Day Three: Living the Aulani Life
A Morning Walk
Our schedule for Monday was absolutely jam packed...full of blissful nothing! After all the travel and some time in Disneyland we were truly looking forward to a day of relaxing at Aulani. (You can read our review of the resort and 10 first time tips here.) The only official plan with a designated time was a Disney Vacation Club member event. The rest of the day was reserved for hanging out by the pool and just generally enjoying the resort. We woke up early again and since we had some time before breakfast we decided to grab some coffee and walk around the grounds as the sun came up. It was so peaceful and beautiful, and a great way to start the day. Here are some pictures from that morning...
DVC Member Breakfast
The day before we had stopped by the Disney Vacation Club desk and learned there was a member breakfast held Monday mornings at 9:00. We were asked to check-in about 15 minutes early where we received "Member since ____" buttons and were told to grab some seats at round 8-top tables. There were leis on the table for the taking (exactly the same as the nice check-in ones: fresh floral and kukui nut). The breakfast offerings included coffee, tea and juices with assorted pastries like croissants, scones, and muffins.
The event itself was about an hour or so. It was a typical feel good, "Thanks for being members" kind of time (with that soft underlying "Think about buying more points" pitch). We saw a video reel, some people around the room told stories and there was some trivia (Julie even won a Stitch pin!). Then there was a team "guess the Disney song/dance challenge". Everyone ended up "winning" a nice navy blue DVC baseball cap. Upon wrap up cast members were around for anyone who had questions. It was a nice little start to the day. We wouldn't plan our schedule around it or anything but if you happen to be around on that Monday morning you might as well stop by for some freebies!
A Perfect Pool Day
After breakfast we went back to the room to get ready for a full day pool side. We packed our bags with sunscreen, reading material, and drinks. We also brought a little cooler bag with some lunch and snacks. We made the adult only Wailana pool our home base. It was nice and quiet, further from the kids areas, and actually wasn't overly crowded either. We were able to find both shaded spots and sunny spots with comfy chairs. The pool bar was steps away as well as the Ulu Cafe, (quick service restaurant) for drink refills. The bathroom in this area was also the nicest one in the whole pool area.
We spent most of the day lounging, napping, reading and enjoying some adult beverages. We had brought some of our own drinks, but when in paradise you definitely have to enjoy some frozen tropical treats. We sampled some different drinks on the menu like Mai Tais and Mojitos. By far our favorite drink of the week was the Liliko-i-Lada, a Pina Colada with passion fruit puree. Delish!
(Note: the Wailana Pool Bar closes at 5:00. When we asked the bar staff, we were told they used to be open much later but they found no one visited the bar once dinner time came so they close early year round. Which was a bummer because we would have loved to hang out here in the evenings.)
Each day at Aulani you need to present your key card to receive a colored wristband for the day to prove you have resort access. This is also how you can get towels (as many as you would like). We would even grab pool towels the night before an off-site excursion and just bring them back when done. We also should note we used the towel tent closest to the adult pool which also happened to be for DVC members only.
In addition to the Wailana pool we also enjoyed acting like kids a bit too. We loved the lazy river that snakes around most of the pool area. It moves nice and slow to just float and there is some cool scenery. There are some areas where some waterfalls may splash you though! There were also some water slides as well. The guys spent a lot of time perfecting the launch that would produce the fastest slide speed.
When things started getting quiet and the sun was beginning to go down we moved our operation to some empty chairs by the adult hot tub. This two level tub was perfectly situated to watch the sunset. This became a favorite way to end most evenings.
After a lazy day we surprisingly felt pretty tired didn't feel like doing much. We decided to keep the relaxed vibe going and not even go anywhere for dinner. We were able to order a takeout pizza and salads from Ulu Cafe. We enjoyed them in the pool area under the stars accompanied by some wine. It was a great way to end the night before heading to bed.
Day Four: Kualoa Ranch Adventure
Kualoa Ranch Tour Packages
Price: $167/person (including lunch)
Kualoa Ranch is a 4,000 acre nature reserve on the northeast side of the island. The family owned land has been used for a ton of movies and tv shows and opens to guests looking for a variety of experiences. Since the ranch was about an hour away we decided to make a full day of it and try a lot of different experiences. We researched and found that the multi-tour packages saved a bit of money overall. We made sure to book a few weeks in advance to make sure we would get the tours/days we wanted. (Note: if you book online, you have to pay upfront. If you call and book, you pay when you arrive onsite.)
After a quick in-room breakfast of egg sandwiches and fruit, we grabbed some coffee and were on our way. The biggest issue with this day was the fact that with the multi-tour packages we booked our starting time at the Ranch was 7:45-8:15. It was Tuesday and this put our drive right in the middle of Honolulu rush hour. The traffic was pretty bad and even though we left Aulani early to account for that, we still barely made it on time.
When we arrived there were multiple buildings but there are plenty of signs and friendly staff members to direct you. We went to one booth to pay for our packages and then were directed to another to plan our days. The girls had booked a Horseback Adventure Package while the guys wanted to experience the ATV Adventure Package. They were essentially the same, both including an hour of the chosen activity, plus two 90-minute tours of your choice and a buffet lunch. Some tour choices included boat time or beach time but since we already had done some other water activities and really loved movies we selected movie focused tours for both choices. The scheduling folks were great to ensure we were able to experience all the aspects of the packages together for the whole day and only split for the horseback riding and ATV portion. The staff was able to generate a schedule for the day, detailing where we should be, and when.
Tour #1: Hollywood Movie Sites Tour
Our first adventure of the day was the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour. We boarded an old green school bus that at times provided a somewhat bouncy ride. The beginning of the tour focused on the history of the ranch and how it was commandeered by the army during WWII and used as an airfield and base where several gun placements were built. We then stopped at the edge of the valley to tour an old army bunker that was built into the mountain. The bunker is currently home to a few movie and TV sets along with some props on display. There is also some history about the bunker and how it was used during the war.
We hopped back on the bus and headed towards the valley where most of the filming locations are. Since this is a working ranch, there are cattle in quite a few of the fields. The whole area was quite majestic and we could see why so many famous scenes are planned here. The first major filming location we came upon is the famous log used in Jurassic Park when Allen Grant and the kids are running through the herd of dinosaurs. The staff dubbed this the "most famous dead tree branch in the world."
After this stop, we hopped back on the bus and toured the rest of the sites in the valley. They included the filming locations for the new Jumanji film, Godzilla, the upcoming Jurassic World, Kong: Skull Island, and a few others. Some of the locations only had signs while others included props left behind by the studios at the Ranch's request. They are very concious about the environment so anything that is deemed hazordous to the environment cannot be left on the property.
The road back to the ranch is the same one taken on the way out so it provides the other side of the bus a view of the ocean and some of the bunkers discussed earlier in the article. Once we arrived back at the ranch, we had some time to hit the restrooms and large giftshop before our next tour.
Tour #2: Jurassic Jungle Expedition
Our next excursion was the Jurassic Jungle Expedition. The vehicle for this tour is a large pickup truck with canopy type seating in the back. This ride got super bumpy at times, especially on the way back down the mountain. We started off by seeing a few areas designed to show Hawaiian culture from a long time ago. It was cool to hear that Kualoa Ranch uses these areas for lot of cultural and educational programs for kids on the island too.
Once back on the trail it soon became the highlight of Andrew's day. You could softly hear the theme music start to play from Jurassic Park. Up ahead was the Indominous Rex paddock from the Jurassic World movie. It was so bizarre seeing this life size structure and then actually driving through it. You could see the claw marks on the walls and the observation area. You could simply envision Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard standing up there. Very cool!
After driving through this, we viewed a few more areas that didn't have props currently onsite but were filming locations for various movies including Jurassic World and Kong: Skull Island. We kept climbing up the mountain to see the views. Unfortunately it was somewhat overcast that day but it was still a pretty site, on a clear day it must look amazing. Overall we believe we saw way more in the first tour. The jungle expedition was mainly a bumpy ride through the jungle with a few sites thrown in. Even though we liked seeing the view at the top and some neat sites we agree that the Rex enclosure was what made this tour worth it!
A Ranch Buffet Lunch
We completely forgot to take any pictures of lunch! But figured we would make a note because food is always important. With our tour packages each of us received an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch. There was a kitchen area where it was served and then we dined at outside picnic tables. We had read somewhere that there would be grass fed burgers from the ranch cattle and were super pumped. But when we arrived we found out that the burgers are more of a maybe and the menu is unpredictable. I think not having the burgers we had expected was a bit of a bummer, but we did still enjoy lunch. Here is a rough idea of the menu:
Small salad bar
Kualoa beef chili
BBQ pork ribs
Pineapple Cake for dessert
Some sort of fruit punch drink and water
The food was mostly sourced right on the ranch farm and was good, nothing glamorous, but tasty and filling. We probably would have eaten more but didn't want to be too full on the next tour. After lunch we split up for our girls and guys tour selections...
Julie and Becky headed off to the stables to get ready to ride. There were helmets available and the staff assigned everyone to a horse. It took a little while to get each person on a horse and to get us all lined up. The horses were definitely used to just going in a row back and forth all day. It seemed there were many unexperienced riders in the group so this tour would be fine for beginners. Being experienced with horses we would have loved to go a bit faster but most trail rides tend to follow suit. With that being said it was a neat point of view to be connected to the animals and see the reserve in this manner. It was a peaceful walk and and the trail gave us some nice views. We think the 2-hour tour may have been even better since there would most likely be less people and you would go further. But with the full day the hour was just fine.
The ATV Tour followed an almost identical path as our first tour in the school bus. We began by watching a short safety video before hopping on the ATVs. Helmets are mandatory and they also have ponchos in case of rain, which we both took advantage of. They are governed and can only go up to about 12-13 mph. Our group consisted of one guide and about 10-12 guests, all continually moving in single file, as the rules stated. We went right past the gun placements, then the huge army cave system mentioned above, followed by heading out into the valley. After entering the valley, our path detoured from the main road and we took a smaller road closer to the valley wall to get a little bit higher and better view of the entire valley.
After our quick stop here, we then took the trail down to the floor of the valley where we passed the Godzilla tracks and the Jurassic Park log but did not stop at either. We went through a section of trail designed just for the ATV's that included a few humps and a splashdown into a creek. After that, we headed back to the ranch, passing the Kong: Skull Island set along the way. The ride itself was about 45 minutes and probably not for those that are serious riders, as these were quite slow and you were limited on where you could take them.
The ultimate question is "Was the trip to Kualoa Ranch worth it?"; and the answer is an unequivocal yes! However, there is a small caveat to that answer. It was very much worth it the way we did it, which was to pay for a package deal. Had we paid for each individual adventure separately, I believe the cost is a little too steep. But for $167/person, we did three separate tours, and had lunch. Doing it that way was worth every penny. Also we would say driving all the way there to do one thing may not be worth the time, but taking advantage of different experiences was an awesome way to spend the day!
When we arrived back to Aulani we decided to spend a bit of time to enjoy the pool some more before a later dinner. We had heard a lot of people mention the restaurant Monkey Pod which was right across the street. They have two happy hours 3-5:30 and then 9-11. Since we couldn't make the earlier time we went over at 9. The food and craft cocktails here were really good. It was expensive so we were happy to try it out with the happy hour discounts. We would absolutely visit this restaurant again on the next visit.
Read on for PART THREE of our travel journal. Or scroll below to see more posts about Hawaii.