Midweek greetings all – did you catch Mad Men this past week? Ack! I’m totally hooked again! I loved that opening scene in Hawaii with all the retro aloha prints, didn’t you? And speaking of, I promised a tour of the Aulani where we stayed while vacationing in Oahu a few weeks ago.
The Aulani is one of Disney’s several vacation spots so at first we had our skepticism as to just how relaxing this place would actually be and since it’s Disney, we had “theme park” expectations. We picked it because we knew our kids (age 7 and 9) would enjoy it. Truth is, we found the resort to be just as fun as they did, and the entire experience was incredibly relaxing. Here are some scenes of the amenities and perks that are included when you stay at the Aulani resort in Oahu.
The hotel sits on a manmade lagoon in KoOlina where you can lounge and little kids can play in the gentle lapping waves. There are plenty of water activities, including paddle boarding and canoeing, and morning yoga to start your day.
The greeting is impressive, you’re welcomed with smiles and leis upon arrival and the check-in process is smooth. After a long plane ride and the jostling to pick up your bags and rent a car and find the place 25 minutes up the highway, there’s something so so AMAZING about stepping out of your car, and being welcomed to the islands like this.
We asked a lot of questions about the architecture of the hotel since it’s so new (less than 2 years old) and they answered them all in great detail. We were really impressed with the hotel’s dedication to authentic Hawaiian art and culture seen everywhere in the construction, artwork, and decor – these are some images of the ceiling in the grand entrance.
Hawaiian music is softly playing all the time and you’d think that might bother you but on the contrary it gets you in the aloha mood as you stroll around the well manicured grounds filled with plumeria, hibiscus, orchids, giant ferns, palms, waterfalls and koi.
The resort has two main towers for rooms, the grounds are lush and well maintained and the pools and built in spas fill up the center of the resort.
The best thing, and I mean the BEST thing about this place was the lazy river water feature. After a morning adventure, we would spend several hours each afternoon floating around and playing in it with the tubes provided. There are plenty of lifeguards too, one around every bend so you don’t need to worry about the kids at every moment, we liked that a lot.
There is also a play structure for little kids (the 2 to 6 crowd) with splashing water and bridges to climb (below left) and next to it a salt water pond (below right) where any kid young or old can snorkel with a huge variety of colorful tropical fish.
Grab snacks or drinks at the little shack next to the pool, they serve shave ice and sweets too.
Aulani does have a more grown-up side to their pool area which is where we spent most of our time (next to the lounge area and bar, oh yeah). I absolutely LOVED this mango wood countertop, so gorgeous in person with the random curved and polished edges.
We booked a standard garden view room with two queen beds, but were upgraded to a partial ocean view on arrival for free (nice!) and it was very comfortable. There are also the fancier one and two bedroom vacation villas with kitchens, here’s what they look like (I popped into the “open house” for their vacation rentals) which take up much of the resort.
Aunty’s Beach House is complimentary (I repeat COMPLIMENTARY) child care program with a lot of daily activities for the keikis (kids) so adults can have some time to themselves while the kids are entertained. Did I mention it was complimentary? This alone is worth the price of admission for a lot of parents (we only used it twice, but it was nice to have it.)
The kid security is top notch, you need to fill out registration forms and have secret passwords and the kids wear special bracelets, all of it to ensure they are released only to the authorized adults – we liked the peace of mind from that. And they make every person who enters wash their hands, both grown ups and kids, a smart thing with so many
germs *ahem* little ones coming into the child care playhouse.
There’s a lot to do in here, from dress up to art, to outdoor play. They also have video games and movies and special activities you can schedule your kids for throughout the day.
A tip for parents: book kid reservations at Aunty’s first thing in the morning! The line starts forming at 8:00 a.m. for check in and activities, but if you get there just before it opens, you’ll get through the process quickly. The hotel provides a list of all the activities the day before so you have time to plan ahead.
We ate at the ocean front ‘Ama’Ama cafe twice for breakfast, and also once for lunch when we arrived (see my notes below on saving money).
I was crushing on these coral and botanical motif chairs in the waiting area – love the duo of fabrics used on these cushions!
A few times a day you can pose with various Disney characters around the hotel if you want to snap a picture. Also there are several shows during the week, from luaus to movie nights – they do a great job of having a lot of activities available throughout the day.
Five Tips for Saving Money:
1) Look for deals on Expedia or other similar travel sites before you book with the resort. We ended up saving over $50 a night by booking through Expedia, and still got a free room upgrade, but the hotel sometimes has package and specials so do some research before you make a reservation.
2) Eat “off campus” as much as possible. We spent mornings and lunchtime away from the hotel which saved us a few bucks but eating at cheaper places recommended by locals. There are only a few restaurant options at Aulani and their food is not cheap – they are resort prices.
3) Shop for a few groceries before you arrive. Each room has a refrigerator and you can shop at the Safeway down the road for food and snacks (and booze) and store it in your room. There is an ABC store across the street which sells sandwiches and other simple groceries too.
4) If eating at the hotel, skip the super expensive buffet restaurant and order a la cart at the ‘AMA’AMA restaurant for breakfast or lunch. Dinner is expensive, but we found breakfast wasn’t too bad and they had really delicious local fruit and strong coffee (all I need!)
5) Don’t bring a car if you can manage it. This is something we just couldn’t do since we are adventurous and needed a rental car to explore the island of Oahu. The reason to consider not bringing one is the *gasp* $35 parking fee each day, and really our one big complaint about the hotel. They do offer Alamo rental car services (Hertz next door at the JW Marriott) if you want to get out for a day, but we went traveling somewhere on the island each morning so we ended up paying that parking fee (kind of annoying it was so high).
The resort was expensive, we paid several hundred dollars a night for a basic room even after we booked through Expedia, but it was worth the splurge given the amenities and location. We’ve stayed in a lot of places in Hawaii over the years, even next door at the Marriott many years ago, and Matt and I both agree that we would absolutely return to Aulani. Two thumbs up!
Let us know if you visit sometime in the future, we’d love to hear your thoughts too.