by Disney Magic Diva
If you’ve ever dreamed of a tropical getaway, a visit to Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa could make your dreams come true! Located just minutes from Honolulu, a vacation at Aulani Resort is a wonderful combination of the magic of Disney Parks and the relaxation of a cruise. It is truly a vacation in paradise.
While Waikiki is a popular destination on O’ahu, it can feel crowded and commercial. Aulani Resort, on the other hand, is in beautiful Ko Olina on the leeward (dry, sunny, not windy) side of O’ahu. It’s only about a 25-minute drive from the Honolulu airport, but what a world of difference in the atmosphere. At Aulani Resort, you feel like you have left the hustle and bustle of the city and all its tourism, and truly are part of the relaxing Hawaiian culture.
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa has two multi-story buildings for guest rooms. The Ewa Tower houses Disney Vacation Club (DVC) 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom villas as well as studios. The Waikolohe Tower is for non-DVC guests and offers standard hotel rooms as well as 1- and 2-bedroom suites.
We stayed in a standard room and it was comparable to deluxe rooms at Walt Disney World Resort. It had similar amenities – a table, 2 chairs, a coffeemaker, small refrigerator, flat-screen TV, an iron and ironing board, and a safe. It also had some additional features we don’t customarily see at Walt Disney World (although depending on the resort we have seen some of these) – 2 robes, a blu-ray player, a Keurig coffeemaker instead of a standard coffeemaker, and a ceiling fan. Our balcony also seemed larger than most at Walt Disney World.
It was a little disappointing to only have one sink in the bathroom vanity, but the extra deep bathtub helped alleviate that disappointment. If you are traveling with small children, you can request a Pack ‘n Play, high-chair, bed rails, outlet covers, diaper disposal system, and even bottle warmers.
We originally booked a standard view room, but a few weeks before departure decided we didn’t want to be overlooking a parking garage while in paradise. When staying at a Disney Park resort, we enjoy a wonderful view but often we spend so much time away from the room a view is not always of primary concern. On this trip, we knew we would enjoy spending time on a lovely balcony, so the view was more of a priority. So, we upgraded to a partial ocean view. When we arrived, we were dismayed to discover that while our room did have a partial view of the ocean, the primary view from our balcony was that of a parking garage! We called the front desk, and after about 30 minutes of going over our options decided to upgrade to an ocean view room.
Diva Tip: During our conversation with the desk trying to find a different room, this is what we discovered: Standard view rooms are on floors 1-4 on the side of the buildings facing out, away from the pool/courtyard area. Pool or garden view rooms are on floors 1-4 facing the pool/courtyard area. Partial ocean view rooms are floors 5 and up facing out, and ocean view rooms are floors 5 and up facing the pool/courtyard. It should be noted we were inquiring about rooms on the hotel side of the property. Disney Vacation Club villas may differ.
The lobby of Aulani Resort forms the base of a “U” shaped structure, with the two guest towers on either side. In the middle of the “U” is the unbelievable pool/courtyard area consisting of Waikolohe Valley Stream (the lazy river), Waikolohe Pool (the family pool), Wailana Pool (the adults-only pool) as well as several whirlpools, infinity pools, and children’s splash zones. As you make your way to the open part of the “U” you’ll see the beach and gorgeous blue lagoon calling you.
The grounds are spectacular! Lush vegetation is everywhere – except of course on the stunning sandy white beaches! Waterfalls, flowers, and gorgeous views are never more than steps away. Your most stressful decision is which lounge chair to occupy for the day!
Diva Tip: Lounge chairs are plentiful! And if you want more than a chair, you can rent a poolside or beachside cabana or casabella for the day. You will need to obtain a wristband every day to use the pools and chairs. Cast members monitor lounge chairs, and if you leave your belongings for more than an hour they may collect them, so be sure to go back to your chair periodically.
One of the features I liked most about Aulani Resort is the abundance of small spaces nestled away amongst the landscaping. Instead of one big, open space, there were multiple smaller spaces giving it a more intimate, less crowded feel.
A completely unique feature of Aulani Resort is Rainbow Reef. This is a saltwater pond located within the courtyard/pool area and is stocked with all kinds of colorful fish! You can see the underwater view from a window, or you can snorkel in the reef and see the fish on a more “up-close-and-personal” basis. You can even sign up to feed the fish!
Unlike Walt Disney World Resort or Disneyland Resort, there is no dining plan option at Aulani Resort. Like those resorts, however, there is a choice of quick service or table service restaurants at Aulani.
Ulu Café is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can choose between grab and go items or hot entrees. There are even snacks available as well as a beverage station for resort refillable mugs (and it’s a Freestyle machine, much to my delight!). My husband had a couple of meals here – the kids’ chicken nugget meal (3 full chicken strips, fries, and a drink – easily enough for an adult!) and a breakfast similar to the Bounty Platter at Walt Disney World. We also tried a cheese, prosciutto, and cracker tray. Everything was well prepared and very tasty.
Mama’s Snack Stop is conveniently located next to the pool, so it was a popular spot to grab lunch. We enjoyed the Fish and Chips and Coconut Breaded Shrimp. Both dishes were delicious! The Fish and Chips were the best I’ve ever had at a Disney property. The shrimp was not quite as good, but still tasty enough that we managed to finish every bite!
Little ‘Opihi’s is located right on the beach! It offers salads, wraps, sandwiches, fresh fruit, and Dole Whip! How perfect – to sit in a lounge chair right on the beach enjoying a Dole Whip! You can even order from a roaming cast member without leaving the comfort of your lounge chair!
Pāpālua Shave Ice You can’t go to Hawaii without enjoying a classic Hawaiian treat – shaved ice! Here, of course, it has the extra magical touch of being Mickey-shaped! You can choose from many traditional flavors and some purely Hawaiian ones like lilikoi and haupia. (Don’t be intimidated – that’s just passionfruit and coconut!)
Lava Shack is conveniently located by the Waikolohe Pool area but doesn’t really offer meals. It’s a great little shop for pre-packaged snacks or beverages, along with sunscreen, pool toys, etc.
Aulani Resort only has one true table service restaurant – ‘AMA’AMA. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it’s the equivalent of a signature restaurant at Walt Disney World. As an open-air restaurant and just steps from the beach, it’s the perfect place for a romantic sunset dinner.
We chose to do just that. We made a reservation for about 30 minutes before sunset and were pixie-dusted with a table with an unobstructed view of the gorgeous sunset. The food was almost as unforgettable, and the service was impeccable! Definitely recommend this fabulous experience! Watch for a complete review of our experience at ‘AMA’AMA coming soon.
Makahiki is the place to go for a buffet or if you’d like to enjoy a character meal. It’s open for breakfast and dinner. Breakfast character meals (it was Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto when we were there) are offered daily. Aunty from Aunty’s Beach House (the kids’ club) visits too and plays the ukulele. Dinner character meals (Stitch, Chip & Dale, Donald) are only offered Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. It features Uncle and celebrates the Menehune (magical little people of Hawaiian legend). Non-character buffet dinners are available Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday.
If you’d like to attend a luau while visiting Hawaii, try KA WA Á – A Luau at Aulani Resort. The luau takes place on select nights right on the lawn by the Ewa Tower. We had reservations to attend, but unfortunately, our event was canceled due to rain.
Bars and Lounges
We stopped by The ‘Ōlelo Room for a light supper and drinks one evening. We were seated at a high-top table on the patio and under the stars with a perfect view of the live music entertainment. You can enjoy small plates that feature island cuisine like seafood (including sushi and sashimi), kālua pork sliders, popcorn fries, kua’āina tacos (vegan!), and Korean style chicken wings.
Diva Tip: From 5:00 to 7:00 pm each evening you can enjoy selections from a discounted Sunset Menu!
Off the Hook is located right by the Waikolohe Pool area and was a popular spot for dinner. We saw many families enjoying a poolside meal at one of the many tables outside. They offer sandwiches, burgers, wraps, salads, and appetizers.
Wailana Pool Bar was the best place to go for early morning coffee! It was the first spot open each day. The menu consists of salads, wraps, pizza, burgers, and, naturally, a full bar. Since the Wailana Pool was closed, it wasn’t as busy as it may have otherwise been during our visit.
WHAT TO DO
If you’re like me, when you’re at Aulani Resort all you need to do is find a lounge chair, a good drink, and maybe your favorite novel or podcast. If you’d like a little more, though, there are plenty of choices!
The best way to know what’s happening each day is to pick up the Daily ‘Iwa. This is a one-page newsletter you can find at the lobby or most stores and restaurants. If you’ve ever been on a cruise (Disney or other company), the Daily ‘Iwa is similar to the daily activity newsletter you receive on the ship. It contains information about all the special activities for the day, and where and when you can sign up to participate.
Diva Tip: The Daily ‘Iwa is published each evening for the next day’s activities. Pick up your copy as you head back to your room for the night so you can plan the next day and don’t miss an opportunity to participate in your favorite activities! Many activities require registration which opens each morning. By deciding the evening before what you’d like to do, you can be ready when registration opens each day and be sure to get into your choice of activities.
There are too many activities to list but suffice it to say you can take ukulele lessons, try yoga on the beach, make your own Mickey ears, or maybe learn about astronomy while looking at the stars. Golf, pool parties, movies under the stars, shopping, walking tours, stories around the fire-pit, and of course the spa are all just waiting for you!
If the sea is calling you, there are plenty of beach activities. Snorkeling equipment, paddleboards, and boogie boards can all be rented at Makiki Joe’s (right on the beach). You can also choose to sail on a canoe with Hawaiian Ocean Adventures (reservations available to Makiki Joe’s). If you just want to relax and enjoy the ocean breeze, beach lounge chairs, umbrellas, sand toys, and life jackets are all complimentary.
There are lots of options for children too! Aunty’s Beach House is the kids’ club, and it’s loaded with fun activities for kids 3-12. Tweens (ages 10-12) and teens (ages 13-17) have their own scheduled events which seemed really popular based on family conversations we overheard around the resort. Kids and adults alike can check out an iPad from the community center and go on a Menehune hunt around the resort. We tried it and it was a wonderful way to explore and learn about these mythical, magical, mischievous legends which are a delightful part of Hawaiian folklore.
Want to try the ultimate in pampering? Laniwai is a fabulous spa with services for the whole family! Massages, facials, fitness, hair, nail, makeovers – you can find it all at Laiwai. There’s even a special version of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Aulani. Painted Sky: HI Style Studio offers kids 3-12 a fashion makeover. Most options have a Hawaiian theme (luau, surfer, Moana) but there are also mermaid and Minnie makeovers!
Naturally, it wouldn’t be a Disney resort if you didn’t have a chance to meet characters! At Aulani Resort, it’s simple! Each day you can call the Character Toon Finder Hotline (x2447 or CHIP) from your room and get the place and time you can find characters for that day! We saw Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Daisy, Chip, Dale, Moana, and Shellie May!
If you want to venture out beyond Aulani, you can sign up for an excursion. Try a zipline, swim with dolphins, visit Pearl Harbor or the North Shore, or even island-hop to Kauai or Maui. All you need to do is sign up at the desk in the lobby and get ready for some adventure!
Aulani Resort is really a remarkable vacation destination. It blends the best of Disney’s attention to detail and service with the relaxation of a cruise. It’s not hectic and crowded like theme parks can be, yet it has the Disney characters and theming that kids (and even older mouseketeers!) enjoy. It is definitely worth a visit!
So, are you ready to say “Aloha” to Aulani? Patricia at All for Dreams Travel can help with all your planning needs. Her services are FREE, so contact her today!
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