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Aloha, Mickey!
New Option Opens For Hawaii Pre- & Post-Cruise Stays

By Georgina Cruz

September 2011: Diamond Head volcano to climb, “hula” steps to learn, “luaus” to enjoy. Few cruise embarkation points merit a pre- and/or post-cruise stay more than Honolulu, on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, due to the ocean of natural beauties and exotic Polynesian cultural riches it offers.

Honolulu, with a backdrop of undulating green-clad mountains –that call to mind dancers in grass skirts doing a traditional “hula” dance – boasts diverse panoramas of beaches, a world-famous extinct volcano, waterfalls and canyons with an abundance of greenery and flowers, including jasmines and gardenias that perfume the air with their delicate fragrances. Crystalline waters for snorkeling, surfing and other water sports beckon travelers as do the pleasures of culinary delights (including pork roasted underground for a Polynesian “luau” feast), the “lomi lomi salmon,” and the “huapia” or coconut pudding that are served in the restaurants of cosmopolitan Honolulu). Shops and boutiques around the city sell local handicrafts and such tempting products as chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies, Kona coffee and tropical fruit jams and jellies.

Hawaii’s mixture of cultures including the Polynesian (Polynesians were the first to arrive, it is believed in 400-500 A.D.) as well as people from Asian cultures, Europeans and North Americans who came throughout the centuries and settled on the islands, is another of Hawaii’s charms, giving rise to what is often referred to as “the golden race” of Hawaii. Added to all this is the islands’ “aloha spirit.” “Aloha” means “love,” “hello” and “goodbye,” but it mostly translates as a warm welcome to visitors.

And now visitors, including cruise passengers looking for pre- and/or post-cruise stays, have a new option for family and couples’ vacations in Hawaii: Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, a property on the quiet west coast of Oahu that just opened its doors on August 29 and that my husband Humberto and I were lucky to call home for five days in mid-September. Its name means “messenger from a higher authority,” said Joe Rohde, senior vice president, Walt Disney Imagineering, and the resort, located on 21 oceanfront acres in Ko Olina, 17 miles from the Honolulu Airport and half an hour from world-famous Waikiki, is inspired in the natural beauty and the traditions of Hawaii.

The new resort boasts typical Hawaiian architecture and décor. “Aulani celebrates the best of Hawaii and represents a new way of enjoying a family vacation with Disney,” said Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. Aulani is a destination resort, not connected to a theme park, but filled with its own natural, cultural and just plain nifty attractions including water fun at pools, slides, lazy river, and a snorkeling lagoon.

Disney contracted local architects, artisans and historians and combined their talents with the magic of Disney Imagineers to create the resort –weaving legends and local color throughout. To cite some examples: guests can enjoy the statues of “menehunes” (the legendary little people of Hawaii) hidden in multiple corners of the property, and they are able to join in Hawaiian storytelling sessions at a fire pit in the evenings and enjoy an island show with typical music and dances. These activities are, by the way, complimentary.

The resort’s two towers house 359 hotel rooms and 481 two-bedroom-equivalent villas from the Disney Vacation Club (the villas have kitchen, washer/dryer and other home-away-from-home amenities, are a time-share property available for short-term rental, and they feature angled glass doors and terraces for optimal views of the sea and mountains). Guests can enjoy a quintessential tropical paradise spending days swimming and sunning themselves at a spectacular white sand beach. Other amenities include an 18,000-sq. ft. spa with multiple treatment rooms (including two for couples and one for families), steam room, fitness center and an outdoor therapeutic pool garden. There’s a spa for teenagers with treatments for them, a yogurt bar and computers; two table service restaurants and other eateries; a children’s club with organized activities; surprise appearances by Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Chip and Dale and other Disney characters; a wedding lawn (this is an ideal spot for tying the knot and honeymooning); and sunset-facing whirlpools.

After enjoying the beach, the sun and amenities of Aulani, guests can arrange onsite for optional excursions including kayak tours, Hawaiian cooking lessons, hikes on nature trails, catamaran sails and horseback rides. There is even a teens-only tour to a surfing school and there are adults-only excursions as well.

Guests can also opt for tours to Honolulu and the rest of the island or explore independently, perhaps to take in Waimea Falls, a cascade that drops down 45 feet into a pool in Oahu’s North Shore. Aulani’s excursions are ideal for families as they include Hawaiian lore, feature knowledgeable local guides, offer lunch or snacks (depending on the itinerary) and have good cultural content. They can be combined with independent sightseeing by car to Honolulu and Waikiki.

Naturally, few people leave Oahu without taking in some of its points of interest in and around Honolulu, which include the Iolani Palace (one of only two royal palaces on U.S. soil with the other one being in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii); the King Kamehameha Statue (he was the king who united the Hawaiian Islands); the moving Pearl Harbor Monument, commemorating the victims of the Japanese attack during World War II; and extinct Diamond Head Volcano (serving as a dramatic backdrop to Waikiki Beach, and you can climb to its 750-foot-high summit, a 1.4-mile roundtrip hike).

Other must-sees in Oahu include the “Blow Hole” (a natural “fountain” caused by water shooting through a hole in the coastline) in Halona Point, and Pali Lookout with its views of the Ko’olau Mountain Range. The Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie (approximately an hour away from Honolulu) is an ideal spot to learn about seven Polynesian cultures: Fiji, Hawaii, Marquesas, New Zealand, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga.

And after returning from our explorations each afternoon, Humberto’s and my favorite activity was enjoying the dramatic sunsets, with the sun painting the Pacific and the sky in orange and scarlet tones, from one of Aulani’s whirlpools – with a cold tropical drink in one hand and smiles on our faces.

IF YOU GO: Aulani introductory rates start at $399 per room. For additional information, visit www.aulani.com.


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