One of our loyal readers, Dawn K, recently took her four-year-old son to Disney Aulani Hawaii Resort & Spa and has reported back to us with a full list of DOs and DON'Ts. Before you pull out your credit card to book, pay close attention.
Aulani…land of enchantment, land of happiness, land of happy children ... EVERYWHERE!
If your kids watch any Disney or Disney Junior TV shows, you will have seen the commercials for Aulani. Every kid who sees the ad wants to go, and why not? It is beautiful, it is sunny, Mickey Mouse is there and there are lots of smiling people playing in the water.
So the short answer to your question, "Should we go to Aulani for our family vacation?" is obviously, YES. Go!!
The Aulani is a beautiful resort located in Hawaii on the island of Oahu, created by Disney. Disney did an amazing job illustrating the Hawaiian myths and legends in both the interiors and exteriors of the resort, while maintaining Disney’s strict attention to quality, cleanliness and over-the-top customer service. The staff has been well trained and seems to go out of their way to be kind to the children.
To be very clear, it is a Hawaiian Resort with great Disney touches. It is not like being in a Disney theme park with a hotel attached.
Here's what you should know, whether you're mulling a trip there or you're on your way there. Fortunately, the DO's outweigh the DON'Ts (18-5, actually.)
THE DOs of AULANI:
1. Do Book a Villa: These consist of rooms with full kitchens, two bathrooms and a washer and dryer. They come in one and two bedroom floor plans and supposedly there is a three-bedroom option opening in the near future.
These rooms also have a very cool kid-size "Murphy Bed" that pulls out of the wall. No arguments at all about going to bed. My son loved this bed! It pulls out of a cabinet and folds back in very easily.
Additionally, for those of you with smaller kids, there is a pack-n-play and a high chair in the room, so no need to pack that gear with you. The regular hotel rooms are nice and there are laundry facilities in the building, but having that refrigerator comes in handy with the kids.
2. Do Make Dining Reservations Before You Arrive. Disney has a great system where you can sign up online for dining. This way you have options and no issues with being shut-out of being able to go, especially the character breakfast. We reserved the character breakfast on four different days and dinner at Ama Ama (the fancy-ish restaurant) for three nights. One phone call to the Concierge lets you cancel any of the ones you do not want to keep.
For the Character Breakfast, we opted for the early morning times at 8 am as it was less busy and we had a lot of interaction with Goofy and Minnie Mouse (they host the breakfast each day.) Mickey is there for photo opps too!
3. Do Take the Time Change Into Consideration For Your Dining Reservations: It is two (sometimes three) hours earlier in Hawaii than in California, so we got up early and were glad to have the breakfast to go too.
4. Do Pick Up THE DAILY'IWA Everyday: This is the daily newsletter that gives all of the information for that day's activities. It would be better if they delivered it to your room each day, but they do not, so take a walk to the front desk and get one to know what is happening each day. The restaurants usually have it available too.
And call the character location information line that's listed on the front page of the daily newsletter. It is a recording telling you exactly where and which characters will have photo opportunities that day. This saves a lot of time before you leave your room each day.
The Disney photographer takes the photos with the characters, but the staff with the character are very happy to use your phone and/or camera and capture pictures for you too.
5. Do Go to the ABC Grocery Store Across The Street: This is walking distance. Stock up on water, milk, and snacks. Plus, Hawaiian souvenirs are much cheaper at ABC like macadamianut Hershey kisses! (Also, their Hawaiian Hello Kitty collection is HUGE.) The ABC is located in small little mall area that has a few other restaurants (pizza, sushi, Mexican) and a great ice cream store. There is a coffee shop and the very popular Monkeypods Restaurant. Monkeypods has a great Happy Hour, with inexpensive drinks and appetizers, which can make an easy dinner. They have live music and are very kid-friendly.
6. Do Visit Aunty's Beach House: This is Disney's childcare option. It is FREE to drop-off potty-trained children ages 3-12 from 9:30 am each day. They have optional, fee-based activities offered, as well as the option of having children eat lunch and dinner there too. Aunty's Beach House offers an Open House each morning from 8:00am-9:30 am. Children must be accompanied by an adult. This is a free-play time and allows the parents to get a great sense of the place and staff. They also do fun activities during this time, including singing, dancing and crafts. It was almost like living in a Disney Jr. television show for a brief period of time.
After 9:30am, adults who do not work at Aunty's must leave the facility. This is to ensure the safety and security of the children that are being cared for by the Staff. They have an electronic check-in system and everything is very clean and well-organized.
7. Do Do The Menehune Scavenger Hunt: This is an iPad-based interactive game that takes you throughout the resort finding all the hidden Disney Magic! It is a lot of fun and a great way to spend some time out of the water.
There are four different tours, each takes about 30-45 minutes depending on how fast you move. We started with the shortest one, which is inside the lobby area. The other three are outside and you get to see the volcano up close as well as some great water features. You can pick up the iPad at the Pau Hana Room.
8. Do Attend the Koi Fish Feeding: So fun and FREE. The Koi are very large and have an interesting history...the fish are leased not owned by Disney....so they are traded out...one fish even has markings that look like Mickey Mouse on his back!
9. Do Go to the 'Ohana Disney Movie Nights: Usually offered two or three times a week. You sit outside on a straw mat and enjoy the stars and a kid-friendly Disney Movie. We saw Hercules and The Jungle Book. More fun can be had by bringing food and cocktails from one of the poolside bars to snack on during the show.
10. Do Play at Waikolohe Valley: Home of the waterslides and lazy river. The pools are heated between 82-86 degrees year-round. But go on the waterslides early in the day. As more people start their day, the lines get long for the two water slides. One side of the slide requires an inner-tube, either a double or a single. My 4-year old and I did the double inner-tube more times than I can count. It is a lot of fun and very safe. The slide empties you into the pool at the start of the lazy river, so you can either get out and do the slide again or continue around on the Lazy River, which is a lot of fun and surrounded by a lot of Disney Lifeguards.
The other slide is a "tube slide." It is a dark tube that twists and turns before you empty into a pool that is in a cavern-like area. My 4-year old LOVED this and did the slide multiple times. Only one-person-at-a-time is allowed in this slide, so it is best if your little one is not afraid of the dark and can swim, at least enough to get to the stairs to get out. There is a lifeguard at the bottom of this slide too.
11. Do Get Your Wristband First Thing Every Day: In order to make sure that only Aulani guests have access to the pools and waterslides a wristband is required. Every day is a different color. We wore all of ours until we arrived at the airport to go home. It seemed to be the thing to do at Aulani...
12. Do Play at theMenehune Bridge: This is exactly like the play structures you see at parks, with slides, ladders and ramps, but the whole thing is filled with water! Water slides, water dropping out of pots on to your head, ramps across water. It is really fun and designed for the smaller set, under 48 inches tall.
13. Do Get the Disney Photo Pass: And be sure to take pictures every time you see the Disney Photographer. Yes, it feels like a you are being set up to buy a bunch of photos, but you will get some really fun shots of the entire family. And if you take a lot of pictures with the Photo Pass people, you earn a few free photos to take home. We purchased the CD, which captured our time at Aulani in a way we could have never done ourselves.
14. Do Go to The Pau Hana Room: This is where most of the indoor activities are offered for families, including Ukulele lessons and lei-making lessons. Additionally, they have a HUGE library of Disney DVDs that you can borrow for FREE. It was a great option to have a DVD to turn on when trying to get everyone ready for dinner or before we were ready to leave in the morning.
15. Do Have Drinks and Appetizers at The 'Olelo Room: This is an outside patio outside the Mahahiki Restaurant. It overlooks the Lazy River and the Koi ponds. There's live music nightly and Happy Hour specials too.
16. Do Splurge at The Laniwai--a Disney Spa: This was my birthday treat to myself. The spa is absolutely gorgeous and blissfully quiet. They have the standard spa menu with massages, facials, etc...but they also have many signature treatments found only at LANIWAI. I did the Wai Wai, which consisted of an exfoliation and then an amazing massage while water is misted over your body. It was the most relaxed I have been in forever.
Every treatment includes the use of the Kula Wai, the 5000 square foot garden with multiple hot and cold pools, a reflexology path (I loved this so much I want to build one at my house!) and a circle of rain-style showers. It is gorgeous in the garden and a great way to get ready for your treatments. Unfortunately, you have to be booked at the spa to use the Kula Wai area, there is no day-use fee or anything else available at the spa.
17. Do Go to the Starlit Hui show at Aulani: It is similar to a luau, but without the food. It is a fun way to learn more about Hawaiian culture and traditions, complete with Hula dancers. They end the show with all of the characters arriving and having a dance party. There is an opportunity take photos with the Hula Dancers too, which was very fun and we ended up with some great photos. (See #14 above.) If you arrive early, there are some Hawaiian craft activities for the kids too. When we were there they were making fish out of palm fronds and making leis out of plumeria.
18. Do Pack Light: In the Villas there is a washer and dryer. The regular hotel rooms have access to a laundry area where you can use the washer and dryers for a fee. Aulani is casual, so you need only shorts, t-shirts and multiple bathing suits. No need to really get dressed up unless you want to be dressed up. Some people had brought Disney-themed clothing to wear to the character breakfasts, but otherwise shorts and tshirts were the daily uniform.
1. Don't Stay Longer Than Five Days: After five days, you will have seen the characters, participated in the various activities, gone to the character breakfast at least once (we went twice because we liked the variety of food.) After five days, most people were leaving the property for other adventures. Given the high cost of Aulani, I would leave the property and stay elsewhere or even a different island
2. Don't Rent a Car: There is really no need to leave Aulani once you get there. Parking is very expensive. It costs $32 per day to park unless you are a Disney Vacation Club member, then it is free. If you really need a car, the Avis Car Rental is at the Aulani and is available for one-day rentals. There is also a shuttle that stops at places nearby, but we never used it.
3. Don't Bring Sand Toys, or Floaties, or Life Jackets: Disney has all of these items available and FREE for your use. You can also pick up cheap sand toys at the ABC, leaving more room in your luggage..
4. Don't Wait to Do Activities That You See Listed in THE DAILY'IWA: Some activities only happen once or twice a week, so if you see something of interest, do it.
5. Don't Count on Healthy Food Options for You and Your Kids: Yes, there are a few healthy items available (Called Mickey Check Meals) and the veggie sandwich at the Wailana Pool Bar was surprisingly good. But the kids menu is just like at home--hot dogs, chicken fingers, pizza--only more expensive. For example, a hot dog with french fries cost $9.50 plus tax, although it does come with a small beverage.
The food is ok at Aulani, nothing was amazing. Our favorite meal at Aulani was the Character Breakfast Buffet, primarily because it had the most options and was easy to get in and out. They offer both Mickey Pancakes and Waffles, as well as salmon, fresh fruit and made to order omelettes with lots of vegetables. Plus the characters come by multiple times and it is fun!
BOTTOM LINE: Yes, Aulani is very expensive, but so is Hawaii. Iif you pay attention to the various deals that are offered, you may be able to save some money. We were able to get the 4th night free and a $100 per day resort credit when we booked our trip, so it pays to do some research. They also offered free transportation to and from the airport, which could save you anywhere between $50 and $100 depending on the size of your party.
SO, LIKE HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?: Standard rooms in March start at $494 a night for a deluxe studio that can sleep up to four people with one queen-size bed and one queen-size sleeper sofa. One-bedroom ocean villas start around $939 a night. The resort does still have a "Fourth Night Free" offer as well as 30 percent off five nights or more. These are based on availablity and are not always offered. Go here to find out which offer might be best for your trip.
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