Aulani Resort: Four Days in Paradise, and Why We Can’t Wait to Return!

by Aug 15, 2018


I have always wanted to visit Hawai‘i.  There is nothing I don’t love about sunshine, crystal clear water, great food, relaxation, the list could go on and on.  Since I grew up in Florida, a somewhat tropical destination in itself, Hawai‘i was never a vacation that my family took. As an adult, I have been trying to get to Hawai‘i for 13 years.  Careers, moving multiple times (military family here), and beginning a family put my dream vacation on hold until June 2018. We were fortunate enough to enjoy eight days on the island of Oahu, four of which were at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai‘i.  

Aulani Resort opened in August 2011. The resort is conveniently located on the island of Oahu about 30 minutes west of the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL).  The Ko Olina Resort and Marina is home to Aulani Resort (along with 3 other luxury resorts), residences, natural and man-made lagoons, retail shops, and restaurants.  There is also a highly ranked golf course on Ko Olina property that is home to LPGA events. Aulani Resort is home to just over 350 hotel rooms, 481 villas, multiple dining options, Laniwai – A Disney Spa, Aunty’s Beach House, and much more.  



Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai‘i: Day 1


We all slept in a bit on day one. But because of the time change, we were down at the pool pretty early.  We all had our daily wristbands and were floating down the Waikolohe Stream by 9:00! The word Waikolohe means “mischievous water” in the Hawaiian language and is home to the lazy river and the two water slides at Aulani Resort.  While my husband, my daughter, and I enjoyed a relaxing tube ride, my boys misunderstood lazy river and thought I said “crazy river”. They explored every waterfall, found numerous animal carvings, met lots of other kids and then waited “patiently” for us to catch up.  After a few laps in the Waikolohe Stream, we wandered over to the Waikolohe Pool, which is considered the main pool at Aulani Resort.  It features zero-entry which is great for the little kids and is spacious and can accommodate large families that want to swim and play together.  This pool is also home to the Shake-a-Shaka pool party that is sure to entertain all the members of your family with music, dancing, and games. The kids could have stayed in the pool all day but for me, the ocean was calling (cue the Moana music).



The Aulani Resort beach at Ko Olina Lagoon was the perfect beach spot for our family.  The lagoon provided a safe place for the kids to play without fear of being knocked over by waves.  Beach chairs and umbrellas are complimentary and are available on a first come first serve basis. We had no problem finding beach chairs at any time of the day.  Boogie boards, sand toys, and life jackets are also complementary and are available at Makiki Joe’s Beach Rentals. At Makiki Joe’s you can also rent paddleboards and snorkeling gear.  For those wanting to go “past the reef”, you can visit Makiki Joe’s to make a reservation with Hawaiian Ocean Adventures and explore Oahu on a sailing canoe.



Our first trip to the lagoon consisted of sand play and boogie boarding.  The kids were having a blast right up until they realized they hadn’t eaten in at least an hour and a half and decided that they were probably going to pass out in the next 5 minutes if we didn’t feed them NOW! We decided to do lunch in the room so that we could shower them and get them ready for their first visit to Aunty’s Beach House.  Aunty’s Beach House was one of the main reasons our family chose Disney’s Aulani Resort for our vacation.  While we love vacationing with our children, we also don’t mind some quality alone time where we can unwind and relax.  It certainly makes it easier to relax when you feel confident that your children are having a blast in a safe environment.  When we arrived at Aunty’s Beach House the registration process was simplified as I had submitted my registration online and printed out forms before arrival.  After registration, they took us on a tour of the facility and my kids were asking me if they could stay and play. Let the relaxation begin…scratch that, my husband and I decided to get a work out in.  I know, I know. What were we thinking?



After changing into workout gear, we headed back out toward the lagoon.  Aulani Resort is located on one of four man-made lagoons.  The lagoons have connecting sidewalks that provide a nice walking/running path. Round trip was roughly 2 ½ miles, which was great to know for the remaining 3 mornings.  We ended our workout with a visit to Mikimiki Fitness Center, which consisted of a variety of cardiovascular equipment, strength equipment, free weights, and an area for stretching.  The fitness center is located next to Laniwai – A Disney Spa.  The spa looked amazing!  I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t get a spa service on this trip.  It is one of my regrets since I love a good spa day. I would have loved to experience Kula Wai, the outdoor hydrotherapy garden located at Laniwai – A Disney Spa.  I’ll just keep telling myself I was saving that spa treatment for my next visit!



We ended day one with another round of swimming, dinner at Off the Hook (a casual poolside table service restaurant), and grabbed delicious Mickey ice cream bars from Kālepa’s Store.  This convenient general store came in handy quite a few times during our visit as it carries a variety of groceries, Mickey memorabilia, clothing, and a great selection of souvenirs.


Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai‘i: Day 2


Using the knowledge from the previous day, my husband and I alternated a morning run along the 4 lagoons.   While on my run, I witnessed 2 fitness classes on the Aulani Resort lagoon.  Paddleboard yoga looked relaxing while still ensuring a great core workout and the boot camp class looked energetic and fun.  The beautiful scenery and comfortable weather made the workouts look fun and inviting. We worked up an appetite and thankfully I made mid-morning breakfast reservations at Makahiki.  



We headed down to Aunty’s Breakfast Celebration at Makahiki – The Bounty of the Islands.  This character breakfast located on the ground floor of the main building featured Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, and Aunty herself! Aunty sings and plays the ukulele while engaging the children in games, parades, and dancing.  The breakfast buffet featured some of our family favorites like Mickey waffles, scrambled eggs, and breakfast meats, and it had the best fruit spread I have ever seen at a buffet. It also offered an omelet station, house-baked pastries, and Asian offerings.  We took pictures with all of our favorite characters with the kids in their bathing suits and the characters in their best Hawaiian attire. I hesitated putting my kids in bathing suits for breakfast but it made the transition back to the Waikolohe Valley easy and they fit right in with the laid-back Hawaiian atmosphere.  



Back at the pool, we discovered the Menehune Bridge, which is the water playground for children under 48 inches tall, and the Keiki Cove Splash Zone, which is a tame splash pad for even the smallest of Keiki, which means child in the Hawaiian language.  Kids can search for Menehune in both of these areas. Menehune are legendary little people responsible for mysterious happenings on the islands.  My kids loved spotting them during our stay at Aulani Resort.  Another kid favorite was the Mickey Shave Ice from Pāpālua Shave Ice stand.  Hawai‘i is known for shave ice which is finely shaved ice with flavored syrup available in a variety of flavors.  Traditional shave ice is served over a scoop of ice cream and can have sweetened condensed milk drizzled over the top.  It was delightful!



We ended the day with the Menehune Adventure Trail, one of the many complimentary activities that is offered at Aulani Resort.  This high-tech interactive scavenger hunt entertains guests with magical surprises once riddles are solved.  There are indoor and outdoor trails and no two trails are the same as it is randomly generated. Aunty narrates the scavenger hunt, through the device, where she also talks about traditional Hawaiian language and the legend of the Menehune.  It was a fun and informative activity for the whole family!



Trip Tip: Do the indoor scavenger hunt during the day to get a break from the sun.


Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai‘i: Day 3


We started the day with breakfast in the room after sleeping in until way past 8:00.  Our family loved having the 1 bedroom villa. It really provided ample space to relax and spend some time together as a family.  The 1 bedroom villa consists of a king bed in a separate bedroom, a pull-out sofa in the living area, and a murphy style twin pull-down also in the living area.  A full kitchen, dining, area, large bathroom, and laundry facility completed the villa layout.



After a lazy morning, we headed back to the pool where the kids discovered their favorite pool,  Ka Maka Grotto.  This pool was beautiful.  An infinity edge overlooked Ko Olina Beach, the kids could swim through the misty grotto, and my husband and I could relax in the hot tub.  It became the hangout for the rest of the vacation. Ka Maka Grotto is also conveniently located next to Ulu Café, which is a quick service restaurant featuring grab and go items, pizzas made to order, breakfast favorites, fountain drinks, and more.  The Ulu Café was a popular choice based on its location, large selection of food and beverages, and it offered ample outdoor seating to enjoy your breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  



After another fun day in the sun, we had to get ready for our evening plans.  My husband was signed up for a sunset photography class, we had reservations at ‘AMA‘AMA, and the kids were off to Aunty’s Beach House.  After a successful drop off at Aunty’s Beach House (I have a very dramatic 4-year-old girl) my husband headed down to his photography class and I was headed back to the room for some quiet time.  The photography class was lead by a Disney photographer and was limited to 5 participants. This class focused on how to photograph a Hawaiian sunset with silhouettes.  He still uses his skills learned from the class to photograph the California sunsets back home.

We ended the day and celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary (a month late) at ‘AMA‘AMA.   This open-air restaurant offers amazing oceanfront views, casual atmosphere, and amazing food.  The menu changes to highlight the season and uses fresh, local ingredients. It was a great “date night” restaurant and it was easy to relax knowing our kids were having a blast at Aunty’s Beach House which is conveniently located right next door.  



Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai‘i: Day 4


Today we checked out of Aulani Resort and headed to a different part of the island.  To say I didn’t want to leave is an understatement.  The accommodations were amazing, but what really made it hard to leave was our whole family really had such a great time.  My boys had the whole morning planned of activities they wanted to do “just one more time”. We headed back to their favorite pool, did a few more laps in the lazy river, and I finally got to go down the water slides!  Aulani Resort offers a transient room, the Luana Lounge, to shower, change, and relax on days you are either checking into or out of the resort.  The Luana Lounge has towels, shower amenities, couches, and televisions to enjoy while waiting for other members of your family. It also has a convenient swimsuit water extractor to get most of the water out of your swimsuit.

Trip Tip: Pack a small bag of clothes for the day and leave the rest of your luggage with the bellhop after checking out of your room.  Pack a plastic bag for your bathing suit.

And then we had to leave…

But we will be back!

I can honestly say that this was one of our favorite family vacations.  We are already discussing our next visit to Aulani Resort.  I mentioned before that I didn’t get a spa service which is one thing I really wish I had booked.  The waiting area at Laniwai – A Disney Spa was enough to make me want to go back.  It was tranquil and calming and I was just in there to make a purchase from their selection of bath amenities.  When we return, we want to check out the activities offered in the Pau Hana Room-Community Hall. The Pau Hana Room offers board games, DVDs, arts and crafts, and books.  It also hosts the ukulele lessons, painting classes, and more. We did visit the Pau Hana Room as it is where you begin the Menehune Trail scavenger hunt, but next time we will definitely be in there more often.  Lastly, KA WA‘A – A Lū‘au at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa won’t be missed on our next visit to Aulani Resort.  The reviews from other guests were great and you can’t beat the convenience of being able to walk to and from a lū‘au.  

As if I haven’t mentioned it enough, Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa was an amazing vacation destination.  We met families on multi-generation vacations, to corporate sponsored vacations (I think my husband needs to work for those companies), friends traveling together, to couples with no children.  This resort really has a lot to offer and we can’t wait to go back.





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Brigitte Smallwood

Brigitte Smallwood

Travel Planner

Contact Brigitte today, using the links below!


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