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Guests have now spent the first night at Aulani, the new Disney Resort and Spa on Oahu. The first guests were greeted Monday, just making a projected August 2011 opening for the massive development.
The resort is a first for both Disney and Hawaii. It is not connected to a Disney theme-park, so is a new approach for the company. It is also more of a cooperative venture than previous enterprises. Local reports confirm the claim on the resort website that “Walt Disney Imagineers worked hand in hand with locals to create Aulani – a place that celebrates Hawaiian culture, history and traditions.”
The resort design and recreational features certainly reflect traditional Hawaiian artwork, crafts and pastimes more accurately than many commercial ventures. Hawaiian words and language are also incorporated. While it is unlikely that visitors will become experts in Hawaii history, culture or language, they may at least get a more accurate exposure to island traditions than provided by movies or much popular culture.
The resort website includes a page on community outreach. It lists the many local donations made in the form of money and volunteer time by Disney employees. Some of the projects resulted in artwork by local Hawaii school children that is displayed at the resort. Other contributions go to support projects that help to protect the natural environment that is a major draw.
Aulani is located in the Ko Olina Resort Community and Marina on the leeward side of Oahu – far from most hotels in Honolulu and Waikiki. It provides for a more isolated setting but also means that many non-resort activities will involve a drive. It may be only 17 miles from the airport to the resort but it is often a very slow go.
Disney first announced plans for the resort in 2007. It is exciting to see it finally open, and to have local reaction be favorable. Now let’s see what the rest of the world thinks!