When Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa opened in 2011 in Oahu’s manicured Ko Olina community, exuberant Disney fans embraced the resort’s authentic Hawaiian theme with touches of the brand’s magic woven throughout. As Aulani celebrates its fifth anniversary, the resort has matured in classic Disney style, making changes based on guest experience and feedback while continuing to offer high-quality entertainment for the entire family.
After five years, Aulani remains fresh and exciting. It never feels like “Disneyland in Hawaii,” which is one reason why it works for everyone — it is a true Hawaiian resort at which families can soak up the local culture through fun and games.
The resort caters to kids of all ages yet actively creates peaceful, adults-only tropical escapes. The next day’s schedule of activities comes out each evening, and the variety of the offerings, combined with the pools and beaches of Ko Olina and the complimentary kids’ club, means that parents will never have to hunt for ways to keep everyone entertained.
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Aunty’s Beach House has always been the hub of organized and free play for ages 3-12, and little has changed in five years, though there are additional scheduled activities for tweens now. For parents, the complimentary childcare allows kids to come and go in a very safe, organized environment. It’s easiest to register kids for the kids’ club and sign them up for special activities before arrival.
Waikolohe Valley is the center of outdoor activity at Aulani. The area encompasses several pools, including an infinity pool with ocean views, a water play structure, water slides, a lazy river and the Keiki Cove Splash Zone for young children, added since the opening. Rainbow Reef, home to thousands of fish, sits in the middle of the action and has recently added a supplied-air snorkeling option in addition to regular snorkeling.
Disney characters that appear at Aulani are unique to the resort and are not found at the Disney parks or on the cruise ships. Moana, the heroine from the movie of the same name, is the latest character to make her debut at the resort, joining company with Aunty and Uncle as they visit with guests and tell tales of adventure.
The KA WA’A luau, which replaces the Starlight Nui cultural show, brings guests on a storytelling adventure about Hawaii’s history and its deep cultural connections to canoe exploration. Traditional and contemporary hula dances are showcased along with typical island cuisine. Pre-show entertainment, activities and crafts start the evening.
For parents, the resort’s Laniwai Spa is hands-down the best place to relax, followed by the adult pool. There are a few family and/or teen spa treatments, but for the most part, this is a kid-free zone that feels far, far away from the water slides and the Marco Polo games. The spa is a must-do at Aulani and has maintained excellent service and a paradise feel since its opening. The one regret that many spa-goers have is that they don’t spend enough time in Kula Wai, the outdoor hydrotherapy garden, before their service — give yourself the gift of an hour of downtime.
The adults-only pool is also a new addition. The area is tucked away on the path to the spa and feels private, though it’s not far from the activities of Waikolohe Valley.
There is so much to do at Aulani that it’s easy to miss the beautiful setting of the resort. A walk around the manmade lagoons at Ko Olina or a scheduled exercise class on the beach is a great way to start the day. Another don’t-miss independent activity is a swim in Turtle Cove, a 10-minute walk from the resort and a known hangout for sea turtles. We even found a few eels and fish hiding out in the rocks. And finally, across the street from Aulani, Ko Olina Station and Center has restaurants, an ABC store with a little of everything and boutique shopping.
Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino received a media package to review Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa. As always, all opinions are our own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle except where noted.
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