Our family was long overdue for a relaxing vacation and we wanted to take a trip to Hawaii. It’s possible that we looked at the websites for every hotel on every island before booking, this is my husband’s “leave no stone unturned” approach to vacation planning. After much debate, we settled on Disney’s Aulani Resort on the island of Oahu. We went into it with the view that if Leo was happy, we would be happy. As Lenny and I are in our 30s, we weren’t thrilled with the idea of Mickey Mouse crashing our vacation but we decided that we would give it a try. It was awesome. We were there for 5 nights and we barely left the resort… and we wish we would have stayed a few more.
A few things about the Aulani… The design of the hotel was much better than I expected. Mickey is there for sure, but it’s done in way that is subtle enough that you don’t feel like you’re on vacation in a toddler’s bedroom. Check out the below photos of our bed and banquette in our room. Can you find Mickey?
There are a ton of room types at Aulani but we decided that the 1 bedroom villa was the right fit for us. Mostly because Leo goes to bed around 7pm and we wanted to be able to hang out and watch movies after he was sleep, having a separate space for him at night really worked out. Also, the room has a fully equipped kitchen, dining area, washer/dryer… and even a highchair, pack n’ play and step stool in the room! Disney makes it easy to travel with children. There are even little kid-height sinks in all of the hotels main bathrooms.
Now on to the fun stuff! One of the best things about Aulani are the pools and beach. There is so much stuff to do, Leo wouldn’t have been bored if we stayed 10 days. There is a great lazy river, giant water slides, a water-jungle-gym sort of thing with two little water slides, a splash pad, two huge pools and a beach with beautiful sand and clear warm water and tiny toddler-safe waves. Leo loved all of these things, he loved the beach the most and taking a kayak out in the ocean with his dad. There are a ton of lounge chairs over looking the main pool areas, the ocean and on the beach itself. We never had trouble finding a chair… of course, we were up at 6:30 every mooring and to the pool pretty much by 9:00 but I think that seemed to be pretty standard for everyone else who was traveling with kids.
The VERY best thing about Aulani is Aunty’s Beach House, their version of a kid’s club. This is fully-supervised child care with fun activities. They are open from 9:30AM to 8:00PM daily and take kids 3 to 12 years old. We had to get in line pretty early, around 7:00AM, to sign Leo up for activities but he had a blast and we were able to enjoy a few calm mornings by the pool and even a toddler-free dinner (with Lucy in tow). The activities included a little hula class, making “volcanos” and “space goo” and things like that. Most involve a character or two and most are complimentary; meals at the Beach House are eight dollars. You check your child in with your room key ID and an electronic wristband (kid lojack) and check out with room key and a secret password- it all seemed very secure. The “beach house” itself is very cool with a ton to do, but has A LOT of media (it is Disney after all). We found that a full day at the pool and beach was too much for Leo, he just got too tired (cranky), so it really helped all of us have a better vacation when he was there a few hours a day. This is what we did while Leo was in the kids club and Lucy was asleep in her stroller…. pure bliss…
If you’re kids aren’t quite three or you don’t feel like getting up at 7:00AM to sign them up for the beach house activities there are character-led activities around the property as well. Pool parties with Goofy and “surf lessons” with Chip and Dale. Sorry this is not the best photo, but you get the idea…
They have evening activities like firepit story telling and a “starlit hui” luau but they all happened after Leo’s bedtime so we, sadly, did not get to experience them.
Another nice thing about Aulani is the Disney PhotoPass program; professional photographers that roam the resort and take photos- even in the lazy river! We ended up with about 100 pictures from our vacation which we purchased on a disc for 99 dollars, sure it’s a steep price but better than ruining your camera or iPhone at the beach or having to take it with you everywhere.
Now, for the so-so part.
The resort is pretty crowded. Even the last week of February they were at 90% occupancy. We never had trouble finding chairs by the pool but sometimes walking around felt like a bit of a traffic jam.
The food at Aulani was just OK. I became frustrated with the dining options at Aulani before we even got there when I called a week before our arrival to make dinner reservations and everything was booked! There is no cancellation policy for dinner reservations at the Aulani so it seems like everyone is making reservations that they have no intention of keeping. We found ourselves rushing to get to our 5pm reservation because 5:30 wasn’t available… only to sit in a mostly empty restaurant.
If you are particularly health conscious this might not be the place for you. There is a lot of fried food and a lot of sugary stuff shaped like Mickey Mouse. There are two sit down restaurants and we really liked the ‘Ama ‘Ama, their ocean front restaurant which is a little fancier, but it was really hard to get a reservation. The Makahiki buffet was great for the character breakfast… in addition to Mickey, Minnie and Goofy coming around the tables they have musical performances and get the kids involved in conga lines, etc. Leo had a blast.
The buffet dinner was expensive but the food seemed OK, unfortunately someone had a meltdown and I was not able to eat 50 dollars worth of crab legs or really try that much in the 10 minutes we were there for dinner. But all of the other food is grab and go and pretty junky stuff- fish and chips, hot dogs, ready-made sandwiches… not the best. There is a little shopping center across the way with sushi, pizza and “farm to table” restaurant that are all pretty good.
Another slightly bad thing is that Aulani is a Disney Vacation Club property i.e. timeshare. We managed to avoid any sales pitches but we were invited to a few, there is a presence for sure.
Overall, it was a GREAT vacation and we will return when Lucy is old enough to enjoy it a little more. Leo is already begging to go back. Here are a few more photos from our trip… (just iPhone ones, not the 100+ from Disney that I still have to sort!)
(Written over three-weeks, because that’s how long things take when you have a three year-old and a baby…)