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Soak up the sun at Aulani, Disney's Hawaiian themed resort

Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa

Source: Stonyplain Reporter

If you were Mickey Mouse, where would you go on vacation?

With some of the world's top theme-parks, cruise ships and hotels to choose from, the decision could be difficult. But perhaps, if you were Mickey, you might want to go somewhere different. Somewhere more laid-back. Somewhere really special.

Enter Aulani: A Disney Resort and Spa on the Hawaiian island of Oahu -- the only planet in the Disney universe where the Disney name takes second billing -- by design. And that says a lot about the 8.5-hectare beach resort.

At Aulani, Hawaiian culture, history and traditions are the stars. These are on show -- in myriad ways big and small -- throughout the property.

"Aulani is about Hawaii first and Disney second," says Manako Tanaka, one of three "cultural greeters" who provide guests with "a window onto Hawaiian culture."

Sure there are photo ops and breakfasts with Disney characters, Mickey-shaped waffles and hidden Mickeys, but there are also hidden Menehunes (mischievous little island people), wandering local artisans, shave-ice stands, a Starlit Hui, fireside storytelling, a kids' club called Aunty's Beach House and Hawaii-themed spas for grown-ups and teens.

Opened in 2011 -- and recently expanded -- the centre of the resort (called the Waikolohe Valley) is essentially a lushly landscaped water- play zone with a couple of kick-butt water-slides -- the Volcanic Vertical and the Tubestone Curl -- a winding lazy river, the new Keiki Cove splash-pad for little guests, the Menehune Bridge interactive play area, and swimming pools, including a tranquil new adults-only pool.

At the ocean's edge, is a beautiful protected beach, a new infinity pool with underwater sound effects (dolphin and whale calls), and the North Shore Beach Zone, which evokes the spirit of Oahu's fabled surf mecca.

And at every opportunity, whether paddleboarding, surfing or snorkelling amid hundreds of colourful fish in the man-made Rainbow Reef, kids -- and their parents -- have fun and learn something real about the destination.

Like every Disney destination, Aulani is infused with the company's trademark attention to detail, top-notch service and enough things to do to make your head spin. And while it is not a budget resort, many activities -- more than any other resort I know of -- are complimentary for guests, including the kids' club which only charges a small fee for food. Here are a few examples of things that exceeded my expectations during a visit earlier this year:

Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa

AUTHENTIC CULTURE
The Disney Imagineers -- the creative geniuses who make the magic happen -- worked with Hawaiians to tell the story of island culture.

The tale starts at check-in at the beautiful open air Maka'ala lobby -- a soaring great hall that looks out to the mountains and the sea, and is decorated with a 60-metre-long mural on Hawaiian life painted by a local artist.

"We didn't come in to create new fantasies about Disney," Todd Apo, the company's public affairs director says. "We took what existed and found new ways to tell the story through architecture, programs and activities."

The resort also showcases the world's largest collection of contemporary Hawaiian art and there is a free art tour for adult guests.

STARLIT HUI
With family entertainment being Disney's forte, it's hardly surprising that there is a fabulous family show. Several nights each week, the whole ohana (family) is invited to gather on the Halawai Lawn for the Starlit Hui -- an extravaganza of major proportions with storytelling, plus song and dance under the stars. Go early to suss out a good spot near the stage to spread a lauhala (a woven mat provided to guests) and take in some lessons in modern hula, local games and artisans who demonstrate crafts such as lei-making and weaving. If the kids can keep their eyes open, stay afterward for a high-energy dance party with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and the gang.

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