The Art and Culture of Aulani
Though not flanked by a Haunted Mansion, Aulani is still unmistakably “Disney.” Among other things, that means the Imagineers who worked on the resort put care into every design choice made. It also means guests can take tours to learn more about those decisions!
Ben and I took two resort tours while we stayed at Aulani — “Maka’ika’i: The Art and Culture of Aulani” and the DVC Member Cultural Tour. Both tours were free, but the cultural tour (as you might have guessed from its name) was only available for DVC Members. Both tours were also offered multiple times over our week-long vacation, with the cultural tour offered nearly every day. Today, we’re going to talk about Aulani’s art.
Aulani has Four Themes
Maka’ika’i was a half-hour tour and presentation offered in the evening, presumably because of lower traffic levels Since the vast majority of the tour focused on Aulani’s stunning lobby.
I teased in another article that the Aulani resort has four themes, and I know you’ve been losing sleep trying to figure them out (or maybe you already know!). Fear not! I’m here to tell you. Aulani’s themes are mountain, ocean, man, and woman. I’ll be honest, I was oblivious to the subtle choices made to exemplify these themes, but once I was told, the hints were easy to spot and tied the resort together beautifully.
Ocean and Mountain
The ocean (Makai) and the mountains (Mauka) are extremely important not only to the theming of Aulani, but to life on Oahu. Mauka and Makai are actually frequently used when giving directions on the island to indicate the “mountain side” or the “ocean side,” respectively.
The front of the resort faces the Wai’anae Range which actually helped form the island of Oahu. The panoramic view is absolutely breathtaking. To honor this natural beauty, the lobby windows facing the front of Aulani are stained with browns and yellows, and are designed with chevrons and sharp peaks to signify the mountains that lie on the other side of the wall. The art beneath the stained glass shows people working with the land of the island, and appreciating what it has to offer. This panoramic panting depicts a number of scenes and stretches around the whole lobby.
On the opposite side of the resort and the lobby is, of course, the ocean. The back window of the lobby is filled with beautiful blue panels, and features the waves of the ocean. Mirroring the front of the lobby, the art beneath the black window shows the ocean, and how people interact with its waves and creatures. I can’t tell you how many hours Ben and I spent just staring at the ocean while at Aulani. It’s really something else.
Woman and Man
With the mountains and ocean occupying the front and back of the resort, woman and man are represented in each of the two towers of guest rooms. Standing in the lobby, facing the ocean, the Ewa tower is to the left and honors woman while the Wai’anae tower is to the right and honors man. We stayed in the Ewa tower, so we’ll start there!
In the lobby, the portion of the panoramic mural that stretches across the side of the lobby toward the Ewa tower shows a number of the tasks that have traditionally been completed by the women. Above the mural, you will see the same peaks that are shown on the Mauka side of the lobby. In the Ewa tower, the art also showcases only women. The carved art on each guest room door ties the full theme together, showing the state fish in an underwater scene (and some hidden Mickeys, of course!).
The Wai’anae tower, off the right side of the lobby displays art of men and the guest room doors take guest thoughts to the skies with a carving of a bird. Back in the lobby, the panoramic mural shows the traditional tasks of the men, including caring for the elders, hunting, and building homes. Above the mural, the towering wall shows the same depiction of waves that is shown on the back wall of glass.
The arch of the Aulani logo, matching the shape of the lobby structure, is a distinct image, easily recognizable to any who have seen it before. The shape is not unique to Aulani, and is something else borrowed from the history of the island. You may remember from Moana the incredible importance of canoes to people who live on islands. The same is true of the people on Oahu. They would build enormous canoes whose hulls were carved from a single tree to ensure strength and that it would have no leaks.
If you invert the massive arches around Aulani, you will see the familiar shape of these canoes. The arches themselves, though, are representative of the canoe houses, where these integral parts of Hawaiian culture were stored.
Hidden Mickeys and Hidden Menehune
Anybody who has seen a Pixar movie knows that Disney loves hidden surprises. The same is true on their property. As many Disney-park-going fans know, Disney property is littered with hidden Mickeys. The same is true at Aulani. While you might spot some hidden Mickeys with the familiar shape we often think of, you could also see an altered Mickey, with pointed shapes in squares or diamonds, so Mickey can better hide in the grain of wood, or in the art all over Aulani!
There’s more hiding at Aulani than Mickey, though. There are also hundreds of statues of Menehune. The Menehune are crafty people who often come out at night, either to help you or to cause a bit of mischief. You can see them hiding inside and outside, high and low. Nobody seems to know exactly how many are hiding around Aulani, but there are over 300!
This is only a small sampling of the wonderful details that Ben and I learned from Maka’ika’i tour. I want to give a special shout-out to Michael — the awesome Cast Member who shared the above info and more with us!
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