The Aulani resort is something of a gamble for Disney. It’s far from the known commodity of Disney theme parks, and it is positioning itself as an inclusive destination within a “must explore” destination. Is the gamble paying off? A recent visit revealed evidence that it is. Whit Honea traveled to Aulani to see how Disney does the islands.
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
Ko Olina, Hawai’i
92-1185 Ali’inui Drive
Kapolei, HI 96707
What Disney has been able to create in Ko Olina, Hawai’i is one of the most relaxing and interesting resorts the islands have ever known — it might very well be the best (personal rankings will vary).
Yes, there are character breakfasts and a Mickey Mouse lamp in every room, but other than a portion of the gift shop you’ll be hard-pressed to find any sign of Disney as we know it. That doesn’t mean the Disney touch isn’t there, in fact, it’s everywhere. What Disney does best is tell stories and provide attention to detail. In the case of Aulani, the story is Hawai’i and the details are everywhere.
How Disney Does Hawaii
In creating Aulani, Disney did something that a lot of corporate giants would never consider, which was allowing the locals to be involved in the process every step of the way, often letting Hawaiian custom and tradition dictate decisions that the company would normally handle in a different manner.
The name of the resort, the wonderful art and music throughout the property, the food that is served, and the people that work there — everything and everyone is, or was created by, a local.
One of the cast members (that’s what Disney calls their employees) told me something that summed up the resort quite nicely: “The emphasis of Aulani is big H, and little d.” Meaning, Aulani is primarily about Hawai’i, and the Disney aspect is secondary.
Disney is making sure that you don’t need (or want) to leave the resort while you are on the island — unless you’re going on one of their sponsored excursions, which include whale watching, surf school, cooking lessons, museum trips, storytelling tours, rainforest hikes, and more.
I only left Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa once during my entire visit to Hawai’i, and that was because they made me. They being Disney. Apparently the sea kayaking excursion requires a shuttle to the other side of O’ahu. It was the most beautiful commute I’ve ever made (no offense, 405).
The kayaking was incredible. We saw a sea turtle. That’s a memory, people.
For Couples and Families Alike
Aulani is right on the beach and offers an array of bars, dining and activities, which makes it a great place for couples (I was there by myself, but it looked darn romantic).
It is also a great place for families. Aulani has a mouse-made (see what I did there?) reef filled with fish for supervised snorkeling, two water slides, a lazy river tubing adventure and an interactive (and wet) play area. There is a teen spa and Aunty’s Beach House, which is free for guests and provides daycare for children with all the bells and whistles one would expect from Disney.
In addition, there are a number of “secret” features throughout the property for kids to discover. Whether it is a hidden Mickey, magic keyholes (look in them!), or surprises under furniture, kids (or adults who feel like walking around on their knees) will find treasures everywhere (treasures have no legal tender value and do not require digging). Aulani works on many levels.
FEATURES BUILT INTO RESORT AT KID-HEIGHT
How To Get There
O’ahu is only a five hour flight from LAX. I’ve had longer drives to San Diego (no offense, I-5).
To drive to Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, from Honolulu International Airport:
- Head east 0.3 miles
- Take the left ramp to I-H-1 W 0.3 miles
- Keep left at the fork, follow the signs for Interstate H1 W / Waianae and merge onto I-H-1 W 17.1 miles
- I-H-1 W becomes Farrington Hwy / HI-93 W 1.9 miles
- Take the ramp toward Ko Olina 0.3 miles
- Take a slight right at Ali’inui Drive 1.6 miles
- Arrive at Aulani.
Have you ever wondered how the state of Hawai’i can have interstate highways despite the fact they don’t connect to other states? According to our Adventures by Disney tour guide (Adventures by Disney works with Aulani to provide some amazing trips around the islands) the state has all freeways start and end on military bases, which lets them qualify for federal funding. Well played, Hawai’i.
Whit Honea likes walks on the beach and drinks with little umbrellas in them. He gives virtual hula lessons on his blog Honea Express. Whit was an invited guest of Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, for the purpose of their grand opening and media coverage.