Disney Goes Hawaiian, Part 9:
Disney’s Aulani Is Topped Out

Aloha! Disney’s Aulani resort on the island of O‘ahu in Hawai‘i has reached its full height. Four weeks ago, on April 8, 2010, construction workers placed a beam at the highest point of the resort.

Okay, it’s not really named Disney’s Aulani. The official name is “Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i.” But that’s rather wordy.

On April 20, Yesterland reader G. Abe was at Ko Olina and took photos of the massive construction site from several angles. Mahalo (thank you) to G. Abe!

As I looked at websites to find other news about Aulani, I found that there are a lot of questions about the resort and its location. So, along with the construction photos, I’ve also compiled common questions and answers, along with some photos that I took at Ko Olina in 2009.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, May 7, 2010

Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
Aulani from Olani Street (April 2010 construction photo)
Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
The lobby structure, in the style of a Polynesian canoe house (April 2010 construction photo)
Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
Aulani from the stairway to the existing Ko Olina Wedding Chapel (April 2010 construction photo)
Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
Aulani from the Ko Olina Sea Walk (April 2010 construction photo)

Q. Is Aulani on the beach?

A. Yes. Aulani faces directly toward the largest of the four manmade lagoons at the Ko Olina Resort. Wide, sandy beaches form an arc around each lagoon.

Q. The lagoon beach looks small in photos. Is it crowded?

A. The beach is much larger than it looks in photos. There’s plenty of room on the sand and in the water. The beaches of Ko Olina are open to the public, but public parking is limited. Most O‘ahu residents live much closer to other excellent beaches. As more resort sites are developed at the Ko Olina Resort, there will be more beach users, but the beaches should never be crowded.

Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
Each of the four manmade lagoons offers a spacious beach. This is Lagoon 3 at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club.

Q. Are there waves?

A. No. The manmade lagoons are connected to the ocean through openings that refresh the water in the lagoons, but prevent “breakers.”

Q. What’s the water like?

A. It’s like a giant, warm, salt-water swimming pool. It’s great for wading, swimming, or just floating.

Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
The JW Marriott Ihilani offers a free fish feeding activity every morning.

Q. How’s the snorkeling in the lagoon? Are there fish?

A. The snorkeling is pretty good for a place that you can walk to from your room. There are a number of species of colorful tropical fish. Lagoon 1, where Aulani is located, is said to be the best lagoon for snorkeling. That might be because the JW Marriott Ihilani offers a fish feeding activity there each morning. There are better snorkeling spots that you can reach through snorkeling excursions from the Ko Olina Marina.

Q. Is it possible to swim or kayak into the open ocean from the lagoons?

A. That would be dangerous. According to the beach attendants at Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, there are strong currents that could carry you away to who-knows-where.

Q. Is there a risk of being sucked out from a lagoon into the open ocean through one of the openings?

A. The openings are ingeniously engineered so that water comes in through the shallow side openings and is expelled through the deeper center opening, which is roped off. You would have make a real effort to put yourself into a dangerous situation.

Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
The JW Marriott Ihilani is right next to the Disney site.

Q. I’ve heard that Aulani is in a bad neighborhood. What’s the story?

A. The Ko Olina Resort is a gated community that’s part of the prosperous city of Kapolei. In addition to ocean-front resorts, Ko Olina also includes expensive golf course homes and condos. It’s a good area.

Around 900,000 people live on O‘ahu. As in any major metropolitan area, there better and worse areas. Beyond the exit for Ko Olina, route 930 goes up the west coast of O‘ahu through Nanakuli, Waianae, and Makaha. The area has a reputation for poverty and homelessness, and there have been some well-publicized cases of crime and violence against tourists. Although there are a couple of resorts and some excellent beaches on this coast, it’s not a tourist destination. The road eventually ends, so tourists don’t even drive through on their way to someplace else.

Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
Naupaka Terrace at the JW Marriott Ihilani offers causal breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Q. Are there any restaurants near Aulani?

A. Yes. Of course, Aulani will have its own restaurants. But, unlike most Walt Disney World resort guests, Aulani guests will have the option of walking to non-Disney restaurants.

In walking distance, the JW Marriott Ihilani offers a pleasant casual restaurant, Naupaka Terrace; an excellent Japanese restaurant, Ushio-Tei; and a highly regarded fine dining dinner restaurant, Azul. At the nearby golf course, Roy’s Restaurant offers Chef Roy Yamaguchi’s famous Hawaiian fusion cuisine. Two new shopping centers, Ko Olina Center and Ko Olina Station, will each offer several dining options. At Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, Kolohe’s Beach Bar & Grill offers breakfast, lunch and dinner on outdoor terrace, while Chuck’s Steak & Seafood offers dinner only.

Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
The Ko Olina Marina is the starting point for boat excursions.

Q. Is Ko Olina at risk of becoming another crowded Waikiki?

A. No. Ko Olina is a masterplanned resort like Kaanapali and Wailea on Maui. Although it’s likely that additional resorts will be built at Ko Olina, the density will never be like that of Waikiki.

Q. Why did Disney choose O‘ahu instead of Maui, Kaua‘i, or the Big Island of Hawai‘i?

A. Disney found an excellent site on O‘ahu. Disney never revealed what other sites they might have considered, nor should anyone have expected them to. Availability was probably a big factor. The Ko Olina Resort was the only masterplanned resort area in Hawai‘i with undeveloped land for sale at the time.

Q. Isn’t Maui a better island to visit than O‘ahu?

A. Each of the islands of Hawai‘i has its fans and its unique attractions. Maui has much to offer—including great beaches, Haleakala National Park, shopping in Lahaina, and terrific snorkeling. O‘ahu also has much to offer—including great beaches, the Polynesian Cultural Center, many historic and cultural sites, the dynamism of Waikiki, and plenty of kid-friendly attractions such as the zoo, aquarium, and Sea Life Park. As the island with the most residents and the most visitors, O‘ahu also provides the most choices of things to do.

Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
The Ko Olina Resort offers amazing sunsets.

Q. When will Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points for Aulani be available for purchase?

A. Disney hasn’t announced anything. Because DVC points represent a timeshare real estate interest, Disney has to deal with timeshare regulations and registrations in each state and country in which they intend to sell DVC points for Aulani.

Q. What will the DVC point chart be like?

A. Again, Disney hasn’t announced anything. The point chart probably won’t be released until sales begin for Aulani. Based on other timeshare resorts in Hawai‘i, stays at Aulani will undoubtedly require substantially more points than for the DVC resorts at Walt Disney World. The point chart for the Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa might provide a clue, but Aulani is likely to require even more points.

Q. When will Aulani open?

A. According the official Aulani website, the resort is scheduled to open in Fall 2011. There’s no specific date.

Q. Will there be rooms available for non-DVC guests?

A. Yes. Aulani will be a combination property, like Disney’s BoardWalk Resort. The announced plans called for 350 hotel rooms and 480 two-bedroom DVC villas. In addition to the hotel rooms, non-DVC guests will be able to book DVC inventory that’s been turned back to Disney when DVC members choose vacation options that don’t involve DVC accommodations or exchanges into other timeshare resorts.

Q. Why do all DVC villas have two bedrooms?

A. Actually, those are “two-bedroom equivalents,” meaning that the one-bedroom side and the studio side of many villas can be locked off and booked separately.

Ko Olina Resort, Hawai‘i
The planned Disney Vacation Club sales preview center in the Ikspiari shopping complex at the Tokyo Disney Resort

Q. Aren’t most DVC members on the East Coast, making it unlikely that they’ll buy at a resort that’s so distant?

A. DVC has members in every state and many countries other than the United States. But the real point is that the target market for Aulani isn’t limited to existing DVC members and it isn’t the same as the target market for the Florida properties. On April 7, 2010, DVC even announced a sales preview center for Tokyo-area residents and visitors. It will be the first international sales center for DVC and will take up approximately 15,000 square feet at the Ikspiari shopping complex adjacent to Tokyo Disneyland. DVC kiosks and DVC desks will be sprinkled throughout the Tokyo Disneyland Resort and its hotels. Keep in mind there’s no DVC resort at Tokyo Disneyland. The sales center and kiosks will promote Aulani and access to “more than 500 other destinations worldwide” through the DVC program.


Now, if you’re interested, please take a look at the eight earlier articles in this series:

Disney Goes Hawaiian, 10
Disney Goes Hawaiian, 8

© 2010 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated July 9, 2010.

Four photographs of construction at Disney’s Aulani: April 2010 by G. Abe, courtesy of G. Abe.
Six photographs te Ko Olina Resort: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Publicity image of planned Disney Vacation Club sales location in Tokyo: Copyright Disney.