Sparkling pools, sunny beaches, beautiful ocean sunsets, days and nights filled with Disney fun for the entire family. Is it any wonder we love Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai‘i?
But there’s another thing we love about this luxurious, beautiful resort—the way it immerses you in Hawai‘i’s history and legacy. In fact, from the moment you arrive, you are surrounded by the kind of storytelling that could only happen when great storytellers and artists come together.
According to Kahulu De Santos, Cultural Advisor at Aulani, from the very beginning of the resort’s development, Walt Disney Imagineers embraced the fact that Hawai‘i has stories to tell. “They really wanted to capture and reflect our culture,” De Santos says.
In fact, one of the first questions Joe Rohde, Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering, asked cultural consultants and local artists and designers was how they would tell the story of Hawai‘i in their art. The groups met continually to “talk story.”
You see the results the minute Aulani comes into view with architecture inspired by traditional canoe houses and homes. “It’s a shape that says ‘welcome home, come inside, let’s share a story,’” De Santos told us.
Wooden friezes of kāhili (royal feather standards) greet you at the entryway while within, actual kāhili grace the Maka‘ala lobby. “Feathers are symbols of royalty and precious in Hawaiian culture,” De Santos explains. In the Maka‘ala, a brilliant mural encircles the space depicting aspects of life in traditional and modern Hawai‘i. Outside, rich wood carvings honor the sailing and navigational traditions of the islands while larger-than-life bas relief panels tell stories of Hina, the goddess of the moon, and Māui, the demi-god who pulled the islands up on his magic fishhook.
But that’s just the beginning. In your room, you’ll find Hawai‘i’s legacy woven throughout the décor in designs inspired by kapa bark cloth, a fabric made by native Hawaiians using plant fibers. “Kapa is one of our most highly developed art forms,” De Santos says. We love it, so we made sure to take time to experience a free demo by Hawaiian artisan Dalani Tanahy who shares the art and techniques of kapa making. BTW – there’s also a premium experience where you can try your hand at making your own kapa piece. Talk about a great memento of your visit!
This is just a hint of what makes Aulani so special. Want to know more? Our best tip: take the Māka‘ika‘i: Art and Nature Tour, a complimentary guided 45-minute walking tour of Aulani art and wildlife included in your stay. Check the Daily ‘Iwa for available dates and times.
And if you want to take home an island treasure inspired by the art and storytelling of Aulani, don’t miss the shops where, as a Disney Visa® Cardmember you enjoy savings of 10% off select merchandise purchases of $50 or more at both Kālepa’s Store and Hale Manu.2,3 We love the stylish, high-end contemporary gifts at Hale Manu. Our fave find? Jewelry made from Na Mea sunrise shells. The shells glow when sunlight hits them and they’re considered very rare.
And for all those folks back home you want to treat—the pet sitter, the mail carrier, Great Aunt Tilly, etc. —visit Kālepa’s Store where you can find commemorative keepsakes as well as vacation essentials. (Okay, who forgot to pack the sunscreen?) This year, we love the new pieces in the Aulani Travel Collection with their vintage/retro Hawaiian surf theme. And the Aulani Storybook Collection depicts Disney Characters vacationing at Aulani and doing some of the same things you enjoyed. It brings back your own memories with a smile. After all, what are memories but stories you and your family create together?