Got your coconut shell ready?
"Aunty," who is actually well-known Hawaiian entertainer Sonya Mendez, leads the giggling gaggle of kids on a "Coconut Walk," marching, singing and clapping coconut shell instruments together around the outdoor patio at Aulani, Disney's newest resort and its first in Hawaii (www.aulani.com).
"This is a place where children will leave with a sense of place," she says approvingly.
That's the idea, of course. Disney employed more than 100 local consultants for advice on everything from storytelling to music to architecture. Local fish and produce are served at the resort restaurants, and children can learn to snorkel with Hawaiian fish in the artificial Rainbow Reef. Family spa treatments teach visitors how to use the traditional healing lomilomi sticks at the Laniwai Spa. (Laniwai means freshwater heaven in Hawaiian.)
It may just be possible that here, about an hour from Waikiki along the coast of Oahu in Ko Olina, Disney has built a game-changer for vacationing families.
Rather than showcasing their own stories, said Joe Rhode, the senior Disney executive responsible for the creative content and design at Aulani, "we built this resort around the story of Hawaii. It's like a book about Hawaii and you are inside the story!"
The more than 800 "cast members" were chosen, in part, by how well they could communicate their personal Hawaiian stories. They were then given additional Hawaiian cultural training. "It isn't make-believe here," insists Djuan Rivers, who oversees operations at the resort and who took Hawaiian language lessons when he first arrived. "It's from the heart."
But just as important for visitors -- or maybe more important -- Disney has taken what works so well for families at other venues and brought them all together, complete with beautiful locale, pool complex and a terrific interactive water play area called Menehune Bridge.
"It is like we took the cruise line off the water and put it on land," suggested Tom Staggs, the chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts.
Each day there are more than 20 (mostly) complimentary activities that families can choose -- making Space Goo with Stitch, feeding the fish in the Rainbow Reef lagoon, surf lessons for teens, learning a Hawaiian craft, taking in a movie at Aunty's Beach House where it "magically" begins raining and thundering, even when the sun is shining outside. (Like on a ship, you get a daily handout -- here called an "IWA" -- that tells you everything that's going on that day.)
And like on a ship, but unlike most comparable resorts (rates start here at $399/night), Aunty's Beach House with morning-till-evening activities for kids 3 to 12 is complimentary, as is the separate Painted Sky teen hangout and spa.
Instead of an expensive luau (where few like the food and the entertainment goes on too long for kids) there is no dinner and no charge for the Aulani Starlit Hui, the signature evening show, with local artisans demonstrating their crafts. Local musicians (including the prize-winning Ukulele duo Heart and Soul) and dancers perform during a 25-minute performance that ends with a Disney Dance Party with Disney characters.
Families also need the chance to explore what Oahu has to offer -- and it offers a lot -- minus the stress. That's why Adventures by Disney is also offering individual and three-day excursion packages with unique activities. (Try cooking lessons with a local celebrity chef, hiking along a hidden trail or sea kayaking -- all complete with local stories.)
Carved Menehune, the mysterious little people who live in the forest, are "hidden" throughout the resort -- guests can follow the Menehune Adventure Trail -- while hundreds of local sea creatures are unobtrusively carved into the landscaped rocks.
"What people expect from Disney is magic," said Rhode. "But you have to remember that Hawaii has its own magic."