Disney Goes Hawaiian, Part 4:
Ground Breaking and Blessing
Disney Ko Olina porte-cochère rendering: © Disney
Artist concept for the porte-cochère and the Hale Aloha lobby structure  (rendering © Disney)

In October 2008, I wrote three articles about Disney’s resort at O‘ahu’s Ko Olina Resort & Marina. The first was What to Expect. The second was What not to Expect. The third was A Closer Look. The ground breaking, which included a traditional Hawaiian blessing and entertainment, took place yesterday.
Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, November 20, 2008    

Let’s start with the Disney press release about the event and the resort. Be sure to read the “Planned Resort Features” section—especially about the water feature.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts News Release

Disney Resort on O‘ahu Scheduled to Open in 2011

O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, November 19, 2008 – Walt Disney Parks and Resorts broke ground for its first family destination resort in Hawai‘i today with a traditional Hawaiian blessing ceremony on its 21-acre oceanfront property, located at the Ko Olina Resort & Marina development on the western side of O‘ahu. Scheduled to open in 2011, the new family friendly destination will overlook breathtaking crystal blue lagoons and white sand beaches and is planned to include 350 hotel rooms and 480 Disney Vacation Club timeshare villas.

“This Disney destination resort will provide a unique way for families to experience Hawai‘i,” said Jay Rasulo, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “By blending Disney’s high standard of guest service and creative storytelling, we’ll create a place where all family members can discover the wonder of these special islands.”

Rasulo noted that Disney chose to build a resort on O‘ahu due to the international popularity of Hawai‘i as a family vacation destination. Hawai‘i is among the top vacation choices of Disney Vacation Club members following Disney’s theme park destinations.

Several of Hawai‘i’s elected officials and community leaders welcomed Disney to O‘ahu at the ground blessing ceremony, including Lieutenant Governor James R. “Duke” Aiona, Jr.

“We’re excited for this project to begin, knowing the family appeal of both Hawai‘i and Disney,” Aiona said. “We’re confident this resort will attract guests from the mainland and Asia because of the natural beauty of Hawai‘i and Disney’s reputation for delivering unparalleled family experiences.”

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa also attended the ground blessing and said, “From the moment Disney announced that it was purchasing property on O‘ahu, they have shown an interest in our community and have demonstrated they understand the spirit of aloha that we hold dear in our state. I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome Disney to Hawai‘i as a new neighbor and employer.”

Planned Resort Features

Rasulo noted that plans call for the resort to be built to engage every member of the family, from parents to children, teens and grandparents. “This resort will be a place where families can escape to reconnect and create lifelong memories,” Rasulo said. “We have kept this vision in mind throughout the design.” Plans call for an expansive pool and water play area, an 18,000 square-foot spa, a wedding lawn, an 8,000 square-foot convention center, a children’s club and spectacular dining at two restaurants—one of which will provide a stunning view of the ocean.

The design also calls for activities and amenities that aim to engage every member of the family. At the resort’s signature water way, for example, family friendly tubes and body slides will weave through volcanic rockwork and engage an iconic caldera volcano, while a nearby wading pool gives parents with toddlers a welcoming alternative to the sprawling zero-entry fun pool. In addition, more adventurous family members will find vibrant fish species in a saltwater snorkel lagoon.

Beyond activities for the whole family, the resort is being designed to respect and connect with the local culture of the Hawaiian islands. During the past year, the Walt Disney Imagineering team has been researching Hawai‘i and working with local architects and cultural experts as part of the resort’s creative design process. The resulting design is a village celebrating the Hawaiian customs and traditions that lead to a life filled with joy and in harmony with the natural world. To further incorporate Hawaiian traditions, cultural programming in the areas of environmental education, music, dance, history, and arts and crafts; a story-driven, technology-enabled adventure game; and other surprises come together to create a Hawaiian destination that’s uniquely Disney.

Additionally, Hawai‘i’s aloha spirit will influence the many intricate details for which Disney resorts are famous, with stories woven into the architecture, interiors, art, graphics and three planned signature gardens all brought to life through carefully selected colors, patterns, materials and forms. Wood, thatch, lava stone and coral will be among the materials represented in the resort’s two 15-story guestroom towers, each oriented perpendicular to the ocean to maximize ocean views from the strategically angled guest rooms. Façade murals will add to the distinctive look of each tower and will begin to portray some of the stories and legends of the islands.

At the heart of the resort, an open-air lobby building—dubbed Hale Aloha—will draw its design inspiration from a traditional Hawaiian canoe house, visually connecting families to the sea and beyond. Window designs, wall graphics and other details will welcome families with tales of adventure, myth, legend and more, while twin streams flow through the building before uniting as a single cascade into the center garden below.

In October, Disney shared design plans for the new resort with Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who is looking forward to the opening of the project in 2011.

“From my first meeting with Disney executives in California, to subsequent sessions in Honolulu, I continue to be impressed with the effort and the time Disney has put into researching Hawai‘i,” Mayor Hannemann said. “Disney leaders have met with Hawaiian cultural experts to gain an understanding and appreciation of our host culture. The end result will be a resort that local residents will be proud to have on our island, and it will be a family attraction that our residents and visitors will find enjoyable and meaningful.”

Disney Vacation Club

Part of the Disney resort hotel in Ko Olina will be dedicated to Disney Vacation Club, a timeshare program that helps families enjoy flexibility and savings on vacations for decades to come. By becoming a member of Disney Vacation Club, families can enjoy vacations at Disney destinations worldwide as well as more than 500 other popular Member Getaways vacation locations around the globe.

Disney Vacation Club accommodations blend Disney’s famed attention to storytelling detail with all the comforts of home. From well-appointed studios equipped with convenient kitchenettes to sprawling, one-, two- and three-bedroom villas complete with full-size kitchens, washers and dryers, luxury tubs and other homelike amenities, Disney Vacation Club Resorts create flexible options to meet the needs of thousands of families from around the world.

Since its inception in 1991, Disney Vacation Club has grown to serve more than 350,000 individual members from approximately 100 countries and all 50 states.

I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed.

Disney also issued three promotional photographs, complete with captions.

Photo of hula with characters at Disney Ko Olina ground breaking: © Disney
Hula — Local O‘ahu children teach Minnie and Mickey the aloha spirit through hula. Disney celebrated the ground breaking of its first family destination resort in Hawai‘i with a traditional blessing ceremony on its 21-acre oceanfront property. The resort has been designed to honor the local culture of the Hawaiian islands.
Photo of ground blessing at Disney Ko Olina ground breaking: © Disney
Ground Blessing with o’o sticks — Kahu Auntie Nettie Tiffany joins Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo, along with elected officials and business leaders, for a traditional Hawaiian ground blessing ceremony to begin construction on Disney’s first family destination resort on O‘ahu.
Photo of finale celebration at Disney Ko Olina ground breaking: © Disney
Finale Celebration — Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo (center) celebrates the launch of Disney’s first family destination resort with children from O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. Local elected officials and business leaders joined in breaking ground to begin construction on the 21-acre oceanfront property located at Ko Olina Resort and Marina.

Yesterday’s ground blessing occurred at a time when most economic news is bad. Business publications are full of reports of canceled real estate projects across America. Developers can’t get funding because of the credit crisis. And many consumers are limiting their spending to only the necessities of life.

Over the past few months, participants on Internet forums have predicted that Disney would pull the plug on Ko Olina. They cited the precedent set when announced Disney Vacation Club (DVC) projects at Newport Coast in California and Eagle Pines Golf Course at Walt Disney World were never built. Less than two weeks ago, a real estate blogger in Hawai‘i announced that she heard through two sources that “Disney is putting construction on hold of their Ko Olina Resort until the economy stabilizes.” Her story was picked up on Internet forums that discuss timeshares and DVC.

The ground blessing took place today anyway. Of course, it takes more than a ceremony to prove that an $800 million dollar resort project is underway. Now that the ceremony is over, will the earth movers move in? Or will grass grow on the 21-acre site until the Dow Jones industrial average recoups its losses and today’s dysfunctional financial institutions once again trust each other?

Disney still insists that the resort is scheduled to open in 2011. That was again in yesterday’s press release. And it makes sense to me. When building a resort that won’t be completed until 2011, what really matters is what consumers will be doing with their money in 2011, not what they’re doing with it this week. Based on historic cycles, the economy should be much rosier in 2011. In fact, the worst thing for Disney to do would be to postpone construction until the economy has recovered and open the resort during the next economic tumble. If Disney has the funding to proceed, then, by all means, proceed!

Sure, it’s a gamble. All big projects that take years to complete are gambles. Disneyland was a gamble. The original Disney Vacation Club, now called Disney’s Old Key West Resort, was a gamble. Disney Cruise Line was a gamble. When you do something that’s excellent, the gamble is likely to pay off.

The biggest indication that work will begin sooner rather than later is this paragraph—especially the final sentence—from a news release issued by the City and County of Honolulu last month:

The Department of Planning and Permitting has been meeting with Walt Disney Imagineering since April to provide design comments and assistance on regulatory compliance. Plans call for the resort to feature an extensive water play area including a small river, waterslides and several pools. The resort will also include a spa, a conference center, a kids’ club and a wedding lawn with a view of the ocean. Currently, the department is processing a mass grading permit application which would allow the site work to begin. The department expects to issue this permit shortly, with grading work to begin in late December or early January.
Photo ofJW Marriott Ihilani: Harald Weiss, 2007
The JW Marriott Ihilani Resort with a 21-acre vacant lot next door (2007 photo)

The right side of the photo above will look very different in 2011.

Disney Goes Hawaiian, 5
Disney Goes Hawaiian, 3

© 2008-2009 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated December 10, 2009.

Disney Ko Olina porte-cochère rendering: © Disney
Photo of hula with characters at Disney Ko Olina ground breaking: © Disney
Photo of ground blessing at Disney Ko Olina ground breaking: © Disney
Photo of finale celebration at Disney Ko Olina ground breaking: © Disney
Photo of JW Marriott Ihilani: Harald Weiss, 2007.