In honor of Lei Day in Hawaii, Disney Aulani cast members participated in an annual contest to recognize the state-wide celebration honoring the tradition of lei making.
The lei’s are displayed in the lobby for Aulani guests to view and vote for their favorite. Come check out some of these beautiful pieces. #AsianPacificAmericanHeritageMonth
In the state of Hawaii, May Day on May 1st is Lei Day. Hawaii’s nationally-recognized Lei Day is an annual tribute to a culturally iconic symbol.
Celebrated by locals dressed in floral aloha attire, the custom honors the state’s natural production of tropical flowers in the crafting and wearing of the lei.
Today, men and women wear and exchange flower lei on occasions like graduations, funerals, birthdays, and weddings.
We had the pleasure of getting to know the beloved lei maker at Disney’s Polynesian Resort before her passing last year.
This is her story:
January 10, 2020: Longtime Walt Disney World cast member who greeted guests at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort with handmade leis and also gave hula lessons has died.
Kau’i Brandt — known to many people as Aunty Kau’i — was 87.
Brandt, born in 1932 Hawaii, began working at Disney World as part of the opening-day staff in 1971. It was supposed to be a three-month luau gig in Florida after working for a summer at Disneyland. She ended up working at the Polynesian for decades.
“We are all deeply saddened by the passing of Auntie Kau’i, a longtime cast member and Hawaiian icon who brought happiness to millions throughout the years as she took such joy in immersing guests in Polynesian culture,” Josh D’Amaro, president of Walt Disney World, said in a statement Friday.
Eventually, Brandt’s job title at the Polynesian became “cultural ambassador.” She met incoming guests with fresh-flower leis and grass skirts, entertaining the youngest guests.
“If the kids are happy, the parents are happy,” she told the Sentinel in 2009.
She was born during a lightning storm. Her mother named her Kauihealani — or “thundering voice of heaven.” A key event in her young life was the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, while sitting on her mother’s roof in a town near Pearl Harbor, she told the Sentinel in 2014.
“My mom told me, ‘It’s war. Get off the roof.’ I said, ‘What’s war?’ We didn’t know what war was. But, we learned. It was a tough time,” she said.
Years later, after learning to hula, she was recruited to be in a show at Disneyland. She said she turned it down multiple times.
“I’ve always heard once you leave Hawaii, you never go back,” she said. “And I guess it’s true because we left Hawaii for the summer of 1971, came up here to Florida only to help them open up the Polynesian Resort, and here still I am.”
We got to talk with her many times when we were cast members at Disney World.
Guests could find Auntie Kau’i in the first-floor lobby of the Great Ceremonial House of the Polynesian five days a week making leis with fresh flowers and pretty ribbons at her table in the corner of the children’s area. She delighted in showing guests how leis are made.
She created her leis from real flowers for guests celebrating their honeymoon, anniversaries, or family celebrations. (All resort guests receive a pretty, free silk flower lei when they check-in, and also get one when entering the Spirit of Aloha show.)
You can read more about her interesting life’s story here: Growing Up Hawaiian.
We’ve written two books about our time working – and playing – as Disney Cast Members at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
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Have a magical day!
Two Disney Sisters
Our Aulani welcome: