Disney's plans for Hawaii resort focus on family, customs

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HAW-DisneyThe future of multigenerational family fun on Oahu is finally taking shape at the Ko Olina Resort and Marina, where Walt Disney Parks and Resorts broke ground on a promised $800 million resort, which for the first time will combine hotel units and Disney Vacation Club timeshare villas in one complex.

"This will be a place where families of all generations can enjoy and share the wonders of Hawaii," said Chairman Jay Rasulo, adding that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts "will give life to this land."

Two 15-story towers will house 350 luxury hotel rooms and 480 timeshare villa units set on 21 oceanfront acres fronting one of four manmade lagoons, next door to the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa. Disney's first family destination resort in Hawaii, the property is scheduled to greet its first guests in 2011.

The resort will include a signature Disney kids' club with custom-planned activities and adventures; a lazy river at the pool, where guests can weave their way through volcanic rockwork and a caldera on tubes and body slides; and a saltwater snorkel lagoon.

Adult-oriented facilities will include an 18,000-square-foot spa and 8,000-square-foot conference center.

Vacation Club accommodations will range from studios equipped with kitchenettes to multiroom villas with full-size kitchens, washers and dryers, luxury tubs and other amenities.

The Islands touch

Disney's Ko Olina resort has been designed "to honor the Hawaiian culture," Rasulo said. For example, the open-air lobby is shaped like a canoe.

"In the last 18 months, the Walt Disney Imagineering team has worked with local architects and cultural experts on Oahu and throughout the state as part of the creative design process for this resort to be right," he said. "The results will be a village celebrating Hawaiian customs and traditions."

At Disney's Ko Olina, families will hear the real stories of Hawaii, Rasulo noted.

"Families will have a unique adventure, then return home with memories that last a lifetime," he said. "We have a deep respect for ohana [families] to reconnect, recharge and have fun together. Our focus is multigenerational, creating magical places where children and parents and grandparents together enjoy the experience in their own ways, but together."

According to Hawaii Lt. Gov. James Aiona, the state "welcomes Disney with the true spirit of aloha."

"Disney and Jay [Rasulo] have stayed true to their commitment on this project even in the current economy, when it would have been easy to forgo something of this magnitude," he said. "Disney's commitment says a lot to the people of Hawaii."

"Hawaii and Disney are desirable and respected brands," Rasulo said. "Hawaii has been and will continue to be a dream vacation in people's minds even in difficult economic times."

All in the family

As the state consistently ranks as one of the top non-theme-park destinations for Disney Vacation Club members, the company explored potential resort sites across the Islands, including Waikiki.

"The appeal of Ko Olina was to be part of a bigger resort complex that's accessible to Honolulu International Airport, has some sense of isolation and, of course, [has] these beautiful lagoons which are very family-friendly," said Rasulo.

Ko Olina, about 20 miles west of Waikiki, is a favorite getaway for Oahu residents, who compare it to a Neighbor Island resort, without the hassle or expense of air travel.

Disney has a long history with Hawaii, from the 1937 animated Mickey Mouse short "Hawaiian Holiday" and the 1971 debut of Disney's Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World Resort to the 2002 release of the hit animated film "Lilo & Stitch" and current on-site production of the ABC-TV series "Lost."

"We have long-term confidence in Hawaii as a market that will never lose its appeal," Rasulo said. "And the Disney brand is really stronger than ever."

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