The Focus is on Native Hawaiian Culture at Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa

Posted by Staff on Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Disney Aulani Resort and Spa Hawaii

Disney’s new Aulani Resort on Oahu, Hawaii, is an exercise in subtlety inasmuch as resort building is a subtle enterprise. Disney theme parks, as you know, are anything but understated – that’s what we love about them. When you visit a Disney park, you go there to be totally immersed in a magical world of color and storytelling. At the Aulani Resort, however, Disney is trying out something different. Oahu is a small island with a rich cultural heritage of its own. So rather than brushing aside local folklore and tradition to make way for the tried-and-true Disney narrative, Aulani was designed as a venue for native Hawaiian culture.

Disney Aulani Resort and Spa Hawaii

Storytelling is what Disney does best so you can always expect that to be an integral part of any project they take on. Regarding the storytelling aspects of the Aulani Resort, Disney spokesman John McClintock has said “We’re a storytelling company and when we came to Hawaii, we didn’t come to tell our own stories. We came to tell the stories that already exist here.” For a population whose culture is often represented by a handful of clichés – such as luaus and Mai Tais – Disney’s approach is a welcome change.

Disney Aulani Resort and Spa Hawaii

The 21-acre resort is a combination of hotel rooms and time-share units. When you think of a Disney resort, you probably imagine bright colors and costumed characters running around, but that’s not the case here. The resort is a high-rise version of a fishing village with lots of timber and thatch reflecting native building techniques. Instead of loading up the place with tiki masks and torches, the design team worked with native Hawaiians to select artwork that better represents their culture. The resort has even trained staff members in the correct usage of the Hawaiian language to curtail common mistakes.

Quilt with Hidden Mickey Mouse at Disney Aulani Resort Hawaii

Pineapple-themed quilt with hidden Mickey Mouse

The resort isn’t entirely devoid of iconic Disney imagery: you just have to look a little bit harder for it. The quilts in each of the 350 hotel rooms are a perfect example of the way in which the resort blends Hawaiian art with just a touch of Disney magic. Hidden within the pineapple theme you can just make out the classic Mickey Mouse logo. Other items, such as a wooden lamp featuring Mickey on the ukulele, require much less detective work.

Lazy River at Disney Aulani Resort and Spa Hawaii

Lazy River

Outdoors you’ll find exactly what you would expect at a Hawaiian resort: pristine white beaches, swimming pools, spas, and lots of palm trees. Alongside these resort staples, there is also a 900-foot lazy river that winds through the grounds and a shallow snorkeling lagoon stocked with angelfish, tangs, and butterfly fish. In keeping with their commitment to preserve local culture, the resort offers a number of interactive activities such as poi-making, fire-pit storytelling, and language practice.

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