After arriving at Honolulu International Airport we hopped in a Jeep Wrangler to drive approximately 30 minutes to the town of Ko'Olina. As we approached you could see a handful of resorts lined up along the ocean's edge. Aulani stuck out as the most beautiful and unique looking. We pulled up to an understated entry sign that led us up a drive lined with tropical plants to the main lobby doors. We were immediately greeted by a handful of cast members who were very welcoming. Julie was given a floral lei and Andrew a kakui nut lei. We were also offered citrus infused water as the car was unloaded by bell services.
TIP #1: PARKING
If driving by car be prepared when you arrive that you are somewhat forced to use the valet when you pull up to check in, but don't worry the valet is free for the duration of checking in and getting settled. You simply come down after and move your car to the self parking garage. (Which is free for your stay If you are a DVC member!)
We stepped into the gorgeous entryway to make our way to the check-in desks. It seemed like a somewhat busy time being afternoon. Unfortunately nothing about the process stood out as exceptional. We actually found that there were probably more things that could have been explained. Or maybe some kind of a welcome packet would have helped? Our room wasn't ready yet so we decide to wander and try to get our bearings.
TIP #2: THE DAILY 'IWA
There is a list of daily resort activities (both free and for a fee) called the daily 'Iwa. It is only available as a print out at the front desk or on the website. We were actually surprised it wasn't available on the TV. You can check the schedule online before you arrive if you want to note activities you really want to experience during your stay.
Our Room & View
When our room was ready we made our way up to the ninth floor. We booked a DVC deluxe studio villa and decided to splurge on the "ocean view" option and our view was pretty spectacular. We could see most of the pool areas below and then out into the ocean.
TIP #3: OCEAN VIEW BALCONY
The ocean view rooms are angled west. They are lovely to look out in the morning and enjoy a cup of coffee. Or at night you can leave your door open and hear the soft live music from down below. But the afternoon sun is too bright and hot to enjoy.
The room had a nice island vibe and very minimal Disney touches other than the cool Mickey lamp. We really enjoyed the rain shower and the robes in the room. We also made use of the mini kitchen throughout our stay.
TIP #4: CELEBRATIONS
If you are celebrating anything special while visiting make sure to mark your reservation. Disney is usually good about sending a note and/or giving you special recognition buttons. You can also order surprises for the room such as chocolates, champagne and other gifts.
TIP #5: GROCERIES
It is so worth it to stock up on food and drinks to keep in the mini fridge. Hawaii is super expensive and we found a lot of the quick options offered weren't that great. We made a stop at Costco to pick up breakfast items, sandwich supplies, fruit, Hawaiian chips, POG juice and bottled water. There is also an ABC mart very walkable from the resort. We found that packing food in a cooler bag and being able to eat on the go during busy adventure days saved time and money.
One thing Disney always pays attention to is the details. Aulani was built with a lot care to history and craftsmanship. Everywhere you looked you could enjoy architecture, art, symbolism and plant life. The resort is gorgeous to just walk around and see the fish ponds, walking paths and beach cove. During our stay we were able to attend a DVC cultural tour where a guide gave us more insight into why certain design decisions were made like patterns or plants. Everything has a backstory which made us appreciate it even more.
TIP #6: MUSIC
When entering the elevators you will hear popular Disney songs redone with Hawaiian lyrics and instruments. We discovered the collection of songs are available by CD in the gift shop. It was the perfect way to bring home a little Aulani for lazy Saturday mornings.
TIP #7: MENEHUNES
In Hawaiian mythology, the Menehune are said to be a people, sometimes described as dwarfs in size, who live in the deep forests and hidden valleys of the Hawaiian Islands, far from the eyes of normal humans. Just like hidden Mickeys at the parks we found these little guys everywhere, keep an eye out for them during your stay!
Resort Food & Drinks
There are quite a few options for dining at Aulani, but we did had some mixed reviews. These are the options available:
- Quick service: Ulu Cafe
This is your pretty standard quick dining option with sandwiches, burgers, snacks, etc. Things were somewhat expensive and we really found our own groceries were a better choice for us.
- Snack Stops: Lava Shack, Little Opihi's, Mama's Snack Shop and Papalua Shaved Ice
We didn't do too much snacking either. We love items like Dole Whips and Shaved Ice but we tended to enjoy them while we were out an about on the Island. I'm sure they were delicious though. The Mickey rainbow ice looked beautiful too!
- Sit Down Restaurant: Makahiki
We enjoyed one character breakfast here. We loved sitting outside and the assortment of food! I would recommend to do it for one meal to get that Disney magic and get to sample some interesting dishes. We enjoyed a later breakfast and were able to skip lunch.
- Sit Down Restaurant: Ama Ama
This is the fancy restaurant on property. We were going to dine here but instead made the choice to the VIP Luau for an authentic experience. Stay tuned for a blog post about this fun evening!
- Bars: Off the Hook and Wailana Pool Bar
The Menu offered here was the same and we were not impressed. Even just for "bar food" it was really blah and cost an arm and a leg. The first night at the resort we grabbed some apps and drinks and spent well over $100 and that kind of turned us off the rest of the week. There was another location called the Olelo room that looked like a cool spot with live music and a different menu but whenever we tried to go it was packed, seemed too small of a space for the size of the resort.
We were really looking forward to lots of island drinks. We tried quite a few off the menu and none were really that amazing. The passionfruit colada was pretty good but then the resort ran out of passion fruit puree. Some of the other drinks like the Green Flash were just too sweet. We even asked the bartenders if they could make a Conch cooler like the Disney Cruise Line but that wasn't quite right either. Since the prices were high and the drinks just ok, we stocked up on adult beverage at the store and would occasionally enjoy something frozen poolside.
TIP #8: RESORT MUG
There is a reusable mug offered for just under $20 for your stay. We found it was quite worth it to have Hawaiian coffee and tea every morning and then be able to grab a fountain drink later pool side. It was also convenient to bring our own adult drinks to the pool and then add mixer as needed.
TIP #9: OFF RESORT DINING
There are some other great places to eat right across the street, a short walk from the resort. We brought a pizza back one night and dined by the pool. We also enjoyed an affordable mexican restaurant and Monkeypod was delicious (although this one wasn't really any cheaper than a resort option).
Resort Amenities & Activities
The biggest thing to love at Aulani was the well designed water areas. There were so many different places to hang out:
- Beach area
- Infinity pool complete with whale noises under the water
- Adults only pool (this was our favorite quiet spot)
- Various other pools and kid areas
- A lazy river (we floated here a lot too)
- Hot tubs (the adult hot tub had a perfect view of the water!)
TIP #10: ADULT ONLY AREAS
Take advantage of the adult only areas. The pool was tucked off to the side with a bar and was noticeably quieter and perfect for relaxing. The adult designated hot tub is a little further away, but we found it was the best place to enjoy the sunset with a drink in hand.
There were some complimentary items available such as boogie boards at the beach and a club house where you could borrow movies and games as well. But many of the activities at Aulani you had to pay extra for. We had thought about doing some activities such as yoga on the beach, photography lessons and snorkeling. But we found that with some of the touring we were doing many days we were really happy to just lounge at the pool. Plus the costs were just enough to deter us a bit. We did attend a resort tour and a special DVC members breakfast. For our first trip I think we hit a great balance of sight seeing and relaxing. The next time we will probably try more activities, but knowing that we had a blast just being pool side is sometimes what vacation is all about. Read on for a detailed travel journal. Start with PART ONE.