My husband and I were fortunate enough to spend 6 full days at Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa in early November, here is our review.
“Aulani”, means, the place that speaks with deep messages. Disney has made it very clear that this resort is first focusing on Hawaiian culture, Big “H”, and little “d” for Disney. The Disney touches are subtle but still present. You will find hidden Mickey’s in the bedspreads, carpet, etc., but they want you to learn a bit about Hawaiian traditions and history. The lobby properly named, Maka’ala, means, open up your eyes and take a second look. You can actually learn their history by studying the murals. There are tours at various times which can give you detailed information on the reasoning behind the art and items at the resort.
The rooms are well-appointed. Even the standard room is beautiful and comfortable. We were upgraded (as a travel agent we are able to book certain rooms under certain codes, and thus an upgrade occasionally occurs) and were able to stay in a Partial Ocean View Parlor Suite. BEAUTIFUL! The view was great. There is a caveat – our room was facing -north-ish (the side overlooking the parking lots of Aulani and the Marriott), and we never had direct sunlight. Some people would love this, but I am a lover of the sun, and would have loved some direct sunlight at some point during the day. When booking/checking in keep that in mind when obtaining your room. Some people complained about seeing the parking lot below your room from the balcony – in my opinion, those people will complain about anything. We were on the 15th floor, the parking lot could be seen, but it was fine. The advantage was the views of the ocean were great, the views of the mountains were great, and we saw a rainbow nearly every day!
The property is STUNNING! Just gorgeous. The attention to detail is out of this world. The sunsets were also amazing. There are plenty of comfortable seating (in addition to poolside) throughout the resort for lounging, relaxing, and sunset viewing.
The pools were very well thought out. Obviously there are plenty of areas for the children to play. As a note, children that are not potty trained are required to wear swimmers. If you have a child in that group, bring enough for your stay – obviously those items cost more in Hawaii than at home. The Wailana Pool is supposed to be the “quiet pool”. There are no lifeguards on duty. Disney is still trying to figure out what to do there to make it known that it should be the quieter pool. 4 of the 6 days we were there there was at least one set of parents that brought their non-quiet child to the pool. Actually a couple of times the parents/grandparents were the loud disruptive ones. I know it’s a Disney resort, and we were not anti-children, but it did not make sense to us. There was a pool designed for kids, why not play with the kids there? Also, while we were there we never saw that the main pool was over-crowded, without lounge chairs, etc. There was ample space. It made no sense. So, if you want to ensure that you have a quiet place to read, bring some ear plugs.
The Lagoon and ocean area was beautiful! Right outside the resort gate there is Makiki Joe’s Beach Rentals run by Disney. Here you can rent umbrellas for the beach chairs, snorkel equipment, etc. The lagoon provides good snorkeling, and if you bring your own gear, its free! We saw a turtle on our snorkeling trip! In front of Makiki Joe’s is also where you meet the trainers for daily workouts provided by the resort. I highly recommend participating in a group exercise. You may find that you are the only party working out in the session. One of the daily workouts is often done on a bluff, it’s pretty picturesque. There is also a stamped concrete path that extends all 4 lagoons in the resort area for daily runs, or walks. The loop is approximately 2.5 miles.
The daily ‘Iwa provides the schedule each day for the resort. During our stay they began placing the following day’s Iwa in our room during the nightly turn down service. As to the turn down service, we also received a flower and bookmark each night. Back to the Iwa, here you will find out the character meet and greet times, and schedule for the resort. They have “a day full of Aulani experiences” for the whole family, including events designed for the adults. The Iwa indicates clearly whether an item is a premium experience resulting in a charge, but most items are included in your resort stay.
The resort provides nightly entertain that you should plan for accordingly. The Starlit Hui is their version of a luau and should not be missed. It is typically offered Monday and Thursday evenings in the Makaloa Garden. It is only moved to a different night when a party privately books that garden for a wedding or dinner. Those occasions are rare. The Starlit Hui is for resort guests only (be prepared to show your key when entering the garden.) The Iwa lists the start time as 7, and that is when you can begin making crafts and learning some Hawaiian traditions, but the on stage entertainment begins around 7:30. It is highly entertaining. For the adult only groups- there is a set of tables in Wailana Pool Bar that make for very comfortable seating. Get there early for your comfy seat! Otherwise, there are mats, lauhala mats, provided for you to sit on in the garden.
Tuesday and Saturday evenings the resort shows “Movies Under the Stars.” The movies begin at 6:45. “Finding Nemo” was showing one of the nights we were there.
Another clever well thought out area at the resort is the Luana Lounge which is on the first floor and is provided for those with early or late flights. It has locker rooms and showers. Guests can use this area to clean up before a late flight while enjoying the property their last day. If this is an area of the property that you intend to use, be prepared to check your main luggage, and use a little carry-on in the lockers for last day necessities. This lounge is also where you can print off your boarding passes before your flights without an additional charge. No other sites are accessible from those computers. They also have a tv monitor with all the flight information for that day’s flights, flight numbers, etc.
On to the food. Well, just as others have posted, this is an area where Aulani needs some work. For details on the hours of operation, general pricing and the choices, check out my previous blog, Preparing for your Trip to Aulani. All the information was updated after the visit. The signature restaurant Ama Ama has beautiful views. We also found that the food tasted good – but it was definitely lacking something. I had the goat cheese ravioli, and I was not full/satisfied at the end of my meal. For $22 ish dollars per entree for lunch, I would like to be content, feel satisfied. They also did not serve a bread basket with lunch, and we both ordered entrees. When I asked about it when my ravioli arrived, I was told it would take about 20 minutes for the bread to be prepared. My husband had the steak. He was served an average piece of steak with a pile of fries. No veggie, and no option for mashed or baked potato. It was just steak and fries. The waiter waited until we were finished with our meals with empty drink glasses to bring more pop/water. Our lunch was about $65 and it was just so so.
The other sit down restaurant is the Makahiki Buffet,“The Bounty of the Islands.” In our opinion, for a buffet, the food here was VERY good. We at here for breakfast twice, and for dinner twice. The second dinner meal was a slight disappointment. The food choices were essentially the same with the one variation being at the carved meat selection. It lacked an enjoyable starch to enjoy with the meal. They had Asian white rice, and jalapeno potatoes. The potatoes were awful, and the sticky rice was just that- plain white rice. Not a lot of fun there. For vegetarians, they had a tofu dish, as well as other vegetarian meal options. But the grilled vegetables were awesome. If you are a seafood eater, there are quite a lot of choices. Breakfast was GREAT. We do not have children, but still enjoyed the character meal.
As it relates to both sit down restaurants make a reservation. Make several in advance if you are not sure when you will want to go, and then cancel the unnecessary ones. (And in the interest of others that cannot get in to eat where they want, please cancel the reservation if you do not intend to use it.) Consider yourself warned, it will be hard to get into the restaurants without advance reservations. You can make them easily online.
We also ate at the quick service locations and enjoyed those meals. At the Wailana pool bar you can order just a plate of fries, or fruit as a snack. I thoroughly enjoyed my fries one afternoon! Review my blog, Preparing for your Trip to Aulani to read about other local dining options such as the ABC Country Market, and Roy’s. Both had REALLY good food.
I agree with other reviewers that there is a lack of options for dining. But that is the case with any resort. I think some people want this Disney property to be akin to a giant amusement park- it is not, it is a RESORT in Hawaii. As such, you will find Hawaiian Resort prices for the items sold. We experienced the same thing in the local Target – the prices are more expensive, because they need to ship things to Hawaii.
So, overall I LOVED THIS RESORT! I cannot wait to return. If I could teleport myself, I would go more often.
I hope you enjoyed this information, if you have any questions, feel free to post them in a comment.