Aloha Aulani - Welcome To Disney's New Hawaiian Resort
by, 09-24-2011 at 11:16 AM
Aloha! You’ll hear that a lot at Aulani, Disney’s new Resort and Spa in Oahu, Hawaii. The cast members here are the friendliest we have experienced and not just quick to say hello, but to strike up conversations and get to know you as well. As we write this, we’re packed and getting ready to leave the resort. No less than a dozen cast members have already hugged us, wished us a quick return, and one even cried. Aulani’s heart and soul is most definitely its extraordinary people.
Perched on a perfect man-made beach in Ko Olina, the Aulani hotel immediately catches your eye with its strikingly unique architecture. Unlike most hotels on the islands, Aulani strives to be classically Hawaiian in all aspects of its design. Much like the World Showcase pavilions at Epcot, Disney has distilled the key looks and ideas that best represent the people and places of Hawaii and have translated that into the design and entertainment of the resort.
With luxurious hotel rooms, two table service restaurants, three full service lounges, a quick service counter, snack shacks, shopping, two free-form pools, two water park quality slides (a tube slide and a body slide), a snorkeling pool, stingray encounter, fantastic lazy river, children’s water playground, hot tubs, fully staffed and entertaining teen and kids centers, activities, tours, world class spa and one of the most beautiful beaches with stunning ocean views, Aulani seemingly has it all. If you are trying to equate the Aulani experience to other Disney resorts, it is a bit of a cross between a stay at one of Disney World's deluxe hotels (Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Animal Kingdom Lodge, etc) and the Disney Cruise Line. Most noticeably absent is proximity to a Disney theme park, but in its place is a whole tropical island.
Oahu is home to Hawaii’s largest city, Honolulu, and has many famous places you've no doubt heard of such as Perl Harbor, Waikiki, Diamond Head and the North Shore. It isn’t our favorite of the Hawaiian islands, but it was a good choice by Disney as Honolulu has the best airport access and amenities for the broadest range of travelers. Aulani is about a 30 minute drive from Honolulu International airport in a more remote and relaxing location. Yet, it is still within half an hour from the big city and within an hour of most of the hundreds of activities on the island.
It should be noted that Aulani is not a traditional Disney resort. Yes, it was imagineered within an inch of its life, true that it contains the best of what Disney has learned from designing dozens of other resorts and cruise ships, you’ll still find Mickey and Minnie, but you won’t feel like you are staying at Disneyland. Aulani is a much more authentic ‘Hawaiian’ experience than you might imagine. The Hawaiian spirit and culture is baked right into the very fibers of this resort. And that’s a good thing. You'll come away from Aulani with a better understanding of the Hawaiian people, their history, ecology, traditions, and even their language. Disney has downplayed their own culture to shine the spotlight on Hawaii. Even the name of the resort has moved the "Disney" to after the Hawaiian name "Aulani" - the official name is Aulani a Disney Hotel and Spa. The word Aulani means "The place that speaks for the great ones," and it lives up to its name.
In the coming weeks, we’ll detail and give our thoughts, opinions, tips and photos of the rooms, entertainment, dining, pools, beach, spa, and child care options of Aulani. Today, we’d like to share some images from the grand opening celebration which was packed with Disney’s most notable executives and some wonderful entertainment.
In a sign from above that the grand opening would be a special one, a rainbow suddenly appeared in the sky above one of the hotel towers just as the ceremony was about to begin. The crowd was electrified by this auspicious omen.
Bob Iger (Disney’s CEO), Tom Staggs (President Disney Parks and Resorts), and Joe Rhode (Executive Designer and Vice President Creative) have much to be proud of and they were obviously happy to show off their new jewel. To celebrate, they built a little stage on the beach with the Aulani herself as the backdrop. We'd like to share some images and videos of the grand event with you.
Don't miss the rest of our Aulani series (including our honest opinions about the resort and suggestions for making an Aulani trip more affordable). You won't find a better guide anywhere else:
Keali’i Reichel, one of Hawai`i’s most popular artists, performed some soul thumping songs and chants
singing When you Wish Upon a Star in Hawaiian
From left to right - Bob Iger, Lehua Kalima, Tom Staggs, Keali’i Reichel and Minnie Mouse
The cast of the resort waving banners on the balconies of both towers are given the spotlight
Bob and Tom perform a traditional Hawaiian blessing
Bob and Tom prepare to hand the ceremonial bowl (mixed with Ko Olina sand and pixie dust - we don't make this stuff up) to Disney Resorts Hawaii vice president Djuan Rivers.
- Rooms in Paradise - Staying at Aulani
- Water Water Everywhere - The Pools, Spas and Beaches of Aulani
- Dining at Aulani - Tables in Wonderland
- Activities and Child Care at Aulani
- Making Aulani Affordable-ish
For assistance with an Aulani vacation, contact MiceChat's approved travel partner, Fairy Godmother Travel.
Fishbulb is a Disney reporter and photographer who edits MiceChat's weekly In The Parks column and takes many of the photos you see on this site. He has recently joined Fairy Godmother Travel as a Travel Adviser for Disneyland and Hawaii vacations. If you have questions about Aulani or Disneyland or would like assistance planning a magical vacation, please contact Fairy Godmother Travel.
Disclosure: Portions of travel to Aulani were subsidized by the Walt Disney Company, though MiceChat incurred significant expense to bring you this coverage.