Aulani Review: Guide to Disney’s Hawaii Resort & Spa
We thoroughly enjoyed our Aulani stay and covering their Grand Opening Celebration. This review will detail all aspects of this excellent resort and provide you with tips for getting the most out of your Aulani experience.
Hawaiian Culture Is Embraced and Honored
When I first heard that Disney was coming to Hawaii several years ago, I wondered how Disney would blend in Hawaii. Actually, I think Disney has gone to great lengths to incorporate Hawaiian culture into Aulani and emphasizing that above iconic Disney characters. Hawaiian culture seems to drive the car, so to speak, while stereotypical Disney aspects ride along in the backseat. For example, when we first arrived, we noticed the kalo (taro) plants in front of the resort, we were greeted with alohas and when we went into the lobby we noticed then the beautiful murals of Hawaiian scenes. It wasn’t until we got into our room that we finally noticed the first Disney-influence, which was a vintage-looking lamp with a wooden Mickey Mouse carved in the lamp stand (see photo).
I had a chance to meet with some of the Aulani artists who were all born and raised in Hawaii – most were local from the Waianae Coast. When they were commissioned for their art, they said that Disney provided very little input. Each artist expressed how much they enjoyed being a part of Aulani, telling their story and perpetuating their native Hawaiian culture. If you’re interested in learning more about the art at Aulani, I found this article.
Just about every place that has a name at Aulani has a Hawaiian name. Hawaiian is usually spoken first. In fact, a helpful Concierge, Sharilyn, told me that though she had grown up in Hawaii, she’s never spoken as much Hawaiian as she has since she started working at Aulani.
Kid & Family Friendly
In my opinion, Aulani is the most kid-friendly resort in Hawaii. Here are some of the great things designed for kids to enjoy:
- Aunty’s Beach House is a dream play house for any kid. Just touring it made me want to be a kid again. There’s Hawaiian crafts, dress up, story time, outdoor play, hula, musical instruments, movies, games and more. I’ve not seen anything else in Hawaii that matches it. Not only is it outstanding – it’s a complimentary amenity for guests. Other Hawaii resorts charge $35 or more for a half day. You do need to pay for meals. Aunty’s Beach House is open from 8am to 9pm or 9am to 11pm depending on the day. Aunty’s Beach House is available for potty trained guests ages 3 to 12.
- Aulani offers complimentary activities designed especially for tweens and teens like pool parties, obstacle courses and stargazing.
- Disney Characters make regular visits and appearances much to the delight kids of all ages. Character Breakfasts are scheduled three days per week at the moment.
- Aulani has embraced the legend of the Menehune – so much so that they’ve placed hundreds of Menehune statues and carvings throughout the resort. It’s fun for both kids and grownups to find Menehune hiding throughout the resort.
- Rainbow Reef, two waterslides and the Menehune Bridge (photo) are ideal water fun parks for kids and adults, too. You’d have to try really, really hard not to have fun in the Aulani Waikolohe Valley collection of water park fun.
- Rooms include Pack ‘n Play playard for the little ones.
- The lagoon beach adjacent to Aulani offers relatively safe protection from big waves.
I added the question mark because, I’m not too sure about how couple-friendly Aulani is. It’s not couple unfriendly, that’s for sure, but I wouldn’t say that Aulani is exceptionally romantic either.
Andy and I certainly enjoyed our visit, though we spent most of our time working. When we could, we enjoyed the waterslides and lazy river like a couple of kids.
Some of the romantic things you can do at Aulani are have a Fairytale Disney Wedding, enjoy private ocean view dining, get some spa pampering with a couples massage, go on a catamaran sunset cruise, relax by the adults-only pool, watch sunset in the infinity whirlpools, have a sunset beach picnic, etc.
Outstanding Spa Facilities
I think it’s just a matter of time for Aulani’s Laniwai Spa to be listed among Hawaii’s best spas. Access to their outdoor hydrotherapy garden, Kula Wai, is included in most treatments. Kula Wai offers whirlpools, cold plunge, mineral baths and my favorite – six different rain shower experiences. If you’re not staying at Aulani, but you want to get a spa treatment in Oahu, I highly recommend Aulani’s spa. (Psst! Here’s a tip, when there’s availability, guests can purchase a day pass to the hydrotherapy garden for $45.)
Aulani offers both hotel and vacation ownership accommodations. The hotel portion was sold out, so we were lucky to be assigned one of the Disney Vacation Club rooms. We had a sitting area, dining area, full kitchen, washer and dryer, separate bedroom and a bath and a half. We could have lived there. The rooms are nicely decorated with dark woods, Hawaiian prints and kapa designs. Even if you are not a Disney Vacation Club owner, the DVC rooms are available for booking within 60 days of your visit when they’re available.
Aulani offers several dining venues across the resort from take out to fine dining. Our favorite restaurant was ‘AMA’AMA where we enjoyed their kulua pork on steamed rice buns and the ocean views. For casual evening dining, we liked The ‘Olelo Room where Hawaiian is spoken first. It’s a great place for sliders and learning to speak Hawaiian words – a great combo. For a cool treat, we really liked the shave ice hut near the pools.
As I’ve already mentioned, Aulani offers a great chance to meet Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and other Disney characters at the Character Breakfast that’s served buffet-style for $32 in Makahiki. We enjoyed it. (Psst! They also offer an a la carte menu at Makahiki if you don’t want the buffet.)
If there’s one area Aulani could improve upon, I’d say it’s with dining. We didn’t have a bad meal, but we didn’t have many impressive ones either. We chalked it up to the standard learning curve that all new restaurants endure.
With rooms starting at $399, Aulani’s rates are definitely well above average for Hawaii of about $185 per night. That being said, the service and the amenities are well above average for Hawaii, too. You can check this page for their special offers.
We felt like food and beverage costs were in line with what most Hawaii resorts charge. Nothing shocked us in comparison to other Hawaii resorts we’ve visited.
A few tips for getting the most out of your stay:
- Check the all the resort happenings with the weekly, and daily ‘IWA for crafts, character meet and greet, movies on the lawn, Starlit Hui show, etc. Most of these activities are complimentary for guests.
- If you think you might be interested in taking part in the Character Breakfast, I recommend you book a month or more in advance to make sure you secure your spot. Also, aim to get there for an early arrival, like 7am, where you’ll have the characters almost all to yourself.
- If you are getting a spa treatment, do plan to check in an hour before to enjoy the spa amenities.
- Check out is at 11am, but don’t worry if you have a late flight. Aulani provides a fantastic lounge for guest after check out, the Luana Lounge. You’ll find lockers, showers, swimsuit dryers, hair dryers in case you need to freshen up before your flight. There’s two separate lounges with sofas and televisions. They even provide a monitor with Honolulu flights and a station to print your boarding passes.
- Wifi is free, yippee!
- See all the photos we took during our Aulani stay.
- Don’t forget to check out our video tour of Aulani.
We’d like to thank Aulani for hosting and inviting us to their Grand Opening Celebration.
For more reviews, see this link to TripAdvisor.
Have you stayed at Aulani? How was your stay?
It really is a great resort. For couples without kids, it really depends on whether you’re looking for something fun or peace and quiet. If you want a Goofy escape (pardon the pun) then Aulani is great.
I wonder if the food will ever be better. It seems like Aulani is going for the “Applebees” type menu that will keep families (read, “kids”) happy. I suspect they’ll never have anything gourmet, but that would be a nice addition.
what island is that?
Great tips Sheila!
Sounds like boredom wouldn’t even be a concern staying at this resort.
Nancy & Shawn
great review! It seems like a really fun place to go with kids.
It’s definitely a great place for kids. If I was a kid again, I’d love to spend my days at Aunty’s Beach House. I couldn’t believe it when I first heard that Aunty’s Beach House access is free to guests. That’s the sort of thing parents pay upwards of $50 to $100 or so a day per kid at other Hawaii resorts.
Just keep in mind that guests are required to stand in line each morning to secure spots for their children at Aunty’s Beach House, and admission is not guaranteed. I’ve read several reviews on the DVC owners’ site commenting that as the resort has become more popular, guests are compelled to wake up at the crack of dawn and stand in a long line every vacation morning to assure their children have access to this!
Wow, what a great destination to have for a vacation! Perfect for all ages–young and old.
Just had our first baby six weeks ago and can’t wait to take her here when she’s a little older! We’re excited to share our love of Hawaii with our daughter and Aulani looks so fun!
Great, Ashley. Aulani is ideal for kids of all ages. I’m sure your daughter will love it.
We will be visiting Oahu in June. We are staying on Waikiki but would like to visit Aulani, is that possible? Does the Bus go that far?
Yolanda – I believe The Bus does go out that way. Check their website (thebus.org) for the bus routes. You’ll most likely have to take multiple buses.