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Disney does Hawaii in grand style at Aulani Resort & Spa on Oahu

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Laniwai Spa at Disney Aulani Resort

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When the Walt Disney Company announced plans for a resort on Oahu, many wondered if this would be a Mickey Mouse view of Hawaii.

Based on my visit in January, it’s a tropical paradise for kids of all ages.

Inspired by Hawaiian cultural and environmental icons, the 18,000-square-foot beachfront Laniwai spa has 14 treatment rooms, a salon for hair and nails, and a private club for teenagers. Families can spa together or enjoy privacy. Wedding parties prep for a seaside ceremony in the resort’s airy chapel.

Spa Director Lucia Rodriguez Amasio says guests are immersed in the story of Hawaiian culture. Treatments are themed to the healing gift of water, reflecting the spa's Hawaiian name Laniwai.

Entering the central rotunda, my therapist Wesly chanted prayers for health and wellness as raindrops descended into a reflecting pool. Trained by one of the island’s legendary shamans, Aunty Margaret, Wesly invokes ancient rituals with lomi-lomi massage. Authentic or not, it is a great experience.

First stop can be a wood-walled sauna, steam room, or a workout in the fitness center. Another unique feature is the hydrotherapy garden, an adult-only sanctuary. Prior to treatments, relax in pools of seaweed, eucalyptus, and Hawaiian herbal awa. Detox with a mixture of raw sugar slathered on your body at the Mixology Bar. Showers create rainforest effects in the palm-shaded 5000-square-foot garden. There are several whirlpools where you can relax, plus invigorating cold plunge. Even a path paved with stones that massage your feet.

Kids dress in hula skirts for "Minni Me" treatments in the family suite. Massage, facial, and manicure for kids age three and up are available while mom and dad enjoy treatments in the family suite, Try traditional Hawaiian lomi-lomi massage, a blend of long soothing strokes with coconut oil.

Set on 21 manicured acres at the Ko Olina community, about an hour from Honolulu by car, the Aulani resort adjoins public beaches and coves. The nearby golf course has a fully-equipped clubhouse and branch of famous Roy's restaurant for al fresco or air conditioned dining.

The first Hawaiian resort developed by Disney "imagineers," Aulani has a multi-tower hotel with 359 traditional rooms, plus 481 two-bedroom Disney Vacation Club "villas." Suites (there are 16 on upper floors) are truly luxurious with amenities like jetted bath tub and separate shower, kitchen, and living room. All have veranda with ocean or garden view. In an obvious nod to the many Japanese families who enjoy this fantasy, one of the suite’s toilets has heated seat and spray.

Disney’s Aulani is total escape, an immersion in Polynesian culture with a twist of fantasy. Designed for family fun, the centerpiece is a three-story water slide inside a volcano that leads to a river float. The main restaurant caters to international tastes (including breakfast with Mickey and Minnie) or you can reserve for first-class dining by the beach at the ‘Ama’Ama restaurant (think macadamia nut encrusted pancakes, island seafood). But this Disney resort has no theme rides.

Reservations: 714/520-7001; spa services 866/814-3569 www.resorts.disney.go.com/aulani-hawaii-resort

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