KO OLINA, OAHU — We found a vacation spot for you to recuperate from delivering all those gifts to good boys and girls. It’s a place in Hawaii where childlike wonder captivates one’s spirit and soul the minute one enters its portals.
Sound like your kind of place, Santa?
Welcome to Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa at Ko Olina.
Naturally, we had to sample it to make sure it would meet your standards. Tough duty.
So we assembled a team of five volunteers — Mike, Carol, Mary, Robert and Genny — to spend two days experiencing the attractions of Aulani. Like many Aulani guests, they represent a multigenerational unit.
It would be a great time for you and the elves to discover Aulani, as the West Oahu resort is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Guests from around the world have spent nearly 2,000 days to date of sun-splashing and memory-making at this seemingly enchanted place.
Aulani, meaning “messenger of a chief,” is a model family resort that is designed to reflect its destination (Hawaii) and brand (Disney). It is imaginative, culturally sensitive, highly interactive and entertaining.
Tourism officials might take note of Aulani’s architectural artistry, natural wonders, attitude and demeanor of the cast members (employees), fanatical attention to detail and creative approach to story telling.
Santa, these are the same standards you demand of your industrious elves and reindeer, right? It’s the stuff of legends.
As Disney vice president of hotel operations Elliot Mills puts it, “The Disney magic is in the details. It’s the special touches and unexpected, enchanting experiences discovered throughout the resort.”
“I’ve seen firsthand how Aulani’s magic captivates guests. No matter what their age, there is always joy and satisfaction in the surprise and delight factor that plays a key role at our resort,” he says.
“The pairing of Disney storytelling with the natural beauty and culture of Hawaii is our recipe for success,” he claims. “Only at Aulani can one be immersed in the art, stories and culture of Hawaii, as well as meet Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and other Disney friends on vacation.”
It is said that one never outgrows Disney, whether it’s at Aulani or any one of its theme parks and hotels around the world.
But Aulani is the only hotel not connected to a Disneyland theme park. As a stand-alone entity, it has to work harder to bridge quality lodging with the experiential fantasy and adventures of a theme park.
That was the job of the Walt Disney “imagineers” who worked closely with local artisans and cultural experts to create Aulani. From its curved archways resembling a canoe house to the artwork by local artists in the lobby and hallways, the resort devotedly embraces a sense of place.
The result is a distinctive 350-room hotel and 481-villa vacation club that sits on 21 oceanfront acres at Ko Olina on Oahu’s leeward coast. It accommodates kamaaina staycations as well as respite for an overworked jolly ol’ Saint Nicholas.
Kimberly Agas, general manager at Aulani, says, “I am proud to have grown up in Hawaii and love offering suggestions on activities. Sharing our culture and aloha spirit comes very naturally to us in Hawaii.
“I’ve been fortunate to work in the hospitality industry (formerly 24 years with Outrigger Hotels & Resorts) and I have always dedicated my role to supporting and growing our employees (more than 1,700 at Aulani).
“We’ve incorporated our culture into everything from the design of our buildings to attractions throughout the resort,” she adds. “For example, all of the cast members who work in the Olelo Room speak fluent Hawaiian and help teach guests about our language.”
Santa, isn’t it time to trade that fur from head to foot for an aloha shirt and shorts? At Aulani even Mickey, Goofy and Pluto are attired in resort wear.
Since you’re into lists and checking it twice, here’s a rundown of noteworthy amenities at Aulani.
1) The Grand Villa
The three-bedroom Grand Villa is the ultimate accommodation for a retreat. It is family and group-friendly at 2,174 square feet, suitable for a three-generation reunion. You, Mrs. Claus and 10 elves (12 guests) would fit comfortably in this tastefully furnished three-bedroom, three-bath villa, complete with fully a equipped kitchen and washer-dryer.
There are four flat-panel TVs and a unique mirror-TV in the master bedroom, where guests can watch favorite movies, sports broadcasts, and Christmas specials. The oceanfront haven also has an extra large balcony for sun-bathing and moon-watching.
2) Diverse Dining
There are two restaurants, three lounges and several quick-service dining venues. After a busy night of snacking on milk and Christmas cookies, you’ll be ready for a hearty meal. There’s the ‘Ama ‘Ama contemporary island cuisine restaurant overlooking Ko Olina beach; and Makahiki Room, where Disney characters and menehune visit with diners at the breakfast and dinner buffets.
The poolside Ulu Café is perfect for grab-and-go snacks and casual breakfast, lunch and dinner fare.
Look for miniature Mickeys in cleverly shaped chips, pastries, desserts and decorative food accents. He’s everywhere!
3) Ka Wa‘a Luau
West Oahu is known for its commercial luaus. There’s Paradise Cove, Germaine’s and Fia Fia that attract bus-loads of guests. Now there’s another to compete for attention. Aulani introduced Ka Wa‘a (“canoe”) Luau in November on its sprawling Halawai lawn.
Billed as a Hawaiian, not Polynesian, event, it celebrates native ancestors who sailed from the South Pacific centuries ago to settle the plains surrounding Ko Olina.
Early reviews laud its well-staged, highly interactive presentation staged by Tihati Productions. The singing emcees Sia and Noa are a talented brother-and-sister duo from Ewa Beach.
The luau is held Wednesdays and Saturdays at 5 p.m. with preshow activities such as taro pounding and traditional kapa printing.
4) Laniwai Spa
Aulani’s full-service spa, salon and fitness center will be a welcome stop after flying around the world all night. This facility is an oasis for relaxation and restoration. A highlight is the Kula Wai hydrotherapy garden where water and thermal therapies are coupled with massage.
5) Pools and Waterslides
You’d better watch out, Santa. If the elves are into water recreation, they can hurtle down waterslides, float in an inner tube along a lazy river, snorkel in a 3,800-square-foot private lagoon, and plunge down a lava tube-like tunnel at the 8,200 square foot Waikolohe (“mischievous water”) pool.
The multi-dimensional rock and waterscapes are focal points of the resort’s central courtyard. Spurting fountains that are lit at night, swinging net bridges, and whimsical children’s ponds are right off the Disneyland imagineering drawing boards. It’s Splash Mountain, Hawaiian-style. 6) Music Merriment
All senses are at play when one experiences Aulani. There is music everywhere, from Hipa Hulo La, Hipa La E (Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah) playing in the elevator to live performances by local artists such as Jerry Santos and Ben & Maila.
At breakfast in the Makahiki room, Aunty strolls the room playing ukulele to sing to guests at the tables. It’s kanikapila every morning when servers, cast members and even guests are roused to spontaneous hula.
Well, Santa, you get the idea. Hawaii is fun, and so is Aulani. Put them together and it’s an enticing combination.
In this age of multitasking adults, distracted youths and fewer families bonding at the dinner table, Aulani offers a place in paradise where old-fashioned and core Hawaiian values are blended.
It is an example of what makes Hawaii special. For that reason, raise your glass of eggnog to toast its fifth anniversary and to wish it well for the future.
As Walt Disney says, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”