Looking for a Disney Aulani Review? Let me shed some light on this amazing family-friendly resort in Hawaii.
We have visited 7 times in the past 6 years, and there are very few places we return to with our kids over and over again. Mainly because the world is just so big and there is so much left for us to uncover. However, there are certain AMAZING destinations, like Disney’s Aulani, that we just can’t seem to get enough of. And, it’s not just our family. Disney’s Aulani was voted No. 1 in the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Top Family Hotel: USA. Take a look at this gorgeous resort, read my full Aulani review + get my insider tips to help you plan the most amazing Aulani vacation EVER!
The ULTIMATE Guide to Disney’s Aulani- Full Aulani Review + Top 10 Tips + a Photo Tour
I am SO excited to finally sit down and put in writing why I LOVE Aulani SO MUCH!!!
You see… Aulani is one of the few vacations where I actually come home rested and relaxed. Do you hear me… I come home RESTED & RELAXED after taking a vacation with FIVE kids ages 2-13 years old. So, for all, you parents out there who are saving vacationing until your kids have grown this post is for you!
From the moment you pull up to the stunning Hawaiian resort you know you are in for a treat. Super friendly staff greet new guests with a lei (women) or kukui nut necklace (men), and kids receive their very own Menehune necklace. To the naked eye, the resort is a stunning architectural masterpiece that embodies the spirit of Hawaii. A fine luxury resort that offers world-class service, amazing spa treatment, gorgeous amenities, and more. But, take a peek through a child’s eye and you will find Aulani to be an enchanting place with magic around every corner.
At Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, you will have SO much to do, the only difficult decision will be where to start? We recommend taking full advantage of Aulani’s incredible pools, splash area, lazy river and of course, the water slides. But, make sure to check your daily ‘Iwa because there is a host of activities (many of which are complimentary) that happen every day too!
Spa treatments at Aulani are top notch and I highly recommend you book one. Especially, since the kids club is included in your stay for kids 3+. Did you know that Laniwai (Aulani’s Spa) offers O‘ahu’s only outdoor hydrotherapy garden?
Dining at Aulani is also a treat. We LOVE the fish tacos at “Ama “Ama and happy hour at the Olelo Room. You also won’t want to miss the Aulani Character Breakfast at Makahiki for the kids (or the kid in you). (You Can check out my character breakfast review here) It might just be my all-time favorite Disney character breakfast and we have been to almost all of them! (read about our Disneyland and Walt Disney World experiences + tips & tricks)
Worried about the resort being too Disney-ish? Relax… the Disney influence is kept to a minimum offering the perfect balance for kids and parents alike. Read on to learn my Top 10 Tips + Photo Tour…
Aulani is located in Ko Olina, on the gorgeous island of Oahu and just a quick 20-minute drive from their main airport of Honolulu (HNL). Honolulu is a massive airport served by 27 international and domestic carriers, 3 inter-island airlines, and 4 commuter airlines.
If you are flying from the West Coast you can usually find decent rates through Hawaiian Air, Virgin America, and Alaska. Occasionally, Delta, United & American run specials too.
You have your options of transportation such as car rental, taxi, shuttle services and public transportation while on the island all which are detailed out with links here.
We have always rented a car as shuttle fees for 7 add up quick 😉 If you opt for that option I recommend using www.discounthawaiicarrental.com. We have always received great service and the best rates through them.
Staying at Aulani (+ how to save $$)
There are several options when it comes to rooms at Aulani. The hotel offers standard rooms and 1 & 2 bedroom suites. All which are luxurious and well suited for families.
If you are looking for an exceptional experience, though, I highly recommend checking out Aulani’s Vacation Club Villas. The villas are part of the Disney’s Vacation Club (DVC). You can book a 1-3 bedroom villa or opt for a studio. Either way, you gain home-like amenities that make your family vacation so much better. Studios offer a mini fridge, toaster, microwave and paper service wear and utensils. The larger rooms offer full kitchens, laundry, separate living room areas and more.
We purchased our DVC Membership back in 2000 and it was one of the best decisions we have ever made. It is also one of the reasons we are able to afford to travel the way that we do. DVC provides such a great value that our family is able to afford to stay at some of the world’s best family-friendly resorts year after year.
Besides providing great value, DVC points are also incredibly flexible. When you purchase your DVC Membership you essentially buy a 50ish year deed (varies depending on which resort you purchase from) to one specific Disney Vacation Club property. Yet, you receive DVC points that can be used to book a stay at any of the Disney Vacation Club Resorts, their Concierge Collection (which is a collection of world-class resorts like The Hotel Del Coronado and The Sagamore), plus thousands more through their partnership with RCI.
Unlike, other timeshares, Disney Vacation Club can also grow with your family. When we first purchased DVC points we had no kids. As we added kids to the family we slowly purchased additional points to accommodate our larger hotel room needs. Other options available to DVC members are the ability to borrow and bank their DVC points. This option came in handy when we booked a huge trip with extended family to Aulani. We simply banked points one yea and borrowed from another year.
The most outstanding benefit of purchasing a Disney Vacation Club Membership versus other timeshares in my opinion is the brand. With Disney you can expect incredible service, super clean hotels, and kid-friendly accommodations and activities. Plus, because the demand for Disney is so high your DVC ownership also retains its value and can be sold on the resale market should you ever decide that you are done with it.
The most common question I get asked is “Which property should I purchase?” My #1 tip is your first set of points should be at the resort that you want to go to the most. One huge advantage DVC Members receive is the ability to book a villa reservation at their home resort 11 months in advance, where as other DVC Members who do not own points at that specific resort can only book 7 months in advance. When it comes to popular resorts like Disney’s Aulani this is a major bonus. You see, Aulani books up incredibly fast, especially in the summer months and for good reason there are gorgeous beaches, incredible pools, and tons of Oahu adventures nearby (check out some of our favorites here).
If you are curious about purchasing a Disney Vacation Club Membership you should really check out the purchasing through an online marketplace like SellMyTimeshareNow.com. Purchasing on the resale market can save you thousands of dollars! SellMyTimeshareNow.com also has a ton of resources on renting DVC points and they can help DVC owners sell their timeshare too! We haven’t tried them yet, but we looked through their inventory and they have a good amount of Disney Aulani timeshare points available for less than resort pricing!
If you aren’t ready to plunge into membership yet you can still SAVE BIG by renting points from a DVC member. Our favorite DVC rental site is DVC Request.
Click the banner below to see how much you could save on your Disney Vacation from renting DVC points.
Lastly, place like Getaway Today offer some great prices on Vacation Packages. Use promo code: munchkins and you can save $10 off your vacation package. (It might not be much but hey, that’s a free Mai Tai)
Top 10 Tips for Aulani from a Pro
Tip #1- Take Advantage of Auntie’s Beach House
Here is the deal… you are on VACATION! You have a full day to spend with your family so it’s not going to screw up your bonding time if you let your kids have a blast over at Auntie’s for a few hours. Trust me!!
Where else can you take your kids where they love going to the kids club so much that they beg you to take them there. Oh, and where it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg??? Okay, maybe a Disney Cruise… but on land???
In the kids club resort world, Aulani absolutely crushes any competition. Auntie’s Beach House is full of super fun activities, amazing/ friendly cast members and exclusive experiences that only Disney could create. And, its included with your stay!!!Auntie's Beach House is full of super fun activities, amazing/ friendly cast members and exclusive experiences that only Disney could create. And, its included with your stay!!! Click To Tweet
So, the first thing you should do after checking in is head to Auntie’s Beach House and sign up your kiddos for this amazing included amenity and sometimes Mickey Mouse swings by for a visit.
*Tip- be sure to sign up for any Auntie’s Beach House special activity well in advance. You don’t want tears because you missed the sign up for Stitch’s Space Goo. Trust me… been there done that!
Tip #2- Grocery Shop on Your Way In
Hit up Costco and/ or Target before you check in they are one exit prior to the resort when you are coming from the airport. If you have a villa this can end up saving you a ton and the staff can unload the groceries and get them up to your room right when you check in too!
We typically grab breakfast items, snacks and some lunches for the kids. We have even grabbed stuff to BBQ on property before. My brother in law loves their BBQ area.
Next time we go I will most likely grab some alcohol too as I recently heard Aulani raised their cocktail prices.
Tip #3- Eat Out… But Be Smart!
- I recommend hitting up Makahiki at least once. It’s a splurge but their breakfast spread is pretty delicious and the kids LOVE the characters and Auntie walking around playing her ukulele.
- Another great breakfast spot if you have a car or grab an uber is KOA Pancake House. It is dirt cheap and has AMAZING Banana Macadamia Nut Pancakes just one exit past the resort. Check out my nieces pic below of her pancake tower. Then click the picture and go follow her travels on instagram.
- Happy Hour at the Olelo Room is a MUST! You will enjoy happy hour pricing on drinks and tasty bites (including sliders, nachos, hummus & more) + they also have great live music.
*Did you know the staff at Oleo Room are required to speak fluent Hawaiian!
- Ulu Cafe also offers full-sized pizzas for a reasonable price in the evenings. I think I paid about $25. And, the kids were big fans of poolside pizza 😉
- Another great happy hour can be found across the street at Merriman’s newest restaurant called Monkeypod.
- Near Monkeypod you will also find options for pizza, sushi, and Mexican. All of these options are cheaper than eating on property.
- Need a quick sandwich, snack or maybe you forgot something at home? ABC market is right next to Monkeypod across the street and has everything you need.
- We also like walking over there to grab an Island Vintage Coffee (YUM) or ice cream for the kids too!
Tip #4- Check the Daily ‘IWA & Join in the Fun
The daily ‘IWA is delivered to your door each morning. You can also request it the night prior by visiting the front desk. Inside this guide, you will find all the complimentary and paid activities for the day.
Activities you ABSOLUTELY should attend
- NEW! Celebrate the Spirit of Moana- See the info here We haven’t visited since Moana was released, however, Aulani’s website states several super fun ways to experience and celebrate Moana on your next visit.
- Starlit Hui– it is like a luau show without the food and it’s completely free. The entertainment is fantastic and if you arrive early there are complimentary games and crafts for the kids too!
- UPDATE (3/14/17): Aulani no longer offers the Starlit Hui. They have replaced it with the KA WA ‘A Luau. We recently were able to experience this incredible luau. Check out our post on the 5 Reasons we LOVED KA WA’A here.
- Movies on the Lawn- exactly like it sounds you grab a giant grass mat, sit down and snuggle your loved ones under the gorgeous stars as you watch a movie. They also have concessions for sale.
- Character Pool Party- If you have little ones you absolutely need to hit up the pool party. Characters + Water + Music + Disney Magic = A GREAT Time! Make sure you have your camera handy.
- Menehune Adventure Trail- your munchkins will love checking out the iPad like a monitor that takes them on an exploration/ scavenger hunt around the resort. Their monitor will unlock magic along the way!
- Family Challenge- One of our favorite things to do is join in on the Family Challenge. This one is great for 5-99 years old. Your family completes in challenges on the beach against other families. It’s worth having someone sit on the sidelines and video.
Check out Our Family Challenge Below.
View more of our videos from Aulani on the Global Munchkins YouTube channel here.
Tip #5- Chair Timers
This is a big one.
If you come back to your chairs and they look like this… immediately fix your towels and lay your chairs back down. Aulani has a rule regarding the chairs and they don’t mess around. You will see staff walking around who are dedicated to timing chairs.
If you leave for too long they make a note of it. They mark your seats by organizing your chairs as seen above. If you do not return to your chairs within a given time they will confiscate your items and hold them for you at the recreation check-in desk and allow others to utilize those seats. Don’t lose your good seats!!! Check back often if you are hanging out at the beach, floating in the river or enjoying the water slides.
Tip #6- Buy the Refillable Mug
As soon as you check in head to the gift shop or the Ulu Cafe and buy yourself a mug. In our family, we don’t drink much soda. So, what we do is buy two. One for me and the second for my hubby. We use them mainly for coffee each morning and evening and then for iced tea throughout the day. It is worth it for that alone. But, we also occasionally treat the kids with a soda too.*By treat I mean its a bribery tool used to make older children play with their younger siblings- ha!!!
Tip #7- Bring a Refillable Water Bottle
Whether you purchase a mug or not I would recommend bringing a refillable water bottle for each member of your family. Free water is located throughout the resort and no one needs to end up dehydrated on vacation. That Hawaiian sun is HOT!!!
Tip #8- Let Your Kids Enjoy the Menehune Adventure Trail
You can check out an iPad to get started at the Pau Hana room. This interactive game is described as an iPad assisted treasure hunt around the resort property and the kids LOVE it!!! They get clues on their iPad from Auntie about what the mischievous Menehune have been up to. When they get the clues right they unlock amazing interactive pieces i.e.) make the lava flow from the giant volcano, make sea turtles rise out of the koi fish pond etc… Some extra Disney magic!!!
We really enjoying the adventure trail in the evening. Some of the interactive pieces light up and they look much grander when it’s a bit darker outside 😉
Tip #9- Go on a Menehune Statue Scavenger Hunt
These adorable statues of the legendary Menehune are located throughout the property. Some are incredibly easy to spot and others are pretty well hidden. There are 300 in all. Talk to your kids about it before you arrive and they will have a blast searching them out as you wander around the gorgeous property 😉
Tip #10- Be an Early Bird
Want to score those perfect chairs at the pool? You need to get up early. My morning ritual: hit the gym at 6 am, grab a specialty coffee at 6:45 am then grab my pool chairs watch the sunrise. Not only do I get my workout in and enjoy this gorgeous view… but I also get the best chairs in the house!!!
BONUS Tip #11- Get to Know the Cast Members
Get to know the cast members. Above is Alyssa… she has become a part of our family over the years. Hawaiian’s, in general, are amazing, welcoming people who will “talk story” with you all day long. Say more than just hi and you will get some amazing insider tips like where the sea turtles hang out nearby, the best local eateries etc… Plus, you will come home with an even larger Ohana than you came with.
*Tip- walk down the path to the right of the resort property by the ocean. Continue about 5 minutes past the resort and you will come to a beach area where the sea turtles love to play.
Things to Do in Oahu
Aulani is an amazing resort and sure you could spend your entire vacation there… BUT you are in HAWAII!!!! There are so many amazing things to do and see nearby it is definitely worthwhile to rent a car at least for a day or two to explore the island. As I mentioned above we have found great prices on www.discounthawaiicarrental.com and you can also rent a car through Alamo right on property at Aulani.
Here are some Day Trips/ Activities We Love:
- Head to North Shore and watch the surfers
- Eat lunch at the Famous Shrimp Trucks (Mackie’s is the BEST!!!)
- Grab a Shaved Ice at Matsumoto’s… then take a pic so you can return and force the kids to get in the exact same line up someday in the future 😉
Visit Pearl Harbor:
Pearl Harbor has a gorgeous memorial and several museums. If you are traveling to Oahu I highly suggest you make time for a visit. You can get tickets online here for up to 6 people at a nominal fee (basically just paying the service fee) and avoid long queues and sold out tickets for the movie and boat ride.
Initially, I was hesitant to take the younger kids… however, it was not only age-appropriate but they found it incredibly fascinating and educational. I am SO happy we went.
Horseback with Gunstock Ranch
This family-owned cattle ranch is located about 40 minutes from Aulani… but the drive is part of the experience. I have no idea what the names of the mountains we drove through are but what I can tell you is they felt alive. There is just something about the way the mist sits against the emerald green hillside.- ahhhhhh!!!!
You arrive at the ranch greeted by the friendliest staff, hop on a horse and ride off into the hills. Atop your horse, you will have some of the most stunning vantage points as you overlook the ocean below. The terrain is unbelievably beautiful and it is by far one of my favorite Hawaiian experiences. No joke… I want to be a Hawaiian cowgirl when I retire. I am pretty sure life doesn’t get much better than that!!!
See my full review here.
Visit Sea Life Park
My daughter and I visited Sea Life on our last Aulani visit. We booked a Dolphin Adventure through Viator.com and it was incredible!!! Not only was our dolphin experience amazing but we had a blast in the park itself too. They have an amazing sea turtle breeding program, an educated and helpful staff, lots of hands-on experiences like the aviary and touch pools and you can’t beat their location.
Check out my whole review here.
Looking for more off property fun? Check out my post on Things to Do in Oahu and check out this AWESOME post by YTravel Blog on More Great Things to Do in Oahu.
A Photo Tour of Aulani
(Scroll Down for Tips)
Let’s Begin… Arriving!
As you drive into Aulani you can’t help but feel its magic. The resort is stunning and authentically Hawaiian. There are touches of Disney magic but it’s not overwhelming.
The Hawaiian staff warmly greets you. Kids are given their own Menehune souvenir necklace upon check-in. There are also flower leis for the ladies and kukui nut necklaces for the men.
You walk through the giant slider doors and into the lobby… isn’t it beautiful!!!
Did you know… that the images in the photo collage behind the front desk were all taken by school-aged children in Hawaii??
Kids love the playroom directly across from the front desk. Parents love that it keeps little ones entertained upon check-in or while parents talk to the concierge desk. Ella is peeking inside the peephole to see the Menehune running around in there. Liv was fixed on the Disney cartoons. These amenities are what make your trip with kids SO much easier!!!
Did you know Aulani houses the largest collection of Hawaiian art in the world!!! Over 60 local artists were commissioned to complete works for the hotel before it opened!
Don’t you love the indoor/ outdoor vibes? Classic Hawaiian!
The lobby sits on the second floor so when you walk out onto the over-sized balcony you overlook the entire property which is pretty massive.
We visited during the holidays hence all the lovely garland.
The Pau Hana Room above is a community hall where you can rent movies and video games. You can also stop in to play board games, join in on crafts etc… We had a blast taking a cartooning class one time. Turns out I shouldn’t quit my day job, art is definitely NOT my thing. However, I did enjoy myself immensely!
Yup… Aulani for the win here BIG TIME!!! There are 8 pool/ water areas on property plus a gorgeous beach cove. You can swim in the pools, enjoy the spa, float in the lazy river, head down the slides, paddle board in the cove and snorkel in the man-made Rainbow Reef. Or drop the kids off at the INCLUDED Kids Club– Auntie’s Beach House and enjoy some quiet time at the adult pool and spas. One thing is for sure this view NEVER gets old!!!
The infinity pool above is our FAVORITE SPOT. The pic is taken from my chair!!!
Did you know… the pool pictured in the photos above has whale and dolphin noises playing underwater. The kids get a kick out of it!!
The Keiki Cove Splash Area lights up and plays music when kids come by on the Menehune Adventure Trail!!! This is the perfect spot for babies and toddlers.
The kids love the Menehune Bridge. My only complaint is that it is only for kids under 48″ making it a bummer for my older ones. I think they should change the height restriction here as they already have the Keiki Cove for the wee little ones. This area is too cold for young kids + the bridge and slides are too big for them to do without parent help anyhoo.
Above is the adult pool… I have never found the need to visit it. But, I do enjoy the bar in this area which serves specialty coffee in the early am too!
The water slides ROCK! There is a body slide and a tube slide. And, the tube slide you can ride single and doubles!!!
This is our family after completing the family water slide challenge. We came in first place. Although no one else knew there was a game going on because we made it up… whatev’s!
Who doesn’t love a lazy river? You can come down on the tube slide and just continue to float into the river or hop in as you please at any of the entry/ exits along the river. Watch out for the ice cold water that drips down from the caves… its C.O.L.D.!!!!
I am crazy scared of sharks and snorkeling out in the ocean with so many kids.. way too dangerous for me. Which is why I love Disney’man-made, shark-free snorkeling pool called Rainbow Reef. The kids can rent equipment and safely snorkel right there. The reef is full gorgeous native Hawaiian fish!!!
Plus, the viewing window is great for toddlers and babies. They feed the fish several times a day and that is definitely worth watching from the viewing window too!
You can rent all sorts of beach toys (many for FREE) including this giant four square game that Liv loved. No need to pack sandy beach toys either. Disney has you covered. Your older one needs a boogie board, wants to play ping pong- BAM… also included! And, the rec crew does a great job keeping kids occupied so parents can relax by the beach too!
*I should note things like paddle boards are available but for an additional fee.
There are character greetings a few times a day in tucked away spots. The kids flip out when they see the characters in HAWAII!!!
You can also make reservations for a Character Breakfast or Dinner (NEW) at Makahiki Restaurant, hang out with characters at the pool parties or visit them at Auntie’s Beach House. But, again they keep characters to a minimum to ensure families are receiving an authentic Hawaiian vacation. Its really the perfect mix of fun for your kids and gorgeous luxury Hawaiian resort for you!!!
Ama Ama is the resorts fine dining establishment with gorgeous ocean front views. Its a great escape but also pricey so we usually drop off the kids and grab lunch vs dinner to cut costs a bit.
Ulu Cafe is a grab and go eatery. Their food is decent but nothing to write home about if you catch my drift.Well… maybe with the exception of their AMAZING made to order malasadas… YUMMY!!!
You can’t be in Hawaii and not try shaved ice. Luckily there is a stand on property serving up Hawaiian style shaved ice and at reasonable prices too! What is Hawaiian style you ask?? Shaved ice served on a bed of vanilla ice cream and then topped with condensed milk. Some swear by it but I prefer mine just shaved ice + a few flavors of sugary syrup on top. Treat yo’self!!!
Have you tried Hawaiian style? Let me know in the comments below 😉
The Lava Shack is a small gift shop which offers a few packaged snacks and has a soda refill station.
Feel like snacking on a Mickey Pretzel or how about some fresh spring rolls. Little Opihi’s is your place. I heard that they source their spring rolls from a local specialty chef. Not sure if its true but they sure are delicious!!!
Of course, there is always room service… you are on vacation after all. Might as well indulge a bit 😉
Now here is where Aulani knocks it out of the park. Check out our 2 bedroom Villa!!!
The kitchen has everything we need to cook full meals + the kids love hanging out coloring or chatting at the kitchen table. We have so many amazing memories right there at that table.
We love coming back to our room after happy hour at Olelo where we eat + drink + enjoy the music as the sunsets over the ocean. We open our sliding doors to the balcony, listen to the crashing waves and play board games or talk about our amazing day all night long! Its one of those moments you wish you could wrap up and come back to always. It’s just that GOOD!!!
Of course your villas is equipped with a coffee pot, dishes, serving ware, pots, pans, microwave and a toaster. If you have a 1, 2 or 3 bedroom villa you also have a full sized oven, stove top, dishwasher and fridge too!
And, you can also request additional items such as a rice cooker, blender and BBQ utensils as well!!
Check out the views. This is a model room in the Waianae Tower. It’s gorgeous… but the Ewa Tower has even better views and the balconies are also quite a bit larger too! See the view from my villa in the Ewa Tower below.
*Tip- when making a reservation for a two bedroom villa be sure to request to be in the Ewa Tower!
The master bedroom is tastefully decorated and the beds are super cozy too! There are a few hidden Mickey’s and touches of Disney magic as well.
One thing I love about the two bedrooms is that it has three separate bathrooms. The master has a full bathtub and a waterfall shower head. The second bedroom has its own bathroom and shower + there is a guest bathroom in the living room.
*TIP- You have to ask for a dedicated two bedroom though or you will wind up with only 2 bathrooms.
One amenity I absolutely LOVE is the in-room laundry. Boy does that make life easier when you are traveling with kids. Other helpful items moms will appreciate hidden in this closet include a step stool, porta crib and high chair for little ones.
*Did you know you can also request a bottle warmer for your room?
Aulani Review Wrap Up-
I hope if you have made it this far through my Disney Aulani review that you have concluded that Aulani is a pretty amazing resort for families and one that should be on the top of your list. If you have any questions please let them in the comments. I respond to each question with a private email. I love helping other families plan their travels.
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Have you visited Aulani? Do you have any tips of your own or maybe questions about the resort? Leave me a comment below
*Disclosure- This is a personal blog all thoughts and opinions expressed are for informational purposes only. All thoughts and opinions expressed are, as always 100% my own. This post contains affiliate links.
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