Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review of Disney's Aulani Resort & Spa on Oahu, Hawaii

The resort is located in Ko’Olina, on the leeward side of Oahu, about 30-40 minutes from Honolulu Intl’ Airport. Ko’Olina is a much quieter area than the hustle & bustle of Waikiki.

The moment you pull up to the resort, you will be in awe. We were greeted by name as soon as we stepped out of the car (how the heck did they know who we were?!). We arrived a bit earlier than our room was ready, but that was no issue. The bell hops took our belongings, gave us our key cards for our room, and little gifts for each member of the party. I received an Aulani pin, and the kids received Menehune necklaces. We were given a brief tour of the grounds, and were told we could go right out and enjoy the resort while we waited for our room. We decided to take advantage of the time by walking across the street to the ABC store, and stocking up on drinks and snacks for our room.


      Once we returned from the store, our room was ready, and our luggage was brought straight to the room. We had an island view standard room, which included a mini fridge. There are studio and larger rooms that feature kitchenettes.  We had 2 queen beds, with the cutest pineapple & Mickey head designed quilt (available for purchase in the gift shop). There was also a carved wooden lamp of Mickey & a surf board (also available for purchase). In regards to the island view, I would recommend upgrading to pool or ocean view, or just sticking with standard view. The only difference between standard & island view is how high up in the resort you are. 


Once we were settled in, we changed into our swimwear, and headed for the pools! We first went to get our towels & daily wrist band, as resort amenities are for registered guests only. Once we had those, we went straight to Waikolohe Stream (lazy river). My boys were not in the water more than 10 minutes before they started screaming “best vacation ever!!!”. I knew right then & there, the money was well spent.

We enjoyed the lazy river for a while, before they were ready to check out the Menehune Bridge (a water play structure). There is now also the new Keiki Cove Splash Zone, where kids can run & around and get wet, without having to get in a pool.


 The boys made many friends, and spent many hours playing in the Waikolohe Pool (the main pool, with zero entry). There are also 2 waterslides, one which drops you into this pool, the other into the lazy river.

The slide that drops you into the lazy river, you ride down on an inner tube, and the slide for the pool, you just go on your bottom (we LOVED this one). There is also the Ka Maka Grotto (infinity pool), which is for families. We spent variety little time here, as the pools are much smaller than the Waikolohe, and the kids didn’t feel they could play as hard. The views from this pool are amazing. There are also cabanas that can be rented for full or half days at the pools.

                We spent some time at the lagoon, were you can also rent beach toys. The water in the lagoon is very calm, and there is some sort of netting to help keep the big fish out of the lagoon. We walked the path from the Aulani lagoon, around the neighboring resort, to some beach that was behind private property (no beaches on Oahu are private, so feel free to explore the beaches). We had heard that earlier dolphins and sea turtles were spotted, but we must have missed them, as we didn’t see a single one.

Since we missed them, we decided it was best for us to see some fish! We headed back to the resort, to experience Rainbow Reef (private snorkeling lagoon). They offer single day passes, or multi day passes for the length of your stay. They also provide all the equipment needed for snorkeling. The water in this lagoon is pretty cold compared to the other waters we had spent time in, so it took quite a bit of adjusting.

We took turns snorkeling, so one of us could always go over the viewing windows and take pictures of the others of us snorkeling. It just took a few attempts for my boys to learn how to snorkel, next thing I knew, they were on the other side of the ‘reef’.  When you finish in the snorkeling lagoon, there are warm showers in which to rinse off.


Ready for some Disney characters?! Characters are featured at various times throughout the day, and each character does not appear every day. They rotate. Characters found at Aulani are Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Chip, Dale, and Stitch. Pluto did not want to ride in the cargo space on the plane, so he stayed back on the mainland.

All of the above characters do meet n greets, except Goofy, he appears different times during the day and does entertainment at the pools. And guess what?! He gets IN the water!! We got a kick out of that!

Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy can also be found at the character breakfast, Mahahiki.

     There is also Aunty’s Beach House, which once my kids were introduced to it, I could not peel them away. It is a free child care service; that’s right, free, for kids ages 3-12. There are premium experiences offered at an additional fee, and each of my boys did one of those. These are available on a first come, first serve basis, and you can sign up for them when the Beach House opens in the morning for any day during your visit. Your daily ‘Iwa (daily newsletter) is left in your room nightly during turndown service, and lets you know what activities will be offered the next day, and at what time and location. One of my boys picked the experience ‘Fish are Friends’. This activity took place over lunch, so it included his lunch in the cost. The kids also got to make fish food, and they went up to Rainbow Reef to feed the fish. They also received drawstring backpacks, and a copy of Disney’s Oceans on DVD. The older of my two boys did an experience called “Surfs Up with Chip n Dale”. This event took place over dinner time, so it included his dinner meal. The kids then had time to decorate mini surf boards, which they got to keep, followed by a dance party with Chip n Dale at Aunty’s Beach House. They got a drawstring backpack as well, although a different one. There are more premium experiences offered than just these two, some are kids only, some are for families.

                In addition to Aunty’s Beach House, there is Painted Sky, for teens ages 13-17. Painted Sky is a teen hangout area, much like those on Disney Cruise Line, where teens can play video games, go on computers, participate in other activities, as well enjoy their own spa treatments.

                Speaking of spa treatments, there is Laniwai, Disney’s spa for adults. Laniwai is open daily, and offers a variety of packages from facial treatments, to various massage therapies, to couples massages, and more. Most spa treatments last roughly an hour.

                In addition to the adults spa treatments, there are various areas around the resort that are adults only, so if you are traveling sans children, there is still some areas you can be tucked away in tranquility. There is the Wailana Pool, for resort guests over 18 years. The resort was undergoing renovations when we visited, and this pool was not yet open. Now I need to go back, and see this pool for myself! In addition to these adult only spots, there is also yoga & fitness centers, as well as golf featured at Aulani.

There are also many activities for families to enjoy together. There are various excursions that can be booked through Aulani, such as a catamaran experience, and there are even activities right on Aulani property, some of which are free of charge. There are movies under the stars, which were being offered twice a week during our stay, stories around the fire pit, and the Starlit Hui, a Hawaiian cultural show complete with hula dancers. In addition to these free activities, there are premium experiences for families as well, such star gazing and Hawaiian art classes.

                Tucked away on the side of the pools, are lockers and showers that can be used for free while you enjoy the pools. In this same room, there are computers with printers should you need to print something, such as boarding passes. Next door to this room, is a family activity room. Some of the Hawaiian art classes are held here, but they offer more than just this. They have a TV, where I believe you can watch movies. There are books and puzzles that can be enjoyed, as well as a decent sized collection of movies that you can rent over night for $2-3 each, limit of 2 per night. We often picked up a movie at the end of our day, and would watch it until we fell asleep. There is also an activity offered here, that is kind of like a cross between hide & seek, and a scavenger hunt. You are given a device to take around the property with you, and you follow clues.

                My youngest & I also created our own adventure on our last night. Aulani has many, many hidden Menehune around the resort, there are likely over 200. And they are EVERYWHERE. From hiding in bushes, to being in Rainbow Reef, to hiding in elevators, and more. This is a fun, and free activity, and can really send you off all over the resort.

                There resort also features two gift shops, where in addition to souvenirs they sell a small assortment of food & drinks for those of you staying in rooms with kitchenettes. Even frozen pizza! You can also purchase your refillable mug here, to use around the resort.

                Food. How have I not mentioned food?! Aulani features a few different type of dining experiences, from beachside dining such as ‘Ama ‘Ama, to the above mentioned character dining, to pool side dining at Off the Hook, and quick service such as Mama’s Snack Stop. There are also places that sell shave ice (amazing!), as well as Mickey Bars. Aulani also offers cocktail lounges, and of course, room service.  Reservations are recommended for ‘Ama’Ama and Makahiki. At Off the Hook, you can use their dining tables, or, you can remain in your beach chair and one of the waitors/waitresses will take your order and bring your food to you.

                There are also a few options for dining off property, within walking distance, such as Roy’s and Monkeypod. They are located over near that ABC store I mentioned earlier, as well as some shops. I am sure there are also dining locations within the surrounding resorts, but we did not explore them.