Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, is on many a bucket list of those wanting a tropical family vacation to Hawaii. However, there are some, like myself, who wonder if such a resort is worth the hype. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit skeptical going into the trip having been to several high-end Hawaiian resorts in the past, and without children. This time I was responsible for the happiness of two of them and surrounded by hundreds more! Was it going to be cheesy? Overcrowded with other people’s whiny kids? Would we get bored just staying at the resort without going on any excursions? Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive. But let me tell you, the magic of Disney did not disappoint! The resort managed to dazzle everyone in our party of 7, ranging from ages 6 to 75!
The moment you arrive you feel welcomed like ‘ohana (which means family). The hospitality begins with leis, beads, and orange infused iced water as you are greeted at the entrance. From there, your party is escorted to the front desk for check-in and shown around the grand lobby. The authentic architecture, artifacts, and Hawaiian music really set the tone for your getaway and the welcoming cast members help to confirm that you are going to have an incredible time. Here’s how to make the most of your Aulani stay!
Pro-tips for the Adults at Aulani
So let’s get real for a minute, just because you are going on a family vacation at a Disney resort does not mean you need to be Mary Poppins the whole time. It’s your vacation too! Let loose, have a Mai Tai, and take some time for yourself to enjoy the beautiful landscape.
Get Your Drink On
Your first order of business should be to buy yourself a souvenir refill cup asap. It’s the best $20 you will spend the whole trip which includes endless house coffee, tea, sodas, and mixers for the booze you have hidden away in your room. The cup pays for itself after 2 “homemade” adult beverages since resort cocktails are at least $15 a pop (not including tip) at the bar.
The next most important thing you need to know is that there is complimentary childcare at the resort! Kids can participate in activities at Aunty’s Beach House from 8 am -9 pm so that you can take some time to go for a swim in the cove, paddle board, nap poolside, enjoy the spa, or go for a night swim in one of the adult pools. You can even order meals for the little ones so you can have a guilt-free date night! Just be sure to register your kiddos 90 days prior to your stay to reserve their spots.
Activities for All!
There are so many activities for everyone you could easily book each day without ever having to leave the resort. Better yet, many are included with your stay! Although you will get a daily schedule delivered to your room each evening, it is best to look on their website about a week in advance since some require advanced reservations and fill up quickly. It’s also good to get a rough idea of what activities you may want to participate in during your stay so that you don’t miss out on any of the fun. You’ll want to register for same-day activities first thing in the morning (we found out the hard way that some filled up by 7:30 am!). Flexibility with your schedule and types of activities is a must to avoid disappointment and potential meltdowns from jet-lagged little ones.
The resort has activities for the whole family like yoga on the beach, ukulele lessons, painting, sunset photography classes, storytelling and exploring the stars with an astronomer. Aunty’s also hosts kids-only activities such as hula dancing, adventures with Moana, as well as a nightly Tween zone for ages 10-12. They even have things specifically for teens such as beach activities, photo scavenger hunts, and animation fun. You can also rent paddleboards, kayaks, and snorkel gear to play in the cove. This is definitely the (very) short list so I highly recommend checking out the Aulani website to see the wide array of options at the resort. And of course, there are numerous off-site excursions you can book through concierges if a rainforest hike, horseback riding, or a catamaran cruise is more your style.
One activity you won’t want to miss is the Luau. It costs a pretty penny, especially if you go VIP, but it is totally worth the investment. Disney hosts an amazing event that immerses you in the legends, history, and traditions of the Hawaiian people by allowing you to experience delicious Hawaiian food, participate in activities, and observe traditional dances with beautiful costumes. We were very impressed with the presentation and felt like we all learned so much! We made reservations the moment we booked our stay and were happy we did because we heard multiple families say they attempted to when they arrived and were disappointed to find out that all the Luaus were sold out. VIP is the way to go so that you have an extra hour before the rest of the crowd to enjoy activities, get excellent seats, and it’s all you can drink!
Definitely plan for enough downtime between activities and excursions to enjoy Aulani’s pools as much as possible. The pool area is quite large in the center of the resort with lush, windy walkways that make you feel more like you are at a natural waterhole than a hotel pool. Although you will want to have some fun in the sun, there are plenty of opportunities to relax in the shade with a ton of umbrellas. There’s also a wide variety of water play options for everyone ranging from water slides, to splash pads, to a beautiful lazy river. There are large pools, small grottos, and my favorite, a double-decker infinity hot tub overlooking the cove (bonus, it’s adult only!).
There’s even a pool filled with fish you can snorkel in for $20 a day or $39 for the length of your stay (adult pricing). But be warned, the water is cold! I recommend paying for the day first to make sure you want to get in the water again. As long as you upgrade to snorkel for the length of your stay by 5 pm the same day you’re set. Oh and “adult” as defined by Disney is 10 years or older – fun fact. If you’ve snorkeled in open water with beautiful coral or colorful fish in the past, it may not be worth the cash. However, it’s great for first-timers! Especially the kids since it’s in a contained pool with 2 lifeguards and no waves or current. It’s perfect training for future open water snorkeling excursions.
However you plan to spend your pool days, make sure you get there early for a prime spot if you plan to lounge. To keep things fair, Aulani does not allow you to “claim” chairs before the pools open at 8 am. If you leave personal items before that time they will be removed. Not to worry though, even on the busiest days we were able to find at least a chair or two to stash our covers, sunscreen, and towels. And let’s be honest, you’re there to swim! Just be sure to check in with your belongings every hour, after that cast members will store your items in a locker to offer the space to another family. If you see a towel folded on the back of your chair, know that you are being timed! Make sure to move the towel before jumping back in the water to restart the clock.
Get Your Grub On
Aulani provides everything you need onsite when it comes to your dining options. There’s over 15 restaurants, bars, and snack shops throughout the resort. Do you want a breakfast buffet with Disney characters? You got it! (with advanced reservations of course). Shaved ice and Dole pineapple whip, yup! Hot breakfast, pizza, and sandwiches? Check! Oceanfront table-service restaurant serving fresh seafood? But of course! Aside from the amazing restaurants, our favorite spot was the Ulu Cafe which was open 6:30 am – 8:30 pm daily. The grab and go options were top-notch for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Perfect if you want a hot breakfast on a budget or a specialty pizza to take back to your room and relax after a long day in the sun. Another great option to cut down on food costs is to visit the market down the street to stock up on essentials and snacks for the room. It’s always nice to be able to make a quick meal without having to leave the comfort of your own room.
If you feel like leaving the resort for a bite to eat, you can always visit some of the restaurants in Ko Olina or in the neighboring resorts. An excellent choice would be Monkeypod which is just 2 minutes away with craft food, beer, and cocktails (as usual, reservations are highly recommended). For my fellow whiskey lovers, try the Tee Thyme. It’s a Jack Daniel’s single barrel, passion-thyme infused tea that is refreshing and absolutely delicious! Their food is also incredible and the menu has something for everyone.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to visiting Aulani. It is a wonderful resort and I know you and your family will love it no matter how you choose to spend your time on the island. Aloha!
Have more questions about visiting Aulani? Leave a note in the comments below!