The other week, I visited Disney’s Aulani Resort for its first birthday. They called it an anniversary, but I prefer to think of it as a birthday, because Aulani is more like a person – a real, warm, robust living being – than a relationship. It embraces you, pulls you in, holds you close, and tells you a story. You can love it like a person, engage with it like a person, like I think you can with all the Disney spaces. These aren’t just places, they’re living things, that you can love on your own terms, in your own way. They become part of your life, your story, in a real, engaged way.
The story that Aulani tells is a Hawaiian story. Aulani itself – herself? – embodies that story, right down to the curve and angle of her buildings (there is feminine side, and a masculine side, divided by the valley – Waikolohe Valley – that is its heart), and you are pulled in from the moment you enter her embrace. Like ‘Aunty’ who runs the children’s program (a superlative program, one of the very best that I’ve seen), she settles you in and makes you feel at home and part of her Hawaiian family. You belong there, even if you’ve never been there before, even if you don’t speak the language or recognize the artwork or the iconography, or the plants. You belong there, in that space in which every inch tells the story of her home and her culture and her history, upon which you can trace the footsteps of the Menehune, across which you can make your own story.
All of which is to say, I felt at home there. I felt enveloped. I felt as though I had been welcomed fully into the islands, and made a part of them. Which, sure, is in some respects just dorky Canadian girl speak for oh my gawsh I could live forever surrounded by orchids and tuberose and waterfalls and Hawaiian fairy stories please can I move there please?!?!!1!, but it’s also just how it was. You can ask anyone. It is that. They’ll tell you that at Kualoa Ranch and at the drugstore where you go to buy cheap macadamia nuts and in the taxi and at the souvenir stand at the airport. Aulani is Hawaii. Aulani is the Hawaii that pulls you in.
It is, as the kids say, legit. And it is, in that context, an excellent example of the deepest and most important principles of Disney storytelling, as it takes shape in words and images and spaces and places. It digs deeply into authentic experiences, into real histories, into the full, multidimensional truth – however understood – of the story that it’s trying to tell. The postmodernists that I studied in grad school would recoil at this, asserting, as they have, that such stories are simulacra, but I’m asserting that they’re not. The Aulani story was crafted by Hawaiians, by people who love and who are immersed in Hawaii. The story of the Canadian Rockies that I talked about earlier this summer was crafted by Canadians, and narrated by residents of those mountain communities. The stories told at Babble and across Disney Interactive are told by moms and dads and foodies and design enthusiasts and real people who love their lifeworlds — who are passionate about their lifeworlds, and about the stories therein and thereof.
Also, Aulani has manta rays.
(And opportunities to explore Oahu by helicopter, and to ride horses into the mind-bogglingly beautiful valley in which Lost and parts of Jurassic Park were filmed, and to swim with dolphins, and, also, coconut syrup for your morning waffles. So.)
It’s all about story, end of the day, as I’ve said a million times, and you’ll hear me say a million more. Why travel across the Pacific to holiday with your family? Why travel anywhere? Because it’s another chapter in your story. St Augustine said that the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page; can we say something similar about the (figurative) life-books that we all write? Maybe. To some extent. But we can’t all travel the world. We don’t all want to travel the world. But we can seek out places that are rich in story – organic story, or crafted story (I believe strongly in the tremendous power of both) – and that empower us to enrich our own stories.
Aulani is that. Aulani does that. Also, she has paddle boards.
You should seek her out sometime. She’d love to have you.