KO OLINA, Hawaii—According to legend, the Menehune are mythical little people who built many of Hawaii’s great sites and landmarks.
As the story goes, the Menehune are efficient workers who end up with a lot of time on their hands. And that’s when the mischief begins.
Immediately upon arrival at the new Aulani Disney resort on the west side of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu in May, our two grandchildren were each presented with a necklace adorned with a tiny Menehune. The employee, or cast member as they’re referred to at Disney, explained that as long as the kids wore their necklaces while exploring Aulani, the Menehune living in and around the resort would recognize them as “hoa” or friend.
The legend of the Menehune doesn’t stop at the lobby. During our stay, we explored one of the interactive Menehune Adventure Trails. Free with a “valid for charging” room key, kids and parents can sign out a small console called “Aunty” that helps them discover the mischief of the Menehune.
I won’t ruin the surprise if you’re planning a trip to Aulani, but I highly recommend taking time to try one of these walks, which showcase the magic of Disney. In fact, our soon-to-be seven-year-old grandson said, “This is way cooler than I thought it was going to be.” Even our three-year-old granddaughter, who had to be reluctantly hauled from the pool to take part on our adventure, was laughing and excited to run from one secret location to another. It helps that the ubiquitous cast members at Aulani have a roll of stickers ready to give to kids walking by. It’s that attention to detail that makes Disney’s Aulani appealing to kids, parents and in our case, grandparents.
The heart of Aulani is the grounds, dubbed Waikolohe Valley, which includes a man-made mountain called Pu ‘u Kilo that hides a cavernous tube ride. Surrounding Pu ‘u Kilo is a lazy river designed for tubes, which turned out to be one of our favourite features of Aulani, while our grandchildren opted for the thrill-inducing Volcanic Vertical body slide. We heard grown men screaming as they rocketed down the mountain in the dark before splashing into the pool, but our three-year-old granddaughter couldn’t get enough of that slide.
The kids also loved the Menehune Bridge, which is designed more for little ones with a play area including three slides and a splash pool. Our son-in-law paid for he and his son to snorkel the Rainbow Reef, where visitors can pay one fee for unlimited snorkelling during their stay. According to the raves we heard following their first swim, it’s worth the cost. The Rainbow Reef is the only private snorkelling lagoon on Oahu and it’s stocked with vibrantly coloured angel, butterfly and tang fish.
Surprisingly, visitors to Aulani are not bombarded with reminders the resort is Disney owned and operated. In our room, the only homage to the entertainment giant was the wooden Mickey Mouse desk lamp. Instead, Aulani’s décor is much more about Hawaii than it is about Disney, with the exception of the life-sized characters wandering about. Visitors to the resort can expect to meet and pose for pictures with characters such as Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Chip and Dale, and Stitch at various times during the day. Each time we met a different character our grandson politely inquired, “Where’s Donald?” as in Donald Duck. I’m sure Minnie was just a wee bit heartbroken to discover he wasn’t her biggest fan.
On our second to last day at Aulani our grandson finally got his wish. As we strolled along the pathway to the community hall we spotted Donald Duck standing in some shade. It was as if Walt Disney himself had written the encounter into a script. Our grandson rushed straight into Donald’s arms where he received a big hug and peck on the head. Why Donald Duck and not Mickey? Who knows? At least for this little boy, when you wish upon a star your dreams truly do come true.