Walt Disney Parks & Resorts chairman Jay Rasulo (right) shared plans for its future resort in Hawaii with Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Like so many dreamers, Walt Disney found inspiration in Hawaii. As far back as 1937, he released the Mickey Mouse animated short "Hawaiian Holiday." In 1963, Disneyland’s groundbreaking Enchanted Tiki Room attraction boasted a Hawaiian setting, and the Polynesian Resort at Disney World took the tropical theme a step further when it opened in 1971. Walt Disney Pictures continued the Hawaiian legacy in 2002 with the hit animated film "Lilo and Stitch," set in the 50th state.
Small wonder, then, that the house that Walt built is adding an address in Hawaii — specifically at Ko Olina Resort and Marina in west Oahu. Scheduled to open in 2011, the 21-acre mixed-use, integrated resort includes 350 traditional hotel rooms and 480 vacation villas dedicated to Disney Vacation Club, Disney’s rapidly growing timeshare business.
"We looked at all four main islands and felt that Oahu was the best location for our project because of the fantastic amenities at Ko Olina, with its golf course and marina, the unique lagoons that provide a great swimming environment for families, and easy access to Honolulu International Airport," said Disney Vacation Club Hawaii vice president Djuan Rivers. "We have found that many guests who have an affinity for Disney also have an interest in visiting other destinations with our company. Hawaii is the perfect choice for a Disney destination resort for families because, like Disney, Hawaii is a popular family travel destination. It is among the top destinations that our Disney Vacation Club members visit beyond our theme parks."
Disney first announced the Hawaii project in October 2007. During the past year, members of the Disney Imagineering team have been learning about the islands and working with local architects and cultural experts as part of the resort’s creative design process.
Upon completion, the resort will boast an extensive water play area including slides and whirlpools. Plans also call for an 18,000-square-foot spa, 8,000-square-foot conference center, two restaurants featuring foods unique to Hawaii, a wedding lawn, a kids’ club and a faux volcano caldera. The overall goal, said Rivers, is to offer a setting where families can reconnect, recharge and create memories that will last a lifetime.
According to Rivers, stories will be woven throughout the resort, from the lobby building inspired by the traditional Hawaiian Canoe House to the extensive pool area featuring rapids, waterfalls and bubbling pools.
"Storytelling is at the heart of everything we do," he said.
Around the property, guests will likely encounter characters from Disney films, played by humans.
In mid-October of this year, Disney officials shared an early look at the resort by presenting a model of the project at a ceremony attended by Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann and Walt Disney Parks & Resorts chairman Jay Rasulo.
"We are very excited to share the early designs of our resort, which we believe will offer a base for families to discover the wonders of Hawaii and connect with the local culture," said Rasulo. "We hope the magic of Disney storytelling and service will combine with the rich history, heritage and natural beauty of Hawaii to create a special experience the whole family can enjoy."