December 29, 2016

Christmas From Aulani

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year in Hawaiian) from the island of Oahu and specifically, Disney’s Aulani Resort! Your friendly neighborhood blogger Mark Taft has again kindly allowed me to take up bandwidth to amuse, bedazzle, and mostly irritate his reading audience with my random thoughts, words, and befuddling images.

For this guest post, I wanted to share some photos and thoughts from the Disney Aulani Resort! There won't be much reporting on the activities and events at the hotel as I was there for barely a day. My good friend is a DVC member and she invited me to spend some time with them. Since I arrived at Aulani in the late afternoon, most of the evening was spent shooting sunset and long exposure images. I did a lot of interior and people shots on my last visit, so there won't be much of that for this report. Hopefully, you'll get a feel for the overall ambiance and theming of the resort told through my pictures and words. But again, not much first hand reviews or anecdotes about dining, swimming, or all the other cool stuff one can do at Aulani . 

 Christmas in (Disney's) Hawaii!

Let's start with some photos of the resort area just prior to sunset. Aulani is located at the Ko Olina Resort & Marina in Kapolei. Situated on the west side of Oahu, it’s about a 45 minute drive from Waikiki (up to 2 hours during peak traffic hours). While it’s pretty obvious the hotel is immaculately designed and up to Disney standards, the area its located in is nothing to sneeze at either! With its pristine beaches and a skyline overlooking the mountainous landscape, the resort truly feels unique and apart from the daily lifestyle of most local residents.

I live in east Oahu, so I rarely make it to this side of the island. Because everything is new and mostly unexplored, it almost feels like I’ve traveled to another part of the world. While I remember initial resistance to Disney building a hotel in the area, I never doubted that the Imagineers would do a respectful job of integrating Hawaiian culture into the fabric and theme of the hotel. It’s obvious they did their research and worked with local experts to get the details right. I was lucky to encounter Imagineer Joe Rohde when the hotel first opened. He was walking the grounds early one morning so I ventured forward to ask for a picture and we talked a bit about the design process. Joe is obviously an extremely talented artist who takes great care and pride in his work.

The two towers, impressive in height, never seem to overwhelm or stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the property. Each and every element works in smooth harmony with the others to incorporate a breathtaking, yet natural vista. Much thought was also put into the surrounding attractions and eating establishments. “Makahiki” is clearly the centerpiece restaurant of the resort, with its traditional Disney character breakfast and buffet. I ate there when Aulani first opened and thought it was a mixed bag. Some of the food, especially the local cuisine (lau lau, kalua pig) seemed a bit bland, but I chalk it up to the kitchen staff getting their feet wet and finding that right mixture of flavor and taste. I’m sure the dining experience has much improved by this time.

While it’s hard to make up for the absence of a Disney park down the road, the Imagineers worked up a little magic in the form of a mini water park. From the active volcano that serves as a base for the water slides, to the lazy streams running throughout the property, children (and many adults) will find the poolside areas the highlight of the stay. I’m particularly impressed with “Keiki Cove’, a play zone for kids. The design work allows this attraction to seamlessly integrate with the resort while providing its own unique taste of Disney. While I was photographing the area after midnight, voices of menehunes (strange, magical creatures) were still being piped throughout the area (reminiscent of the snoring bears at Disney’s Frontierland).

One of the biggest surprises for me on this visit was the overall subtlety of the Christmas decorations. Part of it maybe a conscientious decision not to overwhelm the Hawaiian motif with tons of lights and Christmas décor. But after experiencing the beautiful lobby trees of such fellow Disney resorts as The Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge, not seeing a huge tree was a bit of a disappointment. Thinking of how the AK trees were adorned with ornaments that paid tribute to the local culture and arts, I could see something similarly done for the lobby here at Aulani. There were two small trees placed at the ends of the ground floor, but they were rather pedestrian and something you would find on display at your local Walmart store.

For a kamaaina (local), the cost of a night makes it prohibitive for most to stay at the resort. Being a visitor, and especially if you’re a Disney fan, I can see how this place would be a destination point regardless of the high costs. So if you’re thinking of planning a trip to Hawaii, Aulani should definitely be on your radar.

Until my next intrusion, take care, stay safe, and God bless us all!

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)

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