Theme Parks: The Problem with Aulani

Photo of Disney’s Aulani resort in Hawaii. Copyright goes to Disney Resorts.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I know that most of us haven’t been to this resort for many reasons. Namely that it just makes an expensive trip to Hawaii even more expensive if you can even afford to go to Hawaii in the first place. But this resort absolutely reeks of mistakes that Disney still seems to be suffering from. And these mistakes actually do have an effect on Hawaii that I really want to get into. On this blog we’ve talked about some of Disney’s troubles with immersive parks as well as some of the best features in their parks, like my entire post on Epcot. But though this isn’t exactly a theme park, Disney would really like you to believe that it is. They almost advertised it as a half theme park, half peaceful resort getaway. But there is absolutely no reason to ever visit here. Let’s go over why!

The Motive:

Disney jumped on Hawaii for the same reason that they do anything as a company; money. But Hawaii specifically seemed to make more sense for Disney because of a couple of key factors. The major one being ‘Lilo and Stitch’. I think it’s very safe to say that when that movie came out, Disney was not expecting the reaction they received. They were not expecting Stitch to become one of the most well known and well loved Disney characters and they weren’t expecting him to blow up even more overseas. Both the movie itself and the character of Stitch have become one of Disney’s biggest merchandise sellers. If this movie hadn’t done well years ago, I highly doubt we would have ever gotten ‘Moana’ despite how inclusive Disney is trying to make themselves seem. A while ago in California, Disneyland opened the ‘Paradise Pier’ hotel. A hotel highly based off of surf culture in California and connected to California Adventure when, you know, it was a park that was still based off of California and not a miscellaneous Disney-owned property park like it is now. One of the main draws of this hotel was the way they used ‘Lilo and Stitch’ in character dining as well as decor. So it only makes sense that Disney used this franchise to also market their actual Hawaiian resort after all of those successes. You might have seen the recent video they posted for Valentine’s Day of Angel and Stitch going on an adorable “date” in Aulani. There’s probably a reason why they keep marketing the characters rather than the resort itself.

The Placement:

Have you ever talked to someone who’s been to Aulani? I actually have, weirdly. They basically said what I’m going to tell you, which is that if you ever want to go to Hawaii, don’t stay at Aulani. Aulani is in the middle of nowhere with no shuttles that go far enough to get you to places on the island that you might actually want to see (and you’ll need extra money to buy a plane ticket if you want to visit any of the big islands). At this point you might as well just stay at a hotel anywhere. You’re basically stranded in a resort that is much smaller than you think it will be with no access to the rest of Hawaii. Why go if you aren’t going to see the sights? You’ve already spent so much money on the resort that it’s likely out of budget for you to be able to afford how much it would cost to get out of the middle of nowhere. This also means that there’s barely anything to do other than what you would usually do on a beach or in a hotel. So I guess if you want to go to Hawaii but don’t want to actually feel like you’re in Hawaii, this is the place for you!

Disney Greed:

We all know that Disney’s greedy and none of us know it so well as now, after the Disney Parks (a multi-billion dollar company) layed off all of their employees during quarantine. So nice. But Disney isn’t the only one to point fingers at here. Hawaii is a popular tourist destination and has been thoroughly messed up by the US. All of the land where people are building their large lavish resorts, is land that was taken away from native Hawaiians. For those of you that read our blog for K-pop related posts, you might recall the backlash that the group Cherry Bullet got for releasing a song called ‘Aloha Oe’ and using the tune in the background of the song as a fun summer theme. Culturally, this song is a song of mourning from when the US took over Hawaii and forced many Hawaiians into servitude. About half of native Hawaiians are homeless currently as tourists move in without providing any essential services to the islands or as resorts take over even more land. The cost of living in Hawaii continues to grow exponentially for everyone. The best work that native Hawaiians can get right now is in the tourism industry; doing things like those Luau shows that everyone either feels is too touristy or a must do while visiting. What’s funny is that this exact topic was actually addressed in ‘Lilo and Stitch’! If you recall, both Nani and David begin the movie working at a Luau for tourists. And I should point out that these tourist traps often don’t accurately depict the culture of native Hawaiians. For the most part, these are stereotyped characterizations that are marketed towards tourists because that’s what tourists expect to see. Tourism has so overtaken Hawaii that the native Hawaiian language is considered in danger of extinction. Every resort placed in Hawaii, no matter if it’s in the middle of nowhere or not, is making more native Hawaiians homeless while simultaneously damaging their culture.

Disney?:

While many people would look to go to Aulani because of the fact that it’s in Hawaii, that’s often combined with the want to go there because it is a Disney property. Despite this, there isn’t actually a lot of Disney theming in the resort. Disney focused on making the entire property a prestigious looking luxury resort. While some people may like that, that’s not why people go to Disney parks or choose to stay on Disney property. Other than the occasional nods in decor and a couple of characters walking around; this looks like any other Hawaiian resort. The person who I mentioned before who stayed here with their family said that they were extremely disappointed by the lack of Disney. Because why would you stay at an exclusively Disney property if it just looks like everywhere else? Even the Paradise Pier hotel in California that I mentioned earlier is more Disney themed than this resort.

So in the end you really have to ask yourself why anyone would want to go to Aulani. Between its massive negative footprint on the islands and the fact that it isn’t close to anything you would remotely want to do while visiting, it seems like a pretty useless thing to spend money on. And that also seems to be reflected in how Aulani is doing right now for Disney. Aulani hasn’t delivered nearly half the profits that Disney was expecting and quarantine made the endeavor look even worse. If I could choose for anything to happen here, it would be for Disney to move off of this land and give it back to the natives. But considering the track record of Disney and resort business in Hawaii, I won’t be holding my breath.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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