Disney's Aulani Resort & Spa Opens in Ko Olina

First Guests Arrive At Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Hawai'i

KO OLINA - (HawaiiNewsNow) Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Hawai'i, welcomed its first guests today with a special sunrise ceremony filled with the spirit of Hawaii. Disney officials say Aulani combines Disney and island magic to create an unforgettable family vacation experience on a beautiful lagoon along the coast of O`ahu. Ramsay Wharton and Howard Dicus were LIVE on Sunrise on Hawaii News Now. Check out their live reports of the fun and watch the slideshow of the property that many a buzz in the islands. Watch a special webxtra to see what Disney Aulani merchandise is being snapped up at Aulani today.

Some excited guests started arrriving around midnight and the property started checking folks in around 3 a.m. While waiting, they were greeted with juice and condiments and enjoyed picture taking and entertainment by visiting Disney characters, Goofy, Donald, Chip & Dale, Stitch. A special oli chant - an expression of aloha and welcome - was presented by Kahulu De Santos, Aulani Cultural Advisor. Welcoming remarks were delivered by Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts; Djuan Rivers, vice president of Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, and Elliot Mills, managing director of Aulani.

"We are thrilled to open our doors and invite guests from around the world to experience Aulani," Staggs said. "This resort is a unique and exciting project that combines the magic and storytelling of Disney with the rich culture and beautiful scenery of Hawaii. It is the ultimate family paradise with a touch of Disney magic."

Mickey and Minnie arrived by a surfboard laden golf cart and were the first to drive up the Aulani porte-cochere to start their own Hawaiian vacation. They watched as Auntie Nettie, the kahu, or spiritual advisor of this region, delivered a traditional Hawaiian blessing, and the Mahi family from Waipahu untied the maile lei at the Aulani entrance, allowing the first guests to enter the Maka'ala lobby to check in and begin enjoying their Hawaiian vacation. The guests were greeted by smiling Aulani "Cast Members," the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts' term for all employees.

The official Grand Opening Ceremony for Aulani will take place Thurs., Sept. 22, 2011.

What locals need to know:

Aulani is open to the public for dining, shopping and use of its convention facilities and wedding locations. The rooms are booked for tonight, but there is availability online for other dates. As far as dining goes, reservations are key, especially during opening week. Parking is validated for diners as well. The Lagoon fronting the property is open to the public, but only guests can utilize the Disney amenities, water slides, lazy river and snorkeling on the property. For further inquiries, contact Aulani.

Hawaiian heritage and Disney magic

According to Disney officials, the Aug. 29 guests are the first to experience the magical Aulani mixture of Disney storytelling and service combined with the beauty, fun, enchantment and traditions of the islands. Each day of their stay, Aulani guests will be able to customize their experiences - relaxing on the beach or in Laniwai, a Disney Spa, playing in the pools, discovering the island on specially planned excursions, gathering at the Fireside Mo'lelo for storytelling (mo'lelo is the Hawaiian word for story), or spotting the statues of Menehune, the legendary island little people, hidden throughout the resort.

"We want this resort destination to reflect the vibrant culture that surrounds it. The name 'Aulani' expresses a connection to tradition and deep storytelling - and its roots are in this land right here," said Joe Rohde, senior vice president and creative executive, Walt Disney Imagineering.

Aulani traditionally means "a messenger of a chief - one who delivers a message from a higher authority." The name Aulani is fitting as the resort serves as a messenger of the Hawaiian spirit, people and culture.

Aulani is situated on 21 acres of oceanfront property in Ko Olina, adjacent to a nine-acre, crystal-blue lagoon and white-sand beach. Ko Olina is 17 miles from Honolulu International Airport and approximately 30 minutes from Waikiki.

When all phases are complete, Aulani will include 359 traditional hotel rooms and 481 two-bedroom equivalent Disney Vacation Club villas in two towers, each featuring rooms that offer thrilling views of the ocean, mountains and the magnificent, lush surroundings.

Something for everyone

Family-friendly resort amenities include the 18,000-square-foot Laniwai with 15 treatment rooms and a fitness center. Many spa treatments draw upon Hawaiian healing traditions.

Aulani also features two signature restaurants - the full-service `AMA`AMA and the buffet-style Makahiki - offering foods unique to Hawaii.

At the chic, beachside `AMA`AMA, ocean breezes soothe the spirit as chefs use fresh local ingredients and island flavors to create distinctive dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu includes vegetarian options and classic cocktails with new twists, plus desserts house-made daily.

The buffet-style Makahiki offers guests breakfast among Disney characters or, in a magical midday transformation, dinner in artful surroundings, including a stunning ceiling light sculpture and beautiful wall murals hand-painted by local artists.

Young guests have their very own kids' club, Aunty's Beach House. Here children can explore Hawaiian culture through supervised entertainment, including interactive touch tables, wildlife and nature programs, arts and crafts, Disney movies and traditional Hawaiian games.

Children of all ages will delight in Waikolohe Valley, Aulani's seven-acre water play area. The overall landscape mimics the flow of a watershed as it moves from the mountain to the ocean, complete with the Waikolohe Stream, the resort's mysterious (yet fun) tube-floating watercourse. Here guests encounter bubbling water, a cloaking mist and several hundred feet of additional surprises.

Adventure, conventions and weddings, too

For those who love waterslides, Tubestone Curl, the resort's tube slide, and Volcanic Vertical, Aulani's tunnel slide, provide fun and thrills. Guests will also interact with native Hawaiian fish, including angelfish, butterfly fish and tangs, in the 3,800-square-foot Rainbow Reef snorkel lagoon, the only one of its kind on O`ahu.

The Makai Preserve conservation pool offers an interactive experience that allows guests to stroke the velvety backs of gentle stingrays and other local species (available by reservation only). A portion of the proceeds from this activity will support research and conservation efforts through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Water activities at Aulani also include a quiet adult pool, wading pool and, for the ultimate relaxation, sunset-facing hot tubs.

Looking beyond its own magical grounds, Aulani offers a menu of discovery excursions with the aid of local experts. These include exploring tropical forests, hiking local mountains, sailing aboard catamarans, swimming with dolphins, cooking with local chefs, following a ghost tour and more. The excursions are specially designed for Aulani guests by Adventures by Disney and feature a knowledgeable, friendly Adventure Guide.

Aulani is the ideal place for events. When all phases are complete, groups will find nearly 50,000-square-feet of meeting space, including a 14,545-square-foot conference center, the main ballroom (which is divisible by six), four breakout rooms and generous pre-function space.

Since outdoor events are so popular in Hawaii, Disney also has created three distinct event lawns, including an oceanfront wedding lawn for Disney Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons.

About Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa

Uniquely designed for families and inspired by the wonders and traditions of Hawaii, Aulani is a family paradise with a touch of magic. Aulani offers kids, adults and families Hawaiian vacation experiences with a special magic that only Disney can create. Delightful rooms and spacious Disney Vacation Club villas, a perfect location on a beautiful beachfront lagoon, and renowned Disney service and enchanting entertainment let dreamers of every age savor their time together on Hawaii as never before.