On Location: A Visit to the Aulani SpaSeptember 23, 2011 By: Jena Tesse Fox
Aulani celebrated its grand opening tonight with a beachfront ceremony that started off with a real rainbow stretching over the resort. I can only assume that Disney now controls the weather, too.
The day started out with more chances to talk with the Aulani team. Korri McFann is the worldwide marketing & business development director at Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons, and he is helping to create Aulani’s weddings and honeymoon packages. The first wedding at Aulani is scheduled for the first week in October, and four weddings are schedule for 11/11/11. Nice touch: For families who already have children, McFann says that her team is developing weddings that marry not just the couple, but combine two families into one. Naturally, the ceremonies include little Disney touches, like little Mickey Mouse crystals in the bouquets (below). While the resort doesn’t have any dedicated honeymoon packages set in stone yet, McFann believes a five-day honeymoon vacation should be around $2,000 per couple, and will probably include spa time, private beach cabanas, beverages and excursions.
Jeff Morosk is the director of landscape architecture for Disney, and he helped create the overall aesthetic of the resort. The finished product, he says, is “about the many facets of Hawaii—its history, its present and its future.” Native plants are featured throughout, little “menehune” (mythological Hawaiian characters) are hidden in the gardens, and animals are subtly carved into the rocks along the paths. Bo Bolanos, the principal concept designer for Walt Disney Imagineering, estimates that there are more than 300 of these hidden animals throughout the resort, and adds that even he’s not sure where they all are. “It’s a discovery for me, too.” One challenge Bolanos faced with designing Aulani was working on a significantly smaller scale than he might at any of the company’s other resorts. Instead of 300 feet of space to work with, he had to find ways to create the same effect in only 60 feet.
After chatting with the “Imagineers,” I headed over to Aunty’s Beach House, a dedicated children’s space at the resort. The house has many rooms with different kinds of activities for different ages and interests—board games, computer games, videos, toys, sports equipment…just about anything a kid could need to stay entertained while mom and dad unwind on the beach or in the spa. Coolest part: There's even a tool shed for arts and crafts. I get the feeling Aunty's will be a bit more inventive than macaroni pictures. (I didn't get to chat with Aunty, a new Disney character created for Aulani, but reportedly she and Uncle come by regularly to tell stories to the kids. Are grown-ups allowed to listen in?)
And then there's the spa. Laniwai (meaning “freshwater heaven”—water is a dominant theme) is fairly large as spas go, so there’s never a sense of over-crowding. Upon check-in, guests get a small stone with a word carved into it, and they are asked to meditate on that word during their stay. (Mine was “Balance.”) In the middle of the spa is a small pool, and guests can put their stones in the pool before heading off to their therapies. Design-wise, the real novelty at Laniwai is the co-ed hydrotherapy garden, which is included in all treatments but can be booked independently. The garden has six distinct motion-activated showers guests can wander through before jumping into either a warm Jacuzzi or a cold-water plunge pool (depending on preference), and several herbal soaking tubs. It’s a really lovely way to spend an hour or so before or after spa treatments, and guests should budget extra time to unwind outside. (Nice touch: Guests also get a custom-made scrub when they check in. I opted for a maile sugar scrub—it smells a little sweet, but not cloying. Quite nice.)
Inside, the sauna and steam room areas have little refrigerators filled with towels, making the heat much more bearable. And the main lounge has a full range of lotions and hairsprays and whatnot, so guests don’t have to leave the spa looking like they’ve just…well, left a spa.
Teenagers have their own dedicated spa at Laniwai. Painted Sky has special treatments just for younger guests, and kids can try their hand at making their own perfumes. (Be afraid. Be very afraid.)
I opted for a hot-stone massage, and largely passed out while my therapist did her work. Turns out, hot stones really are soothing. I can actually move my shoulders again.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for more on the opening and the beach and the "Waikolohe Valley" pools tomorrow!