When we decided to take a multi-generational family vacation this year, we searched for a destination that would work for the entire family, from an 83 year “young” great-grandmother to active eight and ten-year olds. Our family loves Disney, warm destinations, and the beach. Our week stay at Disney’s Aulani was the perfect choice.
A Hawaiian vacation had always been my mother-in-law’s dream, but unforeseeable factors kept her from making that dream a reality.
Knowing she wasn’t getting any younger, my hubby, children and their spouses put our heads together and came up with options. Our unanimous decision was Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa in Oahu, Hawaii. Grandma’s wish came true-with a little added Disney magic.
The resort is located 17 miles from Honolulu, on Oahu’s western shore, along the beautiful coastline of Ko Olina. Though shuttle service is available from the airport, we rented vehicles, giving us freedom to explore the island.
Three A-frame thatch huts with a pair of towers resembling an ancient canoe rising majestically from the landscape served as a beacon guiding us to the resort from the highway. Greeted with a warm “aloha” on arrival, ladies were presented with beautiful flower leis, and guys with the kukui nut version.
Villas and Views
The resort’s stunning interior design features high ceilings, lustrous wood, and an impressive 200-foot long lobby mural, a tribute to Hawaiian history and culture.
We booked an 1100 square foot, 2 bedroom, 2 ½ bath ocean view villa that can sleep up to 9, and a deluxe, garden view 356 sq. foot studio villa that sleeps 4. And Disney did a great job getting the villas as close to each other as possible.
Our two bedroom villa included two private lanais (balconies), separate living room, fully furnished kitchen, washer/dryer, three flat-screen TVs with Blue-Ray Disc/DVD player- all the conveniences of a home away from home.
Stepping out on the balcony of our villa, we couldn’t have been more excited about the panoramic views-ocean to the left, pools straight ahead, and the main Aulani building with mountains behind it.
Culture of Aulani
Walt Disney Imagineers worked hand in hand with local Hawaiian artisans to create the Aulani, which means “messenger of the chief”. Inspired by the natural wonders and rich traditions of Hawaii, the Aulani resort truly celebrates the beauty, history and welcoming nature of the island.
In the spirit of Hawaiian culture, Aulani offers hula and ukulele lessons, lei making, art and nature tours.
An interactive treasure hunt, fun for the entire family, consists of electronic videos and interactive clues while walking along the Menehune Adventure Trail. When clues are answered correctly, scenery comes to life in a magical way!
Along the trail, kids searched for statues of the Menehune—the legendary “little people” of Hawaii, known for their mischief and magical powers.
Just for Kids
Aunty’s Beach House, a 5,200 sq. ft. clubhouse for kids ages 3 to 12, was designed for children to explore Hawaiian culture through music, art, and storytelling in a supervised, playful setting. Aunty, a lifelong resident of the island, lovingly shares her Hawaiian traditions and spirit of aloha with the keiki (children).
Pools and Water Fun
The resort sits on 21 oceanfront acres, nestled between the stunningly green Waianae Mountains and the crystalline, azure waters of the Pacific.
Water fun is premier, as the resort has three pools, two waterslides and four whirlpool spas. Our favorite- the infinity edge pool overlooks Ko Olina Beach. There is a separate adults-only pool, though; it was virtually empty on our visit.
The water slides traverse guests down an active man-made volcano at breakneck speeds. The body slide’s twisting plunge is in total darkness and the tubing slide is a blast. Smaller kids love the interactive splash and play zone and climbing structure known as The Menehune Bridge.
One of the most popular water activities involves floating, tubing, and relaxing in the Waikolohe Stream Lazy River, which means “mischievous water” in the Hawaiian language. A perfect name, as the grandkids lured the adults into caverns with waterfalls from above, guaranteed to bring laughter and squeals of delight.
Rainbow Reef, a 3800 square foot, private snorkeling saltwater lagoon, is perfect for beginning snorkelers to get up close with thousands of tropical fish. Snorkelers can be photographed from both a viewing window and observation deck. If you didn’t bring them, fins and masks are available for rent.
Another fabulous water feature of the resort happens to be the ocean and the incredibly picturesque, white sandy beach of Ko Olina. Boogie boards, beach umbrellas, chairs, and sand toys are complimentary for Aulani guests.
Thanks to calm, protected waters of the cove, our grandchildren tried stand up paddle boarding for the first time, and loved kayaking with the adults.
A Disney Aulani photographer captured our family photos at sunset on the beach. With so many fantastic pictures, it would be difficult to choose. Thankfully, we didn’t have to. The session price included all photos on the disc.
All activities at the resort are included in a fun, informative newsletter called the “Daily Iwa”. Here are a few we found uniquely Aulani:
The Mo‘olelo Fire Pit Storytelling features “Uncle,” a native Hawaiian who enchants families with island lore and legend. Seated around an outdoor fire pit overlooking the beach with his Disney guests, “Uncle” weaves music, puppetry, and magical effects into his tales, leaving his avid listeners spellbound.
The Starlit Hui, an evening celebration of Hawaiian traditions is held under the starlit sky. Island-inspired music, hula performers, unique storytelling, and a surprise visit by Disney characters, was memorable.
Dining at Aulani
One great benefit of a villa is having a full kitchen, so that some meals and snacks can be eaten in the room. With one single trip to Costco, we were set for our week’s stay. And Aulani does have a limited selection of grocery items available for purchase.
Dining at the resort varies from grab and go selections, quick service options to full-service dining at Ama Ama, the oceanfront restaurant. Poolside dining at Ulu Café offers breakfast, lunch and dinner service. And I’m certain we kept Papalua Shave Ice in business, staying cool and refreshed poolside while sampling their many delicious combination of shaved ice.
We love booking Disney character breakfasts, and Aulani’s happens to be delightful. Overlooking the koi ponds and pools, Makahiki is a casual family restaurant with island-inspired touches. Our sumptuous breakfast buffet was highlighted by Disney characters in Hawaiian attire, and a fun ukulele performance by Aunty.
Though there’s so much to do at the resort, and it’s almost impossible to do it all in a week’s stay. Aulani’s concierge will gladly set up excursions for families wanting to explore more aspects of the island, like sailing, horseback riding, hiking or visiting its rich military historical sites. Round trip shuttle service can also be arranged between Aulani and Waikiki.
At the end our incredible stay, which like other Disney vacations, went by all too quickly, we knew we’d hit a home run when both the kids and adults asked “Do we really have to go home?”