Hawaii: Let your inner child play
Source & Image Source: The New Zealand Herald
In bright blue boardshorts, a Hawaiian shirt and with Minnie at his side, Mickey Mouse is dancing under the stars to the tune of Electric Boogie by The Hot Billys. On the lawn below, Goofy and Chip 'n' Dale are helping lead hundreds of spellbound kids - and parents - in what one passer-by describes as "Disney aerobics".
With their idols leading them in a twilight dance party, the yawns of an action-packed week become fewer as the youngsters follow every step, hypnotised.
It's been an exhausting day for the wee ones, who might have started the morning with breakfast with Mickey or queuing for photos with Donald Duck.
"I did it! I did it," shrieks one girl, after getting her prized picture.
This may not be Disneyland, but there are few other places in the world where children can kick off their day eating waffles with Goofy and end it dancing with Mickey at a "Starlit Hui".
And while it's not all about Mickey and the crew at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa on the island of Oahu, the looks of wonder, joy and fascination on the faces of every youngster in the vicinity of the characters creates a magical buzz, which can't help but bring out your inner child.
Soon, I also find myself in line to meet Mickey. And kind of excited about it. That he takes a liking to my hat just makes me more giddy.
Opened 18 months ago, Aulani aims to celebrate Hawaiian culture and give families somewhere to "come together". After being greeted with delicious-smelling leis, the family vibe is immediately evident, with dads teaching daughters how to swim, mums taking toddlers for paddleboard rides and siblings racing to the shaved-ice stand.
With two pools, waterslides, a lazy river, snorkelling lagoon and the gorgeous Ko Olina beach, the resort also runs daily activities for both children and teens, such as fish-feeding, fire-pit storytelling, poolside games, sunrise yoga and an adventure trail leading players through the sprawling property while solving mysteries.
But it's the little touches that can give the biggest buzz. On our final day we discover that, just like Disneyland in LA has "Hidden Mickeys" (Mickey images concealed in rides and buildings), Aulani has 300 "Hidden Menehune", which Hawaiian legend describes as "mischievous small people". Once privy to the knowledge that the figurines are tucked away in elevators, rooms and hallways, it's hard not to be in Where's Wally mode.
Meanwhile, the resort's Pu'u Kilo volcano has 100 animals etched into its exterior,
and inside it along waterslides - but they'll be spotted only by young people in-the-know, usually thanks to a staffer letting them in on the secret.
When the heat becomes too intense, there's a chill-out room with video games and movies. When it's parents who need time out, Aunty's Beach House entertains children for free while adults indulge in the Lanawai Spa's Kilikili treatment (a decadent Hawaiian massage using exfoliating scrubs and body butters under gentle rain showers) or a sunset dinner at beachside restaurant 'Ama 'Ama. The restaurant's chocolate cake with caramel chards and coffee cream was the best dessert of my life.
While dining options come at a range of prices, including a reasonable poolside snack shack, bills rapidly pile up, so budget-conscious families can head across the road to the Ko Olina Centre for some cheaper meals or to stock up on snacks, which can be stored in the room fridge.
Aulani oozes culture, but no trip to Hawaii is complete without a luau - a traditional Hawaiian feast, much like a hangi. The closest is a 10-minute stroll away at Paradise Cove, where prices start at US$88 ($106) for adults and US$68 ($82) for children. After a dinner of pork, fish, chicken, salmon and salads, you can take a hula lesson and by "certified" as a Paradise Cove dancer. Then it's on with an action-packed show that pays tribute to Hawaiian and Polynesian history and culture, including a segment on New Zealand. The fire dancer was dizzying.
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