Whereas Aulani has only been on the scene for six years, the Disney love of Hawaii goes back to 1934 when Walt and his wife Lillian visited Oahu for the first time. Keep in mind that this was still 25 years before Hawaii became a state, and getting here took almost a week sailing from the west coast. (Which makes me appreciate my five-hour flight with renewed vigor.) During that first visit Walt promised that he would put Mickey on a surf board, stating that he had been on and off of them all week and knew exactly how it felt. He did keep the promise, giving the Fab Five a vacation to Hawaii in the 1937 cartoon “Hawaiian Holiday”.
The Disney’s visited again in 1939 along with his brother Roy Disney and wife Edna, then again with his daughters Diane and Sharon in 1948. He continued to visit Hawaii over the following decades with family and friends, finding not only relaxation but inspiration as well. Even when he was on the mainland Walt frequented Polynesian supper clubs and Tiki restaurants. He even came up with the idea of Polynesian restaurant with a Disney spin… talking birds and flowers.
Aulani was initially announced in October of 2007, and officially opened on August 29, 2011. Disney Imagineers worked with cultural advisory board while designing and building Aulani; the board included Hawaii cultural experts, hula masters, Hawaiian artist, and local community leaders. The Disney company states that the name was meant to “express a connection to tradition and deep story telling”.
Aulani is pretty young in the grand scheme of Disney, but it is chock full of Disney Magic!