can play this
interactive game, where they then help the Menehune complete this whole bunch
of tasks that have been left uncompleted around the resort," Joe said. "And you
walk along the Menehune Adventure Trail, the magic will reveal itself. None of
this is big spectacle magic, mind you. It's all very subtle stuff. But the
magic is everywhere. Things that come to life, images that reveal themselves,
sounds that come out of the forest, all revolving around the myths & the
legends & the traditions of Hawaii.
"And what of the Disney characters?," you ask. "Are they
going to be part of the Aulani experience as well?" Yes, but not in the way
that you might expect.
Goofy poses for pictures with Guests as Disney's Aulani Resort & Spa officially opens for business on August 29th. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
"There are character meet-n-greets. Our characters are
present at this resort. But they - like us - are tourists, coming to Hawaii. So
the characters and the manner in which you see them will always in the context
of these characters being visitors like yourself and sort of sharing with you
the experience of being in this wonderful place," Rohde stated.
So what's the take-away here? That Disney's Aulani Resort
& Spa offers its Guests a decidedly different Hawaiian vacation experience.
One that stresses cultural authenticity over a theme park-style experience
while - at the same time - delivering the same level of quality & great
customer service that longtime Disney fans have come to expect from their
previous vacations to the Disneyland & Walt Disney World Resorts as well as
trips on the Disney Cruise Lines.
"Hawaii is not just land sitting out in the ocean. Hawaii is
a bunch of ideas. Hawaii is values. Hawaii is traditions. Hawaii is about
family, it's about unity, it's about doing things together, it's about forming a bond, Hawaii is about perfection, it's about doing
things with purpose and doing them very, very well. Hawaii is about magic, it's
about the belief that there are magic things around you all the time. And
Disney is about these things too," Joe continued.
"So Disney in Hawaii makes sense. Us in Hawaii is a blend of
ideas that fit together very well. Hawaii is about story. We are storytellers,"
Rohde concluded. "And now that we've arrived in the Islands, Aulani I think
will be a blend of what Disney & Hawaii really are. Storytellers. Believers
in perfection. Believers in unity and family. Believers in magic. And Disney
and Hawaii have come together to create with Aulani is something really
special. A vacation experience that's like no other."
Disney's Aulani Resort & Spa has its grand opening on
Today's JHM article was sponsored by Pixie Vacations. If
you'd like to learn more about Aulani (in particular the sorts of
vacation package that Disney is now offering for its first-ever Hawaiian resort
& spa), please click on this link. And the nice folks at Pixie Vacations
can then help you out by getting you a Disney Aulani Quote.
"authentic Hawaiian culture" isn't something most people go to Hawaii for. After going there myself for many years, Hawaii is really a melting pot of Pacific and Asian cultures. At the Luaus, the most popular dances are the Tahitian dance (and more sexier) rather than the authentic Hawaiian hula. I think Disney tried to make a good go of it, but it falls way too short. Much of it is invented or contrived.
From the reviews, the worst thing is the prices of the restaurants and amenities. Eating there is only for the deep pocketed tourist, not most people. The prices for the cabanas are ridiculous. Much of what is in Hawaii is actually reasonably priced. Just don't expect it at the hotels. I might visit when I'm there, but it is much more likelier that I will stay at Waikiki. A real beach is the better Hawaii experience.
@Gimbo, I do see what you mean about not actually being what people come to Hawaii for. BUT I do think it is a very nice idea, though I doubt it will attract many families. I'm worried that it won't do that great, since families will think it isn't "Disney enough" for the price and spend money elsewhere, and couples etc. will think "oh, Disney, it's sure to be crazy and filled with kids" and go somewhere else. It is definitely pricey though!
If you go to Hawaii often (I live in CA but we have family who retired there) it sounds like something refershingly different- I would give it a try, if I had the funds. :)