A SIDE TRIP FROM
Yesterland
Disney Goes Hawaiian, Part 20:
Aulani Opens!

This is my 20th article in this series since The Walt Disney Company announced plans to build a spectacular resort on a 21-acre oceanfront site on the island of O‘ahu. If you’ve followed this series, you’ve watched Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai‘i, go from concept art to reality.

Yesterday, on August 29, Aulani opened for business, as planned, welcoming the first Disney Vacation Club members and paying hotel guests. I wish I could I say that I was one of them—but I’m in my basement in the Chicago suburbs. (I’ll stay at Aulani some day.)

Mark Hickson, a blogger and former Disney Imagineer, was very kind to take these great photos for the readers of Yesterland. These are all opening day photos.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, August 30, 2011


Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

The Aulani sign facing the street

What a difference a month makes! Last month, Aulani was still surrounded by a tall, dark green construction wall with “Keep Out” signs. Now Aulani is welcoming overnight guests, dining guests, and curious visitors.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Entrance building

Yesterday was the opening of Aulani. Honolulu television and print reporters showed up to cover the event. They were able to talk with Tom Staggs (Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts) and Aulani creative lead Joe Rohde (Senior Vice President, Creative, Walt Disney Imagineering). Early-rising reporters covered a sunrise ceremony with traditional Hawaiian chants and the antics of “visiting Disney characters” Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Chip ’n’ Dale.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Part of the huge collection of art by local artists

However, apparently yesterday was just the opening, not the Grand Opening, of Aulani. The official Disney Parks Blog announced that the Grand Opening ceremonies will happen in September.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Front desk

Reports said that guests showed up at midnight and the front desk began checking guests in at 3:00 a.m.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Makahiki buffet restaurant

The restaurants, lounges, and quick service locations opened yesterday too.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

A closer look at art in the Makahiki restaurant

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Olelo Room

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Hawaiian vocabulary lessons in the ‘Olelo Room

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Art and flair everywhere

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Top of the Waikolohe Valley

Our tour of Aulani continues outside, where seven acres of pools and other water play await registered Aulani guests—and only registered Aulani guests.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Walkway through the Waikolohe Valley

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Friendly advice

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Ceremonial area

What’s the meaning of the drums and gourds? I don’t know—but you can be sure there is a meaning and that Aulani guests will be able to learn what it is.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Menehune Bridge

When Disney announced plans to develop a major resort at Ko Olina, there was concern that Disney would either ignore or “Disneyfy” the fragile culture of Hawai‘i. Instead, Disney has embraced Hawai‘i as a living culture to be celebrated and shared with Aulani guests.

Being respectful of the culture and portraying it accurately doesn’t mean eliminating all fun. The Menehune are the legendary “little people” of Hawai‘i, capable of doing amazing things—such as building the water playground at Aulani—and that looks like a lot of fun.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Hidden Menehune

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Amazing rockwork

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Big pool

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

The Lava Shack

The Lava Shack is a Quick Service food facility located within the Pu‘u Kilo volcanic outcropping, which also serves as the starting point for the water slides. Just as the rocks at Aulani were designed to look as if they’ve been there for a long time, the Lava Shack is designed to look as if it has been built into a cave many decades ago. The official Aulani website says, ”Get a quick snack or try a Hawaiian plate lunch. Choose from entrees like cold fried chicken, cured meats, cheeses and chilled miso-glazed salmon.” There’s also a refillable mug station.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Staying dry while enjoying Rainbow Reef

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Lazy river

Everything looks so inviting in these photos. I decided to look into the price of staying at Aulani. Keep in mind that Aulani is a combination property with deluxe hotels rooms and Disney Vacation Club (DVC) “villas.” For this article, I looked into hotel pricing.

I went to Disney’s official Aulani website and specified two adults and no children for seven nights beginning Wednesday, February 1, 2012.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

Fire pit overlooking Ko Olina Lagoon 1

The system told me that the least expensive room would be $449.00 per night. For seven nights, it would be $3,143.00. Tax would add another $438.83, for a grand total of $3,581.83 including tax (but without meals, airfare, a rental car, travel insurance). This would give me a Standard View room. According to the website, “Standard View rooms offer a view of the conference center, parking lot or parking garage from the room or balcony.”

If I wanted a better view, I could move up the food chain from Standard View room to Island Gardens View room, Poolside Gardens View room, Partial Ocean View room, and, best of all, an Ocean View room. I skipped the intermediate steps and went straight to Ocean View. According to the website, “Ocean View rooms offer at least a partial view of the ocean from the room or balcony.” The nightly rate shot up to $609.00 per night. With tax, the grand total for seven nights now came to $4,858.

The website also offered Parlor Suites, the Lei Hulu Suite, and the ‘Ahu ‘Ula Suite. As long as I was playing “what if,” I decided to price out the ‘Ahu ‘Ula Suite. According to the website, “this suite offers 1,910 square feet of space and at least a partial view of the ocean from the room or balcony.” Sounds great! The cost came up as $3,050.00 per night, for a grand total of $24,330.95 for seven nights including tax.

I could buy a pretty nice car for $24,330.95.

Aulani at Ko Olina at Yesterland.com

It is a Disney resort!

Yes, Aulani is expensive. But top-notch Hawaiian resorts are expensive, and Aulani has more to offer than most other Hawaiian resorts—especially for families.

Speaking of families, those with one or two children no older than 17 are in luck. All rooms sleep four, and there’s no extra charge for the kids. But there’s bad news if the kids are older than 17 (like my two kids in college); when I specified four adults, the $449.00 Standard View room jumped to $649.00 per night. There’s also bad news for families with three children; the least expensive option for a family of five is a Partial Ocean View Parlor Suite at $1,555.00 per night plus tax. Ouch!

 
About the Photographer

The photos in this article are by Mark Hickson, a former Disney Imagineer who now lives and works in Hawai‘i. (Mark, thank you!)

Disney by Mark

You can see more of Mark’s photos, videos, and insight about Disney at his blog, Disney by Mark.

 

To watch Aulani go from concept art to reality, take a look at some of the earlier articles in this series:

 

Click here to discuss this page on the Yesterland Discussion Forum at MiceChat!


Disney Goes Hawaiian, 21
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© 2011 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated November 25, 2011.

All photos by Mark Hickson, August 29, 2011.