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June 5, 2013

On the Move: Aulani Disney Resort

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So it happened to come about that I traveled around a bit back in April. I started off with a one-way ticket to Hawaii that I had to use before it expired, and then somehow the whole thing expanded to include the Tokyo Disney Resort, Walt Disney World, and the Disney Fantasy.

Because various members of the hard-working/good-looking AllEars Blog team have already written extensive blogs about all those places, I figured the most efficient way to share some of the highlights of my trip might be to hit some highlights and show some photos.

First stop: The Aulani Disney Resort at Ko Olina, Oahu. This was of necessity a brief visit of a few hours, as I only had a couple of days total in Hawaii and was not staying there.

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Top Ten Things I Noted at Aulani:

1. It takes about 20-30 minutes to drive from Waikiki to Aulani during low traffic.
2. Parking is 35 bucks a day. $35! And they only validate at the big restaurants or at the spa, and only for spa services--not for retail purchases.
3. The lobby is nice and airy, and reminds me a great deal of the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
4. The big restaurants close between lunch and dinner, so if you go there between 2pm and 5pm, you may not be experiencing them that day.
5. You can currently tour the DVC model rooms which are beautiful and seem to have a layout a little like what I remember of the Bay Lake Towers rooms at the Contemporary.
6. The friendly CMs there have a general sense of expecting future resort expansion down the beach, but no one would cop to knowing anything specific.
7. There is a developing shopping/eating complex across the road from Aulani which should provide more choices for retail consumption.
8. The lagoon in back of Aulani is very pretty, however it was closed while I was there, secondary to some environmental spillage in the area.
9. The menehune are terribly cute and appear to figure in an interactive discovery game, similar to the Agent P Adventure at EPCOT, available to resort guests.
10. DVC members get two free parking spaces per room, so try to be one of those.

September 25, 2011

Aulani Grand Opening - Resort Activities

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I'm back from Aulani now - it was great trip, but very busy. Aulani
is really a destination in and of itself, and there are a great
many things to do without ever leaving the resort property. I
wandered around taking photos and trying to experience as much as
I could in the time that I had, but I still didn't have a chance
to do everything!

I thought I'd share my thoughts of some of things that I did
experience, though. These are in no particular order.

(I won't be writing about the Waikolohe Valley pool and water
activities here, because I already covered my activities there in
Part 2.)

Menehune Adventure Trail - This is an interactive hunt, and will
seem very familiar to anyone who has done the Kim Possible experience
at Epcot. At the Community Center (Pau Hana) on the bottom floor
of the Ewa Tower, I checked out a cell phone - there was a sign-out
sheet and they took my room key as a "deposit". The cell phone let
me communicate with Aunty, who knows anybody and everybody, and
they all come to her with their problems, many of which seemed to
be in Waikolohe Valley. Since I was in Waikolohe Valley I could
complete some little tasks to help Aunty's friends, sometimes with
a little magic from the menehune.

It took about 40 minutes to finish my six tasks, and then I had the
option to do another round, or return the device back to Pau Hana
and reclaim my room key. The Adventure is available from 10:00-4:00,
so it's during the day. I found the bright sun often made it very
difficult to see the screen and I had to go find some shade when I
was trying to figure out where Aunty wanted me to go. One thing
that was different from Kim Possible - there was no option to trigger
the special effect a second time. I enjoyed it a lot, though -
there's lots of puns and clever dialog that adults will enjoy. I
won't spoil it by giving too much away, but here's one that I really
liked...notice anything unusual about these rocks?

Ahhh...it's the Hawaiian Islands!

Shave Ice - There's a shave ice stand in the pool area. For those
not familiar with shave ice, it's like a snowcone, except the ice
is shaved and so it's much finer crystals - usually more like eating
a snowball. It was $3.75, which is actually a pretty good price!
Lots of different flavors - and most people order 2-3 flavors on
their shave ice. I had a very tropical shave ice, with guava,
mango, and lilikoi (passion fruit).

Oh, and there was a menehune in the shave ice stand! I asked if
he was supervising or if he was to blame whenever there were equipment
problems or room keys that didn't scan. :-)

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Starlit Hui - this program is held on select nights each week. There is a "welcome" section, a show, and then a character dance party. As part of the media event they did an abbreviated version of it, and we only saw the show part. But it was really a wonderful show - it featured contemporary and traditional Hawaiian music and dance, flaming torches, and a couple of very talented ukulele players. (I didn't know you could play electric guitar-type surf music on a ukulele!) I really enjoyed the show - it was much better than any luau show I've ever seen.

The Laniwai Spa - this was my indulgence for the trip - though all
in the name of research, of course. :-) The spa is 18,000 square
feet inside and 5,000 square feet outside in the Kula Wai - the
hydrotherapy garden. They encourage guests to come an hour before
their treatments to relax in one of the relaxation rooms or the
Kula Wai (wear your swimsuit, it's coed, plus anyone on the balconies
of the rooms overhead could see in!) The Kula Wai has two heated
aromatherapy pools, a cold water pool, which is right next to the
(heated) whirlpool spa, and a walk-through area with six different
rain showers. There's also a number of nicely padded chaise lounges,
so if you want to lounge around for hours you can do that. I saw
a couple of people who had brought books with them. And there's a
spa menu if you want to order some food. (They have muffins and
whole fresh fruit available at no additional charge.) DVC members
receive a treatment upgrade, so I had the heated stone massage for
the price of the lomilomi massage. It's definitely a premium spa
experience, and you pay a premium for that, though I thought the
prices were similar to those o the Disney Cruise Line. I really
enjoyed my experience, and next time I would plan to spend probably
half a day there, at least.


Rip Swirl Yogurt Bar - Next door to the Laniwai Spa is the Painted
Sky Teen Spa. And it's got a very nice frozen yogurt and toppings
bar. When I first heard about it I was disappointed because I
thought it was for the teens only, but ANYONE can go in there and
buy frozen yogurt - the yogurt bar is just inside the door. (Do
you see the menehune?)

It's pricey -$6.00 for yogurt with up to three toppings. They can
do a single flavor or a swirl combination. I again went for the
tropical flavors - pineapple/plain swirl (they also had chocolate
and strawberry) with pieces of fresh mango, coconut, and chopped
macadamia nuts on top. It was very good.

Hunting Menehune - there are menehune statues and wood carvings
hidden all over the resort. I don't think anyone knows how many
there really are. There's no game associated with finding them as
far as I know. Some are pretty easy to see, and some are very
difficult to see. A lot of them are in the planting areas, and as
the plants grow they will become even harder to see. How many
menehune do you see in this picture?

Bet you missed this one...I did the first few times I looked here!

I'm not sure how many I found - there are some unique onex, but
most of them are one of about 10 different poses. I guess menehune
are mostly active at night, which explains why a lot of them were
sleeping. ;-)

And there's at least one in Rainbow Reef!

This was my favorite menehune effect:

Talking Story with Uncle - several times a day Uncle comes to
designated spots, like the firepit or the Pau Hana room, to "talk
story" with guests. He might play his ukulele and sing, or tell a
story, or visit with guests, or all of the above - it's pretty
free-form depending on the audience. At the one I went to I had
Uncle all to myself and he told me about the menehune. It was one
of the most fun and memorable moments of my trip!

There were a lot of things that I didn't get a chance to do, like
visiting the Pau Hana room when they had a local artisan in to teach a
craft or some other Hawaiian activity, snorkel at Rainbow Reef, swim or
paddleboard or snorkel in the lagoon, see the nightly sunset ceremony,
watch a movie under the stars, visit with the Disney characters, etc.

As you can see, there's plenty of things to do at Aulani!


Disclosure: As an invited media guest, AllEars' travel expenses to the Aulani Grand Opening event were paid by the Disney company.







September 23, 2011

Aulani Grand Opening - Day 3

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Aloha!

The big event today was the Grand Opening Ceremony held soon after sunset this evening. It was beautiful, heartfelt, moving, and powerful. It was truly a privilege to be here to experience it.

The video (two parts) is at the end of this blog entry - it's about 22 minutes long. If you don't have time for all of it, watch part 2 - that's where we saw the live performance of "E Ala E" by Hawaiian singer/songwriter Keali'i Reichel, who wrote an original chant for Aulani (which is in part 1 of the video), and also heard Lehua Kalima
sing "When you Wish Upon a Star" in Hawaiian. Just beautiful.

The ceremony was held on a stage they set up down on the beach. As we were waiting before it started, I looked up and saw a rainbow...it started from the ocean side, and then the arc continued to grow until it was over Aulani. I am NOT making this up, nor is this a photo-shopped image. Talk about auspicious beginnings!

Behind us, the sun was starting to set.

As it got darker we could see more of the colorful light projections on the walls of Aulani.

Here's a few still images from the ceremony, which featured Hawaiian music and dancers, including the chant composed for Aulani.

There was a rainbow to end the evening, too.

And some of the Aulani cast members stood on the balconies waving colorful banners.

Mickey, Minnie, Bob Iger, and Tom Staggs posed for photos with Halau Hula Olana, the children's hula group that participated in the ceremony. (Aren't they adorable?)

The light show on the building continued for a while after the ceremony ended.

It was a great evening.

(Click on the YouTube logo at the bottom of each video to watch the full-resolution version)


Disclosure: As an invited media guest, AllEars' travel expenses to the Aulani Grand Opening event were paid by the Disney company.







September 22, 2011

Aulani Grand Opening - Day 2

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Aloha from Aulani!

It was another beautiful and very full day - but I had a chance to enjoy the resort a bit today. There's still an awful lot to see and do, though!

I think the best way to tell it is in photos - a picture is worth 1000 words!

This is the beach behind Aulani. As you can see it's a beautiful white sand beach, and pretty wide by Hawaii standards - but of course it's also man-made. The water is very calm and it's very safe for swimming - no waves to speak of.

Here you can see the breakwater. There are 4 of these man-made lagoons here - Aulani is on Lagoon 1, Kohola, which I believe is Hawaiian for "whale". There's a 1.5 mils path that runs the length of Ko Olina behind all the resorts which is publicly accessible (the beaches are publicly accessible). There were quite a few people out walking or jogging this morning, and not all of them were hotel guests!

There was no one out at the pool yet, since it doesn't open until 8:00, and it was about 7:00 at the time.

They have these menehune statues hiding all over the resort - there are quite a few in the Waikolohe Valley. (Waikolohe means "Waters of Mischief"). I found some yesterday, and spotted quite a few more today.

My best find, so far, is this one - which is in just *one* of the six elevator cars in the Waianae Tower. I happened to see it on my way back from the pool today when I did NOT have my camera...and later on I tried unsuccessfully to get on that elevator, but it simply would not come to my floor. I did manage it tonight, though.

At Makahiki, the buffet restaurant, there is a character breakfast on selected days of the week - and today was one of the days. Mickey wasn't very busy and saw me taking photos from the lobby lanai and gave me a wave. :-)

I had the opportunity to visit the rooms they made available to us to visit, which were a standard hotel room, an accessible hotel room with king bed, a dedicated two-bedroom DVC villa, and a Grand Villa. They were all beautiful, of course, but the latter was simply stunning. There will eventually be 21 Grand Villas, all with a spectacular ocean view.

Here is the kitchen in the one/two bedroom villas - these cabinets are just beautiful. The wood seems to glow from within. Note the rice cooker on the counter - apparently Disney researched timeshares in Hawaii and found that rice cookers were the #1 requested item that was not standard for most timeshares.

I also took a tour of the Laniwai Spa (lah-nee-vai), which means "freshwater heaven". I'd read the press release about it being 18,000 square feet inside and 5,000 square feet outside, but those numbers are kind of meaningless until you actually walk through it yourself. It's really big - but it's not all one huge space, but everything is interconnected with its own story, like the lumiakalani at the end of the 'Ohia Corridor.

Most of the outdoor space is devoted the the Kula Wai - the hydrotherapy garden. There are herbal pools, a reflexology path, whirlpools, and six rain showers. (Access to the Kula Wai is included with a spa treatment.) It looks wonderful - I'll be checking it out for myself on Friday. (The things I do in the name of research! :-) )

This afternoon I had some free time so I went to the pool area - Waikolohe Valley - and checked out some of the mischief that's going on in those waters. So here's Aulani Pool 101:

To use the pool, slides, etc. and to get a towel, you must have a wristband. You get this at the towel station near the main pool and you must show your room key. There's a different color every day - collect the whole set! (Just kidding!)

After I got my towel and wristband the first place i went was the slides. Tubestone Curl is the tube slide - pick up a one- or two-person tube at the bottom of the stairs first. It was fun, though the attendant at the top warned me I might need to pick up my feet to avoid banging them on the side - and that was true, but thanks to his warning I didn't have that problem. At the bottom you can either get out or get into the lazy river stream.

Volcanic Vertical is the body slide. It's completely enclosed and dark until you get pretty close to the end. Not recommended for those with claustrophobia. I got dunked pretty good at the end, but it was not bad. This is where it dumps you out, and you can either get out, or go through the grotto into the main pool.

Waikolohe Stream is the "lazy river". This was a little too slow-moving for me, and I didn't stay in very long. I think there are some other more mischievous features further along.

The main pool is not very deep, but was a pleasant swim. There are zero-entry points for both the lazy river and the main pool.


There is a really cool hot whirlpool spa on a terrace above the main pool. (Hmm...a "cool" hot whirlpool is rather an oxymoron, isn't it?) It has a waterfall falling into it - and it's hot water. I did not expect that, but it makes sense, because otherwise the water would cool down way too fast.

There's another terraced hot whirlpool spa that's on two levels, each with an infinity edge - and it would be a great place to watch the sunset.

One of the most fun features is the Menehune Bridge. This is the kid's water play area "intended for guests under 48" - but since there weren't any of them around at the time, I wandered through it. :-)

There's lots of menehune actually on the structure that are dumping gourds of water on unsuspecting heads, or even some of them teaming up to direct a stream of water. Really a fun area with great detail.

I had a good time during my pool time - there's a lot to do in Waikolohe Valley.

This was tonight's sunset, taken from the terrace below the 'AMA'AMA restaurant.

Tomorrow evening is Aulani's Grand Opening Ceremony. Throughout the day I'll be exploring more of the resort and trying to get answers to some of your questions. Remember when I said answering questions had to be easier than finding menehune? I think sometimes it might be easier to find menehune...

Disclosure: As an invited media guest, AllEars' travel expenses to the Aulani Grand Opening event were paid by the Disney company.







September 21, 2011

Aulani Grand Opening - Day 1

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Aloha from Aulani, the new Disney resort that recently opened at Ko Olina, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu.

It's been a long day, so this is going to be shorter than I had intended it to be. Disney arranged for some of us to go on a sunset catamaran cruise tonight, so between that and traveling much of the day I haven't had a chance to do much more than wander around the resort for about an hour this afternoon. So this is going to be some photos and a few first impressions.

The resort, or what I've seen of it so far, is beautiful. Everything you've heard about how breathtaking the lobby is - it's all true.

This was the first photo I took after we arrived - this is one side of the Ewa Tower and part of the porte cochere.

From the inside of the lobby looking up.

Same windows, different time of day:

The lobby hallway.

The Ewa Tower - the other tower is the Waianae Tower.

Looking down on Waikohole Valley from the lobby lanai.

I have a standard hotel room, rather than a DVC Studio. Two queen beds (I'll let you know how comfortable the bed is tomorrow), free wireless internet, a refrigerator, safe, in-room coffeemaker (and supplies to make coffee or tea). One interesting thing - the sliding glass door actually has a screen door on it - not something that I usually see in hotel rooms. Makes a lot of sense here, though, when you want to have the door open but don't want to let the bugs in!

The catamaran trip I took this evening was run by the same contractor that is running the Adventures by Disney catamaran/snorkel trip that Disney is offering. Because of our timing, ours was a sunset trip instead of the usual day trip (1:00-4:00) There was no snorkeling with ours, either, but they do that on the regular trip. I talked to the captain about the usual excursion and will have more details on that when I have a little more time to write about it. I'll say this - it was a VERY smooth trip, with much calmer water than I expected. The captain said it's like that, and that if you can handle an airline flight to Hawaii without getting motion sick, you can handle the trip on his catamaran. (Quite honestly I'd say even normal bumpiness on an airplane was a lot worse than the catamaran!)

Our ship was a 53' catamaran - once we got out of the harbor they put up the sails.

We sailed along the coast past Aulani, and had a different view of it from the boat.

There was a nice sunset - no green flash, though.

More tomorrow - if you have specific photos you'd like to see, you can post a comment to this blog - just remember to put the word "blog" in the box provided.


Disclosure: As an invited media guest, AllEars' travel expenses to the Aulani Grand Opening event were paid by the Disney company.







September 17, 2011

Aulani - Preview

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As you may have read in this week's AllEars Newsletter, I will be attending the Grand Opening of Disney's Aulani Resort in Hawaii next week. (Yes, I know, but someone has to do it. ;-) And there have to be a few advantages to living on the left coast!)

I love Hawaii, it's probably my third-favorite vacation destination (after Yosemite and Disney). It's so beautiful - the colors of the water and the sky and all of the wonderful tropical flowers and plants are so different from any other place that I've visited. Even the air in Hawaii is unique - I think you could plop me down blindfolded in Hawaii and as soon as I was outside I'd know where I was. My dad calls it "soft air". And I think that's a good way to describe it - it just caresses your skin in this wonderful way.

Ahem, back to the preview...Disney had made available a fair bit of information on Aulani even before it opened to the first official guests on August 29. Throughout the resort's construction there have been a lot of posts on Aulani to the Disney Parks Blog, as well as discussion of it in various press events. At the Disneyland press event in June there was an extended presentation on Aulani, which included the impassioned remarks of a very enthusiastic Joe Rohde, creative director of Aulani. This is a man who loves his job.

How can you watch that and NOT be excited about visiting Aulani?

And I am - excited, that is. Some of the things I'm most looking forward to:

Experiencing the restaurants:

At 'AMA'AMA, "The gourmet chefs use fresh local ingredients and island flavors to create distinctive Hawaiian dishes that juxtapose the traditional with the contemporary." The restaurant features seasonal ingredients and sustainable seafood.

Makahiki - The Bounty of the Islands, features a buffet with "tastes from around the world". On select mornings guests can dine with their favorite Disney characters at “Aunty's Breakfast Celebration at the Makahiki.”

The 'Olelo Room looks like a lot of fun - apparently all of the staff there speaks Hawaiian, and guests are encouraged to order in Hawaiian. I'm looking forward to learning some Hawaiian beyond "aloha", "mahalo", and "wiki-wiki." :-)

At One Paddle, Two Paddle, a quick service location offering burgers, wraps, etc., the side dishes are taro chips and carrot-sea asparagus salad. I first tried taro chips when my parents lived in Hawaii for a short time and I loved them - and although I can find them on the mainland they never taste quite as good. I have to admit I have no idea what sea asparagus is, but I want to try it.

And then there's the Waikolohe Valley, a seven-acre water play area. There's all kinds of water activities - pools, a variety of water slides, a lazy river, four whirlpool spas, the Menehune Bridge area for younger guests, and the Rainbow Reef snorkeling lagoon.

I also want to experience the Laniwai Spa. Laniwai means "freshwater heaven". The spa is 18,000 square feet indoors and 5,000 square feet outdoors and offers lots of different spa services. There's also a fitness center.

And I am really, really looking forward to stepping into that beautiful lobby for the first time - it looks breathtaking, with all of that wonderful wood work and all of the artwork by Hawaiian artists.

In the meantime...Quite a few press releases are coming out now that the grand opening is almost upon us - and we'll keep posting them to our Disney News Blog over the next few days.

And don't forget to check out the Sneak Preview of Aulani from AllEars Guest Blogger Jennifer B. - she includes lots of photos, too!

I don't know how to say "Are we there yet?" in Hawaiian, so I offer this instead: E hele kākou! (Let's go!)


(If you have questions about Aulani that you'd like me to research while I'm there, please email your questions to: allearsnet@yahoo.com, and put "Aulani" in the subject line. Finding answers to questions has got to be easier than finding menehune...)


Disclosure: As an invited media guest, AllEars' travel expenses to the Aulani Grand Opening event were paid by the Disney company.







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