In May this year I was lucky enough to stay at the fabulous Aulani Disney Resort in Hawaii. Being a Disneyphile, I was super psyched to find out that there was a Disney resort on Oahu and I knew I had to stay there. I planned a split stay, spending half my time in Waikiki to be close to the tourist attractions, shopping, restaurants etc, and then the other half of my trip was spent soaking up the sun and enjoying Hawaii – Disney style.
Although Aulani is a Disney resort it’s not over the top Disney. The resort has tried to stay true to Hawaii’s Polynesian culture and style while still providing that family friendly Disney magic vibe that people love. Here are some of my tips for staying at Disney’s Aulani Resort. I would love it if you share some of your tips in the comments below!
1. Make the most of your first day
At Aulani guests checking-in and out receive access to a lounge with bathrooms, showers and dressing rooms, as well as a TV and computer. It allows you to freshen up, get changed into your bathers and start enjoying the many amenities the resort has to offer. This way you can jump in the lazy river, go snorkelling in the Rainbow Reef or just chill out in the pool all before you have even checked into your room!
2. Pick up the daily ‘IWA
The daily ‘Iwa is a newsletter that lists all the activities happening around the resort. While some activities come at a cost most of them are free. I signed up for the Disney Family Fun Animation class where I learnt how to draw Donald Duck and took home my own hand-painted Minnie Mouse animation cel. A copy of the ‘Iwa is left in your room every night by housekeeping, but if you’re like me and can’t wait to plan your day, they also have copies that you can pick up at Reception.
3. Explore outside of the resort
Aulani is situated in Ko Olina, 27km out of Honolulu. It is an area made up of resorts and residential gated communities and has a very Stepford Wives feel with lots of green grass and picture perfect houses. While there isn’t a lot to do and see outside of the big resorts in Ko Olina it’s still worth venturing out, especially if you are on a budget and don’t want to be spending big $$$ eating at Aulani. There are a few shops and restaurants that are just a short walk from Aulani. Monkeypod Kitchen is a must for foodies and the ABC store also has a nice deli section with sandwiches and pre-made meals.
4. Get photos with characters and use your PhotoPass
While Aulani isn’t exactly overrun with characters like Disney World, there are still opportunities to get photos with some of your favourite Disney characters (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy etc.). And with the Disney PhotoPass system you never have to worry about not getting a great shot with your favourite character. Disney PhotoPass Photographers are all around the resort ready to capture your fun and memorable moments. If you pick up your free PhotoPass card from the Aulani gift shop the photographers will load any photos they take of you onto your card. The best part of it is that at the end of the day any photos that they took of you will appear on the TV in your room.
5. Book a Character Breakfast
There are two main reasons for booking a character breakfast. 1) Mickey waffles and 2) great photo opportunities and interaction with all the Disney characters. As mentioned above, the characters aren’t all up in your grill at Aulani, so by booking the breakfast you ensure that you will meet Mickey and Minnie. Plus it’s a lot of fun. I’m 24 and I still sang along with Aunty and the other characters.
6. Get up early
I know you’re on vacation, but they say the early bird catches the worm. Or in this case, the early bird catches the best seat by the pool. May is typically the “quiet” time in Oahu, however, we arrived during the Memorial Day weekend (a public holiday in the States) and it was crazy busy. Things quietened down some by the time we left, but it still felt really busy around the pools. You also want to get up early to get your wristband and towels. Every day you have to get a different coloured wristband. This is how Disney makes sure that the people using the pools are actually guests at Aulani.
7. Have a spa day at Laniwai
The Aulani spa, Laniwai, is a MUST. To access the spa area you have to book in for a treatment but it is well worth it. Make sure that on the day of your massage or facial you spend a decent amount of time at the spa before and after your treatment so you get the full experience. Laniwai has relaxation rooms with lounge chairs, blankets, robes, and snacks (the mini muffins and macarons were delish!), a steam room and sauna. There is also a beautiful outdoor hydrotherapy garden that has spas/hot tubs, a cold water plunge, 6 rain style showers and a reflexology walk.
8. Do the starlit Hui Luau (if you have little ones)
The Starlit Hui is Disney’s version of the Hawaiian Luau. It is a show that highlights the Hawaiian culture through traditional dance and stories. While my 10-year-old brother enjoyed this, it wasn’t something he loved as it is geared more towards younger kids. If you have the time definitely check it out. But if you have already been to a Luau, don’t have young kids and are short on time you could probably give it a miss.
9. Hit the beach for some peace and quiet
Not only does Aulani have amazing pools but they also have their own man-made beach. The crowds tend to hang around the pools, so for adults who are wanting a bit of down time away from the kiddos the beach is the best spot to laze about.
10. Pig out!
A lot has been said about the quality of food at Aulani, but my experience was fantastic. We ate one meal at ‘Ama Ama, the resort’s fancy higher priced restaurant, and the food was very tasty. We were even impressed with the more ‘quick-service’ meals we had at Ulu Cafe, in particular, the flatbread pizza. Of course, you can’t go to a Disney resort without having a Mickey Ice Cream Bar or two.
If you are looking for more food recommendations be sure to check out my post on the Ten Must Eats on Oahu.