A Disney vacation, no less. “When do we get leis?” my mom asked as we disembarked our flight to Honolulu. “Usually, at the hotel,” I informed her. She was disappointed—she had expected a flowery greeting right at the gate, with beauties in grass skirts draping her, my dad, and me with fresh orchids. Instead, we were met with a regular old airport terminal. The gate agent offered a subdued “aloha.”
It was my parents’ first-ever time to Hawaii, and my first-ever time taking them on vacation. It was strange to have my mother and father, both in their mid-50s, excitedly dawdling behind me as I had behind them many times as a kid at one of our two vacation destinations, Martha’s Vineyard, right off of Massachusetts’s Cape Cod, or Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
At least the Disney part was familiar: We were headed to Aulani, a high-end Disney resort located on the southwestern corner of Oahu. I had been invited to the unveiling of the live character, Moana—Aulani’s “princess,” so to speak—as well as to experience their brand-new luau, Ka Wa’a, along with two guests. The invitation had specified family members, which I’m pretty sure meant to bring your kids. But, having no children of my own, I chose to bring my parents.
After a quick 20-minute drive in the dark from the airport, we arrived at Aulani, welcomed with blazing tiki torches. I could sense my parents shifting in their seats with anticipation. As soon as we stepped out of our limo’s aggressive air-conditioning, we were met with the unctuous scent of tropical plants and breathed in the deliciously humid air. A man and a woman rushed over to bestow fuchsia leis on my mother and me and a strand of smooth, espresso-colored kukui nut shells for my father. My mom was thrilled.
Aulani (which means “messenger of a chief”) is a family resort. There is simply no avoiding children during a stay, and you’ll most certainly run into a character or two on any given day—Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto, all decked out in Hawaiian shirts. The elevator music features beloved Disney movie songs covered by Hawaiian artists. There is a character breakfast with Mickey waffles.