Today in Disney History, 2011: Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, Opens

by | Aug 29, 2023 | Disney History, DVC Destinations, DVC Membership, DVC Points, DVC Resorts

Disney’s magic reached new shores on August 29, 2011 when the all-new Aulani opened its doors and welcomed its first visitors.

Your favorite Disney characters, magical experiences and encounters, delicious food, and acres of the Oahu landscape to explore, all in one place? Prior to 2011, this kind of Disney vacation was only the stuff of dreams. Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, made all of this possible – and it’s now one of the most in-demand destinations for Disney fans to visit. However, back in August of 2011, Aulani was still preparing to join the Disney family as a standout vacation destination. And on August 29, Aulani finally opened to the public and became a uniquely styled favorite of Disney fans worldwide. 

Discover how Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, transformed from a grand idea into one incredible vacation destination set against the gorgeous backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

How Aulani Came to Be

If you’ve ever wondered how Disney found its way onto a Hawaiian island, here’s the story! 

In October 2007, the very first announcement about the property that would become Aulani occurred. Disney revealed that a new hotel and timeshare resort would be developed at Ko Olina on Oahu, setting the project in motion. As the third standalone Disney hotel (joining Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort), this new addition would be quite far from any theme park or other Disney property. 

Managed by Disney Vice President Djuan Rivers and designed by Walt Disney Imagineering’s Joe Rohde, the resort was planned with 359 hotel rooms and 460 timeshare villas spanning two 15-story towers – plus plenty of other amenities spread out over 21 acres of land. Imagineers collaborated with cultural experts to create a design that would celebrate the customs and traditions of Hawaii, while weaving in those trademark Disney touches that create magic for Guests of all ages. 

The final result was a stunning resort with plenty of emphasis on Hawaiian history, traditions, and culture, with just a bit of Disney added into the mix. 

In January 2010, Disney revealed that this new Hawaiian resort would be called Aulani, which loosely translates to “orange” or “with deep messages” in Hawaiian. Disney Vacation Club sales started in July of that same year, just over one year ahead of the planned opening date. The resort began accepting reservations in August 2010.

Finally, on August 29, 2011, Aulani’s reservations became a reality as Guests checked in for the first time, marking the opening date of this now-beloved resort.

Visiting Aulani 

This standalone Disney resort was planned with plenty to do. While it’s located on the island of Oahu – which is home to countless opportunities for exploration and adventure – Guests will find a ton to enjoy right at Aulani. 

As soon as you step onsite, you’ll be awash in the resort’s commanding ocean views. You’ll also be able to see the peaks of Oahu’s mountains and the green grounds across the property itself. You can book treatments at the 18,000-square-foot spa, dine in one of the two restaurants, and enjoy an array of water activities, both in the resort pools and the Pacific Ocean crashing at the shoreline.

Aulani’s water activities are central to its fun. You can choose from a swimming pool, 900-foot floating tube waterway (or “lazy river”), wading pool, body slides, hot tubs, adult pool, and conservation pool. There’s even a snorkel lagoon to check out the vibrant underwater ecosystem right off Ko Olina’s shore. 

If you’re visiting with little ones, Aulani’s signature kids’ club – Aunty’s Beach House – introduces kids to Hawaiian culture. Here, younger Guests can play games, take part in arts and crafts, and enjoy special age-appropriate experiences. 

How Disney Magic Comes to Life at Aulani

Aulani is truly unlike any other Disney resort, particularly when it comes to the blend of local culture and the Disney characters you know and love. With a special emphasis on the surrounding traditions, design cues, and foods of the local area, Aulani is first and foremost a Hawaiian destination. But you can spot the Disney influence in some key (and notably fun!) ways.

While you’re onsite at Aulani, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take part in character encounters and get some Disney staples (like the iconic Mickey waffles) in your vacation plans. Across the resort, you can find Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and the rest of the Fab Five – Donald, Goofy, and Pluto are hanging out, and so too are Daisy, Chip ‘n’ Dale, Stitch, and Moana. Even Angel from the Lilo & Stitch TV series pops in! 

You can find these characters at set meet and greet spots sprinkled throughout Aulani. Or, you might see them while you’re hanging poolside. You can also pop into a character breakfast or dinner for more of a familiar Disney parks experience. 

The Official Opening Ceremony Took Place on a Later Date

Though Aulani was officially open for business starting on August 29, 2011, the resort’s true “grand opening” didn’t take place until the following month. There was some fanfare on opening day – Goofy arrived to greet Guests waiting outside Aulani’s doors – but the big party didn’t actually take place on this same day. 

Instead, the big reveal was simple: Guests watched the untying of a Hawaiian maile lei, led by Samson Mahi and his family from Waipahu, Oahu. 

During the official opening ceremony on September 22, 2011, a slew of invited guests, local Hawaiian officials, and members of the media were treated to an “oli pale” (Hawaiian blessing), a powerful performance featuring local drummers, dancers, and singers, and the dedication of the resort by Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, then-president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger, and Tom Staggs, then-chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Hawaiian traditions and culture were celebrated during this grand ceremony, with a little pixie dust, of course! To symbolize the coming together of Hawaii and Disney, sand from Aulani’s shoreline and some pixie dust were mixed together in a ‘umeke, or ceremonial wooden bowl.

Ever since, Aulani has continued welcoming Guests to experience its unique kind of Disney magic!

5 Reasons I Wish I Was at Disney’s Aulani Right Now

Posts by Heather Adams

epcot-clothing_creations-shop_chiu
Heather is a lifelong Disney fan who grew up at Disneyland and loves spending as much time as possible in the parks. As WDW Magazine’s Content Operations Manager, Heather is a content creator and strategist with experience at a wide variety of different outlets. She’s written for publications including Clean Eating Magazine, Fatherly, The Drive, Task and Purpose, Healthversed, Nation.com, and Car Bibles. Heather also authored the book Fidget!: 101 Ways to Boost Your Creativity and Decrease Stress.
epcot-clothing_creations-shop_chiu

Authored by
Heather Adams

Heather is a lifelong Disney fan who grew up at Disneyland and loves spending as much time as possible in the parks. As WDW Magazine’s Content Operations Manager, Heather is a content creator and strategist with experience at a wide variety of different outlets. She’s written for publications including Clean Eating Magazine, Fatherly, The Drive, Task and Purpose, Healthversed, Nation.com, and Car Bibles. Heather also authored the book Fidget!: 101 Ways to Boost Your Creativity and Decrease Stress.
0
    0
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop