September 07, 2011

Disney's Native Hawaiian hotel

Disney breaks the mold with Aulani resort

New resort offers more than Mickey Mouse ears and Mai Tais

By Rob Lovitt
On Monday, Disney’s Aulani resort—its first resort in Hawaii—will open on Oahu’s Waianae coast, a built-from-scratch complex designed to provide a unique mix of mouse-inspired "imagineering" and Native Hawaiian culture. There’ll be “hidden Mickeys” in the bed quilts, carved menehune (traditional forest dwellers) around the grounds and enough Native art, amenities and activities to make a malihini (newcomer) feel like ohana (family).

Assuming, that is, that Aulani can overcome the inherent irony involved when the world’s leading purveyor of fantasy and fabricated experiences sets out to showcase a real place with its own culture and stories.

“We’re a storytelling company,” said Disney spokesman John McClintock, “and when we came to Hawaii, we didn’t come to tell our own stories. We came to tell the stories that already exist here.”

And that’s where things get complicated.
And:According to cultural-resource specialists who talked with, Disney took a different tack than many of its predecessors, inviting Native Hawaiians into the planning process.

“Disney asked us to review the story they’d put together,” said Ramsay Taum, CEO of LEI of the Pacific LLC and a cultural consultant on the project. “They had their design in place, and we were asked to fit the story into the place. We said it doesn’t work that way—to try and shove the culture into a box does a disservice to the culture and to the box.”

The result was less emphasis on dancing tikis and torch-lighting ceremonies and more emphasis on Native art, the appropriate use of the Hawaiian language and staff training to ensure employees and managers—cast members in Disney parlance—were well-versed in the local culture.

Aulani, of course, will feature the usual array of resort amenities—a beach, pools, restaurants, spa services—but it will also offer activities and amenities that highlight Hawaiian customs and culture. Guests will be able to make poi in an on-site taro patch, participate in fire-pit storytelling sessions and brush up on their language skills in the interactive ‘Olelo Room.
Comment:  For more on Native culture in hotels, see New Hopi Hotel to Open and Native Blessing at Disney World.

Below:  "Disney's Aulani, a new resort and spa in Oahu, is shown overlooking a white sand beach and a crystal blue lagoon."

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