As soon as we heard about the Disney Aulani resort back in 2011, we knew it was something we wanted to add to our travel bucket list. I’m happy to say we finally made the trip a reality. We did have to wait until most of the kids were off to college before it became a reality though, it’s not a cheap vacation destination. I’m sharing all the wonderful (and less wonderful) things we found about staying at the Aulani resort in Ko Olina on the island of Oahu. Like most of our vacation destinations we saved money where we could before we left so we didn’t have to worry about scrimping while we were there.
Disney knows how to do grand entrances and the entrance at Aulani was beautiful. We were greeted with Kukui nut necklaces for the guys and a Hawaiian Lei for myself.
The grounds at Aulani are gorgeous. Sometimes the resort hotels in Hawaii are so massive it’s impossible to remember your way around the resort. I love the fact that Aulani was big, yet because of the way the hotel is situated it didn’t feel overwhelmingly large.
There are plenty of pools at the Aulani resort. You will find something for every age level. I should mention that all of the pools at the resort are fairly shallow, so if you are looking for a deep pool, you aren’t going to find one here.
Look how gorgeous this Ka Maka Grotto pool is with the infinity edge. I woke up before the pools opened to snap some of these photos if you are wondering where all the people are they are still in bed. It was very peaceful!
Here is a peek at the same pool during the middle of the day. We visited Aulani during spring break and the hotel was at capacity but I never felt like the pools were too crowded.
There are a couple of hot tubs on property too. The hot tubs fill up fairly quickly and usually with lots of kids.
Probably the coolest feature was the lazy river called the Waikolohe Stream. This stream was a maybe a little too lazy, the water was VERY slow moving.
There was never a shortage of inner tubes, we were always able to fine one, even if we went down to the pool in the middle of the day. They have single and double inner tubes so you can float with a friend or child if you want.
My youngest pretty much spent the majority of his pool time in the lazy river. It was his favorite thing about the resort.
The lazy river isn’t all lazy though, there are a few areas that will wake you up! You go through a cave area with some waterfalls and there is another area with squirting water. It’s all fun though! You can manage to get through these areas without getting wet if you want, but what’s the fun in that?
The water slide was another favorite activity of my son. Aulani has two waterslides, one requires an inner tube and one does not. Almost everyone that came out of the waterslide exclaimed “that was so much fun”. Kids and adults will love it! You can use the double inner tube in the waterslide so if you have a little one, they can ride with you. The line for the waterslides did get long at times, it’s best to hit the waterslide right when they open.
There are several great play areas for the toddlers and younger kids. In addition to the Menehune Bridge play area there is also a small splash pad for really little ones.
There are a couple of 18+ pools at Aulani, but they weren’t really used much while I was there. I assume most people come with their kids. This photo was taken in the middle of the day, there were a couple of people lounging near the pool but nobody was swimming.
The biggest downfall of the pool area is that it closes at 8 pm. We have visited a couple of other resorts in Hawaii and their pools closed at 11 pm or they were even open 24 hours. The fact that the pools closed so early were a major bummer for our family. The lazy river closed even earlier.
Keep in mind that the lounge chairs near the pool fill up fast! You aren’t allowed to save your lounge chairs before the pool opens. Most people lay their towels on the chairs and go enjoy the pools. We didn’t have any problems finding lounge chairs for all four of us, but it took some hunting.
Aulani has a great lagoon area where you can swim or soak up the sun. Here is a peek at the view from my lounge chair near the pool area. Not a bad view, right?
The beach area is great for little ones because it’s in a lagoon that doesn’t have massive waves coming in. The lagoon was not a big selling point for my teens or husband who like to snorkel in the ocean.
If you have trouble finding a lounge chair near the pool, come down to the beach because there are plenty of open lounge chairs.
Here is the cool part, Aulani guests can check out beach chairs, umbrellas, Boogie boards, sand toys and life jackets all for FREE! There are other items that require a fee like snorkel sets and stand-up paddle boards but it’s possible to head to Aulani and not have to spend any extra money (well, you have to eat, but you get my point).
Another fun feature at the Aulani resort is the Rainbow Reef where you can snorkel without worrying about waves. This activity is not included with your stay it is an extra cost. When we visited it was $25 per person for one day or $45 for your entire stay.
There is a spa on site called Lanawai and I have heard amazing things about the spa, however I could not get past the fact that the spa treatments came with some very hefty price tags. Well, that and the fact that I am not really a spa kind of person. I don’t get mani/pedi’s and I can’t stand to have a massage (I tense up and it makes it more stressful than relaxing). If a day at the spa is your kind of thing, I think you will love a trip to Aulani’s spa, just make sure you save your pennies before your visit.
No Disney vacation is complete without Mickey shaped treats! There is a stand that serves shave ice and for an extra $1 your can have your shave ice Mickey shaped. My son and I shared this one. While the treat is fun, if I was only going to have one shave ice on this trip I’d make sure I went to a place that specialized in shave ice like Matsumoto Shave Ice on the North Shore.
Another fun feature of the resort are these refillable mugs. You pay $19.95 for the mug and you can refill it as often as you want during your entire stay. Refills include non-alcoholic beverages, available at the following refillable mug stations:
- Ulu Cafe (fountain beverages, coffee, tea and cocoa from 6:30 AM to 8:30 PM)
- Lava Shack (fountain beverages from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM)
- One Paddle Two Paddle (fountain beverages from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM)
We preferred to use the Ulu Cafe because it was close to the pool and it had the best hours. They also happen to sell Dole Whip at the Ulu Cafe, so that’s another bonus!
We didn’t have kids young enough, but one of the neat benefits of staying at Aulani is Aunty’s Beach House where there are supervised activities for guests ages 3 to 12. This is a complimentary service, which is huge perk! There are select experiences that are available at a fee. You can pre-register your children to save some time. If you want to spend a couple hours at the pool with your spouse you can drop your kids off for some fun activities, and did I mention it’s free? I can’t get over that it’s free, Disney is known for charging for everything. I really love the fact that you can visit Aulani and not pay extra for any activities if you choose.
There are some character meet and greets. We saw Stitch, Moana, Mickey and Donald. They do offer the PhotoPass service at the resort, but they are more than happy to take pictures with your own camera too.
Aulani does a great job of hosting fun family activities throughout the day (some are free, some require a fee). I recommend swinging by the front desk every morning to pick up The Daily ‘IWA which explains all the activities and has a schedule on the backside. You find fitness classes, storytelling, crafts and more. You can also find the daily activities online too.
We ended up staying in a one-bedroom villa, which is not what we originally booked but I am so glad we upgraded. I booked a room through Priceline for 3 adults and 1 child and I got a pretty great rate. For some reason when I book through Priceline it seems that when they send the information over to Disney they state that we only have 2 adults in the room (even though my confirmation email said 3). This happened with a Disney World vacation too. So, Aulani had us in a room with a King size bed and a pull out sofa, which only slept 3. We had 4 people so we had to upgrade to a room with 2 queen beds or a villa. We sprang for the villa because they offered us a fair rate for the upgrade.
Our final rate for the villa was lower than their published rate, so I was happy with that, but at little bummed that we had to pay an extra fee that we hadn’t planned on. Unless I only have 2 people in my party I think I may stop using Priceline, since this isn’t the first time it has happened to me.
I loved the fact that the villa came with a complete kitchen so we could save a little by eating in our room instead of having to go to a restaurant for every meal. It also had a washer and dryer, which made it nice to do a couple loads of laundry so I didn’t have to to it all when we got home.
Here is the entertainment center in the living area.
The entertainment center doubles as a place for a child to sleep with a twin size bed. My son thought it was pretty cool.
There was a king size bed in the bedroom. The decor and theming of the room was perfect. I loved it!
Desk, dresser and TV in the bedroom.
Here is a view of the bath and the bedroom. There was a separate tub and shower.
The shower was large and very nice, it’s way nicer than the shower I have at home.
There are subtle Disney touches throughout the room that I just loved.
The decor was very tastefully done. Do you see the hidden Mickey’s?
When the lamp was on, it revealed a surfing Mickey. So cute!
Here is a peek at our patio. We did spring for a villa, however we did not pay more for a view of the ocean. If you have a stay planned at Aulani and you can afford the villa, I say go for it, you won’t be disappointed. There are some ways you can rent a villa for less, using DVC Rentals from David is one of the ways to save. They occasionally offer a discount on a stay if you agree to listen to a presentation on the Disney Vacation Club.
There are plenty of restaurants on property, including two table service restaurants. There are even some character meals. You will need to make advance reservations for these two restaurants.
Even better there is a shopping area right across the street from Aulani resort (easy walking distance) that has a small grocery store, some shops and several great restaurants. Here are the restaurants we ate at during our stay at Disney’s Aulani. We loved them all and I highly recommend any of these!
Eggs & Things – Great for breakfast! Their pancakes were amazing and even better when they were topped with fresh fruit. We ate here twice. (The photo above is from our breakfast at Eggs & Things. Seriously…so good)
Monkeypod Kitchen The food here was delicious, the atmosphere was cool, and our server was friendly. Overall a really great dining experience.
Pizza Corner – The food was great and the service was probably some of the best we have ever experienced. The owner came by our table and chatted with us for awhile, he was generous and kind. They also offer free delivery.
Lastly, what is a Disney trip without a little souvenir shopping. There are two shops at the resort and they stay open way later than the pools. Here is a peek at some of the Disney Aulani themed merchandise we spotted.
The final verdict about our stay at Aulani is that we enjoyed our stay, but we don’t have plans to visit again in the future and here are the main reasons why:
- The beach area was nice, but we prefer to be directly on the ocean where we can go snorkeling or boogie boarding. This beach was a little too calm for the ages of our children (and my husband).
- The pool hours are lame. We love to swim in the pool or sit in the hot tub at the end of the day and the early closure of 8 pm was a major downer.
- Oahu is our least favorite island. We much prefer visiting Maui or Kauai. If Aulani was on a different island and the pool hours were better we’d probably consider another visit.
- The price is expensive. While most resorts in Hawaii aren’t cheap, there are others we prefer that are less expensive than Aulani.
So, while we don’t plan on visiting again I think it’s still a good choice for a vacation destination, especially if you have younger kids. If you happen to be on Oahu for a week, I would split up the visit with a stay at Aulani and another destination like the North Shore (it’s gorgeous over there) or maybe Waikiki where everything is a convenient walking distance. I am glad we were able to check the Aulani resort off our bucket list and now we look forward to checking another Disney adventure off our list (Hello Disneyland Tokyo)!
If you have plans for a different type of Disney vacation, we’ve got you covered, I have posts on Disneyland, Disney World and even Disneyland Paris.
- Check out our Ultimate Guide to Disneyland Snacks
- Food recommendations and guide for the Get Your Ears on Celebration
- Your complete guide to Pixar Pier
- I share honest reviews of all the hotels we’ve used near Disneyland
- 10 of the BEST places to eat breakfast at Disneyland
- 10 of the BEST places to each lunch at Disneyland
- Great tips that will help you to do Disneyland (and California Adventure) in a day.
- Another great way to save on Disneyland package deals is through Costco Travel
- See our review of the Caribbean Beach Resort at Disney World
- Find out how you can save big of official Disney Parks souvenirs
- Check out the highlights from our trip to Disneyland Paris