Last week we had the opportunity to visit the Disney Aulani Resort & Spa in Hawaii with the kids. We had an amazing time diving into all the great things that this resort has to offer families.
One of my favorite features of the resort is that it is different than any other Disney destination we’ve visited before. Disney World and Disneyland are both centered around Mickey Mouse and his friends and this is evident no matter where you turn. This is not the case at Aulani. This resort is big “H” and little “d”. It is Hawaiian first and Disney second. It has all the amazing service and amenities that you expect from Disney but the culture and appearance of Hawaii.
I’ll admit that before we left I was nervous that we’d be flying 11 hours to Hawaii only to be staying at Mickey Mouse’s Hawaii House that lacked any of the Hawaiian marvelousness that people go to the island for. I am so happy to report that is absolutely not the case. Aulani is a beautiful resort that looks like a tropical getaway. You really have to look for the Disney part. You see, Mickey and his friends are on vacation when they “visit” Aulani. This is not their home. I LOVE that! There are plenty of character sightings, photo opps and passing high fives but you aren’t drowning in Disney.
A bonus to all of this big “H” and little “d” is the amount of things that my kids learned about Hawaii and the culture on our trip. The cast members are unbelievably knowledgeable about the island and were always willing to stop and answer a child’s question or teach them something. Each time my children returned from Aunty’s Beach House (the kids program), they told us the new things that they learned. With all the journeys we take, it’s important that our travels are not just fun but educational at the same time. Aulani was amazing for that! Instead of touring a museum (which my kids would think was boring!), Aulani has disguised learning as fun.
I encourage you to watch our Baby Gizmo video review of Aulani and see the ins and outs of the resort, but for those who would rather read and see photos, we have a full write-up of this Hawaiian paradise below.
We arrived at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon and it was as if the staff was waiting for us. Don’t worry, that is how they treat all their guests! Before we even stepped inside, the ladies were presented with leis and the boys with Hawaiian beads.
The check-in process was quick, painless and we were headed up to our room in about 5 minutes. No lines. No waiting. No chaos. If you arrive at a busier time, there is a great room right next to the check-out with a TV for kids to chill in while parents check-in.
We stayed in a one bedroom suite although there are hotel rooms, 2 and 3 bedrooms, to choose from as well. Our room was perfect for our family of five with a kitchen, table for 6, washer/dryer, full bath with separate bathtub/vanity area, and huge balcony.
I was super excited to see the full kitchen and on our next visit we plan to utilize it for more meals that we actually did this time. The table was a perfect size for snacks, meals and even homework time (our kids missed a week of school!).
The living room was spacious with a couch that pulled out to a bed, two chairs and a coffee table/ottoman. Under the TV was a twin pull-down bed that opened up for our 5th person. Like I said, plenty of room for us all to sleep!
The bedroom featured a king size bed, desk and large dresser with TV. The room was very clean and tastefully decorated and if you look closely there are hidden Mickeys all around. Through that door and window in the bedroom (in the photo below) is half of the bathroom. That portion of the bathroom had a big bathtub, closet and sink/vanity area. If you continue through the second door, you come to the other half of the bathroom with the large, walk-in shower, toilet and another sink/vanity. With the bathroom separated like this, there was plenty of room for everyone to get ready in the morning and freshen up in the evening.
Let’s start with the pools because that is exactly where my kids wanted to start as soon as they arrived at the resort. There are two main pools on property. This is the large pool in the center that features a zero depth entry that is great for the littles. It was clean, the temperature was perfect, and since it is February, it wasn’t too crowded.
The second pool is an infinity pool that is part of Aulani’s October 2013 expansion. A unique feature of this pool is that you can hear whale sounds under the water. The kids LOVED that!
Another new area as part of the expansion was the toddler splash pad. This area is great because it only has two ways out and plenty of chairs for mom or dad to relax in while the toddlers splish-splash.
A giant water play structure sits in the middle of the property and is filled with raining water and screaming children all day. This is a good thing- if you are under 48″, that is! 🙂 No seriously, this is a really good thing because it keeps your young ones busy running around and getting all their energy out while you relax on a chair right next door.
You might think that is all for the water activities but we have just gotten started! A huge, lazy river with plenty of single and double tubes wraps around for endless lounging in the water.
Another great water activity is the Rainbow Reef. This one is an extra charge ($10/day or $15/entire stay for a child – $15/$20 adult) and allows you to snorkel with tons of beautiful fish on property. My 7 and 9 year old snorkeled and had a great time. We have to warn you that the reef is colder than the pools, but it didn’t bother my kids at all. Plus, if your family is interested in the Reef, we highly suggest you just pay the $5 extra(from just the day rate) for your entire stay. That way, you can come and go in the reef as you please.
A Hawaii resort wouldn’t be complete without a fabulous beach and the Disney Aulani Resort & Spa doesn’t disappoint. The beach is in a beautiful cove that has calm waters and beautiful, clean sand. The resort provides plenty of chairs and umbrellas for guests’ use and we LOVE that sand toys and boogie boards are there to borrow for free. No one wants to have to drag sand toys on vacation but every kid wants to play with them, right?!?
Down by the beach, there are also stand-up paddle boards and kayaks for rent. The prices weren’t too bad – $30/hour for paddle boards and $15/$20 hour for kayaks. Since the kids have not done either activity before, we decided to do both and had the best time. My kids were even able to get the hang of the stand-up paddle boards in no time.
With all these water activities and pools, we were happy that the resort provided life jackets for those who aren’t the best swimmers free of charge.
There are other activities on the beach such as sand castle sculpting, a huge Connect Four board, ping pong, an Authentic Hawaiian Canoe Sailing Experience (extra $) and morning exercise classes.
RESTAURANTS & FOOD
This is the only place that we think Aulani could improve on. There are three main dining places on property with a fourth that is open for lunch and nightly appetizers. While the food is good, we just think they could use a few more choices. If you are staying in a suite with a kitchen, we highly recommend using your kitchen for as many meals as you can.
Sure, visit the restaurants, of course, but you will find that there aren’t as many options as you may like. There are plenty of snack options, it’s just that there could be more meal options. For example in the quick service restaurant Ulu Cafe there is only one sandwich choice and one entree choice each night. So, if those don’t float your boat and you don’t want one of the pre-packaged salads, you might be out of luck if you want to grab a quick meal. Luckily for those looking for more options, there are few restaurants within walking distance right down the street from the resort.
Here are the main dining options:
Ulu Cafe – This is the quick service cafe that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While the food was definitely good, the choices are limited.
The Lava Shack – This is poolside and features snacks, fountain beverages, mug refill stations and frozen treats. Great to stop by during the day while hanging by the pool.
Mama’s Snack Shop – Think chicken tenders, hot dogs, fries type of options poolside.
Papalua Shaved Ice – This is a must-have while visiting Aulani. They serve delicious shaved ice with tons of flavors with or without ice cream on the bottom. Yeah, sounds weird but it tastes deee-licious!
Ama Ama – This is their upscale casual dining. While the food is top-notch, it isn’t necessarily a place you’d want to take the kids. Ama Ama is best for when the kids go to Aunty’s Beachhouse (more on that in a bit!) and the parents go out for a nice dinner.
Makahiki – This was our favorite dining experience at Aulani because this buffet restaurant has a character breakfast. We dined while Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Mickey Mouse were in the house! Yep, a good ole’ Disney character breakfast complete with singing, dancing and delicious food. How can you go wrong with Mickey waffles?!? I have to say that the food at Makahiki in the morning is excellent though we didn’t dine there at night. It’s important to note that even though Makahiki is known as the buffet restaurant, they do have an a la carte menu at night (not a character meal!) which we didn’t figure out until the last day. This might be a better option for families on a dining budget because the dinner buffet is quite expensive at $42/adult and $21/child.
I visited the Laniwai Spa one afternoon for a Signature Laniwai Lomilomi Massage. Besides the massage being absolutely amazing using warm river stones and lomilomi sticks, the outdoor garden of the garden was divine. Once you step into the outdoor garden, you feel like you are in an oasis away from the rest of the resort even though you haven’t even left the property. The sounds of water, soft music, and birds, transform this outdoor space into a spa escape.
There are hot tubs, a cold plunge and the most fun adult splash park. Seriously, there is an outdoor water feature that allows you to play in the rain without anyone judging you. It’s worth a trip to the spa just for this water feature.
AUNTY’S BEACH HOUSE
My three kiddos love a good kids’ program at a resort. They love to take a timeout from mom and dad from time to time and hang with kids their own age. Imagine a beach house full of fun activities including closets of Disney costumes to dress up in, a game room, two craft rooms, a movie room and a fabulous outdoor space including a playground and picnic tables. THAT is Aunty’s Beach House! And the best thing about this kids’ program, hands down, is that it is INCLUDED in your stay. That’s right, no extra charge for your kids to go and play anytime between the hours of 9:30am and 9:00pm. Plus, the staff is great and the check-in and check-out process is very secure. Each child gets a wrist band that has some sort of location tracker on it.
The resort has a daily calendar that they leave in your room each night for the next day that includes all kinds of activities from boot camp on the beach to storytelling by the fire pit. The Starlit Hui is one activity that stood out to us and is a must-see if you visit Aulani. A show full of authentic Hawaiian dance and song, dueling ukuleles and a dance party at the end with Disney characters. It’s truly a fantastic show!
MENEHUNE ADVENTURE TRAIL
One other activity that we just can’t leave out is the Menehune Adventure Trail. This is like a scavenger hunt with a special iPad device that navigates you and your children around the property. The Menehune Trail has 5 courses (1 in the lobby and 4 outside) and are all narrated by Aunty as she tells you where to go to see special things activate like “magic” (as my 6 year old would tell you).
Overall, our visit to the Disney Aulani Resort & Spa was amazing! It was totally worth the 11 hour flight that it took for us to get there from Chicago! If you haven’t already, watch our guest host show you the ins and outs of the resort from a kid’s point of view!
OUR TIPS FOR VISITING DISNEY AULANI
1. If you are coming from the mainland, watch our video for How To Take Kids On a Long Flight.
2. If you rent a car, head to the local grocery store (or there is a Costco down the road) and load up on food for meals when you arrive. Food is pricey at Aulani (and at Hawaii restaurants in general).
3. If you are traveling with kids, get a suite with a kitchen so you can take advantage of tip #2.
4. Don’t miss the Menehune Adventure Trail. Young and old will love it!
5. Hit the spa for one treatment at least and to play in the adult water feature.
6. Do the character breakfast at least once during your visit.
7. Take the time to learn the Hawaiian culture while you are there. We highly recommend taking Aulani’s property tour because they show you so much that you would otherwise miss.
8. Take advantage of Aunty’s Beach House with the kids so that the adults can have a little me-time too!
9. Get the shaved ice with ice cream poolside!
10. Relax and enjoy Hawaii!
For more information on the Disney Aulani Resort & Spa, visit their website at: www.disneyaulani.com
*Disclosure: Disney picked up some of our travel costs. Regardless of this, all our opinions, statements and comments are our own.