Sunday, August 28, 2011

The wave has arrived at Disney's Aulani!

The day had finally arrived. Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa within the Ko Olina resort has opened its doors to the public. It was just a little shy of four years passing since the project was announced in October 2007. I had gone out and shot video of the plot of land when it was barren, untouched ground. Now Phase I has opened on the 21 acre lot located on the Koloha lagoon within Ko Olina. I don't think I could have a bigger smile on my face as I walked through and saw the final product, that is after I picked my jaw up off the floor from all the beauty and grandeur displayed.

Let me say right off the bat that even though I had a long day, I still didn't get done all that I wanted to do. Not including travel time I was there for just shy of twelve hours. I didn't even sit down to eat. I was walking around the majority of the day taking a ton of pictures, talking to cast members and other visitors. I had my list of questions and I did ask some along the way, but lost my way as I kept discovering new items, new detail and flourishes and meeting people. I'll need to go back out for more exploration.

Female greeter costume
When I had been in Aulani two weeks earlier, the product still have finishing touches that needed to be used but none of the cast members were in costume. As I turned into the property from the sidewalk there were three new kii at the base of the taro patches. Walking up the drive way into the porte-cochere area, it was bustling with activity. As I walked into Maka'ala, the bellmen and greeters have costumes that are just stunning. The colors, patterns are silhouettes create an atmosphere that just blends perfectly with the whole look and feel of your entrance into the Aulani experience. They were working in an area that also had some new kii added. To me, all the new kii were a different style than what you would find over on the Big Island at Puuhonua O Honaunau but they still looked amazing.

At Kelepa's, the general store the greeters there were welcoming people with "E komo mai" meaning "come on in!"and as guests were leaving saying "a hui hou" meaning "until we meet again". It was touches like this that as a long time resident of Hawaii I could identify with in addition to having the background from back in the day as a former cast member and being an active part of the Disney fan community and podcaster.

Over the course of the day as I turned around, talked to people, explored visually making sure to look both up and down and straight ahead, I kept saying "oh" and "ahh" and "that's cool" to myself. This happened all day. The executive designer for Aulani is Joe Rohde. I spotted him around the resort but he was usually doing some sort of press. At one point I had sat down to breath and he walked past me as he exited the building. I stopped him, shook his hand and thanked him for what he's done with the project. He acknowledged my thanks and suggested that I talk to some of the Hawaiians and see how they feel.

I did as Joe suggested and did talk to a number of cast members and specifically asked them how they thought the culture was being represented. They all had positive things to say. In particular I had the opportunity to talk with Nani. We talked for longer than I talked with others. It was a good conversation as we discussed the Hawaiian language and a bit of its history and use and how Disney went about asking advisers how can they represent Hawaii as compared to Disney saying this is how we want to represent it. If you're thinking Polynesian Pop and the tiki culture like the Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World, you won't find that here.

From what I could see on this trip, Disney is upping their game significantly. I saw things here that I hadn't seen at other Disney resorts in both resort details and in the cast members. Steve Eng should be complimented for what he's been able to do with the training. As I talked to the CMs, their training was often brought up as a topic. One aspect I noticed was that many more of the cast members at Aulani as I passed them acknowledged me. Some with nods, but many, many more with verbal greetings. At one point I apparently planted myself where the CMs transition between on and back stage. During that time, almost every one that passed me greeted me whether I was looking at them or not and most of them gave the spoken greeting of "Aloha".

The only shortcoming that I could see was something that I'm not sure Disney could do anything about at this time. With the hiring of CMs for Aulani drawing from the local pool of talent, many of them have not been exposed to the Disney fandom and how a number of items relate to each other. Quick example, the Menehune Adventure: most of the CMs that I talked to didn't know about the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. Eventually as any mainland transfer CMs share with the local CMs and the local CMs have their own interactions with the fandom their personal expertise on all things Disney will expand to fill in some of those gaps.

The way that I would describe Aulani is that is not a Disney hotel with a touch of Hawaii. I feel that it is a Hawaiian hotel with a touch of Disney. Everyone involved with the project should be very happy with what they have done. Over the next weeks and months, I look forward to seeing how the resort changes, evolves and grows as they gather more experience working in their day to day operations and interactions with the guests and the community.

I'll do a future post about more specifics of the day including what I saw, did and more of the encounters of the day.

To see over 600 pictures from opening day, Click Here.

If you are subscribed to Meandering Mouse Club TV, I sent a special gift in honor of Aulani's opening down the feed on Sunday. One click subscribe for i-tunes found on the side.