The Aulani Resort is what they call Hawaii with a capital H and Disney with a lower case D. Heavy on the Hawaii, light on the Disney. But is there enough Hawaii to keep a picky teen happy and enough Disney to keep the world’s biggest eight year old Disney fan happy?
Where it is: Aulani is on the island of Oahu, you fly in to Honolulu. This makes getting here easy, most major airlines have direct flights in to Honolulu. We came straight from JFK to HNL. The flight was 11 hours. Yes, we upgraded, I’m not crazy.
How to get there: You can take a taxi or rent a car. Taxis in Hawaii are very expensive, renting a car is usually cheaper. Disney does not offer complimentary transportation. The resort is about 30 minutes from the airport.
What to book: The hotel has 351 traditional hotel rooms and 481 two bedroom “equivalents”. These rooms could easily hold a family of five comfortably, six with a roll away. They have full kitchens and are stocked with pack and plays. And a rice steamer. Popular resort with the Japanese. And rice lovers.
What to book for extra space and luxury:
There are 84 true two bedroom villas and 18 gorgeous three bedroom villas. They all have ocean views and give a large family enough space to feel comfortable. In the “two bedroom equivalents” you get a TV cabinet that folds out in to a twin bed, a comfortable sofa bed that sleeps two children and then a bedroom for mom and dad. Depending on how many children you have or want in your bed, you may or may not be comfortable. The two bedroom villas run about $1,500/night, the three bedrooms are $2,500/night. If you are staying more than a few nights I recommend the larger villas. Also, they all have washers and dryers, key to happiness on a family vacation.
Pools and slides:
Aulani has recently expanded their already fabulous pool space.They call their pool, waterside and lazy river area Waikohole Valley, it means “mischievous water” and it is a ridiculous amount of fun for kids and grown ups alike.
The big pool:
There is an 8,200 square foot pool with zero entry are, caves to swim through and two water slides. One is a body slide, the other you go on float tubes, you can even go doubles. There were children as young as 3 and 4 riding down with their parents but it was fun enough that my teen daughter took several dozen splashy rides, every day.
The lazy river:
This is a slow moving warm water relaxing ride around the Waikohole Valley. Again you can go in single or double floats. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to spend hours just drifting along in the Hawaiian sunshine, I mean, working on this review.
The new infinity pool, grotto and splash zone:
A year ago Disney expanded the water park offerings with a new family infinity pool with a realistic grotto and a splash zone for little ones to play.
The beach is perfect for little ones, Disney has built a break water that means the waves are almost nonexistent. The sand is soft and the ocean is warm. Keaton loved the floating plastic dock, the water was about chest deep on him there. They rent paddle boards. If you have never tried it, this is the place, the water is calm and you can’t float out to see. But there is really only about 10 minutes of fun to be had the area to paddle in is so small, so rent one for the family for the hour and let everyone try. Trust me, they will get bored quickly. Sand toys are free, you just need to ask.
Adults only pools and hot tubs:
The adults only pool is near the bar, key. I never got to enjoy, it looked serene. I did however enjoy a signature Mai Tai (click HERE for recipe) every night in the adults only hot tubs with a view of the Pacific Ocean. They are built in to the hill and one spills in to the other. It’s a lovely way to end any day, especially one where you’ve been chasing children.
Of course cocktails and adults only hot tubs on a family vacation mean you need child care. My kids are not fans of kids’ clubs, that is why we review so few. I had no intention of sending Keaton to Auntie’s Beach House (the complimentary child care at Aulani) but he asked to go. I was skeptical, but it turns it that the club is FABULOUS. The setting is adorable, multiple rooms charmingly decorated, movies, arts, crafts, of course computers (which he chose not to play-shocker), outdoor spaces, fun activities and Auntie. When I went to pick him up I could barely pull him away, he and Auntie were making bead bracelets.
What you need to know: People get there early not to drop their kids off but to get them signed up for the fun activities during the day (i.e. space goo with Stitch) there is limited space. I hate to tell you to stand in line, but stand in line. Once your child is registered you can pick them up and drop them off throughout the day. It is all FREE. Yes FREE.
Rainbow Reef: This man made reef is stocked with thousands of tropical fish and is a fun, safe and easy way for little ones to snorkel without being out in the big blue sea. It is not the drop off.
You pay for a day or for your stay, you get snorkel gear and unlimited access to the reef. Those who don’t want to swim can watch the fish through the glass side wall. Or watch your children while they explore the “reef”.
Character Breakfasts and Character Meet and Greets:
Just like Hawaii itself, meeting the Disney characters is very laid back. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Chip and Dale all kick around the property in their Hawaiian shirts and are easy to grab a photo with.
The character breakfast actually has amazing food and guarantees a photo opp. Of course if you’re a teen who never liked people in character costumes, this can be traumatic.
The character breakfast and dinner buffet (there is also an ala carte menu) are served at Makahiki. The food is good, I loved the breakfast buffet, had fried chicken for dessert. It’s not mind blowing, but very solidly good. The higher end restaurant is Ama Ama and has an ocean view. We ate several breakfasts and lunches there. Also excellent food. I heard mixed reviews on dinner so we headed across the street and ate at Monkey Pod which is one of my favorite Hawaiian restaurants.
Everything else you need to know:
This is a great property especially for small children. The water at the beach is so calm it’s not entirely certain you are on the ocean. The pool is zero entry, there is a splash zone, child care is free and they put a pack and play in all of the villas. If your kids are older they are going to want to get off the resort.
The spa is world class (trust me, I am serious about these things) and is reviewed separately as it deserves it’s own story.
The world famous North Shore is not far away, they will want to try surfing and there are several surf lesson providers to choose from.
A trip to Oahu would not be complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor. It is actually very close to the airport, I recommend you visit the day you leave as you will likely have a late afternoon or night flight. Wilson and I spent a day there last fall and it was beyond memorable, read about it HERE.
If you’re not feeling super adventurous, you can cross the street and find some fun boutique Hawaiian shopping or go next door to Paradise Cove, they have a hugely popular Luau there. It’s about a ten minute walk from the hotel. The kids and I spent an afternoon there and swam with two sea turtles. When this guy swam to shore (Hawaiian sea turtles, unlike other large turtles, will come up on to the beach to rest, not just to nest) we realized he was missing his left fin. My kids named him “Lucky” and we still talk about him.
We were the guests of Disney for review purposes, but not all expenses were covered. Luxury Travel Mom paid for the airfare for both children, most of the meals and all of the activities. As always, our opinions are our own.