Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa is a beachside resort destination located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, just over 20 miles west of Honolulu, with the international airport slightly closer. Aulani has been a bucket-list Disney destination for Attraction Source team member Chris to stay at, so in this article we’ll share an overview of the resort and thoughts on our stay.
In native Hawaiian, the word Aulani loosely means “the place that speaks for the great ones” or “with deep messages”. The resort was designed and constructed to celebrate the customs and traditions of Hawaiian culture, so Walt Disney Imagineering collaborated with native architects and experts to achieve this.
The resort opened in 2011 and features over 300 hotel rooms and more than 400 Disney Vacation Club villas over two 15-story towers, including 16 suites.
Disney theme parks, hotels and experiences are known to charge premium pricing these days, and combined with Hawaii being an expensive place to visit, Aulani is not a cheap vacation destination. Our room rate during July was $674 a night for a standard room, plus parking at $37 per day, plus tax. For this kind of money, we (quite reasonably) had high expectations of service – but were they met? Read on.
Our ‘Resort Room’ was finished to an extremely high standard, featuring Hawaiian-inspired décor and tasteful Disney touches, with amenities typical of a five-star hotel such as a king-sized bed, tub with rain shower, bath robes, fridge, Keurig coffee maker, safe, large 4K TV, and a private balcony. The media system features a Blu-ray player, select programs and movies from Disney+, along with a complete guide to the resort – complementing the mobile app which also provides this. The main door can also be opened via the app if you have a compatible mobile phone. The room was extremely functional, had lots of plug sockets, plenty of storage, along with one of the comfiest beds we have ever stayed in – perfect for rest after a day packed full of activities.
Stepping into the hotel for the first time and taking in that incredible view from the lobby is breath-taking, but also overwhelming at the same time – the resort is huge and there is a lot to do! Aulani really is an attraction in itself and can be enjoyed for a number of days without running out of things to do. The Daily ‘Iwa (or activity plan) is shown on screens around the communal areas, and lists character meet & greets and ‘premium experiences’ such as Wikiwiki Hairbrading and Rainbow Reef Fish Feeding.
The resort features three swimming pools, with one of them being an impressive infinity pool looking over the beach. There is also a splash zone and play structure for kids, and a brilliant lazy river which provides beautiful views of the grounds. From atop the Pu‘u Kilo volcano, guests can enjoy two enclosed slides – Volcanic Vertical, an extreme body slide that plunges them into Waikolohe Pool, and Tubestone Curl, a twisting and turning tube adventure that launches them into Waikolohe Stream, and can be ridden solo or with a partner. Rainbow Reef is a 3,800-square-foot salt water pool that contains thousands of tropical fish, and can be viewed through aquarium style windows or via snorkelling as part of an upcharge experience. The pool and slide areas are beautifully themed, feature gorgeous tropical planting, and do a great job of immersing you in the relaxing environment.
One of the highlights of Aulani is the stunning Ko Olina Beach. Perfectly white sand curves around a calm lagoon which is protected from large waves by a rock breakwater. Either side of the beach are grassy areas that guests can use to admire the Pacific Ocean and the beautiful Hawaiian sunsets. Beach chairs, umbrellas, boogie boards and sand toys can be rented free of charge. Cabanas, snorkel equipment and sports and play equipment come at an extra cost if required. Little ‘Opihi’s serves up salads, sandwiches, snacks, soft drinks, cocktails and Disney’s famous Dole Whip which was a necessary purchase during our visit!
Aulani also features a luxury spa, a salon, the Menehune Adventure Trail, golf at the nearby Ko Olina Golf Club and many other amenities that we cannot all cover. KA WA‘A is a traditional Lū‘au celebration and an upcharge event that takes guests on an enchanting journey through Hawaiian history, and costs $170 for adults, and $99 for children.
The hotel has two main restaurants, and various other bars, stands and kiosks for every occasion.
Located underneath the check in area at the centre of the hotel, Makahiki — The Bounty of the Islands is named after Makahiki season, the traditional Hawaiian celebration of the harvest. Here, the spirit of Makahiki is celebrated through delectable cuisine and local artwork. We dined here twice and enjoyed some of the highest quality food on the trip. Our breakfast included an excellent meet & greet opportunity with familiar Disney characters including Mickey, Minnie and Chip ‘n’ Dale who were all excited to see us during our visit, and cost $45 for a pre-set three course breakfast. The restaurant is stunningly beautiful and consists of large dining areas both inside and outdoors, with the latter diners able to enjoy pretty views of a selection of waterfalls that pour into a Koi pond. As twilight falls, the restaurant reopens for dinner, and guests can enjoy a pre-set three-course dinner for $68 per person, and similar to breakfast, the course options can be changed depending on your taste. We had a fantastic experience on both occasions dining at Makahiki, but our main criticism is that the hotel has an ‘all or nothing’ approach to the menus. You cannot simply pop in for an appetiser – you are only able to purchase the three-course menu, which is obviously not cheap or sustainable every day if you are trying to stick to a budget, or simply don’t have a large appetite.
At the time of our stay, the second main restaurant ‘AMA ‘AMA was closed for refurbishment. This beachside location will reopen later in the year and will offer contemporary island cooking, while diners can enjoy the gorgeous views of Ko Olina beach. Connected to ‘AMA ‘AMA is the Off the Hook lounge, a more casual location for a quick lunch or an evening bite.
Ulu Café offers self-serve items or cooked-to-order specialities that you can take away or enjoy on the covered patio with an ocean view. This is one of the best value dining options at the resort, and the products rotate daily to promote variety and encourage return visits.
Aulani also features various stands and kiosks around the resort, selling everything from cocktails, shaved ice and chicken tenders, to breaded shrimp, ice cream and coffee. If you fancy dining out of the resort, there’s a great restaurant called Monkeypod Kitchen in the collection of retail and dining options directly opposite the hotel, along with a Mexican restaurant called Mekiko Cantina, a Starbucks, Island Vintage Coffee and further local brands. If you are prepared to walk a little further, there’s the pricey Roy’s Ko Olina restaurant adjacent to the golf club.
Merchandise at Disney attractions has a bit of a cult following and can sell out quickly, and the products at Aulani are no exception as many of them are exclusive to the resort. There are two retail stores in the main hotel building.
The Hale Manu store offers higher end clothing, such as designer Hawaiian shirts by Honolulu based designer Tori Richards, plus a whole range of Aulani specific clothing, jewellery and other gifts.
The larger Kālepa’s Store offers more merchandise including clothing, pin badges, plush toys, sundries, groceries, and vacation essentials. Seasonal lines are also featured in the store, and at the time of writing, the beautiful Aulani Pride collection was on display.
The Lava Shack is conveniently located by the swimming pools and sells snacks, drinks, beach equipment, island apparel and swimwear.
Like with many Disney attractions now – it’s best to do your research, make reservations in advance, and don’t have an expectation that you won’t spend a lot at Aulani. Although the resort is designed to celebrate the customs and traditions of Hawaiian culture, with the Disney magic sprinkled on almost every aspect of your visit, we recommend the resort should be stayed at in coherence with another hotel in Hawaii, one where you can really appreciate the culture of such a beautiful set of islands. The pools, beach, dining options, activities and amenities are some of the best in the industry, all overseen by some of the most friendly and welcoming staff around. We had a fantastic experience at Aulani and look forward to staying there again someday.
Have you stayed at Aulani before? If not, has our review tempted you to visit the resort? Let us know on our social media channels.