A Former Disney Imagineer Is Spilling Behind-the-Scenes Secrets on Social Media

If you’ve ever wanted a behind-the-scenes look at the Disney properties, you’ve come to the right place!


We love to peek behind the Disney curtain whenever possible. Whether it be a deep dive into a Disney tradition or elaborate looks at how the Disney Parks work, the rich and illustrious history of the Disney properties and how they’ve evolved over the decades is no doubt fascinating. Recently, we came across a retired Disney Imagineer who spilled the details on one of Disney’s most famous resorts!

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Famous retired Imagineer Joe Rohde took a Hawaiian vacation at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa this past week and was kind enough to share some secrets about the resort during his trip in a series of posts on Instagram!

The first tidbit he dropped about the resort has to do with what you can see from the sky. One of Aulani’s towers “is painted with colors derived from soil samples collected within a 3-mile radius,” wrote Rohde. This infusion of native land is an ode to the indigenous inhabitants of the area and an ode to the Hawaiian version of Living with the Land. The color scheme separates it from most other beachfront resorts and makes Aulani stand out even from the views from an airplane.

The resort’s lobby also has some interesting facts. According to Rohde, Aulani’s lobby, Maka’ala, “means ‘the pathway of the eyes,’ but it also means ‘open up your eyes and look.'” The design of the lobby was meant to drive home the point that this resort is “somewhere more special, more meaningful, and clearly more artful. Somewhere important.”

The curved shape of a canoe house was also designed to resemble a church, and in so doing signify that this resort is “a place of dignity and reverence.” A lot of Aulani’s design is about showing reverence and appreciation for the culture. As you enter the lobby, you will be facing the sea which is a metaphor for facing the future in the local culture.

The design of space within the lobby also represents Hina and Ku, a Hawaiian form of Yin and Yang. The right side of the lobby represents masculinity while the the left represents feminine forces. The Imagineers took great care and inspiration from local mythology and culture when designing the space of the resort and Rohde really highlighted that point in his posts.

Sticking with the lobby, Rohde wrote about how the mural that surrounds the lobby was created by Martin Charlot and mentions how Charlot ties back to Rohde’s family, as well as Walt Disney himself.

Rohde also wrote, “The murals depict the transmission of culture and life from the ancients to the moderns.” He mentioned that a secret pattern of zigzag triangles was included to imitate a band of traditional tattoos.

Still referencing the mural in another post, Rohde compared the mural to a Hawaiian lei around the necks of the visitors. He also mentioned that the words at the bottom of the mural are the lyrics to the song that fills the lobby space created by Keali’i Reichl and Mark Mancina.

In an effort to turn language into a bridge, the Imagineers created the ‘Olelo Room, a Hawaiian language lounge with Hawaiian furniture, walls, windows, and even the bartender’s jacket. With pronunciation guides on the walls, object cards that display Hawaiian names, and native Hawaiian speakers throughout, this space is meant to bring cultures together through friendly education and music.

Outside you can find the Piko Stone, established by Auntie Nettie Tiffany, the spiritual gatekeeper of the area. Considered a quiet space, Rohde acknowledges the stone isn’t a Disney thing, but a legitimate Hawaiian shrine that serves as the heart of the resort.

Lastly, Rhode wanted to highlight Aulani’s use of 19th and early 20th-century architectural design.  “Certain cultural shapes and objects are used as design motifs, revisited again and again, but re-stated as elements of architecture or textile patterns, or functional objects like lighting fixtures,” wrote Rohde. In his post, Rohde mentioned several examples and emphasized how the design choices elevate the resort from some generic place.

The Imagineers designed Aulani to tell a story, and every aspect of the resort went through much consideration and a developed thought process.


If you make your way out to Oahu and Aulani, try to see all the neat little details Rohde wrote about during his trip! In the meantime, be sure to follow us here at AllEars for all the latest Disney news and tips!

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What are some of your favorite hidden details at Disney resorts? Let us know in the comments!