Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, March 27, 1998

Honolulu is much better
than Orlando

FORGIVE me, fellow Hawaii residents, for I have sinned. Last week, instead of spending my money in these recession-plagued islands, I acquiesced to some highly persuasive pubescent whining and took my 12-year-old to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., for early spring break.

Can you blame me? It's been awfully depressing around here.

An unpopular governor and jittery legislators are trying to put Band-Aids on a bleeding economy and bloated bureaucracy, when major surgery is required.

Companies big and small are slashing jobs and forcing their employees to take pay cuts.

And now my favorite department store has sought protection from its creditors by declaring bankruptcy.

To malign the phrase in that popular beer commercial, "Man, it doesn't get any worse than this." Except, of course, if one is Hawaiian at heart and decides to vacation in Orlando. Bad move.

Disney World is on the other end of the nation, in a state that touts itself as our number one rival in American resort destinations.

Not even. When it comes to vacation experiences, comparing Hawaii to Florida is like comparing "Titanic" to "Speed 2."

We were welcomed, on the first two days of our visit to the Magic Kingdom, by thunder, lightning and relentless rainstorms.

Nothing is more pathetic than the sight of thousands of tourists, sloshing through pelting precipitation, wearing identical yellow plastic ponchos with Mickey Mouse emblazoned on them.

When the weather finally cleared, it was still cold -- even colder than in Wahiawa! The temperatures were in the 50s and 60s during the day, and in the 40s at night. This is a pleasant get-away?

Everything in Orlando is on a grand scale -- the hotels, the admission prices, the water attractions, the amusement parks, the commercialism. If that city stands for quantity, then Honolulu certainly represents quality.

But the biggest "viva la difference" has to do with the absence of that intangible known as the aloha spirit. It's sadly lacking in Florida.

Sure, Walt Disney World's "cast members" (its jargon for employees) were friendly, but they appeared to be simply acting that way instead of exuding genuine warmth, caring and pride in their locale.

How sad that I had to travel the length of the country to discover the Dorothy in me. On the plane trip back, I kept babbling like a madwoman, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

AS our jet began its descent into Honolulu Airport, and visitors excitedly gabbed about leisure activities ahead, there was time for quiet reflection on the part of residents. Too much time for reflection, in fact.

One big, troubling question flickered through my mind.

Is our economy so hard-up that we must usher in new forms of revenue enhancement like legalized gambling (even under the guise of "gamecock breeding," for goodness sake), because we have deluded ourselves into thinking that tourists won't come here "just" for the beauty, fun, climate and aloha?

Suddenly, the wheels of the aircraft kissed the runway and the passengers broke into spontaneous yelps and applause. There's your answer, folks.

OK, everybody on board! Are you ready to get down and party? Welcome to the real Magic Kingdom.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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