|The lobby of Aulani whisks you away on vacation.|
For my first trip to Hawaii, I researched as if I
were preparing my PHD dissertation. I read every book I could get my hands on, and tripadvisor became my new best friend.The chosen hotel, Aulani, Disney’s first venture into Hawaii, which opened in August 2011, exceeded my expectations threefold.
Leaving snowy Boston in the middle of February was a welcome departure, especially since it was my 30th birthday – what better place to forget about turning “old?” After one layover and 11.5 hours of flying, I was in Honolulu with my boyfriend – who had orchestrated the trip – what a guy!
From the Honolulu airport we had arranged to take a shuttle called Speedi Shuttle. You also can arrange to have a lei greeting with your pickup. For two passengers for a round-trip ride to Ko Olina – where Aulani is located - in a Mercedes van, is about $120. The ride was comfortable and took about 30 minutes with one stop to drop off other passengers. Our shuttle driver was knowledgeable about the area, offering suggestions for sightseeing and restaurants – and above all made us feel welcome in Hawaii.
|Aulani has many water features and incredible architecture|
Greeted with Koa Nut necklaces and lemon water, we walked through the open air lobby – which in itself was a site to behold. Flanked with indigenous colorful paintings, local wood carved meticulously, and the sounds of original recordings by Hawaiian artist Keali’I Reichel, I immediately felt like I was on a Hawaiian vacation that I would never forget.
Check in was painless and quick – we stayed for 5 days, 4 nights. They do have charging privileges that you can put on your room key – very similar to your Key to the World Card at Disneyworld. We were also handed a copy of the day’s EWA – which is a listing of all the activities they have for the day. Let me tell you – you could spend weeks here and not be able to participate in all the activities, which are conveniently broken down in terms of audience – i.e. adults, ohana (family), teens, or keiki (kids).
|The view from our standard view room was incredible.|
Our room was a standard view room on the 10th floor, which came with a price tag of $459 a night before taxes, a bit steep. It was clean, spacious and had all the touches you would expect of a Disney five star resort. The bed was comfortable, the shower had a rain head and a deep enough tub for soaking, and the room comes equip with a coffee maker and fridge. The view of the mountains was fabulous, and every room does come with a balcony – a wonderful place to sit in your Aulani robe and have coffee every morning.
Jetlagged and weary, we headed for my birthday dinner at AMA AMA – one of the two restaurants on the property. Please note that this reservation was made MONTHS in advance. As any frequent Disney visitor will tell you, the 180 day reservation policy is there for a reason – you can easily make reservations on Aulani’s web site, where there is also a place to enter if you are celebrating anything on the trip – code word: FREE DESSERT! We saw countless people get turned away and become quite angry when told that there were no reservations available during their stay – and the resort was only about 30% full!!! Imagine this resort when the second phase is open in 2013. Anyhow, on your reservation you can request to sit in table with a view – which is precisely what we did – however most of the open air restaurant does have a view of the Ko Olina lagoon.
|Pineapple cosmo at AMA AMA - great view!|
|Minnie Mouse making the rounds at Makahiki.|
Every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, Makahiki – Aulani’s other restaurant – holds a Character Buffet Breakfast. Again, book this way in advance – we saw parents fighting the hostess for a seat – no lie. For $32 an adult or $18 for kids 9 and under, you are treated to bountiful buffet – you need to try the guava fan pastries and the POG (passion, orange, guava) juice – and familiar Disney friends Goofy, Mickey and Minnie. Auntie, who is a Hawaiian Grandmother figure, is also prominent at the breakfast, playing songs with her ukulele and encouraging young ones to participate in games and dances. I must say, that the entire resort evokes a curiosity of learning more about Hawaiian language and culture. This breakfast teaches patrons Hawaiian words, and the servers are more than happy to explain local birds and foliage that you see. The buffet was great and we even returned for a buffet dinner on Valentine’s Day - outstanding. Also a bonus - Photo Pass is available all throughout the resort - capturing those magic moments with Disney characters.
|Daily fish feedings at the Rainbow Reef are colorful and exciting.|
|Aulani's double decker infinity hot tub - who couldn't relax here?|
The pool area was top notch – a lazy river with surprises along the way, two water slides, a volcano in the middle with subtly carved Hawaiian animal life and smoke eruptions, two infinity hot tubs, two regular hot tubs, a zero entry pool, and a Menehue water activity area for kids. Even with so much going on around us, the pool area still proved to be tranquil. Hawaiian music piped through the area, and watching the lagoon area from the pool deck was especially nice. While the pool wasn’t too crazy with noise or children, there is a quiet adult pool option as well. However, there is not a quiet adult hot tub – something that could be used seeing as though we saw many three year olds in floaties using the hot tub as their own personal bathtub – something common in Disneyworld as well. One time it was so overcrowded with toddlers that I shouted that I saw Mickey Mouse to weed them out!! I love kids, but sometimes I need to relax in the hot tub!
|Looking upon Ko Olina Lagoon from the pool area.|
|This secluded beach has a big payoff - a quiet view.|
There are a few other eatery choices at the surrounding hotels, however we did not go to any of them. We decided to take a walk down to the Ko Olina center in the afternoon – about a 10 minute walk from Aulani. While there are not many stores there now, I assume this will change soon. There was a Hawaiian BBQ place, Mexican restaurant, ABC Store (convenience, grocery, souvenir, liquor store) and an ice cream shop. We had dinner at the BBQ place; it was plate lunch style and about $15 a person – a nice change from the markups at Aulani. They also have a full breakfast menu. Additionally, if you call the concierge, they will tell you that Papa Johns and Pizza Hut deliver to Aulani – good option for a low cost dinner one of the days that you are there.
|More views of the pool area - zero entry!|
|The view of Aulani from the beach area.|
|Beautiful view of the resort at sunrise.|
We were allowed to stay and relax for hours after the treatment, and had full use of their showers and amenities before it was time to leave. One thing I would highly recommend for the spa that was lacking – however small – was a hook on the inside of the shower to hang your robe and towel. I had to place mine outside the door on the floor – opening up to the entire restroom.
|The Starlit Hui was great fun. Get there early!|
|Breakfast at AMA AMA did not disappoint.|
Although check out was at 11, and we weren’t leaving until 12:30 with our trusty Speedi Shuttle, we were able to check our bags with the bell desk and lounge around in the spacious areas of the resort, enjoying ice cream and one last look upon the vista.
|A nice place to sit and reflect - the lanai.|
As I was sitting there, a woman who had just arrived and was taking in the view, stopped me to ask a simple question. “Do you have kids?” she asked. “Do you need to have kids to be here or is this a great place for adults?”
|A taste of Disney on the lanai.|
One last piece of advice – if you are visiting other islands or hotels, go to Aulani last. We continued our stay at two more luxurious upscale resorts, that are toted worldwide….nothing compared – leaving us to miss the magic of Aulani before ever returning to the mainland.