My family recently returned from a trip to Hawaii. For the last four nights of our trip, we stayed at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa on Oahu. This was our second time at this resort, after staying for five nights in 2015.
Aulani aint cheap! The question I hear the most : “Is Aulani worth the high cost?” (See my previous post about travel hacking Aulani).
That’s a difficult question, and the answer definitely depends on your family’s interests and preferences. So, this post will highlight some features of Aulani as well as some areas that could be tweaked for improvement.
Aulani is located on the Leeward Coast (or west side) of Oahu. It’s away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and Waikiki. This side of the island is sunnier and drier.
Aulani is part of the Ko Olina resort area, which also has a Four Seasons and Marriott resort. Ko Olina has a free shuttle that takes guests from hotels to the shopping and restaurants within the complex. Some people say that the feel of Ko Olina resort area is similar to Kaanapali Beach area on Maui or Poipu Beach area on Kauai.
Next door to Aulani, Atlantis (like the one in the Bahamas) is building another huge resort. Construction is supposed to start very soon.
When we visited Oahu in 2015, we were not huge fans of the Waikiki/Honolulu area. So to me, the location is a big plus. However, if you are on Oahu to explore the sites, staying at Aulani adds another 30+ minutes to your commute.
Rooms at Aulani
Aulani has over 800 rooms. Over half of the rooms are DVC villas available in studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom configurations.
We reserved a one-bedroom villa through our travel agent on a promotional rate. One-bedroom villas fit up to five people, with a king bedroom and beds for three people in the living area.
We loved having all the space and the convenience of a kitchen and washer/dryer! The biggest drawback to our room was the interior doors. Instead of being solid, they were more like shutters. Not good for privacy and noise when your kids are just on the other side of the door but they sound like they are in your bedroom. I don’t remember having this issue on our last visit, so perhaps the doors vary depending on the unit.
The exterior of Aulani is unique and modeled after ancient Hawaiian canoe houses. The resort really stands out compared to the cookie-cutter white hotels in the area.
The lobby is breathtaking, with vibrant colors and artwork throughout. The open-air terrace at the back overlooks the pool area and ocean.
Nothing about the décor screams “Disney”. It is very understated.
Pool Area at Aulani
The Aulani pool area, called the Waikalohe Valley, is definitely the shining star of this resort. I can’t think of a resort that comes close to matching the quantity and quality of pools. There’s something for every age group! Activity pools, water slides, relaxing pools, pools with a view, adult-only pool, zero-entry pool, snorkeling pool, splash pad…
We stayed at Aulani during the same exact week as we did in 2015, but this time we found the resort was much less crowded. We were able to find loungers by the pool even when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon!
My only complaint about the pool area is that the surface around the pool is super slick. The surface is not the typical pool area concrete. I witnessed several people slipping, and I had a major fall that is still causing me trouble two weeks later.
Aulani has a man-made beach cove (there are four in Ko Olina). Because of this, there are almost no waves at the beach. It’s great for stand-up paddling boarding and swimming, but not great for boogie boarding and surfing. The water is clear and the sand is soft.
All beaches in Hawaii are public by law, but the resort has lounge chairs that are exclusively for Aulani guests. We could also check out a bag of free beach toys for the day.
Activities at Aulani
The Daily ‘Iwa lists all the activities at Aulani, and it’s similar to the Daily Navigator on Disney Cruise Line. However, the free and organized activities are not nearly as extensive as they are on a cruise.
On our previous trip in 2015, the highlight for all of us was Aunty’s Beach House, the “free” or included kids’ club. As a family with no free childcare from relatives at home, childcare on vacation was a huge deal for us! All three of my kids enjoyed Aunty’s Beach House on our first trip.
For this trip, my oldest was too old for Aunty’s at age 13, and my 10-year-old only went one night. He got annoyed at all the little kids screaming and decided he wouldn’t go back. However, my 7-year-old loved Aunty’s Beach House and asked to go there every day!
My daughter was the only one who wanted to see the characters. Aside from a few who wandered around the pool area, we had to seek out the characters on the back lawn.
We attended a fireside story one night.
As long as you don’t expect free activities during every hour of the day, you will likely be impressed by the activities at Aulani. My biggest disappointment was the lack of organized teen activities during our visit. Aside from the teen spa and a morning boot camp exercise class, there were no teen activities during our visit until our very last day, when we already had other plans. It seems that Aulani waited for the weekend to fill the teen activity calendar.
Food at Aulani
We did not rent a car for the Aulani portion of our vacation, but finding food was no problem! Aulani has a few quick-service restaurants as well as a few sit-down restaurants, plus several great options across the street.
In a future post, I will elaborate more on the food options and saving money while at Aulani.
The Disney Difference
On our previous trip, we stayed one night at Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. In comparison, Aulani was so much nicer in every way.
Staff members are happy and helpful. Rooms and public areas are in tip-top shape. We could tell that the entire resort had attention to detail. With Disney, we always know we’re going to get a high-quality experience.
After our daily adventures in Kauai, spending four nights at Aulani was a welcome break. Our time at Aulani was relaxing and luxurious. We really got to slow down and just enjoy the weather and location. It was almost as if we had two separate vacations on the same Hawaii trip.
If you love a great pool complex and could really use some vacation childcare, Aulani should not be missed. In my opinion, it’s too expensive to use only as a place to rest your head after a long day of sight-seeing. If it’s your first trip to Oahu, I recommend staying in the Waikiki area for the touring part of your vacation and moving to Aulani for the relaxing portion. Even if you just stay one or two nights at Aulani, it’s worth the experience.
That said, I’m not sure my family will be back. Since the organized activities for tweens and teens are scarce, a Disney Cruise is an overall better fit and value for my kids’ ages. When we return to Hawaii, we have our sights set on Maui and the Big Island. So even if we never make it back to Aulani, I’m very thankful we got to experience this luxurious resort with a touch of Disney.
Is Aulani on your vacation bucket list?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.