Disneyland, one of the happiest places on Earth, already boasts a pretty impressive resume. With attractions in areas such as Paris, Florida, and Japan, the timeless brand can now add one more exotic location to its list: Hawaii! Though I have never visited the island, it has always been a dream to bronze my increasingly pale skin on one of Hawaii’s many exotic beaches (which, obviously, would include attending a traditional luau…food is never far from my mind). While I must admit that much of Hawaii’s appeal was inspired by the Saved by the Bell episodes that took place there years ago, the addition of a brand new, state of the art Disney resort is just the icing on the pa’i palaoa (Hawaiian for cake)!
The 840 unit resort and spa is located on the island of Oahu, just about an hour from Waikiki. Most notable about the resort is its strong ties to the Hawaiian culture. Even its name, Aulani, comes from a Hawaiian term that means “messenger of a chief or higher authority.” While Disney influences are strewn about the hotel (for instance, each room has a custom lamp featuring Mickey Mouse with a surf board), the main focus in both design and function is celebrating Hawaii. As a language learning advocate, one thing that stuck out to me was the adherence to the Hawaiian language. The Olelo Room lounge has all items labeled in the native language, including chairs (noho) and floor (papahele). Anyone working in the Olelo room will be fluent in Hawaiian and be able to speak with other staff members and other employees of the resort will undergo language and cultural training to keep the experience authentic for guests. You think they’re offering training with the brand new Mango Languages Hawaiian course?
Every last detail, including the landscaping (inspired by an ahupuaa, an ancient Hawaiian land division system that extended from the mountain to the sea) pays homage to its Hawaiian roots. The main theme of Aulani involves canoes and an overall maritime theme, inspired by the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokulea. Joe Rodhe, head of Aulani’s creative crew, says the focus on canoes represents the “whole sense of arrival, journey, and … canoes are this sort of quintessential Hawaiian art form.” A Honolulu native, he recognizes the importance of a focus on the Hawaiian culture and recognizes that guests visits Hawaii “first and foremost for everything Hawaii has to offer” (The Oakland Press, 4 September 2011).
Aulani opened its doors yesterday to guests seeking an upscale experience and is expected to serve clientele from the West Coast and Asia. Free of most of Disney’s popular attractions, the resort seeks a different type of visitor, while still holding true to Disney’s sense of whimsical imagination. Though Hawaii will always hold a special place in my heart as the backdrop for my favorite television series, Lost, Disney’s new Aulani resort may now come in as a close second. So grab your Mickey ears, a lei, and be sure to book your stay at Aulani! Until then, aloha (yes, it means “hello” and “goodbye”… thanks, Miss Congeniality)!
What other locations do you think Disney should consider for future attractions that could offer a similar sense of language and culture?