By Narbeh Minassian
Nestled between the green mountains and clear waters of the Pacific Ocean in Ko Olina, Hawaii is Aulani Disney Resort and Spa. Secluded but not isolated; Aulani is far away enough from the crowds but close enough to be a shuttle ride away from the wonders of O’ahu. Aulani was opened in September 2011, with the aim of becoming a center for Hawaiian culture, a celebration of Hawaiian customs, traditions, and history, with the magic touch of Disney to make the stay there all the more unique. Wherever you find the fingerprints of Walt Disney’s handiwork, you know beyond any doubt that you are in the presence of quality and the fantastical.
It goes without saying that everything Disney does is big, grand, and anything but subtle. However, at Aulani, Disney has taken a different approach and focused on native Hawaiian culture; as Disney spokesman John McClintock has said ‘We’re a storytelling company and when we came to Hawaii, we didn’t come to tell our own stories. We came to tell the stories that already exist here.’
Aulani is a center for Hawaiian culture. Its biggest aim and true raison d’être is to demonstrate and preserve all that is Hawaiian. This is a theme that runs through the entire complex, starting with their employment policy; all employees must speak the Hawaiian language and have a strong grasp on and knowledge of Hawaii’s history and traditions. Everything from the wood used to the food served is locally provided and decorated in a quintessential Hawaiian style.
Moreover, Aulani boasts the largest collection of contemporary Hawaiian art in the state, which you will find all over the hotel, in the rooms and in the lobbies, which are designed under the inspiration of traditional Hawaiian houses; built using timber and thatch to reflect the native techniques. If that wasn’t enough, Aulani includes interactive pads that give you the A-Z on the Hawaiian story.
Even the Spa is very finely tuned into the Hawaiian waves, offering locally inspired treatments such as ‘lomilomi,’ which is a traditional Hawaiian massage that stimulates healing, a technique that has been honed and perfected over the course of centuries. Aulani offers activities that tie in specifically to Hawaiian customs; these include Hawaiian craft lessons taught by local experts, learning to perform the most iconic of Hawaiian dances, the Hula, at the ‘Ohana Hula, or practise the Ukelele under the guidance of skilled players.
Their outdoors area is exactly what you would expect from a Hawaiian resort; pristine waters, white sand, and palm trees. Their standout feature however is without question their 8,200 square feet, multi-million dollar, world-class pool complex. This complex is home to the island’s only snorkelling lagoon, at which you can get a close-up look at the rich and teeming aquatic life. There are numerous slides and adventures at the pool. The most exciting of which is probably the Volcanic Vertical at the Waikolohe pool, although the ‘extreme Waikolohe stream is just as likely to quench your thrill thirst with rapid twists through caverns.
For the calmer swimmers, there is a much more serene stream through a lazy river that glides gently along the Hawaiian landscape; there is also Wailana pool, which offers a peaceful retreat from the excitement of the main pools. The water activities are very interactive, particularly at Waikolohe valley, where you can experience surfing, wave riding, dancing, and much more.
Disney takes more of a laid back approach relative to other Disney resorts, as Mr. McClintock said, Disney is essentially the mouth piece for a largely untold or unknown story; this is perfectly exemplified by the Mo’Olelo storytelling activity,as guests of all ages gather around a traditional fire pit set up for a night of enchanting tales— complete with puppetry and magical effects—led by ‘Uncle’, a master storyteller and the Resort’s Hawaiian elder. However, Disney itself is still very much present at this resort. The Disney characters can be found around the hotel, at breakfast, by the pool, or just walking around, and they are always willing to take pictures and sign autographs. The rooms have quilts with Micky Mouse’s face quite subtly on it, and statues and carvings can be found by the pool area resembling some of the favorites of the Disney family.
Mention should also be made of their fine dining restaurant, Ama’Ama. Here, gourmet chefs use only the freshest of local ingredients and Hawaiian flavors to create dishes that are juxtaposition between the traditional and the modern. And conveniently, they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It is perhaps a great testament to the wealth and value of Hawaiian traditions and culture that Disney decided to choose it as the theme of its latest resort. This is the most imaginative and creative way of championing what is one of the most unmistakable cultures in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is done in a way only Disney could do. Aulani’s very ostensive aim means that this is a resort for all ages and all people. •
92-1185 Aliinui Dr.
Kapolei, HI 96707