A Disney junkie gives her surprising take on Disney's popular Hawaiian resort.
I’m a Disney junkie. I worked at Disney’s Epcot Center during college and even took business classes with the company. My kids knew where the happiest place on earth was as soon as they could walk. I love the Mouse. We’ve stayed at Disney properties and visited all of the parks in California and Florida. So the idea of experiencing the magic of the Mouse in Hawaii was a must-do for my family.
This Disney vacation, however, may be best-suited to the more subtle fan. You won’t find It’s a Small World playing in the halls of the resort or Peter Pan paintings in your room. Disney’s Aulani Hawaii Resort and Spa is a serene sanctuary away from the crowds of Waikiki. It’s nestled between the mountains and the beautiful beaches of Ko Olina. Aulani means “the place that speaks for the great ones” in Hawaiian. I don’t know about the great ones, but my kids will tell you that they couldn’t get enough of the pool parties with all their favorite Disney characters. But know that you won’t be overwhelmed by too much of the Mouse here; the Disney themes are understated when compared to Disney World and Disneyland.
What to do?
Aulani has a nearly endless list of activities that are detailed in a daily summary available at the front desk each morning.
First, Aulani has all the amenities that you’d expect at a high-end Hawaiian resort. During the day, relax at the pool, float the lazy river or zip down one of two high-speed water slides. Or head to Rainbow Reef, an on-site, private, snorkeling lagoon at the resort, where you and your kids can have up-close encounters with an array of colorful fish. There’s an added fee for this experience. One-day cost: Youth (9 and under) $15; Adult $20; Full stay cost: Youth (9 and under) $29; Adult $39. If you’re a golfing family, hit the links at the championship Ko Olina Golf Club just across the street from the resort. And there’s plenty of shopping and several restaurants to explore in Ko Olina.
The kids (ages 3 to 12, potty-trained) will enjoy the kids’ club called Aunty’s Beach House. Visits here are included in your stay. My kids, who were 5 and 6 when we visited, couldn’t wait each day to play with new friends and see what activities the staff had planned for them. It’s the perfect place to explore Hawaiian-themed activities while Mom and Dad enjoy a grown-up date. The kids’ club also offers some premium experiences for the kids that include a meal; you’ll need to pay extra and reserve those in advance.
KidTripster Tip: You must submit an online registration form two days prior to your arrival. Once you arrive, head to the Beach House to complete your registration. Your child will be issued a souvenir keiki band at a cost of $12.95. At the end of your stay, you can return it for a full refund; make sure to keep your receipt.
KidTripster Tip: Activities and classes at Aunty’s Beach House fill up quickly, so be sure to make reservations in advance. Check out the activity sheet published each morning at the front desk, so you can plan your day.
Then there are those activities that are pure Disney. My 6-year-old son loves to draw and was overjoyed with his animation class, where real-life Disney animators teach kids how to sketch their favorite Disney characters. Sign up early as the class fills quickly. At night, sit fireside for storytelling and then join the Starlit Hui for a celebration of Hawaiian traditions and Disney characters. My 5-year-old daughter loved learning how to hula and make leis.
KidTripster Tip: Make sure to get in line early for Starlit Hui to get a good spot.
For more things to do, especially for older kids, read our KidTripster Teen's take on Aulani. Click here.
Where to stay?
Aulani offers various types of accommodations to fit every size family. You can opt for one of the 351 hotel rooms or 16 suites. There are also 481 Disney Vacation Club Villas, including 19 Grand Villas. We stayed in a budget-friendly, double queen room without a view. Frankly, we didn’t spend too much time in our room; why would you?! Room rates start at around $469/night.
KidTripster Tip: You’ll find the best rates mid-October through mid-May, excluding holidays and spring break.
Where to eat?
The resort has only two main restaurants. Ama’Ama is an upscale restaurant serving contemporary island cuisine. It was a perfect date night place. My husband and I loved going as the sun set for the beautiful view, while the kids enjoyed a couple of hours and dinner at Aunty’s Beach House. The food was delicious but pricey, so we only went one time during our 6 days at the resort. And be sure to make reservations at Makahiki at least once, where your kids will be thrilled to visit with Mickey and Minnie during a character breakfast.
There are other grab-and-go breakfast options at the resort that are more affordable for the rest of your stay. In addition, there are three lounges and several quick-service spots. If you’re looking for even more affordable options, you’ll find restaurants across the street from the resort.
Several airlines offer direct flights from the U.S. mainland to Honolulu. Once you arrive, you can either rent a car or book a SpeediShuttle from the Honolulu International Airport to the resort. The cost for a family of four with four bags is around $78/one way.
Want to get a KidTripster Teen's take on Aulani? Click here.
Deb Beard is a mother of two, living in Portland, Oregon. She loves finding great travel experiences for bargain prices. When she's not working as a full-time journalist, she spends her limited free time taking ballet classes.