Disney to open Oahu resort next year, independent of parks or cruise ships

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

In a move that sends either shivers of delight or shudders of loathing among fans of Hawaii, Disney is set to open its first resort in Oahu next year. Aulani is a different kind of development for Disney, the first that isn’t linked to a theme park or its cruise line. The hotel will be far from the famous tourist areas and beaches of Waikiki, which is on the other side of Honolulu, to the east, near Diamond Head. Ko Olina is the kind of self-contained environment Disney likes for many of its developments.

Read more from The Vancouver Sun.

Jason Hammond's avatar

Well, I guess we won't be seeing Hawaii's first coaster located here.

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Aulani is a different kind of development for Disney, the first that isn’t linked to a theme park or its cruise line.

Not quite---their Hilton Head resort isn't either. I suppose you could argue Vero, too, but that was marketed as a "Florida vacation"---a few days at the beach, a few days in Orlando.

I'm not sure, given Hawai'i's volcanic nature, that I would trust a coaster there! We were there in October, and while I couldn't imagine a vacation without an amusement ride of some kind somewhere, it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.

When I heard a while back that the Mouse was trying to land on Oahu I was nervous. While there's no place more developed than the big city of Honolulu, and no place more commercial than Waikiki, one doesnt have to drive far to find the North Shore - beautiful, pristene, and so awesomely gorgeous words can't describe. Homemade signs hang in the villages and neighborhoods warning developers to stay away and take their resorts elsewhere, and I can't blame them. My fear was that there was Disney's target.

I'm glad to know that this resort is going to be in the southwest part of the island, opposite Waikiki, clear on the other side of the Honolulu airport. While we didn't go there, it sounds like it's already fairly developed resort-wise. Hawai'ians live with the delicate balance of commercial development, necessary for their tourism industry, and nature's beauty - also necessary for tourism. This seems like a reasonable solution, but their focus on Hawai'ian culture stands to be either wonderful or laughable. A fake imagineered volcano? I have a better idea- just look over there...

I chuckled when I read in the article that mainlanders and Japanese tourists will be target markets for the resort. Clearly! Waikiki was a strange cross between Rodeo Drive and an asian swap meet, and I'd say 80% of the visitors we saw there were Japanese, and 80% of those were honeymooners. With money. Lots of it. Hotel and service employees told us over and over that American tourism had fallen off badly and it was the Japanese that were keeping them afloat. Two of every high end store you can think of appear along Waikiki and we noticed it was the Japanese that had their wallets out actually buying the Cartier, Hermes, Burberry, and Gucci. (Hell, it probably seemed like the low-priced outlet mall to them!) Anyway, my point is that this Disney resort seems a little removed from the main drag - Americans might prefer a quieter, more relaxing getaway to Hawai'i (we did - our time on Maui was laid-back fabulous), but the I bet the Japanese will prefer to stay a little closer to the action.

Jeff's avatar

The locals often call tourists "newlywed or mostly dead," which amuses me.

But seriously, Hawaii does not need amusement parks. I think it would be a blight on any of the islands, and I'm really not even that fond of Oahu. I know that not every DVC location is of an enormous scale, but Oahu is the only place they could really be large anyway. I'm pretty sure Kauai has height/floor number restrictions, the Big Island is generally unfriendly toward anything franchised or corporate (unless you build it in the middle of nowhere, like the atrocity that is the Hilton Waikoloa Village), Maui is slightly more open but still pretty laid-back, and forget Molokai.

I think it could be a disaster, but at the same time I get the feeling that Disney knows better and wouldn't do that.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

There was a reference in the article to Disney's biggest bomb - the one where they tried to feed a California themed experience to Californians. This idea runs the same risk - and ok, Disney's Polynesian resort works well in Florida, but maybe nobody on the east coast knows the difference and we're easier to fool. For an actual Hawai'ian resort to try to duplicate or even out-do all that is Hawai'i in terms of flavor and culture may backfire in the most insulting way.

The saving grace to this may be that the audience here will be tourists, many of which will be happy for an all inclusive vacation site- these are the folks that will be lulled into thinking that this is a true Hawai'ian experience without having to leave the comfort of their own lanai, and that's fine. But I can tell you even from my extremely limited experience that the locals, particularly natives, ain't havin such nonsense and aside from maybe working there won't be participating. (Besides, who there could afford it?)

And don't get me wrong - I am a Disney fan and have enjoyed just about every resort of theirs I've stayed in. This project sounds top-notch in terms of offerings, but it's the themeing itself that rings of redundancy. I think something contemporary, thoughtfully designed, modern, and fabulously tropical with all the Disney touches would do just as well if not better.

Jeff's avatar

I'm not sure I follow. They're not pitching Hawaiian culture to Hawaiians. This is for tourists from the mainland (and Japan, among other places).

And I totally disagree with your comments about the locals, especially on Oahu. Jobs aren't what they used to be in the last year. Heck, I remember seeing stories on TV when I was there in April of last year about how the shrinking tourist economy was hurting people.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

Raven-Phile's avatar

RCMAC said:
There was a reference in the article to Disney's biggest bomb - the one where they tried to feed a California themed experience to Californians.

Ah, but it's not their biggest bomb.

That would have been "Treasure Island" in the Bahamas. Sad, because it looks like a place I would have loved to visit.


Arguably, DVC Vero and DVC HHI are both bigger "failures" than DCA. DCA as I understand it pulls its own weight financially, just not as well as they originally imagined. Vero had to be scaled back from original projections after it was clear that it just wasn't selling well at all---Disney still subsidises the dues of early purchasers because several pomised amenities were never built due to the downsizing. HHI is at best a lukewarm success, but they cheaped-out in siting the resort, choosing a location (a) a mile inland and (b) not in one of the planned communities/plantations. But, it's still more expensvie than the Marriotts on the island with much better amenities and locations.

Disney, as a timeshare developer, is pretty mediocre. Compared to the other major players (Marriott, Hilton, etc.) the units are small, not particuarly well-appointed, and too expensive to own and maintain. They rely on proximity to the theme parks to make things work out---and even in California, it hasn't worked as well as expected, because the "home court advantage" there isn't as powerful as it is in Florida. It took them a long time to sell out a *very* small development---much longer than anyone expected.

This Hawaii development is a big risk for them, but they've worked hard to get the costs more in line with the area competition (the Marriott next door), they picked a first-class location (for Oahu, anyway), and they are moving to a more traditional sales model (including the option of buying fixed weeks rather than points.) Disney also owns some land in Washington DC, but have been mum on its purpose. My guess is that if they can figure out how to sell Aulani, then at least part of the DC property will be developed as the next DVC resort. If not, it will either go as a straight convention hotel, or be quietly sold off.

Last edited by Brian Noble,

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