Disney has built a truly magical resort in Hawaii that captures the essence of Hawaiian culture while still providing the outstanding service fans come to expect.
Aloha! I recently returned from a fantastic journey to the island of Oahu, Hawaii. During my trip to a tropical paradise, I was lucky enough to spend three magical days at Aulani – A Disney Resort and Spa. Along the way, I experienced every inch of the resort from the beach to the bathroom bringing back a photo report from this most exotic of Disney locales. Don’t be surprised if we embody the spirit of Aulani and their signature bar the ‘Olelo Room and teach you a little Hawaiian along the way.
Enjoy the report or, as they say in Hawaiian, walea ka palapala ho’ike.
Aulani Arrival and Lobby
Upon arriving at the resort, attentive service is non-stop. After stepping onto the Aulani property, a Disney Cast Member guides guests to a station to receive fantastic lime, lemon, pineapple water, and a necklace. The men receive a kukui nut necklace, women receive a lei, and children get a Menehune necklace. (More on the Menehune later.)
Guests are then escorted to the front desk to check-in or get room keys if already checked in online with Disney’s handy service.
Driving up to Aulani, guests find a self-park area. For hotel guests, the charge to self-park is $35, but for Disney Vacation Club members it is free. Valet is available for $35 dollars for DVC members and hotel guests. Those only wanting to check out Aulani can receive complimentary valet parking upon spending $35 or more on property. (Keep the receipt.)
Pre-Room Disney Magic and the Luana Lounge
We had been staying in Waikiki before coming to the Aulani and wanted to spend as much time at the resort as possible. Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived around 9:30 am. But in true Disney style, Aulani provides a service that no other Hawaiian resort can offer.
Disney provides a lounge with men’s and women’s locker rooms, free lockers, sitting areas, and computers to print your boarding passes. So while waiting for a room to be ready, guests can just visit the locker rooms, pick out an empty locker and then head to the pool. It’s part of the Aulani spirit in which guests are ‘ohana, which means family.
Those looking to relax will find a TV on either side of the lounge.
This is also where guests return at the end of a trip to print boarding passes.
Related: Aulani Updates Face Mask Policy and Adds Guest Experiences
Pool Time is Good Time
In the center of Aulani lies an impressive pool area encompassing amazing attention to detail, two water slides, and several fantastic pools. A trip to this Waikolohe Valley is something not to be missed. Themed after Oahu’s vast landscape, the Waikolohe Valley is dense and wet in the center with sandy palms on the edges.
Menehune Bridge is a fun play area reserved for those 48″ inches and shorter that revolves around the story of the Menehune. (Still more on that below…)
Waikolohe Stream is the resort’s slow-moving lazy river that flows underneath three bridges, under waterfalls, and through a cave. There are clever references to spot, like the “date” one of the bridges was built, 1923 – the year Walt Disney moved to Hollywood.
Related: New Aulani Resort Collection arrives at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa
The fan-favorites at the pool are two water slides. Tubestone Curl leads into Waikolohe Stream and is a high-speed tube ride that’s fun for the entire family.
Volcanic Vertical is in all indoor waterslide that shoots down a dark tube faster than you can say humuhumunukunukuapuaa. (The Hawaiian state fish.)
Waikolohe Pool is Aulani’s main shallow pool, surrounded by chairs and home to pool parties during the day.
Disney also provides a saltwater snorkeling experience for their guests in a pool called Rainbow Reef, filled with beautiful fish. Access to this pool does have an extra charge, $20 for adults and $15 for children for one day or a length-of-stay pass, $39 for adults, and $29 for children.
The final pool is a two-tiered infinity pool looking out to the ocean and lagoon.
There are also four inviting, but hidden and secluded, whirlpool spas located throughout the resort.
So about these “Menehune”?
The Menehune are magical creatures that explore Aulani. They travel using the arch seen in the Aulani logo, to and from the magical Waikolohe Valley. The Menehune are the little people of Hawaii who watch over the Aulani and keep the area safe.
The complete tale of the Menehune is best told by legendary Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde, the man behind Aulani.
(For the full story about Aulani’s history, check out this article about the long process that it took to create the resort, including searching for a piece of land, consulting locals, and finally Imagineering the final resort.)
The Menehune adventure game at Aulani is an experience similar to the Agent P World Showcase Adventure and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. In the game, “Aunty” needs help with tasks and phone calls at the general store that she runs. Some tasks include lighting up a volcano, fixing the Menehune’s canoe, or simply getting the mail.
Activities and Daily Iwa
In the center of all of Aulani’s activity is the Pau Hana Community Hall. Here guests can pick up a Menehune Adventure Trail device, take part in a craft activity, or watch a movie. Also available are rentals of almost any Disney movie for $3 for hotel guests or free for Disney Vacation Club members.
Aulani publishes a daily “Iwa,” or schedule of events, for anything happening around the resort.
Activities provided at the resort are free of charge unless otherwise noted, and are available for the entire ‘ohana, Keiki (or children), and ‘opio (or youth.)
During the day there are fun events like the Shake-A-Shaka Pool Party featuring Mickey, Goofy, and Minnie. At night there is storytelling with Uncle, the handyman of the resort. He brings out his ‘ukelele plays some songs while telling authentic Hawaiian stories around a huge fire pit.
Keiki activities are centered around Aunty’s Beach House, a complimentary child care center that goes above and beyond.
During a morning open house tour, we saw some of the most unique features like a movie room where Cast Members tell the children they can only watch a movie when it is raining. Then, courtesy of Disney magic, it starts to “rain” outside. Throughout the day, they have activities like Kings and Queens of Comedy where the Cast Members teach the kids stand-up comedy using costumes available in Aunty’s Beach House.
The ‘Opio activities revolve around the beach and Painted Sky the teen spa. Throughout the day there are activities allowing for teens to meet other teens at the resort, including a house party, sandcastle building class, free workout sessions with a personal trainer, ‘ukelele lessons, and animation classes.
Laniwai, Painted Sky, and Mikimiki
Laniwai means “freshwater paradise” and that is certainly true for the spa at Aulani. Disney offers spa services on the property for the entire ‘ohana. Inside the award-winning spa guests will find 18,000 square feet of indoor space and a 5,000 square-foot outdoor space.
Spa patrons are encouraged to arrive or plan to stay an hour before or after their treatment to use the outdoor space called the Kula Wai Hydrotherapy Garden. It offers private vitality pools, co-ed mineral baths, 6 different rain showers, whirlpool jet spas, and the most relaxing time that guests will have on their entire trip.
The spa offers more than 150 different treatments in 15 rooms, including couples and family rooms.
The Painted Sky is a teens-only hangout with a frozen yogurt bar, lounge, computer stations, D.I.Y. mixology perfumes, body polishes, face masks, and teen-specific massages including facials, manicures, and pedicures.
Also, nearby Painted Sky and Laniwai are Mikimiki, the resort’s fitness center, beautifully designed, nicely air-conditioned, and filled with all the latest workout equipment. My favorite part of the room was the huge TV that took up an entire wall, showing surfers, sea turtles, and other Hawaii-specific footage.
Dining in Style
Disney went all out when creating the many unique Aulani dining opportunities, including a beachside location, walk-up dinner window, lunch poolside, multiple bars, a lounge, a buffet, and snack shack.
Aulani’s premiere dinner restaurant is ‘Ama ‘Ama, a beachside dinner spot. ‘Ama ‘Ama serves a unique blend of island favorites that rotate with the seasons. Dinner is centered around sustainable seafood, steak, duck, and pasta. For lunch, they serve hot and cold sandwiches, soup, salads, and pasta. For breakfast, there are omelets, waffles, pancakes, grains, and freshly-made bakery items.
Inside the restaurant, fantastic detail supports the story that the restaurant is Aunty and Uncle’s house that has expanded over the years. Each section can be easily dated back to a certain architectural era.
The perfect place to get a great buffet, Makahiki is a fantastic island restaurant with all of the classics plus Asian cuisine. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this restaurant has a huge buffet for breakfast and dinner plus a menu.
In the morning, Makahiki is home to the character breakfast led by Aunty. The rousing celebration wishes a good morning, saying Aloha kakahiaka. In the character breakfast, guests can meet Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy.
The atmosphere is fun and lively as guests are surrounded by Hawaiian art and large windows looking out to the Waikolohe Valley.
My personal favorite meal was a collection of every appetizer on the menu at the ‘Olelo Room. Here we dined on:
Sweet potato tater tots, three different types of sliders, Hawaiian nachos, and so much more.
The ‘Olelo Room’ is actually the reason for the use of so many Hawaiian words throughout this article. The theme of the lounge is to teach their patrons a little Hawaiian. Lining the walls are more than 150 shadow boxes with an icon and the Hawaiian word for them below. Those sitting at the bar are in for a treat as throughout the night words light up on the bar top giving a conversation starter. Every Cast Member that has worked at the ‘Olelo Room must speak Hawaiian.
One Paddle Two Paddle
This location offers quick, pick-up food for dinner or lunch. The quick-service restaurant is a great place to grab sandwiches, salads, burgers, or kid’s food.
The Lava Shack
Open most of the day serving wraps and salads, this convenience store type location is poolside and provides some great snacks. As the name implies, it is in the center of the volcano in the middle of Waikolohe Valley.
Mama’s Snack Stop
This recent addition to Aulani serves a fantastic variety of hot dogs, including all-beef, local red dogs, Portuguese sausage dogs, and Buffalo-ranch fried chicken tender dogs. We never had a chance to get lunch here, but boy did the food coming out look interesting.
Located beachside, this snack hut serves salads, wraps, and sushi. One specialty available here is alcohol. The alcohol itself isn’t special, but the fact that it is for sale here is. Disney is one of the only resorts in Hawaii to have purchased the beach in front of the resort. Because they own the beach they are allowed to serve alcohol on the beach and along the sand. This comes in handy when they hold huge parties like a New Year’s Eve bash and want to have a bar.
Papalua Shave Ice
This spot serves shaved ice in a variety of flavors including coconut, pineapple, strawberry, and pineapple.
- I highly suggest eating at the ‘Olelo Room for dinner and order appetizers to share. They were fantastic.
- Another great dinner choice is going to One Paddle Two Paddle to buy food and take it back to your room.
- Purchase the refillable drink cup at the beginning of your stay if you plan on drinking soda at all during your trip.
Disney has done a fantastic job creating resort exclusive merchandise for Aulani. You can find everything from Nike tennis hats to pins at the resort. Make sure you are ready to come home with lots of Aulani items. Here’s what came home with me:
The Fab Five in Hawaii?
Part of the goal in building Aulani was to minimize the classic Disney branding and influence throughout the resort. Even in its official hotel name, Disney chose to share their own credentials last: Aulani – A Disney Resort and Spa. In the same way, Disney characters are kept in specific locations and only come out throughout the day to greet guests. Only Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Stitch are at the resort because they are “on vacation” in Hawaii.
True Hawaiian Roots
One of the best parts about Aulani is the feeling when walking around its grounds. It is a cross between tropical, Adventureland, and true Hawaii. The goal that Disney had when they first set out to create the resort was to tell that true story of Hawaii.
Aulani has definitely achieved that goal. Every inch of the resort was beautifully planned out, representing Hawaii down to the last nail.
For more from Aulani, I invite you to read my article on the History of the Aulani at DisneyDose.com.
Also, we previously recently interviewed Ricky Brigante, the wonderful host of Inside the Magic, so check that out too.
Thank you for celebrating with us or, as they say in Hawaiian, Mahalo nui loa na ho’olaule’a me la kaua.
Gavin Doyle is the Editor of DisneyDose.com, a Disney fan site specializing in providing unique opinions and coverage about every angle of the Disney universe.