Monday, August 15, 2011

Two weeks to Disney's Aulani opening!

Link for pictures at bottom of article

The date is almost here. The single digit countdown is rapidly approaching and the excitement level is heightening for a couple of different reasons.

Raising the attention level for the resort is the news that broke on Friday night, August 12. Jim Lewis, the head of the Disney Vacation Club, was released from the company. The rumor was that it had something to do with Aulani. Two weeks ago I had heard from a DVC owner with points in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland that points for Aulani could not be sold. They had heard a rumor that there was something with the Hawaii paperwork at issue.

When the news of the firing became public, Jason Garcia at the Orlando Sentinel tweeted asking what people knew. I went to the Aulani kiosk at Ala Moana Center and asked when the person would be able to sell Aulani points and the response was now. When asked about Jim Lewis, the same person responded they didn't know about it. Less than 24 hours later when I asked the person at the on-property DVC kiosk if I could purchase Aulani points, they replied "We can't comment on that." Jason published a report on Monday, August 15 and apparently the release was related to Aulani. Jason's story is here.

In any case, it's providing publicity for Aulani and bringing an awareness of the project and property that wasn't there before. In the long run, that will be a good thing!

My latest set of update photos contain pictures from inside the resort. I went out to the resort and the first thing that I noticed was a change in the entrance. It looks different. Apparently there have been changes to the entrance and Disney is now manning the gate to direct people to the resort.

Around the resort the green construction wall is down except for a small area in the back near the project management office.

Along the beach front they have new beach cabanas available for rental. They were so new that the wrapping still remained on the cover. Not far behind them were stacks of beach loungers that were piled high and chained up for the time being.

There were workers still all over the place finishing up to get the resort ready for the opening date. Something that I didn't know how they did was railings that looked like wood. There were workers putting a putty or clay around the metal pipe and then they were individually creating little pukas (holes) and creases. The clay was a gray color so I'm thinking that after it dries or cures that they will paint it before putting on some sort of sealer. Now I know how they do that!

Walking with a lot of other people into the resort there is something that the operations folks might want to look at. Along the left side of the lo'i (taro patch) is a path leading from the sidewalk up towards the main entrance. It dead ends at the top tier. I saw several people jumping the wall and walking through a garden area rather than walk around. A sign saying no exit or putting a couple of stairs to allow an exit might be a valuable addition.

Walking into the lobby, Maka'ala, was a feeling that I can't fully describe. Here I was walking into a location that I filmed four years previously that was nothing but a vacant lot of land. I was shaking with excitement. I had a huge smile on my face. Here it was, one of my most favorite passions being materialized right there, right in front of my eyes, right under my feet. Just on the other side of the lobby out in Waikolohe Valley, Mickey Mouse was greeting people who were previewing the facility. Disney had come to me in Hawaii instead of me having to move to Orlando or Anaheim!

I walked around and was amazed at the details I saw. The calabashes, the art, the plants, the background music. At one point I did glimpse Joe Rohde. He was sitting on a couch near a wooden statue of a menehune talking to an individual. Across the way a little bit was a pahu (drum). I didn't get a chance to approach him. Someone came up to him and said something. Joe put on his hat and quickly walked away with the requester and another person following them.

On the lanai (patio) looking out into Waikolohe Valley you could hear live entertainment coming from the distance. Immediately below was a fountain where four streams of water were intersecting at a single point. A little beyond that was the line to meet Mickey. Off to the left was a small stage area where later on a trio would be playing live Hawaiian music.

From Maka'ala to the left was the Ewa tower that would have the DVC rooms. On the right was the Waianae Tower where the Laniwai spa could be found along with the regular hotel rooms. As a local, it was funny looking at the tower names. Usually when you look mauka (towards the mountains) and you're in Honolulu when you say ewa for directions you usually mean left, meaning out on the west coast of Oahu. With the location of the resort in Kapolei, you are past Ewa so at Aulani, ewa would mean east or towards Honolulu. For locals it may be a little awkward, but for guests who are visiting Hawaii and specifically Oahu for the first time, it will make perfect sense.

There is so much more that I could talk about but I'll hold off until the resort is fully open except for a specific topic. The one item I want to touch on is the refillable souvenir mugs. They've made some news lately as mugs with RFID chips are being tested out at the All Star Sports resort over at Walt Disney World. Get details here. These mugs are molded white plastic with the design screened on. They currently cost $13.99. The mugs at Aulani have a clear plastic exterior with an insert with Hawaiian designs and Aulani logo between the outside and black inside and comes in four design colors. Here's the costs $32.99 for the mug! The sign reads "Unlimited refills available from any beverage station until the end of the stay in which the mug was purchased." When I talked to the cast member, she didn't know about the RFID chips being tested at All Star Sports. She did say that there are three beverage stations in the resort where refills can be obtained. I didn't think to look at the price of a single drink but when I get a chance I'll find out what the price and break even point would be. The $32.99 with Hawaii's General Excise Tax of 4.712% brings the total for a mug to $34.54 so the price does seem a bit high.

Between now and opening day there will be cast members staying on property to give it a shake out. Making sure that the rooms have what they need and the recreation CMs have a chance to test out the patterns and flows of the equipment and crowds will be the point of the stays. So that's it for this moment. I don't plan on going back to the resort until the official opening day although I've heard rumors of a public preview. We'll have to see about that.

Complete set of pictures here