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I am not sure what day it was. Somehow the splashing of water, the warm sunshine on my back, and the sweet laughter and giggles of my children blended together in a haze of vacation happiness that had me doubting that reality actually existed outside the bubble of our tropical paradise. It must have been mid-week because I had already had plenty of opportunities to explore Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, with my family. I’d watched the sunset over the glittering Pacific, I’d snorkeled with tropical fish and sea turtles, I’d been pampered at the spa, and I’d watched my children’s faces light up with excitement and joy nearly hundreds of times. Even though the precise day remains a mystery, I won’t forget the feeling: bliss.
Bliss. To reach a state of perfect happiness, typically so as to be oblivious of everything else.
You’d be pretty hard-pressed to find someone who says they have a horrible time in Hawaii. It is a tropical island paradise, after all. But Aulani isn’t just your typical Hawaiian resort. From big activities and recreation, all the way down to the tiniest hidden Mickey detail, everything about your family vacation at the Aulani Resort is pure magic. With options on-site for every member of your family, prepare yourself for bliss.
To get started, watch this:
YouTube Video of our trip to Aulani:
Ocean and Water Recreation
As any good Hawaiian vacation should include, Aulani boasts a host of water-friendly activities and recreation. Families will love the clean sand and calm waters that gently sway back and forth into Ko Olina Bay; the man-made lagoon is perfect for learning to stand-up paddleboard, kayak, swim, and snorkel. The beach is lined with resort chairs and umbrellas, so claiming a spot in the sand is a simple task. The quintessential sandcastle building experience is made even easier by using the free buckets and tools supplied by the resort. My landlubber children didn’t want to leave this slice of paradise, and to be honest, with my feet in the sand and a cool drink in my hand, I didn’t either.
Although the beach was simply amazing, my children were actually more in love with the sparkling pools of Waikolohe Valley, the sprawling pool deck at Aulani. From zero entry pools to a lazy river that cuts through a “volcanic mountain,” to thrilling (even for mom!) water slides, to the Menehune Bridge, a splashing, running, romping, guaranteed-to-get-you-wet interactive water experience for kiddos only, we could have spent our entire vacation at the Aulani pools. Did I mention the poolside food and beverage service or the amazing shave ices? If your little ones are new to snorkeling, be sure to have them experience Rainbow Reef, Aulani’s private snorkeling pool. Kids can learn to snorkel in a calm, safe, and bustling underwater environment- you are guaranteed to see dozens of varieties of fish, making the experience so much more rewarding. Arrive just before fish feeding time for an interactive experience.
Aulani’s Resort Activities and Family-Friendly Programming
Although you could certainly spend your vacation at the pools or in the ocean, Aulani offers so much more than just water based play for families.
Time Spent Together as Family
In addition to family time at the pools and beaches, be sure to take advantage of the exceptional family offerings at Aulani, most of which are included in the cost of your resort stay. The Starlight Hui is an absolute must-see during your visit. This gettogether under the stars features a brief history of Hawaii told through the captivating dance and storytelling masters at Disney. Arrive early for close up seats, hula lessons (and the chance to take part in the show), crafts with Aunty, and more. Throughout the week, your family can enjoy organized games on the beach, relays, campfire stories, craft lessons, cartooning, and an interactive scavenger hunt on the Menehune trail. Meet and greets with your favorite Disney characters are offered every day throughout the resort.
Time For Mom & Dad
Even though Aulani is all about families, there is still plenty of stuff for mom and dad to do without the kids, and plenty of opportunities to do them. Aunty’s Beach House, the on-site kid’s club, is included in every single reservation. Yup, instead of handing over hard-earned fifties or more for your kids to do a kid’s program (or more if you have multiple little ones), the kid’s club is completely free. At first I felt a little bad dropping my girls off at Aunty’s, which is open daily for kids age 3-12; I felt like I was robbing ourselves of together time. These anxieties quickly melted away as I learned how simply amazing this kid’s program is. From making a volcano, to building (and racing!) miniature canoes, to dance parties, hula lessons, lei making, crafts galore, an outdoor playground, dress up, Disney movies, and an impressive, qualified staff, my girls actually started begging us to drop them off at Aunty’s. Kids can even eat meals at Aunty’s for a nominal fee if you want to enjoy a romantic dinner with your spouse.
While the littles were busy having the time of their lives, I got the chance to, quite literally, enjoy long walks on the beach, sip fruit cocktails while watching the sunset into the shimmering ocean, take a swim in the adult’s only pool and infinity spa, and even enjoy the epitome of relaxation: a spa treatment at the Laniwai Spa.
As odd as it might sound, our family time together was made even more special with our time apart. We had moments where we could forget the challenges of parenthood. Our girls made friends their own age at Aunty’s, which took the pressure out of spending time with siblings 24-7. When we returned together after an afternoon apart, we were all eager to share stories together, to recount the fun, and we were more ready for family time than we had been just hours before.
Time to Relax
If your little ones are running out of energy, there are plenty of low-key options at Aulani, perfect for a more relaxing and lazy afternoon (as if circling the lazy river wasn’t enough!). Movies on the lawn are offered in the evening on various nights of the week, and DVD rentals of nearly every Disney movie ever made are available at any time for use in your room, free of charge. A book library, video games, and even cast members who are willing to play with your kiddos are always on site.
Once it is time to head to bed, you’ll head to your room. I recommend staying in the one-bedroom villa, which is the same layout offered to Disney Vacation Members. The separate bedroom with dreamy bed and sprawling bathroom are perfect for mom and dad, while the kids will love sleeping on the actually comfortable sofa bed or the adorable Murphy bed that is stored in the entertainment console. Your kids will get a kick out of this adorable, fold-able bed. (Okay, you might think it is pretty awesome too!)
After our busy days in the Hawaiian sunshine, our evenings were a breeze. Bedtime, which can often linger for hours at home, came quickly and easily as our three little ones were tired from the day of play. A soft lullaby came from the live nightly music in between the towers below; the nightly serenade was lovely.
Read my full review of the suites at the Aulani, including the Hawaiian cultural influence, in-room hidden Mickeys, turndown service, the full-size kitchen, and why I loved that I had a washer and dryer!
Dining Options at Aulani
Aulani offers a great assortment of on-site dining for your vacation, although meals are not all-inclusive at this resort so be sure to budget accordingly. Check for specials, including the current offer which lets guests snag a $500 resort credit (good for dining, activities, or off-site excursions) with a four night villa stay (enter offer code W736G through 3/31/14).
Quick Service: The brand new Ulu Cafe is a great spot for a quick grab-and-go breakfast if you are ready to hit the ground running for your Disney vacation. Prices are reasonable, the line moves quickly, and the ocean view can’t be beat.
Splurge: You should definitely do Aunty’s Breakfast Celebration at the Makahiki Restaurant at least once. We officially splurged twice because we loved it so much. This all-you-can-eat buffet features something for everyone, including a mini buffet perfect in height for your little ones. But the star of this show is Aunty and her friends, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Chip, and Dale, that stop in for fun, songs, and visits during your meal. While the kids dance, play, and sing with Aunty & their favorite Disney characters, you can enjoy the tasty breakfast at Makahiki which includes fresh Hawaiian fruits, American favorites, coconut syrup pancakes, Asian specialties, and local Hawaiian traditional breakfasts like Loco Moco.
Budget: One of the major perks of having a full kitchen in your villa is that you can whip up a breakfast in no time. From cereal to eggs and bacon, breakfast can be just like home. Groceries are sold on site at Kalepa’s Store.
Quick (and crazy easy) Service: Since you are on vacation, bring the food right to you and order from the poolside dining menu at Off the Hook. They’ll bring your meal right to you and you can continue soaking up the sun (open until 5pm).
Quick Service: Still located in Waikolohe Valley, right next to the Rainbow Reef, head over to Mama’s Snack Stop for a few options not served with poolside dining, including Coconut Shrimp, which can’t be missed. The kid’s menu features mini hot dogs. For an absolutely delicious snack, be sure to grab a shave ice at Papalua Shave Ice.
Budget: The lunch and dinner menu at Ulu Cafe changes daily giving you plenty of dining options for a quick, less-expensive dinner. Ready made sandwiches, flatbread pizzas, fruit plates, and snack items complement the nightly hot dish feature.
Easy: Take advantage of your in-villa kitchen and dining area- housekeeping will even tidy up the dishes! If cooking doesn’t make you feel like you are on vacation, consider ordering room service, which offers family meals in addition to individual entrees. Families of four can enjoy “home-cooked” favorites like meatloaf, spaghetti, salmon, and more for a fixed price that includes all the fixin’s, dessert, and beverages.
Take Out: Although Makahiki serves up a night time buffet in addition to their morning with Aunty, my kids wouldn’t eat enough to make the cost worth it. What you might not know is that a la carte dishes are offered off of the buffet menu for dining in or take out, including ordering a whole pizza to take back to your room.
Splurge: ‘AMA ‘AMA boasts the absolute best dining at Aulani, and although the adult entrees are about the same as the buffet price at Makahiki, kids meals are a (slightly more) modest price at $13/child. Be sure to sample the local fresh caught fish at ‘AMA ‘AMA, or if you are dreaming for a taste of the islands, try your hand at one of their most popular dishes yourself. The recipe is included in the video below:
Overall, I can’t recommend Aulani enough. From excellent accommodations, impeccable attention to detail, family activities, the best kid’s club I’ve been a part of, and great dining, it truly is a resort that caters to every single member of your family.
Our friends at Travelmamas have put together a list of the Best Hotels for Families in the U.S.A. Check it out.
Disclosure: My family visited Aulani as part of an organized press trip. Although I received complimentary airfare and accommodations, I was not required to state any particular view. All opinions remain my own.
Thank you to Disney Days sponsors Undercover Tourist, Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau, Caribe Royale Orlando, Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Park, and Earl of Sandwich.