Joe Rohde, the creative genius behind the Adventure’s Club, Animal Kingdom, and Aulani Resort in Hawaii joins us to talk all about his career at Disney and experience designing theme parks.
We talk about how the creation of the Animal Kingdom was really a first for the Disney company and inspired future projects. Now, whenever a project that has a similar theme or concept (like the Aulani) comes into the picture, it falls under Joe.
My favorite part of this week’s talk was the examination of Joe’s famous earring.
This week’s Disneyland Secret features the Pirates of the Caribbean and a story that was told to me by my friend Dave Smith, the founder of the Disney archives.
I was able to secure an exclusive Walt Disney Imagineering logo pin to giveaway on the show. To enter, simply leave a comment on this article below with your opinion of the show, question for Joe, or fun fact. Click here to comment> Now, I can’t require you to leave an iTunes review to enter the contest, but each positive review really helps out the show. Please just copy and past the comment that you leave below and leave it as a review on iTunes.
So Joe, what does your current position of ‘creative director’ mean at Imagineering?
Joe Rohde: A creative director becomes less of a designer. This is a big split actually in people’s career paths. A director has to learn how to make use of other people: of their decisions, of their vision, of their creative preferences; how to coordinate all that towards a common vision. But a director is not any longer really a designer. You have to kind of step away from design a little bit and be able to articulate a vision in a way that other people can share it. So that they are the designers, and they have room to design, they have room for their own opinions, they have room for the things they would like to do, and yet, all those things are consistent with what you want to do.
There’s a lot of work in separating yourself from a specific visual opinion. So, you can go back one step and go, “Look! Whatever it is, this thing needs to look really scary, and it needs to be in a bluish area of color–cool tones. And it’s got to fit inside this space, so you just know it’s not going to be any bigger than X. And it forms this very important point in the story right about here.” Those things are true. They’re going to stay true. Exactly what it is, that’s up to you, designer person.
When you start out as a designer–I started out as a designer–as you move through your career path, of course you’re always getting direction from other people and having to do these designs. There’s a certain level of frustration in that you’re the designer and you are constantly being told what to do by other people. So you’re waiting for this day when you get to be the director, then you get to tell other people what to do. But that’s not what happens, right. When you get to be the director, you actually have to learn how to let other people do what they want to do, but describe the work in such a way that it’s consistent with an overall direction.
My job is setting vision, making sure that that vision is understood by the team who’s going to do the work, making sure that that vision is understood by the executives and outside people who are going to reveal it. So that whenever we talk about an idea, we’re all talking about the same thing. So we’re not getting direction that is sideways from what we’re trying to do. And then, guiding the people towards the most effective way of expressing these ideas. It’s rare for me to sit down with a piece of paper and draw a design. And usually if I do, it’s a very simple sketch. So there’s a lot of responsibility towards vision, there’s a lot of responsibility towards making sure that you have put together a team of people who are properly balanced with each other, and there’s a lot of responsibility outwards, representing the wok that that team is doing and representing back to the team what is the outside impact on the work we’re doing. That’s kind of what a creative director wants to do.
It sounds kind of like what Walt Disney had to do back in his day, in balancing everything and making people produce their best work?
Joe Rhode: Yeah, Disney didn’t spend a lot of time drawing, right? He spent a lot of time talking, and that is kind of the director’s job. If you find yourself drawing too much, you’re a designer, which is fine. You could be a great designer, but you’re unlikely to be directing if you’re spending a whole lot of time drawing. So, you really have to find a way–everyone’s method is different–to push off from that and be able to let people do their work.
My background is pretty equal between writing and drawing or between writing and design. So, my group of designers is pretty biased towards writing-based models. We do a lot of talking, we do a lot of writing, we do a lot of story-based setup before we start to draw. We don’t draw first. We talk first and then draw.
Interesting. And now, is everyone’s goal to get to where you are today? And when you started, did you say, “Oh, I want to have a leading project someday?” And how did you start with Imagineering?
Joe Rohde: Well, my early career is completely disorganized and accidental. So, I was recruited to be just a worker when we were building up Epcot. I had been teaching set design and doing set design at a high school in the San Fernando Valley. One of the executive’s kids went to that school; he kind of recruited me. But then of course, for quite some time, I was no longer directing anything. I came in at a very, very basic entry level job in the model shop. I did not have any kind of cohesive vision of something I wanted to do or wanted to be at Imagineering. But I did know that I had a body of skills to offer that at least my first job was not requiring of me.
And so, it probably took about four years for me to end up in a job where the skills that I had most well developed were now being asked of me. And now, I could move forward into progressively more and more directorial positions. And it probably took about eight years until the Adventurers Club before I was like in-charge of something that was my idea, where the things that are going to happen are going to be more or less described by me, and in the end, I’m going to be the guy who says “I am responsible for that project” and it looks like what I thought it was going to be and is a thing that I was in charge of. And that would be the Adventurers Club which opened in ’89, and I started working on in ’86-’87. So, you can follow that timeline from starting here to being in-charge of something–not a huge thing, but something. And then of course, the weird part is I went from that to Animal Kingdom which is a giant jump.
It sure is a giant jump. You were working on Epcot and then some other projects after that, then how did you get your first project? Did they just noticed you?
Joe Rohde: Yeah. Okay, so I had been working with a specific designer–very, very competent, hardworking, knowledgeable designer–very good mentor, but not a very good speaker. So he’s a very good artist. This is a common problem with artists. They could be very good artist and not very good at speaking or talking. It’s a very common problem. The obvious kind of choice that people make in their life is they develop and they end up being very good as an artist or a designer, and they just don’t end up being very good as a speaker. So I’m a very good speaker, and so whenever we have presentations, I would end up being the guy doing the talking. So if you were the guy doing the talking, you have to answer questions. And once you answer questions, now you’re in a conversation. Once you’re in a conversation, people are going to ask your opinion.
And so, I become the guy that people are asking the opinion of, because I’m the guy doing the talking. And that gives me a chance to demonstrate that I have an opinion and that my opinion is worth listening to. And that begins to get me into other meetings that aren’t related to the work that I’m doing. And I become a person who can be in a brainstorm. I become a person who can be involved in creating ideas. Once you’re a person who’s creating ideas, someone has to take responsibility for getting the ideas done. And so slowly, I can become the guy who takes responsibility for getting the ideas done.
And that gets me to the point where someone says, “Well, why don’t you take that idea–that’s your idea–and do it. And the only weird thing in there is the giant jump from the first idea to the second idea. And that was mainly a function of the fact that not very many people were interested in the animal-related project when I first showed up. I was particularly interested. And so, there wasn’t a lot of competition. Otherwise, I can’t imagine that a person with my background would have been given the assignment.
So you’re put on the Animal Kingdom, and from there, that was a long development process.
Joe Rohde: Yes. We opened the Adventurers Club, had a little interim project working on a gallery show in the Mexico pavilion–tiny little thing. And then I was offered this chance to work on the animal project that was eventually Animal Kingdom. That was 1990. And it was opened in ’98, so it was five years of work before it got a capital authorization to begin construction.
That actually was good for us, because we had a very small team. We didn’t really cost the company very much money, because our team was very small. And that allowed us to go for a long time before we had to make a decision. And that allowed us to learn a lot about animals, about conservation, about all these new rules that we would have to invent in order to be able to do a park that was about a subject so different from any subject that had led to a park before. And the look and the feel of Animal Kingdom is very much determined by the idea that this subject of live animals is more realistic, more political, more real world, more involved with negotiation, more involved with outside people from outside of the theme park business than what we had done before.
Yes, incredible project and incredible park now. And now you are still working on that park?
Joe Rohde: Well, Animal Kingdom has gone forever. So really, from the very first morning that anybody sat in a room to talk about Animal Kingdom until this morning–the meeting I just came from– I’ve been working on Animal Kingdom. Partly because the skills necessary to do Animal Kingdom become very specific, because of all those other things, all the design rules that are related to the animals. And that sort of bleeds into the whole park: the realism of the park, the research of the park, the way in which the stories in the park are a little bit more unresolved, the behaviors a little bit unscripted. That all becomes this sort of learned pattern of design, a pattern of design that we Animal Kingdom people are particularly trained in. I meet every Friday morning, and we go over Animal Kingdom issues with the SQS team and with the designers. I’ve been working on Animal Kingdom forever since it opened.
And you’re still creative director?
Joe Rohde: Still creative director over Animal Kingdom. But then, Animal Kingdom becomes kind of the epicenter of other ideas that are kind of like it somehow. Like Aulani is not an animal park. But it is involved in very high levels of research into a subject that is not one of our intellectual properties or creative properties; and involves negotiation with people who are not only not part of Disney but not even part of our industry–that being indigenous Hawaiians; and involves a level of texture and design that is more real than the typical, idealized situations you see at the theme park, and on and on and on. And therefore, falls inside of a kind of an Animal Kingdom portfolio type of work, and therefore, comes to myself and my portfolio. It happens like that. So it’s more loosely related in that it’s going to involve a lot of research, it’s going to involve a lot of negotiation; it doesn’t involve a lot of company-owned intellectual property, you know. It is related to the outside real world. Those things tend to come my direction as jobs.
Let’s talk a little bit about the Aulani project and how that got started in Disney and Hawaii? And what’s the history behind that? Why did Disney decide to go to Hawaii?
Joe Rohde: Well you know, there are a lot of reasons why [Disney decided to built Aulani]. We had a lot of guest information, a lot of internal information that our own demographic people, our own people, our own guest would love to see us do something in Hawaii. But the truth is land in Hawaii is very, very precious. It’s hard to get land in Hawaii. And the land you want is beach front property. And when you invest in beach front property, there’s a whole trigger mechanism of the scale of what you have to build to make your investment back, because the property’s expensive.
You end up knowing that you’re going to build something pretty big–15 stories–just by buying the property that just comes with the territory. So then the question is, how are we going to distinguish this property from everybody else who’s already bought beach front property and built something on a Oahu, all of which are 15 stories tall, all of which are on the beach? They all have a lobby, they all have a nice restaurant and a buffet restaurant, they all have a little spa, they all have a couple of bars, they’ve got a pool, and they’re on the beach and they have rooms. So what are you going to do that hasn’t been done before?
And again, so our job then is to think about that model. What can we do with this model that hasn’t quite been done before? And the way we went about that was just thinking, let’s go back and look at the decision to go to Hawaii, look at the advertisements, look at the way Hawaii is positioned. And if you look at all that, you look at the arguments–the marketing arguments–that people make for coming to Hawaii. They always feature the Hawaiians. There’s always a person in a hula skirt or a guy blowing on a conch shell trump or someone dancing hula.
The culture of Hawaii is the way in which Hawaii distinguishes itself from other beachy tropical destinations. Hawaii is Hawaii because of Hawaiians. So if Hawaii is Hawaii because of Hawaiians, then Hawaiians are the destination. That’s the destination. Otherwise, I could go to Saint Kitts, I can go to Malibu, right, I could go to Tahiti, or I can go to the Philippines. I can go all over the place. Why am I going to Hawaii? So once you make the decision that Hawaiians are what makes Hawaii Hawaii, now we can have a thematic idea that we can begin to work on and set up a design pattern, a design method that involves Hawaiians.
So basically, what we did is we took the entire project. I mean, everything: carpet patterns, drapery patterns, everything, doorknobs, everything and decided that Aulani would be based entirely on Hawaiian points of view about what makes Hawaii Hawaii. And that would make our 15-story beach front hotel look completely different from anyone else’s 15-story beach front hotel anywhere else in Hawaii. And that’s what happened.
And it has turned out amazingly. I’ve been over there once now and spent three days and really submerged myself. You never want to leave.
Joe Rohde: Oh, it’s pretty interesting. And interesting too, because I think people come away from Aulani with a richer understanding of what Hawaii might really be. Remember, Aulani is a place, so people are going to come back to again and again. And I believe that by taking that journey, you become more comfortable visiting the rest of Hawaii, more knowledgeable about visiting the rest of Hawaii. It increases your confidence about going out into Hawaii, and it will increase your knowledge and understanding of what you see. I don’t think people would keep coming to Aulani and just staying at Aulani forever. I think it becomes a machine and engine by which you understand how to enjoy Hawaii better.
And not the corporate, other company way to do a Hawaiian vacation?
Joe Rohde: No, there’s a way that you get caught in this loop. Frankly, it’s a market research-based loop of like, “This is what people expect, so this is what we’re going to do.” And you go around and around and around and around, and you end up with a product that isn’t different enough from where I came from, you know. You take this great big journey getting to Hawaii. For anyone who’s not from Hawaii is a giant journey. You’re going to cross the ocean, either on a boat or an airplane. It takes time, it’s a big deal, you have to prepare for it. It’s not a casual decision.
When you get to the other side of that journey, you want to feel like you’ve got somewhere. Like when you walk through the door, it’s like we’re not in Kansas anymore. This is a different place from where I came from. In order for it to be different, it can’t be based on what you already expect, or by definition it won’t be different. It has to be based on something that it has to say itself. That’s what makes it different. That’s how you know you got some place new is because it isn’t just what you said you wanted. It’s more and sideways from just what you said you wanted. It’s all the things you want, but it’s not just the things you want, because that would be like not leaving home. You already know you want those things. You already know you need those things. There’s no new news there; there’s no new discovery there.
That’s not why you travel. You’re traveling to be somewhere else, and in order for that place to be somewhere else, it has to have an opportunity to be itself. And that’s what we’re trying to do with Aulani. So, when you get to Aulani, you really have arrived some place that is not like home.
That lobby, just walking in, you can tell. Could you talk a little about working with Hawaiians and how you made it truly Hawaiian?
Joe Rohde: Yeah, sure. I mean, there are all kinds of things here, you know. Hawaiians have a very specific attitude about places, for example. There is no such thing as a generic place in Hawaiian thinking. Places are very specific. Very specific. You are exactly where you are. And so, we did a lot of research with the Hawaiians into the specific story of that piece of land.
And then, there’s another thing, a Hawaiian idea about land and how land is organized along two different thought patterns. One is that time is organized according to the flow of water. So that which is traditional, old, based on the ancestors, antique, that is up in the mountains where fresh waters begins and that which represents the future is down in the ocean where life comes out of the ocean. The Hawaiians came to Hawaii from the ocean. And so, if you look carefully at Aulani, it is more traditional, more rooted in the past in those areas that are away from the beach. As you go down towards the beach, it becomes more modernistic, more contemporary, you know. The ‘AMA ‘AMA restaurant’s quite contemporary. That’s very deliberate and very Hawaiian in terms of how you think about space.
And the other division is, if you are facing into the future, meaning with your back to the mountains and you’re faced to the ocean, then the more feminine side of your body is to the left, the more masculine to the right. And that’s another division that we made at Aulani, through the art program, to the landscape program. So when you get to Aulani, you’re actually standing in a Hawaiian space. You’re not just at a place about Hawaii. You’re at a place that has been designed and thought of as Hawaii.
And there are millions of these. There are millions of these little details like that. The mural that surrounds the top of the lobby is divided in the same way. It treats more with the past and with ancestors in the inland phase and more with the ocean and contemporary Hawaiians, that down towards the ocean. It has more masculine examples on one side and feminine on the other, and it represents this idea that Hawaiian culture is alive. It is not something from the past. It’s not a once upon a time thing. Hawaiians are alive. They’re all around you. They’re working in this hotel. They have a culture and that culture is alive today. So, when you come to Hawaii, the opportunity you have is very real opportunity to be engaged with Hawaiian culture.
And the engagement, it truly is there over there and that the cuisine is represented so much as well and the experience is, in the hotel– And the pool area is so unique, and there’s Menehune everywhere. What’s the story on the Menehune?
Joe Rohde: The Menehune are an interesting subtext. We want to make sure that our product is welcoming an entire family. A lot of resort product, it doesn’t focus on family as a unit the way we do. So, there are all kinds of things at Aulani that are specifically targeted–custom targeted–at welcoming young people. Menehune are only one of those things, right. We took the Menehune which is a local legend about a kind of people, mystical or mythological, who live in the forest, who come out usually at night, who do work–helpful little things–and who hide. And we created this whole, almost like Easter egg, program of hidden Menehune who are very often placed in places only kids would look, where it would be hard for a parent to even see them.
And then of course, they inform the interactive game that you play through the entire resort, and you just see the peeking out on the bushes and they’re inside the elevators and they’re under the furniture and they’re hidden in corners all through the resort. You could spend a day just hunting for Menehune through the resort. It’s simple. Very simple. But it is tied to a real cultural idea that is a Hawaiian idea. And there’s a lot of other stuff we did for young people as well.
And then the whole treatment of the Waikolohe Valley as if it was a real valley: weather, more tropical; more forested; in the inland area, drier; and you know, more palms as you move out towards the ocean. We took the design right to the sand, so there isn’t this kind of barrier wall between the public beach and our private resort. All of that is very Hawaiian way of thinking about the land.
The other thing is all through the Waikolohe Valley are these images of animals that are important to Hawaiians in one way or another, but much more hidden, let’s say, on the tree of life. And that’s another Hawaiian idea that the land is speaking to you, that every place you look has a message, every place you look has meaning. Every place. That’s a hard idea to convey. We sort of turned that into this symbolic use of little animal messages in the lava rock of the place. So that symbolically, if you look hard enough, you’re going to start to see things you didn’t see before. And that is a very Hawaiian idea.
So in a way, even if you don’t leave the resort– and I do think people should take day trips and go out and see Hawaii, you know. But even if you don’t leave the resort, there’s a lot of Hawaii there to be heard, not the least of which is the cast members, who many of them, very knowledgeable about Hawaii and Hawaiian culture are very happy to talk to you. And because of the design of the resort, there’s a lot to talk about.
That’s fantastic! One last question before we go: Could you tell me a little bit about your earring that that has earned you the reputation of the “Imagineer with the Earring?”
Joe Rohde: Oh, you know I started this a long time ago; right about the time I started the Adventurers Club, as a matter of fact. And I started actually wearing my Disney five-year pin through my ear. Now I had a hole in my ear. I didn’t push my lapel pin through my ear. I already have a little earring hole, but just a normal little 1980s earring hole like anybody would have. And I started wearing my five-year pin through my ear, because it was a really cool little pin. And that made the hole bigger. And so then I thought, oh I’m going to wear like two gold hoops like a pirate. So then, I started wearing two gold hoops and that made the hole bigger.
And so, somewhere around 1987, I made this decision that I was going to cultivate this National Geographic ear. Whenever I went some place I hadn’t been before, I would find an earring and stick it through my ear, and I would end up with this ear that was like a National Geographic ear. I did not know that starting that year, my life would change, and I would end up traveling so much that by 1989, I already had this ear. It did not take long once I started to end up with this ear.
And now, people would just give me earrings. I‘ve had tribal people give me earrings, and I receive earrings, you know. But usually, if I’m wearing it in my ear, it’s some kind of indigenous tribal earring that comes from a specific journey to a specific place, usually the first time I’ve been there. Otherwise, I would have like 700 earrings. So, I try to restrict myself in some way for the [Disney] rules. And I do have like a cereal bowl full of earrings at home.
Could you pick out one or two and talk a little bit about that?
Joe Rohde: Let’s see what’s in there. Oh, some really cool ones. This little beaded earring is from Rajasthan. This is really common actually. You go to a little shop or some place, and they’re always trying to sell you the fancy earrings. But the fancy earrings aren’t usually tribal earrings; they’re from some design studio. So you are like: no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. So almost every shop has a little box or a little ball–this is true all over the world–or a little package or a little thing full of junk. It’s like the junk bowl. And you go, “Can I see the junk bowl?” And you go through the junk ball, and that’s where the earring is. It’s in the junk bowl, almost always. Like this happened in Mongolia, Rajasthan, Zambia, all over the world. I find the earring in the junk ball. So this one came from the junk ball in Rajasthan. It’s just a simple little earrings; nothing much to it.
Let’s see what else is that interesting earring. The ones that’s been in there, the longest is probably this gold earring. This is a Nepalese earring that I’ve had for a really long time. I got on my first trip to Nepal. In Nepal, it would be worn by a married person. And when I first went to Nepal, I was in a really remote area. Everybody had this earring in their ear. I thought that is a cool earring. I got to find it somewhere. So I‘ve had that one for a really longtime.
The Maasai earring, where is that? It’s a beaded Maasai earring. I know it’s in there. I have to do this by touch. Sorry. There it is. So the Maasai earring, that one. That beaded Maasai earrings. That’s one of those things where not many people have an ear like this. So when you go someplace where people do have an ear like this, like the Maasai–they have these giant holes in there–then everybody’s like, “Oh you got to have this earring, you know. You got to stick this through your ear, you know.” So I get this kind of, “Oh you got to have this; you got to have that.” So that one’s kind of like a gift earring from some Maasai person who I’m sure is hoping that I’ll buy like more earrings. That happens a lot too. People would just hand me earrings. I’ve had Thai hill tribe people hand me earrings. Tibetans hand me earrings. I was on a doorstep of some hunting lodge in South Africa and some giant hunter lady hands me a leopard knuckleon a leather string. “This is for your ear” you know. So I get a lot of that too.
What a great concept– I wish I had a souvenir, something that I could collect like that would be a great way to connect with people…
Joe Rohde: Yeah, you know, it has become as whole identity of its own. I mean, you know, I really do think more people recognize the earring than recognize me. It’s that thing of like –
The Imagineer with the Earring
Joe Rohde: Yeah, I’m like the earring of Imagin-Earring. And it’s a simple easy thing to do, and it gives you a little mission each time you go somewhere. Because I do kind of like the idea when you go somewhere that you have a sense, even a simple sense of mission, because it pushes you into areas you wouldn’t otherwise go, right, which is something a creative person needs to always do.
So everyone should have an earring.
Joe Rohde: No, but everyone should have a special thing, right.
Yes, something like that.
Joe Rohde: Yeah.
So I think that’s all the time you have. Thank you so much for talking to us today. I know you have a website and you have your own your social account. Where can people find you there?
Joe Rohde: I have an Instagram account. That’s @JoeRohde–most of it is Joe Rohde–and I have a Twitter account that’s @JoeRohde and a Facebook site as well. They’re all Joe Rohde. They’re pretty easy to find. They’re not much about Disney stuff. They’re mostly about travel, creativity, and adventure. That way, I can sort of keep these things very clear and separate, you know. If the Disney company wants me to blog about something, it’s really clear where that is and not very confusing. Because if you go to the site expecting to hear about Avatar, you could be really frustrated, where you’re really going to hear a whole lot about burial traditions of the Toraja highland people or Balinese ceremonial customs or some new book I’ve been reading.
Bonus: When you listen to the episode, receive a discount code for the book.
The Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean attraction loops in on itself, so that after you go down both drops, you are directly below the load area. Then, in the bar scene with the pirates, you will see a slanted ceiling. This ceiling is actually the ramp bringing the boats out of the attraction.
Did you know that Marc Davis designed a never ending chess game for the pirates to be playing? In the bar scene with the pirates, the dead skeletons will be locked in chess combat for eternity. For a long time, the game wasn’t set up correctly, but when the characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean films were added to the attractions, they corrected the chess set and now it is never ending.
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The Disney Aulani in Hawaii turned 2 years old today! As many of you know, we have been big fans of the Hawaiian resort ever since one of our writers visited the Aulani resort about a year and a half ago.
Since then we made another expedition to the resort where we just had to spend three days going down the water slides, sun bathing, and enjoying some of the best food of the Hawaiian island.
The trips were some of the best experiences I have ever had staying at a Disney Resort. (When we visit Disneyland, we usually stay off-property. The Aulani is ten times better than any Walt Disney World Resort. That’s right, it is that good!)
I invite you to look back at all of the articles that we have written about the Aulani in honor of this big day.
When you first pull up to the Disney Aulani you are greeted with the magnificent lobby. We joined a tour guide for a full tour of the art and history of the lobby.
The Aulani is currently renovating it’s property to add more restaurants and more deck space. See the full information and concept artwork here.
Without further ado join the Walt Disney World dapper dans in singing happy birthday!
If you if ever have a chance to visit the Disney Aulani and experience the true attention to detail that creates this magical Hawaiian resort, take it! Your view of Hawaii and what a vacation can be will be forever changed.
As many people know. We recently returned from a fantastic vacation at the Aulani. I just went back to my camera and found some of the great nighttime shots I took. Sit back relax and enjoy this journey to paradise.
Imagine a balmy 85 degree wind blowing across your face, as you walk across the beach in one of the most beautiful places in the world. You are at the Aulani. Enjoy these shots of the Aulani at nighttime.
As the sun sets, some of the greatest parts of the resort come to life.
Before we begin, I would like to give a shout out to Brandi Clement, Resort Sales Manager for the Aulani. She kindly gave us a tour of the Aulani when we were visiting in January and she also proof read this article, checking our facts.
Which means, this is a 100% correct history of Aulani. No where else can you find such a well rounded correct guide.[Tweet It!]
Anyways, lets get on with the show or as they say in Mulan, Let’s Get Down to Business!
Aulani-A Disney Resort and Spa was Disney’s step into having smaller resorts outside of the Disney theme parks. Opened in 2011, this beautiful resort rests on the beaches of Ko Olina in the most removed and relaxing area of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.
To find that land Disney had been in Hawaii for over ten years searching for just the right spot. Finally in 2007 Disney announced that they would be building an 800 unit resort in Hawaii resting on 21 acres with a price tag of around $800 million dollars.
Disney knows that their guests and Disney Vacation Club members have existing ties to Hawaii. When not traveling to a Disney property, the biggest other trip planned by Disney patrons was to the islands of Hawaii. Disney obviously wanted to capitalize on their guests and have a location in a place where their guests already traveled. Another appealing factor to Disney was their large Japanese audience that often makes trips to Tokyo Disney Sea as well as Hawaii. The final reasoning behind the project was to expand their Disney Vacation Club offerings as well as their influence as a timeshare.
Who Made it Happen?
Joe Rohde the chief Imagineer behind Animal Kingdom grew up above Waikiki in Hawaii and was the creative lead on the Aulani project. After finding out that Disney had finally decided to to open the resort in Hawaii he knew and so did Disney that he was the man for the job.
According to Joe the public views Hawaii as a laid back set of islands filled with surfers containing no history. Having grown up on Oahu, he knew that was not true. Hawaii is a place filled with wonder and tradition. That’s what the Aulani brings to the table.
How did they stay culturally correct?
When starting to create the Aulani, Disney spared no expense. They created a cultural advisory board that worked hand in hand with Joe Rohde every step of the way while designing and building the resort. This cultural advisory board was made up of local community leaders, hula masters, Hawaiian artists and Hawaii cultural experts.
Culturally Correct Lobby
The board was instrumental in making sure that the resort only used Hawaiian names that meant something rather than making up random words(eheehmm Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki).
Some examples are:
MikiMiki Fitness Center- Miki actually has nothing to do with our lovable mouse, but instead means energetic in Hawaiian.
Laniwai Spa- Means freshwater heaven and boy this Disney Spa sure is.
Little Opihi’s- Meaning shellfish, this beach shack serves sushi and other fun beach side snacks.
Oh at last I see the Light!
Another example of Disney’s cultural knowledge is their choice not to use the classic tiki torch. I was completely amazed when I learned, on a press tour, that the concept of a tiki torch was actually from other Polynesian Islands, not Hawaii. You will see these torches at every other resort, but not at Disney.
Instead they use a couple of lighting fixtures that makes me say hats off to Walt Disney Imagineering as usual. All of the lighting fixtures revolve around the kukui nut that traditionally was burned on the islands of Hawaii as their choice fuel.
The main incarnation is very similar to a tiki torch:
Aulani’s Version of a Tiki Torch
The second is a bowl that would traditionally be carried around for light, but in this case is made up of a bubbling water bowl with a light in it.
Where are the characters?
Mickey and Minnie in Hawaii
Another thing that you will never see at the Aulani is a random Disney character running around the property. All Disney meet and greets are scheduled and located in one secluded place. Much like all of the other guests at the hotel, the Disney characters are simply visiting Hawaii on vacation. Also, you won’t find Lilo(of Lilo and Stitch) at the resort accompanying Stitch because she is back home at school on Kaua’i.
After completing the fantastic project that is the Aulani, Disney let it glide. Using very little marketing and relying on word of mouth for marketing, Disney has continued to keep the resort booked months in advance. Disney also has done a great job listening to the responses of guests and are now making additions to the property that you can read about here. So there is the history of the Aulani, hopefully it lives on sharing the cultures of Hawaii.
We really enjoyed our recent trip to the resort and highly suggest that you take a look the next time that you are on the islands. We highly recommend booking through our partnership with Dreams Come True Vacations. Their highly educated staff will help you create a magical memory filled vacation to Aulani or any other Disney resort around the world.
That just about wraps it up for this history portion of the Aulani. Make sure to sign up for our email list to get notified when we write more about the Aulani and other Disney locations.
No where else can you find such a well rounded 100% correct guide to the Disney Aulani.[Tweet It!]
Also, we just got back from the Aulani and would be more than happy to answer any questions that you have about the resort!
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Disney has announced that the popular Aulani will go through a period of renovation. The Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa is a beautiful resort that will not have even more to offer.
There will be two main projects in the renovation.
Project one will be a large addition to the Waikolohe Pool. Included in this project will be expanded deck space for sun bathers and people who just want to relax along with new water features to enhance this already fantastic pool.
Project two for the Disney Aulani is the addition of two much needed quick service restaurants. Previously they only had a few very upscale restaurants on property. It will be very nice to have another place to eat.
A third smaller detail released in this statement is the move of the Starlit Hui to a larger grass area because it was so popular.
These new contruction projects and enhancements scheduled for the Disney Aulani will begin in September of 2012 and continue through 2013. We will have more information for you so make sure to sign up for our email list and keep checking back for more news.
To book an Aulani vacation click here and to find out more click here.
The Disney Aulani not only has amazing details inside, like their restaurants and lobby they also have amazing details outside. In this post(if you couldn’t tell by the title) we will be writing about the amazing pools and poolside experiences at the Disney Aulani. Located in between the two towering guest towers is Waikalohe Valley, the name of the pool.
The first of the cool experiences is Volcanic Vertical, an indoor body water slide, located in the main pool area.
In the Makai preserve guests can meet with stingrays under the guidance of marine biologists. This experience donates all of it’s profits towards Hawaiian conservation research.
Similar to the swimming with the fish experience at Typhoon Lagoon in Disney World, in Rainbow Reef you can swim with Angel Fish, Sting Rays, and Butterfly fish. This experience does require an extra fee. As the sign below says the water is very cold in the lagoon.
Throughout the resort there are hidden carved animals and Menehune(spirits thought to cause events in Hawaii). The characters tell the story of Hawaii and add to the overall feeling of the Disney Aulani.
The Wailana pool is a quiet pool with a multiple spas/hot tubs.
Disney has strategically placed Disney characters throughout the pool area to entertain guests, without disrupting the tranquility of the pool.
As you can see there are many different outdoor experiences at the Disney Aulani and they fit in with the whole family.
Today we will be highlighting all of the top three restaurants at the Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii. First, I would like to congratulate the Aulani, as it was recently named one of the top twelve U.S. hotels on Conde Nast Traveler’s “2012 Hot List.”At the Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii, there are three main restaurants. A lounge, buffet, and sunset restaurant. The lounge doubles as a breakfast area, and may be one of the coolest spaces in the entire resort.
The lounge, the ‘Olelo Room is themed to teaching guests Hawaiian. The new lounge’s servers speak fluent Hawaiian, and the walls are decorated with Hawaiian words, so that no guest leaves, without being able to speak a little Hawaiian.
Below are some close ups on the word boxes.
As you can see, these fun word boxes teach guests to not only speak Hawaiian, but also show off some Hawaiian craftsmanship.
The next best restaurant at the Aulani is the sunset dinning room. ‘AMA’AMA is an open aired dinning area situated right on the beach, with beautiful views of the ocean, and sunset. The restaurant is named after the local fish, the ‘ama’ama, the restaurant speacializes in seafood, duck, pasta, and other seasonal specialties.
The entire restaurant is designed to look like Aunty’s Beach house. The family just kept adding and adding, and for that reason the restaurant is a combination of modern, and traditional Hawaiian architecture. The attention to detail at ‘Ama’Ama is amazing, for example Disney rusted a nail to make it look older, but they not only rusted the nail, they also added a streak of rust down the stone support pole where the nail was found to provide even more attention to detail.
The restaurant itself is completely open aired, and is beautiful at night. ‘Ama’Ama is very popular among everyone, even people who came in critiquing the restaurant left loving it. So for that reason, make your reservations early.
The final restaurant at the Disney Aulani that we will be covering is Makahiki. Makahiki is a buffet, that is causal at night and a character breakfast in the morning.
The Makahiki is very popular, and not only does it have good food, and architecturally it is beautifully built. The walls of the room are lined with the inside of the coconut shells, and on the other side of the wall the outside the cocounut lines the wall. This is the kind of attention to detail that populates the Aulani.
Another cool feature of this buffet is that the buffet isn’t in the center of the room. It is off to the side, allowing for guests to focus on their meal, and their dinning partners.
The atmosphere in Makahiki is amazing and I wish that I had had the chance to dine here. Apparently, the character dinning and regular buffet are booked through August. Makahiki has become to be known by locals as the best buffet on the island.
I hope that you enjoyed our visual guide to the Disney Aulani’s restaurants. Make sure to check out our previous post on the Disney Aulani Lobby. What do you think of these restaurants? My one suggestion is to make reservations EARLY!!!!
Over the next month we will be highlighting all different parts of the Aulani Resort in Hawaii. We will post once a week for the next four weeks, we will show off the lobby today. Before we start, just know that you can click on any of the images and they will get much bigger.
When you first walk into the Aulani, the first Disney resort on Hawaii, you will be amazed by the attention to detail and feel of the main entrance. Looking across the open lobby, you can see over the pool area and out to the ocean.
Everything in the resort is highly detailed, telling the story of Hawaii. The roof is designed to look like the roofs of beach huts from old Hawaii.
Wrapping the entire lobby is an original mural telling the story of the Hawaiian people.
At either end of the lobby there are giant murals featuring men and women. One side is the female side, and other side is the male side. Not only do the murals differentiate the sides, but also there are two pools on each side. On the male side the pool is moving, over rocks, and is rushing water, but on the female side the water is still, personifying both sexes.
Not only are the walls detailed, the floor is also decorated in Hawaiian detail. In the middle of the room there is a giant compass, but rather than saying north, south, east, and west, the compass’ points are each made out of a different type of rock from each direction. For example the point that points toward the ocean is made out of coral, and the point that points toward the mountains is made out of lava rock.
My personal favorite thing about the Aulani is that it is done by Disney, but it isn’t a Disney Park. Everyone knows that I love the Disney Parks, but there is another kind of Disney magic at work at the Aulani, one that truly brings Hawaiian history to life. Make sure to sign up for our mailing list below so that you can get our other posts about Disney Aulani.
After much anticipation, Aulani, Disney’s first property in Hawaii, received its first guests Monday.
The resort, was inspired by Hawaiian heritage and tradition, and local architects, artisans and historians helped to incorporate that spirit into Aulani.
Aulani traditionally means “a messenger of a chief – one who delivers a message from a higher authority,” Joe Rohde, senior vice president, Creative for Walt Disney Imagineering, said in a press release. “The name Aulani was chosen to position the resort as a messenger of the “higher authority” that is Hawaii, its spirit and its culture.”
Aulani doesn’t skimp on the amenities: four restaurants, two lounges, an adult spa, a separate teen spa, fitness center, kids’ club and a large pool area featuring a private snorkeling lagoon and a conservation pool where guests can get up close and personal with sea creatures like stingrays, anemones and starfish.
Activities happening around the resort include movie nights, fireside storytelling, hula dancing, Hawaiian sunset ceremonies, cooking classes, surf lessons and, of course, Mickey and company will be around too.
Room prices vary, but for the beginning of September, two adults and two children can share a standard room for $399 per night, a partial ocean view room for $524 per night, an ocean view room for $549 per night, or a parlor suite for $1,340 per night. Visit Aulani’s website to make a reservation.