Aulani is Disney’s family-friendly resort on O’ahu, Hawai’i. It’s filled with pools, food, stories, and the kind of high-quality experiences that Disney is famous for all over the world. But if you want to have the best experience, here are a few things you should know.
- A stay at Aulani is not inexpensive, but there are some ways to find value on the trip. All the rooms have at least a mini-fridge; some have microwaves and toasters, and the multi-room villas have full kitchens. A great way to save some money on dining is to stop by and pick up some groceries and cook for yourself. There’s a Safeway and a Costco a few miles up the freeway from where the resort is, making them an easy stop on your way into the resort from Honolulu. It’s something so many people do, when the bellmen help you with your bags at check-in, they have bins for collecting groceries, too.
- There are two restaurants at Aulani, one a buffet (with character dining) and one standard sit-down establishment, with gorgeous views of the ocean. There’s one casual food shop, a snack shack, and you can order of a common menu of food at the various bars as well. However, hands-down the best food value in the resort is the shaved ice stand in the middle of the pool area, where you can get an incredible treat for $4. Make sure to get the version with vanilla soft-serve at the bottom of the bowl, and the drizzle of sweetened condensed milk over the top. The optional Mickey ears on the ice are cute, but become ungainly when eating, so we can’t recommend them. There are a couple non-resort restaurants within walking distance of Aulani as well.
- Other than spending time in the pools, on the water slide, floating down the lazy river, or hanging out at the nearby beach (which is public, but with some Disney amenities), there are many other things going on to keep families engaged. Some of them cost additional money, some don’t, but here are a few that we really enjoyed:
- The Lu’au – if you want the classic Hawaiian resort experience, you can’t beat this dinner and show. Families start to gather on the lawn to interactive demonstrations of lei-making, pounding taro root for poi, getting temporary tattoos, and more. Then you sit to an amazing feast (some of the best food we experienced on the island), and finally an hour-long show of music, dancing, stories, and a couple of Disney characters to boot. If you splurge for the VIP experience, parents can enjoy an open bar as well, and tables near the front.
- Storytelling at the Firepit – there are two characters referenced around Aulani, Auntie and Uncle, who are the unofficial hosts of the resort. On most evenings, you can find Uncle at the firepit, telling colorful stories and playing his uke.
- Stargazing – the resort brings in an astronomer with a couple big Celestron telescopes, and you can get close-up view of the moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and more.
- Menehune Adventure Trail – The Menehune are sort of Hawaiian leprechauns, mythical creatures who play tricks. Kids can check out a tablet and go on a high-tech scavenger hunt to find hidden sights and sounds all around the resort grounds.
- Learn how to play the uke, paint the island landscape, or check out Disney movies to watch in your room, all at the Pau Hana Community Hall.
- Auntie’s Beach House – there’s a 5,200 square-foot kids zone adjacent to the pool area where parents can check kids 3-12 in for a day full of fun and activities, with movies, video games, storytelling, and more.
- If you want a little more local history without the Disney polish, you could consider taking a trip into Honolulu, and seeing the royal palace. There’s an excellent audio tour. Probably not for younger kids, but teens and adults with a passion for history will get a lot out of it, including a better understanding of why, to this day, there’s still valid resentment as to how the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown, and the sovereign nation was annexed to the US.
- To facilitate excursions around the island, you can rent a car at the resort via Alamo. Gas prices on the island are about on par with California (so about 20%-30% more than most other US states).
And that’s far from all that’s available, but it’s all we had time to experience on our first stay. Aulani definitely provides a rich Disney experience in a lush, tropical setting that’s hard to beat.
Here’s a quirky fact about the resort: there are no squirrels on the island. However, you will see small furry creatures darting around the shrubs at Aulani. They’re mongooses. And while they’re cute, they are unfortunately an invasive species that’s doing damage to native bird and turtle populations.