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When I first visited Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Oahu, I was told the property represents “Hawaii with a capital H, and Disney with a lowercase D.”
And with Ka Waa, its new luau, Aulani accomplishes exactly that.
“At Aulani, we celebrate the rich culture and storytelling traditions of Hawaii,” said Kimberly Agas, general manager for Aulani. “Ka Waa shares the saga of Hawaiian culture, creating unforgettable family memories of Aulani and Hawaii for our guests.”
Clients are welcomed to the Halawai Lawn with a seashell lei greeting — and, in a nod to Disney’s hit animated feature “Moana,” kids receive wooden Maui fishhook necklaces. Before dinner, families can experience several interactive Hawaiian activities with the “wahine” (women) and “kane” (men) who perform in the show. These include “kapala” (printing), where postcards can be decorated with colorful stamps; lei-making, during which guests can string beautiful orchids into bracelets; putting on temporary “kakau” tribal and Hawaiian-themed tattoos; and “kui kalo” (taro pounding), where guests are taught how to make poi, a traditional luau food. The lei bracelets have a particularly important role later, when kids are encouraged to present them as a special offering during the show.
Then, guests partake in the buffet, which is fresh and plentiful. In addition to delicious dishes commonly found at luaus — such as braised “imu”-style pork (cooked in an underground oven), poi, poke (marinated raw fish) and “lomi-lomi” salmon — there is also a carving station with prime rib and a whole roasted pig. The dedicated kids’ buffet (placed on a low table so that kids can help themselves) offers choices such as pasta with meatballs, macaroni shells and cheese and chicken tenders. This area is also where we found the single Disney-themed food item: Moana cupcakes. The adult dessert buffet includes “haupia” (a coconut- milk-based Hawaiian dessert often found at luaus), guava cake and banana-bread pudding.
After an “oli” chant of welcome, the show’s narrators, Noa and his sister, explain that the show will be a journey through Hawaiian history using music and dance.
But first, kids are invited to participate in a hula with the wahine — joined by Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. This is the only appearance of Disney characters, similar to the resort’s previous Starlit Hui show, in which characters participated only in the closing dance party. For my family, it was the perfect touch of Disney magic in an otherwise authentic Hawaiian experience.
After the hula, Noa and his sister begin the show by discussing the importance of “waa” (canoe) exploration in Hawaiian culture and history, explaining how the first settlers utilized the vessels to travel to the Hawaiian Islands from Tahiti using only the stars to guide them.
“The stories of the long voyages on canoes have been passed down from generation to generation,” Noa said. “From the ancient voyages came the foundation of our whole way of life, the food we eat and the customs that we hold so dear.”
As dancers perform different types of hula throughout the show, Noa and his sister tell the stories that inspired the dances, as well as explain the costumes and implements used to create different rhythms and sounds, such as hollow gourds and split bamboo. They also tell the story of their own family history in Ko Olina, including a particularly poignant song and dance dedicated to their mother.
Ka Waa, the new luau from Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, tells the story of Hawaiian history and culture through music and dance. // © 2017 GentryDisney Destinations
Daring fire knife dancers perform at Ka Waa. // © 2017 Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
Mini Moana cupcakes are the only Disney-themed food item at the Aulani luau. // © 2017 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Traditional luau favorites such as poke and lomi lomi salmon are served at the buffet. // © 2017 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Fish, teriyaki chicken and braised pork are fresh and plentiful at the Ka Waa buffet. // © 2017 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Kids receive wooden Maui fishhook necklaces. // © 2017 Samantha Davis-Friedman
The kane teach kids how to pound taro into poi. // © 2017 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Temporary ink tattoos are applied using traditional Hawaiian stamps. // © 2017 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Ka Waa’s finale presents a return of cultural artifacts to an “umeke” (bowl). // © 2017 GentryDisney Destinations
While all luaus include a performance by spectacular fire-knife dancers, Ka Waa uses this dance as an opportunity to tell the story of Maui, the Hawaiian demigod depicted in “Moana.” But, while Maui is certainly familiar to Disney fans, this is not a Disney version of the story. Noa portrays Maui as he appears in traditional Hawaiian folklore and explains how the demigod captured the sun with his hook to provide sunlight for his mother.
“Hula is the way we preserve our Hawaiian culture,” Noa said. “It helps us tell our stories and express our emotions, including aloha: the love that we hold inside our hearts.”
- Ka Waa takes place at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
- General admission is $129 for adults and $79 for children ages 3 to 9.
- VIP seating is $169 for adults and $109 for children ages 3 to 9. VIP guests receive early check-in, priority seating and complimentary alcoholic beverages.
- Reservations can be made up to 60 days prior to arrival.
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spawww.disneyaulani.com