Barrons: This week, Walt Disney unveils its first hotel and timeshare project that isn't connected to a theme park, in a master-planned resort community on the west side of Hawaii's Oahu. It's similar to Disney's multigenerational cruise offerings, only at the beach and sans life rafts. "This isn't Disneyland. This has never been done, within Disney or not," says Jeffrey Stone, founder of The Resort Group, the Honolulu-based developer of Ko Olina, where the resort is located.
The $800 million project is called Aulani, Hawaiian for "messenger from a higher authority," owing to Disney's intent to tell the story of Hawaiian history and culture throughout the site. There are still tricked-out swimming pools, character-hosted breakfasts—and the Black Pearl pirate ship of Johnny Depp fame is moored nearby. This is Disney, after all. But accommodations aren't Mickey Mouse—witness amenities such as teen-only spas and adult-only pools.
Disney has also given the Hawaiian economy a shot in the arm during a woeful slump in construction and tourism. The company projects it will have generated 4,800 jobs and $634 million in economic activity during the construction phase alone, which will be completed in early 2013. Timing couldn't be better, after an already punk tourism industry was weakened further by disasters in Japan, whose tourists tend to favor Oahu over neighboring islands. Ironically, Japanese affinity for all things Disney helped Oahu and Ko Olina snare the project, which should augur well for the "Five-0." Mahalo, Mickey.