The first thought that came to mind when I heard that Disney was building a resort on Oahu was that it would be another Disneyland in Hawaii.
Disney didn’t just build a hotel, put in a Luau and call it a Hawaiian resort. They integrated Hawaiian culture with Disney quality and service in every aspect of the resort.
The name Aulani means “the place that speaks with deep messages.” The beauty of Aulani is that there are many different messages: fun, relaxation, family time, and adult time to name a few. Bob Iger, President and CEO of the Walt Disney Company summed up the philosophy at Aulani very simply, “Aulani has something for everyone to do but not necessarily all together.”
Everyone’s message can be different. And my message? I left Aulani with a deep appreciation for Hawaiian culture and storytelling that I’d never experienced in previous trips to Hawaii.
View of the beach at Disney’s Aulani Resort
Review of Disney’s Aulani Resort for Families
The creation of Aulani took over five years from concept to opening and a key factor was finding and creating the perfect location for families. The lagoons at Ko Olina fit the bill. Calm waters mean easy swimming for families and a stroller-friendly walking path winds around nearby lagoons and resorts.
There are too many activities to mention all of them. Here are the highlights:
Water Activities: Pool, Beach and Snorkeling
Main pool area: Waikolohe Valley is where most of the water action takes place and is a mini waterpark. You’ll find pools, hot tubs, waterslides (look for the hidden whale carved into the rocks that spouts when you go down the slide), and a water play area for younger kids with slides and lots of spraying water.
Two areas to note: Makai Preserve and Rainbow Reef. Makai Preserve is a sting ray feeding experience and Rainbow Reef is a manmade snorkeling lagoon stocked with over 1200 fish. The experience is akin to snorkeling in an aquarium and is very easy with young children. There is an additional fee for these activities and you can keep your snorkel equipment until the end of the day.
Snorkeling: The lagoon in front of the resort does have snorkeling although it was just okay. If you take the path past the JW Marriott you’ll come to two small lagoons. The first often has sea turtles and is best in the morning before the water gets too choppy. If you continue on, you’ll come to a second lagoon in front of a Luau area that is shallow and completely protected and great for small children because the fish are visible from the surface. The path can be rocky so bring good walking shoes.
Fish Feeding: The JW Marriott holds a free fish feeding everyday at 7:30 am. Meet at the beach rental shack in front of the Marriott. Anyone is welcome. The fish are basically “trained” after 10 years of this program and show up en-masse for the daily feeding. Each person is given a small bag of fish food.
Kids’ Club Playground
Two Other Entertainment Activities Worth Mentioning
At breakfast one morning Joe Rohde Sr. VP, Walt Disney Imagineering said “We [Disney] tried to create things at Aulani that the kids would notice before the adults.” The Menehune Adventure Trail, a scavenger hunt around the resort grounds using a smart phone and narrated by Aunty from Aunty’s Beach House is a perfect example. Kids look into rock holes and bushes and water areas as they try to solve riddles and puzzles. The trail takes at least 45 minutes to complete.
The Starlight Hui is a modern take on the traditional Luau show and engages adults and kids alike with interactive songs and spectacular dance. It’s offered several nights a week.
Aunty narrating the scavenger hunt on the Menehune Adventure Trail
Aunty’s Beach House
If you’ve been on a Disney Cruise and have used the kids’ clubs on the ship, Aunty’s Beach House will be familiar. Aunty’s feels like your grandma’s house and is split into two sections; Aunty’s side is for younger children and Uncle’s side is for older children. There is also a backyard complete with tree house and surf-themed patio. They have it all here; dress up, interactive computer generated games, a movie lounge and science classes. Kids Club is for ages 3-12 and is complimentary. Lunch or dinner is an additional charge.
There is a spa treatment for every age here – even babies. Parents can learn how to massage babies to help them sleep better and relieve colic. Young children can participate in a family massage and teens have Painted Sky which is part open spa, part hang-out room. Adults can luxuriate at Laniwai, the adult spa. I loved my lomi-lomi massage here.
Menehune statues are scattered throughout the resort
Rooms are upscale with Hawaiian accents and a sprinkle of Disney characters mixed in the décor. Guests can choose from traditional rooms or if available, Disney Vacation Club villas that come with separate bedrooms and kitchens.
And if you find yourself wanting to try additional activities, book an excursion. Excursions by Adventures by Disney and local partners are top-notch. I can vouch for the quality of the Hawaiian Fireman Surf School – I was certain I was ready for the North Shore after my lesson!
If you go: Rates begin at $399, check the website for current pricing and offers. Aulani is located 30-40 minutes by car from the Honolulu airport.
Editorial Note: Disney hosted Kristi Marcelle for the grand opening celebration of the Aulani resort. Photos courtesy of Kristi Marcelle