We love Hawaii and are also Disney Vacation Club members so we were very excited about this trip. However, when we first visited the Aulani site in 2010 we weren't so sure. Aulani is on the south side of the island, but some distance to the West from Waikiki Beach and many of the attractions. The mountains are more rocky and the area doesn't have the green, mountainous look you expect when you think of Hawaii. However, the location is probably the only negative, and we even worked that to our advantage.
Our arrival started the vacation as I would have hoped as we were greeted promptly at the front drive and immediately became consumed in the friendliness and splendor of this resort. As the valet was taking our rental vehicle, we were offered flavored ice water as a hostess gathered our name and gave us a quick overview of what we could expect the next week.
To conserve vacation club points, we chose a standard view room which looked out at the convention center. Not a great view, but exactly what we expected based on the category we booked. The room was immaculate. I realize the resort was only a year old at the time, but they are obviously taking care to keep it clean and fresh. The size was typical for a vacation club room and the amenities in the room were exactly as expected. I like the idea of 2 separate beds in the living area so my teen son and daughter didn't share a bed. However, the bed that is hidden in the amoire was somewhat small, better suited for a child. My daughter fit fine, she's about 5'5", but said because it was under the tv it felt somewhat claustrophic. Overall, the room was delightful and we had no issues with functionality or cleanliness. We even found a few very subtle "hidden mickeys" throughout the room which pleased us as Disney fans.
After getting settled in the room, we ventured out to explore the resort. If you've ever been to Wilderness Lodge at Disney World, you will have a similar feeling here. It definately has that "wow" factor when you walk down the main walkway with high arched ceilings, beautiful furnishings and seating areas. Very peaceful without feeling stuffy. There's a large gift shop with food as well as a nice excursion planning area right near the main lobby. Always keep your eyes open, as there are little surprises scattered throughout the resort. Also in this area you can pick up the daily newsletter of events. Lots of activities throughout the day, some cost additional, some are included in the stay.
There are so many small details here that I can't begin to remember them all. There's an underwater viewing area of tropical fish, a stingray encounter for extra charge, a snorkeling adventure for extra charge, and a great water park. With the ocean steps away, the huge waterpark seemed strange to me, but my family greatly enjoyed it. The water park has "real" slides as my daughter calls them. These are slides where you can gain some speed and are quite long. Most of the water slides at the Disney World resorts are somewhat short and boring for teens and above.
Leaving the water park you will need to pass through a gate to get to the ocean. This is to keep outside traffic from entering the Aulani water park area as you need a key to re-enter the Aulani grounds. You also must wear a wrist band when using the water park facilities.
The area of the ocean is near perfect, but probably for a little younger families. The resort sits on a manmade lagoon which blocks the big waves of the ocean and is perfect for swimming and playing in the water. Because the lagoon is sheltered, my teens thought it was somewhat boring compared to the full waves on Waikiki Beach, but for younger kids and anxious parents the lagoon is perfect. We did a snorkeling excursion, so we didn't snorkel at the resort, but several individuals said the fish loved the rocky area at the edge of the lagoon and the snorkeling was very good to see fish.
A couple of things that aren't advertised much, but were great are the Starlit Hui and the handheld adventure game. The Starlit Hui was as good a show, or better, than we've seen at the Luaus that you have to pay for. There is no food, but the show is very good. There's also a special surprise at the end, but I don't want to give it away. The other pleasant surprise was the small handheld adventure game that can be checked out. It's like a mobile phone or small tablet that tells a story and is a kind of treasure hunt. The main character gives you clues and then when you find the location based on the clues, something special happens when you get there. Again, I don't want to give away the "surprises", but I think this can be enjoyed by young children with a little help, as well as older children as my teen loved it. There are 2 set of adventures outside in the water park area and 1 inside the building. There are a lot of other activities, but these were 2 of our favorites. We also enjoyed the storytelling at the fire and the ukelele lesson, both are no additional charge.
The counter service was good, but expensive, as are most meals in Hawaii. We ate at AmaAma one afternoon for lunch and my entire family thought that it may have been the best restaurant meal we've ever had. Part of it could have been eating it while we overlooked the ocean, but all 4 of our entrees were excellent. Again pricy, but even McDonalds is expensive in Hawaii.
Back to the location. Even though the area is not near Honolulu and all of the restaurants and attractions there, there have been some things that have opened within walking distance. Across the road are a couple of small strip malls that have a few restaurants, as well as a convenience store. We also were able to use the location to our advantage as we booked a snorkeling excursion out of the harbor that is part of the KoOlina resort area and is walking distance. We also did a shark encounter which was in the Northwest area of the island, which although we needed to drive to it, was still closer than getting there from Honolulu.
If you've kept with the review this long, you'll realize we loved our stay at Aulani. The staff was great, the rooms were great, and the amenities are great. Our only hesitation at all is that there isn't the convenience factor of everything that is in the Waikiki Beach area such as Diamond Head and Haunama Bay.
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- Also Known As:
- Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa In Hawai`i Hotel Kapolei
- Aulani, a Disney Resort And Spa In Hawai`i
- Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa Hawaii/Oahu