25 Tips for Staying at Disney’s Aulani Resort
Since the Aulani Resort in Hawaii is relatively new, I wasn’t able to find as many non-Disney websites that gave tips and suggestions leading up to our vacation as I had hoped. The Aulani site in itself is a good resource, but it’s always nice to have insider information from people that have experienced the property on their own. With that, I have put together a list of 25 tips based on our recent vacation. We were a traveling party of three. Myself, husband Lorenzo and our son, Joseph (age 7). I hope you find this helpful in the days leading up to your stay!
1. Online Check In: About a week prior to your check in date, you will receive an email from the Aulani with information about the resort and suggestions for activities and dining. Also included with this email is info about their online check in option. It’s a really simple process and by doing this, once you arrive at the resort a cast member will greet you in the lobby with your room keys in hand. They will walk you through print outs of the resort map, tell you about dining options, daily activities, answer any questions you have and you will be on your way! We arrived at the hotel at 2:30pm on a Friday which is typically a very busy time at the front desk. With online check in, we were heading to our room within 5 minutes!
2. Getting from the Airport to the Hotel: Since we weren’t planning on having a rental car for the entire duration of our stay, I looked into both Car Service and Taxi options for our arrival. I decided to splurge here and arrange for a car service from a company the Aulani referred (SpeediShuttle / Arthur’s Limo) and I also upgraded (for an extra charge) to have each of us greeted with Orchid Lei’s… When in Hawaii, right? Our greeter met us as soon as we stepped off of the plane, we were each given Lei’s and escorted down to baggage claim. There she helped us collect our luggage, then turned us over to another employee from the Limo company who loaded our belongings onto the luggage rack and brought everything outside and into our waiting car. If you are looking for that extra attention and service, it really is wonderful. However, I would have appreciated this more when Joseph was younger. During those toddler years, it was much more difficult to round up the stroller and the car seat and all the bags and try to lug it all outside to the taxi line while Joseph (who had so much pent up energy from the long flight) just wanted to run as fast and as far as possible. But at 7 years old, he’s really at the age where he’s a good little helper and we could have put the extra money spent here on something else and just gotten a taxi for 1/3 of the cost. And about that Lei greeting.. When you check in to the Aulani females are greeted with the EXACT same Orchid Lei and the males aregiven a Kukui Nut Lei. In addition, kids are also given a special Menehune Necklace. We arranged for a Taxi from the Resort to the Airport for our departure. The driver was pleasant and the cab was spacious and clean. For those of you traveling with younger children, more than one child or just like that extra care and attention (since this is vacation after all! ) I suggest looking into Arthur’s Limo. Otherwise, Taxi’s are the way to go.
(Side note: Alamo has a Rental Car Location on site at Aulani – which is great if you decide to go off property for a day trip or 2. While we were there, we were able to return the rental back to hotel valet up until midnight.)
3. Partial Ocean View vs Ocean View Room – Full descriptions of all the various room options can be found on the Aulani site, but the one thing I debated in making our reservations was not knowing what the difference would be in the view from a Partial Ocean View room vs Ocean View Room. When planning this trip, I knew the only real time we would be in the room was in the early morning while having coffee to start the day, in the early evening while getting ready for dinner and when it was time for bed after the sun had gone down. Joseph is well past the age of needing a nap and we really don’t take breaks up in the room during the day. We just go go go and soak up as much daylight as possible. I decided to take a chance on a Partial Ocean View room and with fingers crossed that the view of the ocean would still be good. I am SO glad that we did. Not only is there a definite cost savings in doing this but with Partial Ocean you have a stunning view of the ocean and also the pool areas around the resort. If this vacation was just Lorenzo and I, we would have went with the Ocean View. With little ones, Partial Ocean (and saving money on the room to put towards activities) is where it’s at.
Here’s the view from our Partial Ocean View balcony:
4. the Daily ‘Iwa: This is a MUST! It’s an Aulani Newsletter that can be picked up from the Front Desk or Concierge and in addition, housekeeping leaves one for the following day in your room every evening during turn down service. It’s such a key resource to fill you in on everything going on at the resort. It’s better to show you than try to explain too much here so check out a Friday sample of the Daily ‘Iwa.
5. Early Morning Solitude: I loved this early morning time as the resort is waking up. It is so peaceful and quiet (at least while we were there) and it felt practically deserted during the 6:00am-8:00am timeframe. While most of the days I used this time to leisurely enjoy coffee and the quiet on our balcony, I decided to explore one early morning with our camera to take some gorgeous landscape photos of the seemingly empty resort, focusing on the lobby, pools and beach. If you are looking to take scenic resort photos, this is the time to do it!
6. Refillable Mugs: Purchase these! Sold at the Lava Shack and the gift shop, Kalepa’s Store. With tax, It comes out to just about $20.00 each and this allows you to fill up with unlimited coffee, water, Powerade, Iced Tea & Soda’s during your stay. It was definitely worth it for us. There are 3 beverage filling stations that are spread out around the resort. The mugs come in Aulani designs so you can bring them home as a little keepsake from your trip.
7. Island Country Market: This grocery store / souvenir shop is located in a nearby plaza that’s a quick walk away. If you don’t want to eat all your meals at the resort but also don’t want to cook – they have great options of hot breakfast items along with lunch choices of hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, wraps and salads. They even a tiny produce section. Along with an assortment of snacks, beverages, alcohol, magazines, sunscreen, hats, souvenirs. It’s a great place to pick up some items to keep on hand in your room or to grab breakfast or lunch at non resort prices. There’s also a coffee shop, Island Vintage Coffee, next door. Kona coffee man, it’s the BEST!
8. Aunty’s Beach House: Aunty’s Beach House is the kids club and you can read about it in depth on the Aulani site. It’s for 3 years old and over and all kids must be potty trained. They have an Open House each morning where you are able to walk through with the kids on a tour. They have a secured check in complete with little bracelet tracking devices and a your own private password. It definitely felt VERY secure and made us feel really comfortable dropping Joseph off. There’s various activities (included with your stay) for all different age groups throughout the course of the day and everything is listed out by the hour in the Daily ‘Iwa. For an additional charge, there is an option to have lunch and/or dinner at Aunty’s Beach House. We made reservations ahead of time for Joseph to do 2 of the premium experiences. The first one was Surf’s Up with Chip & Dale on Sunday evening from 5:30-8:30pm. They had a fun activity where they decorated their own mini wooden surf board (which they got to bring home) had dinner, got a visit from Chip & Dale and then ended with a high energy dance party. Cost for this activity and dinner was just under $70. The second experience was Fish are Friends on Monday from 11am-2pm. Here Joseph learned about how the resort marine life is fed and cared for. He also got to help in making fish food and then feed it to them. Lunch was included in this package and everyone got a copy of Disney’s OCEANS DVD. Cost for this activity and lunch was just around $80. Joseph loved both of these activities!
9. Dining Reservations: There’s 2 places at the resort that encourages reservations: ‘AMA’AMA is upscale dining with beach front views. Definitely make reservations ahead of time (as early as possible, even before you arrive on property is ideal) as they book out quick. Makahiki Buffet is further back from the beach, near the Koi Pond. They host a morning character breakfast celebration that looked like a lot of fun and sounded very lively. Joseph’s at that age where he likes to see the characters walking around the resort but he wasn’t looking to have a long breakfast with them. He wanted to get right to the pools and the beach. But if your kids are into hanging out with the Disney characters, go for it! Makahiki also has buffet dinner. Great idea to make reservations for both character breakfast and dinner here ahead of time.
10. PhotoPass: Disney photographers are located around the resort to capture family photos. We saw photographers while snorkeling and in the pools with underwater cameras, on the beach, by the paddle board and kayak rentals, at the meet & greet locations with Disney characters and in the lobby. This allows you to be able to have photos taken with your entire family, which can oftentimes be rare on family trips as there’s usually one of us taking the photo. This is especially great if you don’t prefer asking other travelers to take a family photo for you. Your photos are loaded onto a PhotoPass card that you can either review and order from Kalepa’s Store while still at the resort or review and order online once you are back home. If you had water photos taken, where you obviously won’t have your card with you, just let the cast member at Kalepa’s Store know the day and approx time your water picture was taken and they can quickly scan and find your images.
11. Pool Chairs: Aulani does enforce a 1 hour away from your chair policy. Cast members walk by the pool areas throughout the day and position a towel behind your chair to note that the chair is being timed. Once the hour is up, if you haven’t been back to your chair within that timeframe, a cast member will remove your belongings and secure them away. What I like about this idea is so many times at resorts if you go down to the pool area a little bit later in the morning you will find all the chairs have been claimed but there is no one at them for hours. This is a good effort to try to make chairs available to all. However, if you are looking to have a central location for your family to meet throughout the entire day and don’t want to worry about the 1 hour policy, they do have a few options available (for an extra cost). There are private cabanas located at the resort, reservations are made through the Lobby Concierge. Another options is Casabella Loungers available to rent overlooking the beach directly outside ‘AMA’AMA Restaurant. Reservations are made through Rainbow Reef. The views from here are stunning! Rates vary from $90-$275 for the full day depending on how many chairs you need. We didn’t notice these until later in our trip but if we had seen them sooner, I definitely would have rented these for a day. There’s also an option of Beachside Casabella Loungers (which includes 2 lounge chairs with awning covering and a table in between). Rentals are made from Makiki Joe’s on the Aulani Beach. The cost for the Beachside Casabella for the entire day from 9am-5pm was $45. We loved this option and it was well worth it for when we wanted to be at the pool & beach all day and not worry about how long we were gone.
12. Paddle Board & Kayak Rentals: We rented a double kayak ($20/hour) and Stand Up Paddleboard ($30/hour) from Makiki Joe’s. This was a huge highlight of the trip! None of us had never tried PaddleBoarding before. The day we went, the waves were stronger than usual which made standing up a little more difficult but after a couple tries we found our balance and it was so much fun.
13. Snorkeling: Rainbow Reef has a private salt water lagoon with an all day rental ($15 / adult, $10 /kid) or a Length of Stay rental ($20/adult, $15/kid). We did the 1 day rental as Joseph had never snorkeled before and we weren’t sure if he would like it or not. He LOVED it! We went twice in one day and back again on our last day of the trip. The morning fish feeding time is at 10:30am. This is great if you want to snorkel even more up close and personal with the fish. If you’d like, the staff will let you feed the fish during this time and there’s also a Disney photographer in the water taking PhotoPass pictures. There’s also a great viewing tank in a little cove next to the Papalua Shave Ice to take underwater snorkeling photos as well. I believe the afternoon feeding time is approx 1:15pm. If you want to skip the private lagoon and are ready for snorkeling in the ocean, Makiki Joe’s offers 1/2 day and full day beach snorkel rentals.
14. Menehune Statues and Menehune Trail: There are said to be over 200 Menehune statues hidden around the resort. Joseph’s favorite to find was the statue hidden at the bottom of the snorkeling lagoon. In addition to the statues, there is also a Menehune Adventure Trail which is an interactive scavenger hunt led by Aunty. You can rent out an iPad (no extra fee) from the Pau Hana Room Community Hall and be taken on an indoor or outdoor challenge. They ask that you use it for up to an hour and then return it for other users. We never had a problem with these being available and we picked one up just about every day at all different times and spent around 30 minutes on it at a time. Even if there are others doing the trail at the same time, they are able to start each group at a different clue so you don’t ever feel that you are following directly behind anyone else. Your progress is saved each time so you just pick back up where you left off. Sometimes the backstory for the clues went on a little too long and since the middle of the day outside at the resort is fairly loud and busy, it can be difficult to hear what Aunty is saying. They need a much louder volume on those iPads! But Joseph really enjoyed it regardless as did many of the other kids we saw. Joseph’s favorite finds were the rocks that moved to form the Hawaiian Islands near the Koi Pond, an Owl hiding inside a rock across from the Community Hall, the Drums and a Turtle that lit up on the side of a rock.
Here’s a shot of Joseph on the Trail
15. Waterslides & Lazy River: There’s 2 waterslides at the resort. One is an enclosed slide that you don’t use a tube for – this is dark, fast and winding. It is lots of fun if you enjoy a little more thrill! If you are unsure if your little one is ready for this, it’s a really good idea for you to try it out first. Lorenzo and I both took a ride down and knew right away that Joseph wasn’t there yet and he would be too scared on this one. But there were kids his age that loved it. The open air tube adventure was perfect for all of us. You can go down in single or double tubes and it launches you into the Waikolohe Stream where you can float around the lazy river once (or many times). Finding an available tube for the waterslide can be tricky. Many people line up at the spot where the waterslide meets the lazy river but oftentimes people want to hold onto their tube to ride the lazy river or to go on the waterside again. Our average wait time for a tube at this spot was 2 minutes but it got up to 10 minutes when it was at its busiest. That is just to wait for the tube! Then you have to go up the stairs and wait in line for the actual waterslide. We found it was better to actually go in the lazy river and pick up an empty tube (or 2) floating along there.
16. Menehune Bridge & Keiki Cove Splash Zone: Joseph was at the older age of the spectrum for the Menehune Bridge, an interactive water play zone. I think it’s really ideal for 5 year olds, but there were slightly younger and slightly older kids having a great time. Joseph had a lot of fun here in the early mornings right when it opened at 9am. It was great for Lorenzo and I to relax in the lounge chairs and watch him have so much fun as he non stop ran around, went down the mini waterslide, ran across the bridge, made friends and played in the water. There’s a huge canoe that fills up at the top of the bridge and once it’s full, there’s a distinct sound to alert everyone that it is going to tip over and dump water everywhere. Like clockwork, the canoe would fill, the sound would go off and water would crash down to the joyful (I think?) squeals of the kids. It kept Joseph entertained for a full hour. Once the day got into full swing, he didn’t want to go back to the Menehune Bridge, there were too many other things for his age that he’d rather do. But for that hour start to the day, it was perfect for him and for us.
(Side note: We didn’t experience the Keiki Cove Splash Zone as it’s really for ages 4 and under but we saw so many of the littles having a ball! )
17. Koi Pond: Located in front of Makahiki Restaurant, we stopped by a few times to watch the koi. It has a calming energy and could be good in those moments where the kids (or you) are feeling overwhelmed by the excitement of the day and need a few minutes to bring things back to Zen.
18. Sunscreen: While you will no doubt be diligent in continuously applying sunscreen to the kids, do not forget yourself! We saw so many parents with really bad sunburns. The Hawaiian sun is strong (even if it’s cloudy). Every time you spray or lotion the kids, do it on yourself for good measure!
19. Sunsets: Ahh, Hawaiian sunsets. There’s nothing quite like them. There are breathtaking sunsets to be found all around the resort. While being on the sand at the beach always provides a stunning view, there is even a better view to be seen if you walk across the grass alongside the beach lagoon to where the rocks are.
(Look at left of photo where the grass meets the Palm trees which meets the rocks. This is the spot to stand! Trust Me!)
20. Adult Pools: We didn’t go to the the Adult Only pools but there are 2 areas. One is the Wailana Pool (located near Ulu Cafe) that also has a pool side bar. Tucked away is ‘Alohi Point, an Adults Only area that features 2 whirlpool spas. I didn’t come across this area until towards the end of our trip and it looked magical. Both of the whirlpool spas have an infinity edge and this is another place to capture an even more breathtaking sunset view. Infinity Pool meets Hawaiian Sunset? Sign me up! These are open until 10pm.
21. The ‘Olelo Room: Located next to the Makahiki Restaurant, The ‘Oleo Room has great happy hour appetizer and drink specials along with live music. We saw families sitting outside as well as couples enjoying a relaxing pre-dinner moment while the kids played at Aunty’s Beach House. This was also a great place to learn and practice some Hawaiian words.
22. Fitness: In addition to a Fitness Center on site at the resort (no additional charge; open 24 hours) Aulani also offers a few fitness classes each day. The schedule for the day is included in the Daily ‘Iwa. Beach workout class options that were offered while we were there included Sunrise Yoga, Cardio Rush, TRX Body Blast, Wild Card Workout and Beach Body Boot Camp – all of which were included with your stay at the resort. They did have a few workout class options for an additional fee – Ocean Yoga and Paddle Fitness. I had the intention of doing Sunrise Yoga one morning but never made it… Next time! Lorenzo went to the Fitness Center a few days to get in a quick workout and he said it was very nice, clean and while there were people in there, he never had to wait for any machines.
23. Spa: The Aulani really outdid themselves with the Spa. Since I wanted to set this up during the same timeframe that Joseph would be doing the Fish are Friends activity, I made reservations for the Spa about one week in advance. I had no problem getting the date and time that I wanted. You are encouraged to check in an hour before your scheduled appointment so that you can take advantage of the spa’s amenities. Check in was seamless, the staff are wonderful. There’s a beautiful co-ed outdoor hydrotherapy garden with vitality pools, mineral baths, heated jet spas, an ice plunge and rain showers. There’s also a stone reflexology path to massage your feet and lower legs. You are also escorted over to the Pulu Bar where a spa assistant will create a personalized body polish based off of your fragrance selection. There’s a steam room, sauna and wonderful relaxation rooms to take advantage of before and after your service. I had the hot stone massage and it was heavenly. I planned on my spa visit on our 4th day at the resort since it usually takes me a few days to fully unwind and get into vacation mode. I wanted to be sure I would already be in the relaxation state of mind during my spa visit so I could just fully enjoy. You will not be disappointed.
24. Golf: Across the street from the Aulani is the Ko Olina Golf Club. Lorenzo is an avid golfer so this was definitely on his ‘must do’ list. Aulani provides a free shuttle there and back; with the shuttle running every 30 minutes. Lorenzo’s advice is to get an early a tee time as possible so that it doesn’t take up your entire day. He was the first group out one morning at 6am and was able to complete 18 holes in 3 1/2 hours. On his second day, he had an 8am tee time and was finished in 4 1/2 hours. Ko Olina gives you a $20 discount per day if you set up golf for 2 or more days. Lorenzo traveled to Hawaii with his clubs, but they do have full sets of TaylorMade clubs available for rental.
25. Waimea Falls: There are a few different off property excursions that Aulani offers, one is a guided walking tour at Waimea Falls. This was held on Friday from 8am-2pm, which was also our arrival day, so we weren’t able to do this one. I really didn’t want to miss out – so instead we made plans to rent a car from Alamo (onsite at Aulani) and drive to Waimea Falls and do the hike at our leisure. Whether on your own or though the Aulani excursion, this is a MUST do! It’s a 30-40 minute drive from the resort to the North Shore. Admission tickets are $15 / adult and $7.50 / child. They give you 2 brochures – one of plants and another of birds that can all be found in the botanical gardens during your walk. Joseph had a really fun time looking for all the birds. You really do see quite a few different varieties of them. It’s about 3/4 of a mile walk to the Falls and it’s a fine walk for little ones. Even as young as 4 years old, Joseph would have had no problem doing this walk. Once you arrive at the Falls, if you want to go swimming (of course all 3 of us did!) life vests are free of charge. There’s no towels provided so be sure to pack your own. There’s rest rooms and a little snack shop near the Falls (cash only). Back down at the main entrance, there’s a place for lunch and a gift shop. I picked up a few souvenirs at the gift shop, it’s definitely worth checking out. Since the North Shore is famous for their Shrimp Trucks, we drove our car a few miles to Big Wave Shrimp (featured on Food Networks Diners, Drive Ins and Dives) and had a delicious lunch before heading back to the resort. Highly recommend Waimea Falls and Big Wave Shrimp!
Thanks so much for reading! I hope this gets you excited for your upcoming trip and helps answer some questions ahead of time.