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Lessons Learned at Aulani: An Aulani Resort Review
by Cheryl Pendry on 09-18-2014
This is the second part of a series looking at lessons learned from our most recent Walt Disney World vacation.
This article one has one big difference from the previous one: we look at Hawai'i from our first visit there to stay at Disney's amazing resort Aulani on the island of O'ahu.
More travel articles recently added to the PassPorter collection:
Activities at Aulani - A Disney Destination Review last updated 03-13-2014
Enjoying Aulani - A Disney Resort & Spa at Ko Olina - A Disney Destination Review last updated 03-06-2014
Planning a Trip to Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa - A Disney Destination Review last updated 02-27-2014
Miami, Florida - A Disney Cruise Line Port Review last updated 01-16-2014
Walt's American Restaurant - A Disneyland Paris Dining Review last updated 12-26-2013
Halloween at Disney Parks Around the Globe - Disney Parks at the Holidays last updated 09-20-2013
Planning a First Trip to Disneyland Paris - Part 3 - What to Do Outside the Parks last updated 08-22-2013
Planning a First Trip to Disneyland Paris - Part 2 - The Walt Disney Studios last updated 08-15-2013
Planning Your First Visit to Disneyland Paris - Disneyland Paris Tips last updated 08-08-2013
The Walt Disney Family Museum - A Disney Attraction Review last updated 07-11-2013
Tokyo Disney Resort - Part 3: Tokyo Disneyland - A Disney Theme Park Review last updated 03-21-2013
Tokyo Disney Resort - Part 2: Tokyo DisneySea - A Disney Theme Park Review last updated 03-14-2013
Tokyo Disney Resort - Part 1: Getting There and Getting Settled - Disney Parks Around the Globe last updated 03-07-2013
SeaWorld San Diego Christmas Celebration - A Southern California Attraction Review last updated 12-07-2012
Cruising Without Mickey? - Comparing Other Cruise Lines to Disney Cruise Line last updated 09-07-2012
Disney Lessons for Planning Trips to Other Destinations - A Disney Planner Guide to Travel last updated 08-23-2012
London Olympics 2012 - The Olympic Spirit Brings a Touch of Disney to London last updated 08-09-2012
Bringing a New Look to the Disney Store - Disney Around the World last updated 08-02-2012
Making Your Way by Ferry to the Magic in Disneyland Paris - Getting There and Back last updated 07-05-2012
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"We are frequent travelers to Hawaii and have visited Oahu once before. My husband and I recently stayed at Aulani for 8 nights in a 1-bedroom villa. Disney was offering a special--4th night free and $100 a day resort credit.
The resort was wonderful. Check-in was effortless. I did it on-line and never had to go to a check-in desk. As you are greeted at the entrance door with a lei (fresh flowers for women, beads for men), you are asked for your name. There’s fruit enhanced water available at the entrance. After a wait of a few minutes, while another cast member told us some info about the resort and the lobby, we were given our room key. I did think it was a bit strange that no one showed us to our room personally (we’re used to this kind of service, usually staying at Four Seasons), but the bellman with our luggage was right behind us so we followed him.
The villa was fantastic. It was beautifully decorated and design layout utilized the space well. I’m really glad we decided to get the villa instead of just a regular guest room. Plenty of room for two, although it might have been a bit more crowded with kids. Full kitchen (housekeeping ran the dishwasher for us daily), washer & dryer (with detergent) which we did not use (but I could see how convenient that would be if you had kids). Sort of 2 bathrooms—one room had a vanity, commode and great, huge shower (note: housekeeping could have done a better job in cleaning the shower—I saw the same soap residue on the shower bench that I left on my first night there for the remainder of the stay). The other room had a jetted tub with another vanity that led to the king-sized bedroom with sliding shutters between the bathroom and bedroom. Very convenient.
Only complaint—very poor lighting. At the very least, Disney should install a lighted, magnified makeup mirror. It was difficult putting on makeup because you just couldn’t see. Lots of lighting just not strong wattage. Also, a built-in nightlight would be ideal. Luckily, we brought our own (but really shouldn’t have to). There’s a full-length mirror behind one of the doors which I appreciated. There’s a flat screen in the living room and another in the bedroom. There’s a balcony off both of these rooms, although small—2 chairs each—no table so was unable to enjoy breakfast out there. Balcony doors were unusually heavy; it really took some effort to get these doors opened/closed/locked. Rooms are situated (at least the room we were in (Eva Tower 577) so that other rooms cannot look into yours—very nicely done! Sofa is a sleeper sofa and very comfortable as a sofa—we never used it as a bed. Vacuum, iron, ironing board, wall safe, all kitchen appliances (toaster, ricer, utensils, etc.) included. Could have used a bit more bedroom drawer space but we made do.
Since we are from Eastern Time zone, we awoke early each day. In fact, we took photos of the lobby at around 4am the first morning and got jokingly questioned by the staff—what the heck are you doing up at 4am? It was great to be able to have breakfast in our room (full coffee maker with complimentary packs of coffee). We informed Housekeeping that we only drank decaf, so that’s mostly what they provided. When we asked for extra towels (during evening turndown service), they were always provided. Flower towel creations were left at night along with chocolates, bookmarker and an activity sheet for the following day. Only thing is that we had to call daily for turndown service even though we asked for it to be noted for our entire stay.
The common areas of resort—well, they are typical Disney—they’ve thought of everything. "Disney" did not hit you in the face, although I really liked the surfin’ Mickey that you could see in your room’s floor lamp only when the light was on—very cool, and, of course, the themed Mickey lamp in bedroom. The music (that was specifically composed for Aulani) in the lobby is wonderful--I would like to purchase the CD if there is one. The Marriott is next door, and they barely have any landscaping—not Aulani. It is very lush and particularly beautiful at night with accent lighting and water features. There’s an art tour and a landscaping tour—take them both—very interesting and informative—and free.
There are two bars—we liked the one right below the lobby. Both have entertainment nightly. If Jerry Santos is playing, stay for his entire set (5:30-9pm). He’s amazing. While there, his old partner and his family were visiting, and his daughter (former Miss Hawaii and choreographer of hula show at Disneyland) performed several hulas along with his music. It was magical.
I have to remark about the elevator music. It’s all kinds of Disney music, tweaked with a Hawaiian theme. It was a goal of mine to hear as many as possible—Small World, Part of Your World, Tale as Old as Time, etc. Very cleaver (and not in-your-face Disney).
We ate at Ama Ama twice for dinner and twice for lunch. All I can say is that they have greatly improved based on former reviews I’ve read. During dinner the first night, both the manager and the chef came out to talk to me about my allergies—what I could have and how they could accommodate me (swap out) on other items. We had the chateubriand with sampler appetizer and lemon dessert—everything was wonderful (although, for some reason, the entertainment quit playing just as we were seated (7pm) and didn’t return! For dinner another night, I had the lamb—which was good—not great—and my husband had the mongchong fish (which I absolutely love, however, I couldn’t partake since I am allergic to one of the main ingredients used). Both nights, they presented my husband with a small wedge of tiramisu since we were celebrating his birthday. For lunch, we had the chopped salad both days (once with added shrimp) with the papaya seed dressing (not the dressing it comes with)—out of this world delicious. On the second trip, when the wrong dressing was provided, they quickly corrected their error and were very apologetic.
Ulu Café was great—it’s a casual take-out (tables outside) open for B, L & D. Highlights were margarita flatbread (fresh gobs of mozzarella, fresh basil and tomatoes—so good), hot entrees (pot roast and to-die-for mashed potatoes). Portions were very generous, and staff was super friendly and helpful. They open at 6am which is great for us early risers. However, I wish their malasadas were really malasadas and not just cinnamon donuts—they need to make them like Leonard's Bakery does (but I was not making the drive to the other side of the island just for this treat!).
The Shave Ice stand is great for an afternoon treat (get it with the sweetened condensed milk topping) or get a Dole Whip!!!! that you serve yourself (my husband can make a mean mountain of Dole Whip!) at the Lava Shack. We did not eat at any of the other snack stands or the buffet restaurant. I was disappointed at the burger we got at the bar next to Ama Ama but that’s because, for some reason, you can only get a well done burger in Hawaii (same thing happened at Monkeypod Restaurant across the street from Aulani—great food though and nightly entertainment—be sure to try the fish & chips—wonderful malt vinegar aioli and the homemade lime or coconut cream pie-yum).
There are two—one very upscale (i.e., ridiculous prices) and then more of a convenience/souvenir store. They could use a bit more shopping in the area—not necessarily on property. However, besides the shops at Aulani and the small shopping complex across the street, there isn’t any. I missed that. Someone could make a killing by upping the shopping in Ko Olina. Note that Island Market (associated with ABC Stores) in the shopping area across the street has lots of souvenirs and grocery items, and a pretty extensive supply of liquor and wine. I didn’t think their prices were any higher than the Safeway that we went to a few exits away (so why make the trip unless they don’t have what you need).
There are floating platforms in the ocean that are anchored, so, if you are able to grab one before the kids occupy them, it’s a nice way to relax. There’s also complimentary ping pong on the beach and of course all of the typical rental stuff available.
Whoever decided to dig out those lagoons is a genius. Aulani’s is the largest and had some of the best snorkeling (better than on the snorkel trip we took up the coast). We saw a variety of fish, including needle nose, eel and puffer as well as huge turtles. Water is calm, it’s easy getting in and out since it’s a sand bottom near shore, and there’s barely any wave. There’s a 1 ½ mile walkway connecting all of the lagoons. We walked to the next one, but that was it—too hot. Why go anywhere else when you had such a great one right at your resort?
We were notified while there that a food/wine festival was going to be held on Sunday night on the beach and that, starting on Friday, they’d be setting up. This annoyed me a bit because (1) I would have liked to have been notified before our stay in case we wanted to attend (I found out eventually that it is sold out a year in advance!) and (2) they used up a lot of the beach and some of the ocean for the stands, etc. However, it was all worth it. Some guests parked themselves in pool chairs to listen to the music and at the conclusion of the event, they had a spectacular fireworks display. We were listening to Jerry Santos at the bar, and he broke into “When you wish upon a star”—very appropriate. So glad we didn’t sign up for the catamaran trip to Hilton Hawaiian Village on Friday night for their fireworks!
The pools are amazing. Great lazy river, inner tube slide and regular slide. Play areas for toddlers and another for kids. Excellent theming of sculptured animals in the rocks (like Tree of Life at AK). All cast members were helpful, pleasant, etc. Always was greeted wherever we went. The grotto pool was lovely. Should actually be the adult pool as it is the most romantic, and the adult pool does not look over the ocean. I would prefer a little less emphasis on children at Aulani as not every guest is traveling with kids. They have a few hot tubs, but we never use those—just ask any MD about the horrors of bacteria and you’ll never step foot in them again!
Complaint about pool area—they have a gazillion beach chairs crammed up right next to one another. You can’t even get into your chair without throwing yourself into it. I can understand why they might need this during their busy time (end of May through Labor Day), but they definitely didn’t need it when we were there. Towels are abundant (you get a wrist band—different color each day) from towel stand—that allows you to get towels, go in the pools and slides. There’s ice water stands in a couple of places (much appreciated although not fruit enhanced). Last day we were there, some attendants were walking around asking if we needed additional towels. Food/drink attendants came around periodically asking if we were ok. The strange thing, to me, was that there was a shower by the pools but not near the beach. Most resorts want you to rinse off the sand before entering the pool area. It worked out ok; I just thought it was peculiar.
They have a ton of activities for kids, tweens and some for adults. We appreciated that they had an art class which we attended after we checked out (since check-out is 11am and flight wasn’t until 7:30pm). Kind of like Animation Academy at Disney Studios at WDW, although our instructor, although super nice, wasn’t as good an artist as the folks at WDW. But then we got to paint a cell—Mickey, Minnie or Stitch (you paint on the reverse side). Makes a nice remembrance of your trip. We could have utilized some of the other offerings at the Pau Hana room (like the Menehuni adventure), however, we were too busy with the lazy river, slides, snorkeling, snoozing and reading on the beach chairs, etc.
We went to the Starlit Hui show the first night. If you have kids, you’ll probably want to go. If you don’t, skip it—it was boring and quite uncomfortable sitting on mats on the ground. Unfortunately, this lawn area is where our room overlooked (with a distant view of ocean). When there are conferences (and there was one while we were there), they hold their social evening events there. It’s good that they stop at 9pm, but still; I wish they could have a separate area, not in view or within hearing distance of the rooms.
There are character sightings, but they are pretty low key. The characters are out at breakfast at the buffet, and you can see them from the lazy river. Goofy comes out in the afternoon at the pool to lead the kids in some loud activity—thanks, Goofy, for waking me up one afternoon when I had just dozed off :). But it’s nothing like at the parks at WDW. And, of course, they are all dressed for the tropics. Plenty of Photopass-type photographers around the grounds.
When you check into excursions, be sure to ask about non-Disney ones. Luckily, one of the gals (during our 4am walkthrough) told us about the non-Disney ones. We came back later to sign up for one, and the new gal we talked to didn’t even mention them—we had to tell her about it. She said that Aulani’s website should start to list them in the future.
There’s the snorkeling experience that Disney charges for—I would only suggest if you have very young ones that want to snorkel in a safe (albeit I’m told—cold) environment. You can see the fish through 2 large walk-up areas. The snorkeling area itself is pretty small, but there are a ton of fish. Better to bring your own equipment as we did and snorkel right in the lagoon as much as you want. You’ll see just as much fish plus turtles!
Since we had been to Oahu before and had seen all of the sights, we decided not to leave during our stay because Aulani had everything we needed or wanted. Wish I had known that there is a complimentary shuttle throughout Ko Olina resort area and that Monkeypod restaurant was just a 2 min. walk across the street. We wouldn't have rented a car if we had known. We could have saved the cost of the rental plus the $35 a day parking. We literally took the car out once to Roy's Restaurant (could have used shuttle), once to go a short drive away to a grocery store, and then again to head back to airport. Since I was offered free airport transfer and a 1-day car rental (which I declined), I really would have appreciated if Aulani would have explained this to me since it's not on their website.
When booking this trip, I had all kinds of issues about not being able to get a straight answer as to what the $100 a day resort credit covered. I wrote the general manager of Disney Resorts—got no response. I emailed the general manager of Aulani, and he did have someone from their travel department in California contact me. They should do a much better job of informing hotel front desk and travel company cast members on their promotions. Would have saved this guest a whole of time, unnecessarily spent in trying to resolve this.
Is it expensive? Yes. Everything in Hawaii is expensive. Aulani prices were no different than any other resort we’ve stayed at in Hawaii (and we’ve been to Maui, Kauai, Hawaii & Lanai as well as Oahu in the past). You just expect it and bite the bullet.
Would we return? Absolutely. If you are a first-time visitor, however, I would recommend staying somewhere on the eastern side of island for a while and then transferring over to Aulani for a few days. You need to get the full effect of the real Hawaiian Pacific Ocean (with waves) and see all of the touristy sites before you just sit back and relax and get pampered by Aulani. Can't wait to return. Tell them Bob and Shirley said Mahalo and Aloha."
Tip by Shirley
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Our own flower and garden festival
2 Oct 2014 at 2:27am
*Our own flower and garden festival **
Saturday 27 September – part one: wow! :jawdrop: *
This trip report will cover a weekend where my...
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