Disney Goes Hawaiian, Part 3:
A Closer Look
So far this month, I’ve written two articles about Disney’s announced DVC-deluxe hotel combination resort at O‘ahu’s Ko Olina Resort development. The first was What to Expect. The second was What not to Expect. A few days ago, on October 16, Disney showed off a model of the new resort to an audience of politicians and press on O‘ahu. Now you can see the details here.
Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, October 21, 2008    
Disney's resort at Ko Olina in Hawai‘i
Disney shares plans for Hawai‘i resort with Honolulu Mayor: Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo (right) shared plans for its future resort in Hawai‘i with Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann (second from right) today. Also pictured (from left) is Djuan Rivers, Vice President, Disney Vacation Club and Resort, Hawai‘i and Councilman Todd Apo. Scheduled to open in 2011, the expansive family resort will be located in the picturesque Ko Olina area on the western side of O‘ahu and will include 350 hotel rooms and 480 villas for Disney Vacation Club, Disney’s growing timeshare business.

No. I wasn’t at the October 16 event. The photo above and its caption are courtesy of Disney Vacation Club. The event took place at Kapolei Hale, a government building in the growing city of Kapolei near the Ko Olina Resort and Marina. You might have seen the photo in news accounts that appeared in print and on the Internet soon after the event.

I wish I had been at the event because that would mean that I was in Hawai‘i instead of northeastern Illinois last week. But I can’t complain. I’ve been to Hawai‘i several times, and I’m looking forward to our next trip to the Aloha State in 2009.

There are many good reasons why visitors (and residents) love Hawai‘i. The islands are absolutely beautiful, with landscapes ranging from tropical rain forests to arid deserts—and even a few snow-capped mountains in the winter. Although part of the United States, the islands have a history and culture that’s completely different from the mainland. Best of all, the people are the friendliest I’ve encountered anywhere—and not just the people who have to be nice because they rely on tips for their income.

It turns out that the versions of the publicity photos that appeared on the Internet were reduced (including the first photo in this article). By “zooming in” on sections of the publicity photos, we can get a better idea of what Disney is planning.

Disney's resort at Ko Olina in Hawai‘i
A lobby that looks like a Polynesian canoe house connects the two towers.

The model shows two high-rise towers, connected by what appears to be a Hawaiian-themed lobby. The lobby structure’s soaring roofline suggests a soaring interior. The Hawaiian them carries over to the towers and the rest of the resort.

Here’s what the Honolulu Advertiser (a major newspaper, despite it name) wrote about how Disney will present the Hawaiian theme:

Wing Chao, executive vice president of master planning, architecture and design at Walt Disney Imagineering, provided a mini-tour of what to expect using an intricately crafted model of the project. He painted a picture of a place that honors Hawaiian culture but splashes in “some Disney magic.”
“It’s for family fun,” he said, but will take time to accurately reflect Hawai‘i’s culture and history. The grounds are intended to include indigenous plants, a taro lo‘i and a thatched 50-foot-high canoe house.

Disney announced that the resort will have 350 hotel rooms and 480 two-bedroom Disney Vacation Club villas. The model shows that the tower on the right side of the photo is larger than the other one. That suggests that the tower on the right will be the Disney Vacation Club building, while the tower on the left will be the deluxe hotel. The same lobby would serve both—just as Disney’s BoardWalk Inn is on the left and Disney’s BoardWalk Villas Resort is on the right when viewed from Crescent Lake, with a shared lobby connecting them.

Disney's resort at Ko Olina in Hawai‘i
Zooming in on the resort’s water feature.

The photo above provides a closer look at the most striking feature of the resort—its spectacular pool. It looks more like water park than a hotel pool. The centerpiece is a Disney re-creation of a volcanic caldera. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, Wing Chao described a tube slide through “rapids, a bubbling pool, special effects and a lot of surprising elements” and “a saltwater snorkeling lagoon that will feature native fish and ‘some elements of Disney characters.’”

Disney's resort at Ko Olina in Hawai‘i
The model shows a large, low-rise building facing the Ko Olina walkway and beach.

The building closest to the Ko Olina waterfront walkway appears to be a restaurant. If so, that’s a smart move. Disney has an opportunity to sell meals not only to their own guests, but also to the guests of the other resorts in walking distance. In comparison, the restaurants of the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort next door are hidden from the Ko Olina walkway. It takes a trek through the pool area to find the restaurants.

Disney’s beachfront restaurant—if that’s what it is—will have spectacular sunset views.

Disney's resort at Ko Olina in Hawai‘i
The model reveals that the resort will have parking structures on the island view sides.

The Imagineers made the most of the 21-acre site. The two towers are set back on the site, with the buildings arranged so that the majority of rooms should have views of the ocean. We can get a pretty good idea of what the views will be by looking at an existing resort—Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club—at the other end of the Ko Olina Resort development.

Marriott's resort at Ko Olina in Hawai‘i
Here’s an example of an ocean view from a villa at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club.

Oceanfront resorts in Hawai‘i usually have at least two view categories, often called “ocean view” and “island view.” Some resorts also have “ocean front” rooms, which are closer to the ocean and face directly toward it. Rooms on the ocean side, but below tops of the palm tress, are often called “pool view,” or “garden view.”

Marriott's resort at Ko Olina in Hawai‘i
Island-view villas at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club have a pleasant view too.

Rooms without a view of the ocean are sometimes called “mountain view” or “city view.” Of course, it remains to be seen how Disney chooses to categorize the rooms.

As far as land views go, the ones at Ko Olina aren’t too bad. But as nice as the views of the golf course, the hills, and the lights of the Kapolei are, they still can’t compare with views of the vast Pacific Ocean.

Marriott's resort at Ko Olina in Hawai‘i
Some balconies at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club are right above the parking structures.

As the picture above shows, the worst balconies at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club overlook the parking structures. The model of the Disney resort suggests that some Disney rooms will have similar balconies. The good news is that Disney can create a demand for such rooms and villas by setting the room pricing and the DVC villa point charts appropriately.

Disney's resort at Ko Olina in Hawai‘i
Djuan Rivers, Todd Apo, Mufi Hannemann, and Jay Rasulo give the shaka sign.

The shaka sign—extending the pinky and thumb from a loose fist—is the Hawaiian hand gesture of approval.

You may wonder why the mayor and a councilman from Honolulu are at an event in Kapolei. When most people think of Honolulu, they think of a city of high-rise buildings 25 miles from the Ko Olina Resort. Or perhaps they think of Honolulu’s famous Waikiki Beach. However, the entire island of O‘ahu is governed as the City and County of Honolulu.

So if you hear anyone complain that Disney should have chosen Honolulu as the site for their Hawaiian resort, you can reply that that’s what Disney did—they just picked a particularly great part of it.

There’s more to Honolulu than Waikiki
There’s more to Honolulu than Waikiki.

Disney Goes Hawaiian, 4
Disney Goes Hawaiian, 2

© 2008 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated December 10, 2009.

All Disney Vacation Club publicity photos and sections of the photos : © 2008 Disney.
Three photos at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club: Werner Weiss, 2007.
Photos at Waikiki: Werner Weiss, 2007.