Our Travels – Aulani: Living Up to the Disney Legacy
I’m a firm believer that if you travel to Hawaii & you have a bad time, it’s probably your own fault. In fact, I’ve recently written a blog about how even traveling during COVID can be a fantastic experience if you’re safe & smart about it. Read more about that here: Oahu, Hawaii During COVID. But back to the topic at hand. Just because Hawaii is fantastic by just existing, that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain experiences that can make an already great location that much better. Aulani – A Disney Resort & Spa is one of those experiences.
Notice I said “experience” and not hotel. We have stayed in several really nice hotels throughout the years, but I wouldn’t say very many, if any at all, gave me an “experience” as part of my stay. It makes a lot of sense though that a resort built by Disney would give you more than just a nice place to sleep. The Walt Disney Company is known world-wide for creating “experiences” for their guests, particularly in their parks & hotels. In fact, the inspiration for Disneyland came because Walt wanted to give families a place where they could enjoy fun experiences together. That philosophy has extended throughout the organization & Aulani is no different. It is meant to be a place where you can gather with your ‘ohana’ & all have a wonderful time. In my opinion, it lives up to all Walt would want it to be. Let’s talk about why.
Most hotels have some sort of “theme” or at least a common design scheme, but Aulani takes it a step further and has their own “story.” If you’re familiar with any of the Disney parks, storytelling is everywhere. You will find stories in every attraction as soon as you enter the queue, all the way until you exit & sometimes beyond. Every restaurant has a story too from the design elements, to what the workers are wearing, and throughout the menu. Sometimes even the bathrooms play along to whatever story is being told in the area! Point being, Disney prides themselves on being master storytellers & they have certainly lived up to that with their design of Aulani.
Aulani was designed by none other than the world-famous Disney Imagineers who worked hand-in-hand with local artisans & cultural experts to celebrate the beauty & history of the island. This is something that I greatly appreciated because for me, one of the best parts of traveling is getting a feel for the local culture. Having been to all four of the major Hawaiian Islands, I can confidently say that Oahu, the island where Aulani is located, is BY FAR the most commercialized of all the islands. If you’re unfamiliar, Oahu is home to the state capitol of Honolulu, the famous Waikiki Beach, and Pearl Harbor. It is the most densely populated island in the Hawaiian chain, and so, I suppose, it would make sense that it’s the most commercialized. Unfortunately, it is for that reason that I believe a lot of what makes the Hawaiian culture & islands so wonderful is lost. In stark contrast to the vast majority of other hotels & resorts on the island, Aulani purposely celebrates the culture of the Hawaiian people. Just in general, it feels much more organic than most resorts. For example, the hotel towers are shaped like canoes, there is contemporary Hawaiian artwork throughout the resort, everything has a Hawaiian name including the pools & restaurants & their unofficial mascot is the Menehune (small, mythological craftspeople said to live in the forest of the Hawaiian Islands). Even their color scheme matches the surrounding landscape of the leeward side of the island.
There are also other elements that make it feel like you’re being immersed in the Hawaiian culture. One of my favorites has been storytelling by ‘Uncle’ around the campfire (or pool during COVID season). He tells stories based on local folklore & I feel like through the simple act of listening to a story, I learned so much about ancient Hawaiian culture. We also really enjoyed the Menehune Adventure game. For this, you can check out a tablet from the Community Hall & ‘Aunty’ takes you on an adventure throughout the gardens & pool area of the resort. Not only does the game allow you to do cool things (like send fire out of a volcano or drop a waterfall into one of the pools), it also helps you to get a feel for some of the local culture. Another of my favorites is all of the live music you can find throughout the resort. The last time we were there, they weren’t doing their luau (which by the way, was awesome the first time we got to go to Aulani), but on the weekend, they had ‘Aunty’ singing Hawaiian songs & someone dancing with her on the lawn while we waited to meet the characters. It’s simple things like that which contribute to the overall celebration of the Hawaiian culture as part of the resort’s story.
Something for Everyone
As with the Disney parks, there is literally something for everyone at Aulani & a lot can be done together as a family. For us, and I imagine most who visit Aulani, the Waikolohe Valley became the center of our visit there. This is the garden/pool area between the two towers at Aulani. It features a long lazy river (it takes 15 minutes to float around), two water slides (one body, one tube), play area for the kids & splash pad for the littles, two big family pools with three family hot tubs, plus an adult-only pool & two-level infinity hot tub overlooking the ocean (perfect for watching the sunset as you soak). If you’d like to try snorkeling, but are worried about doing it in the ocean, there is also the Rainbow Reef where for a surcharge you can snorkel with the native fish of Hawaii. Additionally, you are only a few steps away from the perfectly golden beach on the lagoon (sand toys & boogie boards are complimentary!).
When the Imagineers designed the Waikolohe valley, they knew what they are doing. Everything is spaced out very well so it disburses the crowds. They have also worked hard to provide chairs & shade for everyone either from the trees in the garden or via umbrella. There are also multiple places to get food whether it be shave ice, counter service, or sit-down meals. You could literally spend your entire vacation in the Waikolohe Valley and be just fine. I don’t necessarily recommend that because there is a lot to see on the island, but I would definitely commit at least a few days to staying at the resort & to use the pool area as a place to unwind at the end of the day.
That being said, there are some quirks about this area. It seems like it would go without saying, but only Aulani guests are allowed to use the pools. The beach is technically open to the public (though the chairs & umbrellas are not), so I think some of the beach visitors try to sneak into the pool area. This must be somewhat of a problem because guests are required to get a different colored wristband every day to prove they are a guest of the resort as they use the pools. Some may think that is inconvenient, but we found it to be reassuring that only guests of the resorts are using the accommodations we paid for. They also have a system where if a cast member folds a towel over the headrest of the chair you’ve staked out & put your stuff on, you have one hour to take it down or they will remove your belongings & securely store them where you pick up your wristbands. We just made sure to circle back once an hour to get a drink or a snack and make sure that our towels were not signaling we had been gone. This is their way of making sure everyone has an equal chance at the poolside chairs. We’ve been to Aulani twice now (once before COVID & once during COVID), and we have never had a problem finding a chair or having our stuff moved. Everyone is very courteous & as long as you circle back once an hour, you’re just fine.
There are a few other areas at the resort that should also be mentioned. First, what would a Disney vacation be without the characters?! Usually, you can find them interspersed in the Waikolohe Valley, but with COVID, right now they are meeting on the lawn (where they usually have the luau). We’ve met Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Stich, Duffy, Shellie Mae & Moana. It just brings a little bit of extra Disney magic to your trip being able to meet them while you’re there. Also, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the spa on property as well. When COVID isn’t a thing, they offer a full-service spa with treatments for teens, individuals & couples. There is also the Community Hall where you can pick up the Menehune Adventure game, rent movies & games & make crafts. It’s a place where everyone can come in and enjoy. Additionally, when COVID isn’t a thing, the kids can enjoy activities for their age group at Aunty’s Beach House. The counselors there will keep your kids entertained so you can go to the spa, explore the island, or just take a nap while knowing your kids are safe & entertained. There is so much to do at Aulani! I promise you can find plenty to make you & your family happy while you stay there.
Speaking of staying there, there are a number of different room types available at Aulani to accommodate any family. Aulani is considered a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) property. That means the people who have bought into Disney’s timeshare program can stay there using their membership. However, you DO NOT need to be a DVC member to stay there. ANYONE can book a room at Aulani & enjoy the resort. Room types range anywhere from a traditional hotel-style standard room with two queen-sized beds, to a three-bedroom villa with full kitchen. We have stayed in both a standard room & a 1-bedroom villa with full kitchen. Both suited our needs just fine for the different trips we took. We did enjoy having a full kitchen with the villa because we could save some money by cooking some of our own meals, but the standard room has a mini-fridge so you can keep some things in there too. Whatever type of room you stay in, they are very nice & I’m sure you will be very comfortable.
Location on the Island
Aulani is located on western side of Oahu in the Ko Olina development. This is the leeward side of the island, so where it is rains almost every day on the windward side of the island, Aulani has beautiful sun-filled days with very limited rain. It is somewhat out of the way, at least compared to the hustle & bustle of downtown Honolulu & Waikiki Beach. However, we have never found it to be a problem. In fact, Aulani is just as convenient to get to the East & North sides of the island as Waikiki due to traffic & access to the freeways that take you to those sides. However, if you’d like a comparison, let me share my opinion as we have stayed both in Waikiki & at Aulani.
Waikiki is in the heart of Honolulu & like all major cities, it is very loud & crowded. It is as touristy as it gets in Hawaii, and as previously mentioned, it is very commercialized. The beach itself is typically covered with tourists & honestly, is only one of many beautiful beaches on Oahu. I would by no means call it the best beach on the island, just the most crowded. If you are looking to do some sightseeing outside of Waikiki, due to Honolulu traffic, it really isn’t more convenient than Aulani if you’re visiting anywhere besides Honolulu. If you’re looking at staying at Waikiki because you believe it is more convenient, it truly is only convenient to itself, not the rest of the island. If you like the hustle & bustle of a big city, Waikiki is for you. If you prefer a much calmer & quiet vacation with significantly more amenities, than Aulani would be your best bet. We have stayed at both, and for us, there was no comparison. Our time at Aulani was significantly better than Waikiki.
Never a Better Time to Go
The two weeks we’ve spent at Aulani during two different vacations (one pre- & one post-COVID) have convinced us that it is one of the best resorts on the island. It is beautiful, it celebrates Hawaiian culture, it has something to keep everyone entertained & happy, plus there’s an added dose of Disney magic thrown in there as the cherry on top. A stay there is absolutely worth it.
If you need more convincing, Aulani is currently offering 30% off 5-night stays between now & June 10, 2021. You can do it! You can go to Aulani & we would be happy to help you. To request a quote, visit our website:: https://woodbreyfamilytravel.com/getaquote.php
Posted on January 7, 2021, in Current Promotions, Disney's Aulani, Travel Advice, Travel Advice and tagged Aulani, Aulani a Disney Resort and Spa, Aulani Discount, Aulani Tips, Disney Travel, Disney's Aulani, Hawaii, Hawaii Travel, Oahu, Oahu Travel, Travel, Travel Advice, Travel Agent, Travel Planning, Travel tips, Woodbrey Family Travel. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.