Surrounded by lush Hawaiian scenery, Epic Aloha waves to vacationers with an unexpected ask: Trade the Waikiki sunshine for another kind of island escape.
“It’s a really hard concept to talk about. It’s such a visual thing,” said Matt Baysinger, searching for words to describe the 6,000-square-foot Epic Aloha experience space. “Is it a selfie museum? Is it an Instagram museum? Is it an entertainment space? Is it a giant photo studio with props?”
The 12-room photo-ready concept — complete with 43 backdrops or interactions — opened Monday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, the largest hotel in the U.S. outside of Las Vegas. It’s the next wave of curated, shared experiences for Kansas City’s Swell Spark, the creators of the popular Breakout, Blade & Timber and Choir Bar entertainment concepts, said co-founder and CEO Baysinger.
“Epic Aloha” is more than a call out to Hawaii’s nearly ubiquitous greeting for “hello” and “goodbye,” he added.
“It’s a very happy word,” Baysinger said. “People here would say, ‘Live with Aloha.’ It’s this idea of warmth and hospitality, joy and happiness.”
Designed by expert visual artists and fabricated by Swell Spark’s Catalyst Build operation in Kansas City, the themed rooms offer a variety of art installations, including exhibits about sustainability and visuals designed for the perfect Instagram photo.
Monday’s opening comes three years after the company’s first foray into the tourist-centric market with the Breakout Waikiki escape room — a first-of-its-kind concept for the islands at the time, Baysinger said.
“It’s funny to do something like Epic Aloha in Hawaii. Quite frankly, stepping outside, you’re going to find the most beautiful places to take photos maybe in all of America. The beach is absolutely serene. It has this amazing jungle and the mountains,” he said. “But when we opened Breakout Waikiki three years ago, what we found is there are a lot of people who are not used to spending 12 hours a day outside. So Breakout Waikiki quickly became the top indoor attraction in all of Honolulu, and all of Oahu for that matter. Our niche has always been gathering people for shared experiences.”
The project has been under wraps for about eight months with Swell Spark developing the company’s biggest experience yet, Baysinger said, capturing the unique aesthetic of Hawaii and capitalizing on one of the busiest corners in Waikiki. Epic Aloha serves as a cornerstone of a revamped space at the beach resort, he said.
Click here to read more about Swell Spark’s selection as one of Startland’s Top Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2018. The company now owns and operates 10 entertainment venues throughout the U.S. in four states.
Unlike some of Swell Spark’s other concepts — like Breakout and Blade & Timber — visitors aren’t asked to put down their phones at Epic Aloha, Baysinger said. In fact, this go-round, it’s part of the venue’s appeal.
“We’re fully aware that asking people to put their phones away is a tough thing. We have people who will say, ‘Gosh, I feel naked if I don’t have my phone,’ so we’ve really tried to strike a balance,” he said. “I just don’t want people engaging only on their phones to be a replacement for engaging with people in real life.”
Could the Epic Aloha concept be in Kansas City’s future?
Swell Spark’s hope is to grow the brand in some way — though it’s currently unclear how that would be manifested in markets outside of Hawaii, given the distinct island designs of Epic Aloha, Baysinger said.
“The idea could travel in some way,” he said. “People in Kansas need a little ‘Aloha’ too.”
The West Bottoms-based company also is expanding its Waikiki Breakout efforts with a second escape room location opening Dec. 15 on the other side of the island. The new space, which sits along a popular beach walk and features a reimagined take on the escape room concept, is expected to benefit from 12,000 to 14,000 in daily foot traffic passing by each day, Baysinger said.
“Our goal is still to set the table for people to have a great experience,” he said. “I can’t force you to have a great time at Breakout, Epic Aloha or Blade & Timber, but I can make it as easy as possible for you to do so. People don’t want to miss out on having fun, but there’s often a lot of time and preparation and effort that goes into it.”
Swell Spark’s team is excited to have met the Thanksgiving week deadline for opening the photo museum concept in Hawaii, Baysinger said, noting the importance of connecting with holiday travelers, as well as year-round visitors.
“Something like this is a million times more fun when you do it with your friends,” he said. “I hope people don’t come by themselves just to take selfies — that’s why we haven’t called this a ‘selfie museum.’ We want this to be friends, family and co-workers, interacting with each other, taking photos, smiling and having a good time.”