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Considering a Hawaiian Disney vacation at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa? This luxury resort on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu has plenty to offer families with kids of any age, but it is an especially ideal destination with younger kids. Get insider tips for experiencing the best of the Disney magic and Aloha spirit at Aulani with toddlers and preschoolers.
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Many families take their toddlers and preschoolers to Walt Disney World and Disneyland every year. But not as many consider a Disney vacation in Hawaii at Aulani. After all, it is a longer trip for many traveling families. It can also be a bit pricier than the theme parks, especially after adding airfare to the equation.
Disney’s Aulani, however, is truly made for young kids. Our family has found it well worth the trip – twice so far – for our little ones (currently ages 4 and 8).
What makes Aulani work so well with toddlers and preschoolers?
Kid-friendly activities, included childcare, everyone’s favorite characters, amazing beaches, and a bunch of pretty cool pools and water play areas, to name a few. Because the resort has a smaller footprint than a large theme park, it is all the Disney fun without the walking or even the need for a stroller, making it much more manageable with young kids.
If you are considering a family vacation to Aulani, here is everything you need to know to make the most of a trip with toddlers and preschoolers.
Aulani with Toddlers: Trip Planning and Preparation
A successful family vacation anywhere requires planning and preparation, especially with toddler travel companions. Before taking a trip to Aulani with young kids, here are the top things to keep in mind.
Flying to Aulani
Hawaii is a long trip for many American families, so a big part of the trip preparation for an Aulani vacation is simply planning for the “getting there.” For West Coasters like me, the flight is under five hours long and not too challenging, especially in winter months when the time difference is only two hours.
If you are planning a trip with little ones from a longer distance, the flight and the resulting jet lag is a bigger deal.
For the flight, pack plenty of snacks as well as entertainment and toys to keep your child busy and happy. Even if your child is still under age 2 and can fly as a lap child, consider buying a seat instead for such a long distance. Try also to book flights that depart and arrive at times when your child is likely to be at his or her best (attempt 6:00 a.m. departures and redeyes at your own risk). And be prepared for having early bedtimes the first few nights after arrival as your kids adjust to the time change.
Choosing a Room at Aulani
Another trip planning decision is choosing the right room. Aulani has a wide variety of room types to meet the particular needs of families with kids of all ages as well as a variety of budgets. These include regular hotel rooms as well as studios, one- and two-bedroom villas. Some of these room options are Disney Vacation Club units, but you can often rent them even if you aren’t a DVC member. Traveling Mom recommends David’s Vacation Club for DVC rentals.
My family has stayed in both a studio and a one bedroom villa. Both work very well with younger kids because the addition of a kitchenette or kitchen makes it easy to prepare snacks and even light meals for kids on the go. The studio is probably best for families of three since it is a tad tight on space and only has a kitchenette.
The one bedroom villa has a full kitchen, in-unit washer and dryer and is very spacious (but obviously more expensive). We found it ideal for families of four or five people. The one bedroom villa even features a single Murphy bed perfect for a toddler sleeping place. There is also a Pack N Play in every room for younger toddlers not yet ready for a bed.
Best Activities at Aulani with Toddlers and Preschoolers
Once the planning is done and the vacation begins, families with young kids will find that age-appropriate activities abound at Aulani. Take advantage of the pools, beaches, and the many free activities at Aulani. Naturally, a few Aulani splurges may make sense as well, as some are ideal fits for toddlers and preschoolers.
A few top can’t miss activities at Aulani for the younger set include:
Aulani’s splash pad area is the place to be with toddlers and preschoolers. Jets and spouts of various shapes and sizes squirt water, providing plenty of chances for kids to get wet without parents having to stress as much about safety and life jackets.
Have more adventurous tykes? They may want to graduate to the larger, but relatively still tame, thrills of Menehune Bridge. Menehune Bridge is a water playground with bigger jets and even a few small water slides. My daughter adored it when she first visited Aulani as a 3.5-year-old. My son, who was 4 on our more recent trip, wasn’t quite ready. Menehune Bridge is restricted to kids under 48 inches tall, so there is no worry about tweens and teens knocking over little ones as they play.
Character Meet and Greets
Most young kids want nothing more than the chance to meet Mickey, Stitch, and even Moana on their Aulani vacation. Aulani has plenty of character meet and greet opportunities. Check the Daily I’wa, Aulani’s daily activity guide, for times and characters. Often, Photopass photographers are present at these meet and greets to capture the whole family together.
KA WA’A Luau
While undoubtedly a major Aulani splurge, the new KA W’AA luau is pretty much a can’t-miss with young children. With a dedicated kids buffet line and a captivating show featuring hula, fire dancers, and amazing music, it is an activity the entire family will enjoy. Best of all – kids under 3 are free! Just be aware that the show may run a bit past many toddler bedtimes, so plan to get in an afternoon nap so your little one can go the distance.
Where to Eat at Aulani with Toddlers and Preschoolers
All of the restaurants at Aulani are kid-friendly, so you can take your toddler or preschooler to any of them without fear. Some undoubtedly will interest the younger kid set a bit more and be a better fit for your vacation.
One that is a can’t-miss with young kids is a character meal at Makahiki. At breakfast (offered daily), kids can meet with Mickey and then dine on a buffet of Disney breakfast classics like Mickey waffles. Aulani now also offers a dinner character meal approximately three nights a week with an extensive seafood buffet. The breakfast is probably the better fit for younger kids, but the dinner is a bit more mellow, so consider your child’s preference for action in making your choice.
For busy toddlers who can’t sit still for a lengthier meal, Aulani’s quick service restaurant, Ulu Cafe is a smart choice. The restaurant has kid favorites like chicken strips and pizza as well as more exotic choices for parents like the very popular poke bowl for lunch. There isn’t a ton of seating, but you can always eat the meal poolside.
Pāpālua Shave Ice
If your kids get hungry mid-day, Pāpālua Shave Ice is the best place to grab a snack with little ones. Aulani cast members make shave ice into the shape of Mickey ears there! And at just $4-5, it’s a cheap treat that you can share with your kids.
Finally, don’t overlook the off-property dining options within walking distance of Aulani. Just across the street is a shopping center with several restaurant choices. Pizza Corner and Just Tacos serve kid-friendly options you can grab quickly. Our family’s favorite Monkeypod offered local favorites in a seated dining atmosphere that is casual and family-friendly.
Childcare at Aulani
While Aulani is all about family togetherness, sometimes it is nice for parents to get a break from the kids. Aulani has included childcare for potty-trained children ages 3-12 at Aunty’s Beach House.
Aunty’s is truly a kids dream come true, with separate rooms and play spaces for dress up, art projects, Disney movie watching, and more. There are even special programs (some free and some for an additional fee) where kids can make Stitch’s Space Goo, learn about ocean life, or try to hula for the first time.
For guests with kids not told enough for Aunty’s, Aulani does not have group childcare for children under the age of 3 like Disney Cruise Line does for younger toddlers. Luckily, Aulani’s concierge works closely with a recommended childcare service to provide in-room babysitting at an additional fee.
And younger kids can still experience some time at Aunty’s too. Every morning for about an hour, Aunty’s opens early for an open house where kids of any age can visit with parents accompanying them.
Final Secrets & Tips for Aulani with Toddlers and Preschoolers
Ready to pack your bags for Aulani with your kids? Here are a few final parting tips for travelers with toddlers and preschoolers:
- Leave the lifejackets at home. Aulani has free life vests of all sizes to borrow, so no need to pack your child’s water wings unless you really think they rely on a familiar device.
- No need to pack or buy sand toys. Similarly, there’s no need to waste luggage space on sand toys. The beach rentals hut, Makiki Joe’s, loans them for free to Aulani guests.
- Make dining reservations. The nicer restaurants at Aulani, particularly the character meals, are very popular. Make reservations well in advance of your trip to get a day and time that works for your family’s plans.
- Pre-register kids for Aunty’s. If you have kids of the right age for Aunty’s Beach House, you must pre-register them before your trip. Do this early as you can also make a reservation for a few of the free programs at the same time, securing your child a spot on the off-chance the facility reaches capacity.