By Kate Blake, Cruise Specialist | October 23, 2015
I had the pleasure of being a guest at the Disney Aulani resort in Ko’Olina Hawaii earlier this month.
The resort is owned and operated by Disney but there is no theme park associated with it. The lack of a theme park does not diminish the Magic of the experience in any way and allows you to enjoy the wonders that are on hand for your family.
Disney has a strong emphasis on culture and sharing the spirit of Hawaii with their guests at the Aulani and this is evident from the moment you step off your plane and are greeted with a lei and friendly service with your shuttle to the resort. If you rent a car- you will be greeted with a lei at the resort along with a cool cup of fruit infused ice water to cool you down from your voyage.
Built from the ground up the resort is designed to allow guests to experience Hawaiian culture from the moment they walk through the front entrance into the beautiful foyer which is rimmed with murals that depict the history of the islands, down to the floors which are inlaid with symbols that point you to the sea or the mountains like a compass and in the architecture. The entire resort has been built to echo the shape of a traditional canoe house which is the heart of traditional Hawaiian life.
As someone who has traveled the South Pacific and been to Hawaii before along with Tahiti, Fiji and New Zealand- the feel of the resort is very South Pacific and the open breezeways and high cielings allow the ocean breezes in from the get go. The resort has been built with an eye to details at every level. They have the largest collection of contemporary Hawaiian art in the world and everywhere you look there is something beautiful to see. A culture advisor is on call in the lobby to share information about the islands so any thing you have ever wanted to know is at your fingertips.
The Aulani is a mixed use property. There are resort rooms that anyone can stay in and there are Disney Vacation Club units on site as well. Vacation Club members have priority access to suites and villas but there are plenty of these for your guests as well.
Disney Aulani Resort Accomodations
Guest Rooms – there are guest rooms that hold up to 5 with 2 queen beds plus a pack and play ( in the closet of every room) and rooms with a king bed and pack and play. All rooms have a fridge, a table on the balcony with two chairs and a coffee maker in the room.
Suites – there are a variety of studio and one bedroom suites that hold again up to 5 – again they have a fridge, coffee maker and outside balcony seating with a table.
Villas – these are the most dramatic accomodations on site and are a great value. These range from one bedroom units to 3 bedroom villas. The three bedroom units sleep up to twelve and are spectacular! The balcony spans the entire width of the building all offering jaw dropping views with ocean views in multiple directions. The villas have full kitchens and sleep up to 12 so they are great for a family gathering and not nearly as expensive as you might think.
Disney Aulani Resort Amenities
Kids Programs – Aunty’s Beach House is a fun full service kids program for kids 3 to 12 that includes arts and crafts, games, dress up, story telling and other fun activities similar to what you find on cruise ships for kids and it is complimentary with your resort stay. Babysitting is available in your hotel room for a fee.
On Site Entertainment – Live music is offered in the lounge areas throughout the resort Every other night or so there is a free dance and music show for the entire family under the stars Movies under the stars are offered on the other nights free Disney movies to play in your Blu-Ray player in your room are always available
Watersports Beach – The resort has a semi-private beach that has been carefully constructed with shark netting at the mouth of the cove to keep everyone safe. This is the only beach on Oahu where you can order drinks and have them delivered beach side Boogie boards and some other water fun items are free to check out and use- you can also rent kayaks and paddleboards to use in the cove
There is on site an artificial reef where you can try snorkeling for a small fee ( $15) without worrying about riptides and ocean currents – great for the little ones and those who are not strong swimmers
Pools – there are adult pool areas and tons of family pools including an infinity pool looking out to the ocean. I enjoyed the adults spa area with a waterfall of warm water and jets which were amazing in the early morning. In total there are 7 pools, a splash park, water slides and a lazy river to enjoy for no charge with your stay. Pools do include two where I saw accessible lifts for those in wheelchairs. Kids do need to be over the age of 3 and out of diapers to use pools- the splash zone is designed for the toddler set.
Dining – There are several places for quick dining options, a nice buffet which hosts the character breakfasts, a couple of lounges and a high end casual dining restauratn Ama Ama for a special night out. Dining will run $20 pp per meai or so if you eat on site. In room dining is available- best value is the family meal options where you can get a full dinner for a family with pricing for 4 ranging from $80 – $100.
Spa – There is a full service spa with an area for teens and also a fun Mommy / Daughter princess makeover option for the little ones. In additional to full spa services there is a salon as well.
Special Events –There is a decent amount of convention space and this is a hot spot for weddings. I saw no less than 3 brides all getting photos done on the beach and in the lobby areas. This is a great honeymoon spot for young married couples- think military couples under 25. They can stay for a 3 night stay and have a great time.
Car Rentals and Transfers – You can set your guests up with airport transfers direct to the resort very reasonably and they can rent cars wtih Alamo on site by the day or for the week. Parking is $35 per day at the resort ( this is pretty much standard in Hawaii at most resorts) or they can rent for a day and return the car without paying parking. A taxi to the airport is about $60 one way with lots of mini-vans so you can pile up to 6 people in one van for that amount. Airport is a 20 – 45 minute drive depending on traffic.
Late Checkout – Checkout is at 11am promptly but the resort wants you to enjoy the facilities so when you check out they have a locker room and luggage storage area with showers – you can get a pass for the day to hang out and enjoy the resort if you have a late flight. Evening flights will have transfers leaving at 6PM and you can use the resort all day before that getting even more from your vacation!
What is in the area?
The Ko’Olina resort area is part of a master planned community on the west side of Oahu. It was designed to be a place to provide jobs for locals closer to their homes to help reduce the traffic into Waikiki. There is a gorgeous golf course, some homes, a Marriott condo/ time share complex and coming soon the Four Seasons will be re-opening what used to be the Marriott which is next door and shares the beach and cove with Disney. It will have 3 restaurants on site expanding your dining options in the cove area. There are a few bars including a coffee shop that serves food across the street and the Hawaii favorite Paradise Cove is right next door! Paradise Cove has the best luau on the beach on the island. You can book a luau ahead of time or you can book on site at the Aulani.
Disney has a marina they use for booking all kinds of water excursions on site- folks who went snorkelling were raving over the sea turtles they saw. Deep sea fishing is also available.
One key feature to this resort area is that it is off the beaten path and it gets dark at night so you can actually see the stars over the water. One of the best things to do after dark is walk down to the beach and sit and listen to the waves lapping on the shore while watching the moon rise over the Pacific ocean with the stars bright and clear in the skies. Skies that will not look the same as they do at home because you will be able to glimpse constellations seen at the equator which are different than the ones that dominate our northern skies. The west end of the island is home to a series of national observatories where our top astronomers look to the heavens over the same vistas that you will.
Waikiki is only 30 minutes to an hour away with traffic and you can arrange tours to Pearl Harbor from the resort along with other key places of interest like the Koloa Ranch where Jurassic Park was filmed right from the resort. Or you can rent a car and go on your own.
Disney Aulani Resort Impressions
I loved the quiet at night that the resort provided. You really forget that there are over 3000 people on site because the little ones go in and to bed pretty early after big days of playing in the sun and sand.
The character breakfast is so much fun – big kids and little ones alike can enjoy the good food at a marvelous buffet and the fun of seeing our favorite Disney friends. The buffet included a lot of island favorites and specialties along with standard breakfast fare – the kalhua pork hash was a winner with the travel agents along with little Mickey waffles. They serve a full Japanese breakfast as well for the guests from across the Pacific. There were a lot of guests from Japan which supplies a good third of the resort guests.
Dinner at Ama Ama was amazing – I had the biggest piece of snapper I have ever seen and it was delicious. I may now officially be called a poke pig. Poke is a Hawaiian dish with marinated sashimi and it is a sushi lovers treat. Coconut shrimp has long been a favorite of mine and the little beach shack at the resort makes a great version you can get all day and eat with your fingers. Shaved ice is available on site – how cool is that?
My room was large, the beds were comfortable and the toiletries were of really great quality. I did a double take when I walked in the room as the bathroom was laid out identical to the room I had at the Universal Royal Pacific Resort in Orlando – which is a good thing.
If I had little kids I was traveling with I would definitely plan on adding this to my Hawaii vacation. It would be a great pre or post cruise stay for anyone with kids 3 – 12. Teenagers can play on the beach with a life guard on hand and not get into trouble and adults will love the lazy river. If you have a big family type group planning a cruise or just wanting to go to Hawaii- this is a great way to get an outer island feeling vacation on Oahu. The Villas are awesome and if you look at the pricing – a good value compared to comparable places to stay in the islands. I just priced a 2 bedroom villa for June at $5000 for a week – this is a 2 bedroom unit with a full kitchen that sleeps up to 9 people with the kids programs all included. Disney runs all kinds of promotions- the discounts on extended stays are the best. Also look for options that include transfers and car rentals.
The quality of everything you experience is 5 stars from the atmosphere to the food to the linens and scenery.
Here is a link to my album of photos from the resort https://fabwanderings.shutterfly.com/1138
Video slide show https://fabwanderings.shutterfly.com/pictures/4992
Stay tuned for my follow up which will talk about what you can do on Oahu other than spending time in Waikiki!