A Week at the Aulani Disney Resort–My Dream Vacation!
by Phyllis Larison, Family Travel Gurus Travel Consultant
Hawaii is such a beautiful place for a vacation and since visiting the islands for the first time a few years ago, I have wanted to return. When I heard about the opening of the new Aulani Disney Resort in 2011, I was excited about the possibility of going to back to Hawaii and staying at a Disney resort, where I knew there would be first class accommodations and activities. My stay at the Aulani was from January 15 through January 22, 2012, a very pleasant time to be in Hawaii–the temperatures are in the seventies and there are cool breezes in the evening. The drive from the Honolulu airport to the Aulani Resort takes approximately a half hour; you can rent a car or use one of several transportation services (private cars or vans) to the hotel. I used the Royal Hawaiian Tour LLC; the cost was around $135 round trip for a private vehicle with driver. From the moment I arrived at the Aulani, I was impressed with the decor and ambience of the hotel; I was greeted in front of the hotel by Hawaiians who gave me a lei to wear and a cold drink. The open-air lobby area was surrounded with beautiful works of art, from murals to garden sculptures, by native Hawaiian artists.
The Disney designers created the Aulani to honor and exhibit the authentic Hawaiian culture. My spacious room had a balcony and a gorgeous view of the resort property and the ocean.
The Aulani is located behind a lagoon on the western shore of the island of O’ahu; there are four other lovely lagoons along the shore and within easy walking distance. I enjoyed visiting each lagoon and exploring their unique beaches. All of the lagoons are great places for children to swim and snorkel since the water is very calm and warm.
At the Aulani you can sit on the beach and just relax by the ocean or you and your family can participate in an amazing number of activities. On the resort property there is a winding lazy river a private snorkeling lagoon, a tunnel body slide called Volcanic Vertical, heated whirlpool spas overlooking the ocean (very relaxing), a special pool for swimming with stingrays and marine biologists, a water-filled interactive play area (with three slides) for kids and a variety of other swimming pools. You can check out a cellphone that provides 24 different interactive games at the resort; for example, you point the phone at a rock and the rock starts to sing and move or you point the phone at a tree and it will spit water at tubers on the lazy river.
Kids really enjoyed these unusual interactive activities and I did do! There are also Hawaiian craft classes every day, fire pit storytelling in the evening, outdoor movies and a nighttime hula dance party (lots of fun!). The beach area offers activities from paddle boarding to riding catamarans. Aunty’s Beach House, a special place for kids, is open from 9:00 a.m. in the morning until 9:00 p.m. –there are many fun programs at the Beach House including science activities such as making a volcano or space goo, beach parties with Disney characters and Hawaiian tales and crafts. Teens have their own place at the Painted Sky Spa where they can play video games, sing, dance, go on scavenger hunts or just hang out with other teens. The parents I talked to told me that they felt comfortable leaving their children at Aunty’s Beach House or the Painted Sky while they went to the beach. The Aulani distributes a daily newsletter for hotel guests; each newsletter lists close to fifty daily resort activities for families, children and teens. I found the newsletter to be very helpful in planning my day.
The Holoholo Desk at the Aulani is the place to go for scheduling an excursion. You can choose an Adventures by Disney excursion, organized and hosted by Disney staff, or an outside excursion provided by a local tour company. Whatever your interests are, you can find an excursion that will enhance your Hawaiian vacation. The excursion activities include scuba diving, parasailing, hiking, encounters with dolphins, luaus, surfing schools, canoeing, sea kayaking, horseback riding, museum visits, shopping, dinner cruises, submarine tours and helicopter rides. One of the excursions that I participated in was a hike through the lush and historic Waimea Valley; the hike ended at a waterfall and natural pool where the water was warm enough for swimming.
Some additional amenities at the Aulani are the spa services, focusing on massages and skin treatments for infants through adults, and the Mikimiki Fitness Center with a wide range of workout equipment; each treadmill is equipped with its own cable TV so you can select the program you want to view while exercising. There is also a Late Checkout Lounge for hotel guests who are leaving late in the evening for the airport. In the Lounge are computer stations for printing out flight boarding passes and big screen TVs.
The food is fabulous at the Aulani! The Makahiki Room has a dinner buffet featuring island seafood, kalua pork and other meats, pasta, salads, fruit and wonderful desserts. I enjoyed the dinners in the Makahiki Room. Several times during each week the Makahiki Room offers a Disney character breakfast with all sorts of breakfast specialties such as omelets, French toast, pancakes, etc. There is music, dancing and plenty of opportunities to have your picture taken with a Disney character.
The Disney characters roam around the Aulani resort and even if you decide to skip a character breakfast, you are sure to run into Goofy, Minnie or another character while walking to the pool or participating in a resort activity. For a quick and inexpensive breakfast you can purchase an egg sandwich (similar to an Egg McMuffin) or a pastry in the Olelo Room, which is located next to the Makahiki Room. The pastries are delicious and huge! The open-air AmaAma Room offers more upscale dining options next to the beach. This is a great place for a romantic dinner as you view the ocean waves. Around the pool area there are several quick food/snack stations including the Papalua Shave Ice (huge shave ice cones!), the Rip Swirl Yogurt Bar, Off the Hook (a beachside lounge), The Lava Shack and One Paddle Two Paddle for hamburgers and sandwiches. While I was at the Aulani, I checked out some inexpensive eating options close to the resort. There is a food market a couple of blocks from the hotel and you can purchase breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, refrigerated meals, beverages and snacks at very reasonable prices. The Aulani hotel staff will place a microwave oven in your room at no charge if you ask for one at the front desk. Close to the food market is a Hawaiian Barbeque restaurant which features cheeseburgers for $4.00 and a full Hawaiian plate dinner for $6-$10.00. The hotels located near the Aulani also offer other dining choices.
I was very impressed with the staff at the Aulani Resort; they were always responsive, helpful and friendly. My stay at the Aulani was relaxing, fun and a memorable vacation! I definitely plan on returning for another visit! – Phyllis Larison
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