Disney Aulani First Timer Tips

Episode 37 – Disney Aulani 101: Tips & Tricks for a Disney Vacation in Hawaii


Where do Mickey and Minnie go when they want to get away from it all? Disney’s Aulani resort in Hawaii, of course! Hawaii is a destination deservedly on many people’s bucket lists and we’ve got everything Disney fans need to know if they’re considering staying at Aulani in Hawaii. From what to do, to what to eat, to why it’s such a special place – we cover it all in the latest episode of Disney Deciphered.

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Tips for Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Hawaii. Beginners' guide to the pools, dining, activities, and more at this Disney tropical destination on the island of O'ahu. #aulani #disney

Aulani Basics

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, is a Disney resort on the island of O’ahu Hawaii. Disney World veterans will probably most closely compare it to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

But unlike the Poly, the resort has no Disney theme parks or other offerings around it. It stands on its own, with pools and water playgrounds, shops, a full-service spa, and numerous restaurants and activities on site. After all, who needs a few theme park rides when you are in paradise, right?

Disney has made a tremendous effort to make the resort more about Hawaii and Hawaiian culture first rather than just about Disney. So no tacky tiki or character overload to be found here, making the resort feel even more luxurious and refined than perhaps even the deluxe resorts of Walt Disney World.

Disney Aulani - Aulani at Night

Location and Getting to Aulani

Aulani is located in the Ko Olina area of O’ahu, about a 30 minute drive west of Honolulu airport (Pearl Harbor is in between the two).

Many travelers to Aulani choose to rent a car for their vacations. Car rentals are usually fairly cheap and easy at HNL. If you do choose to rent a car, however, be aware of the hefty $37 a night parking fee. If you choose to rent DVC points for your stay (more on that later), you can avoid the parking fees. Car rentals can be smart choices if you want to explore elsewhere on the island during your vacation.

If you don’t want to rent a car and drive yourself, Aulani offers airport transfers. Cabs are also available, at about $90 each way. As of December 2017, Uber and Lyft are now permitted to pick up at HNL (their temporary trial was made permanent in summer 2018), so that is likely your cheapest option for ground transportation.

Activities at Aulani

Most families will spend most of their time at Aulani at the pool and water play areas of the resort. In addition to several large pools, the resort has two waterslides, a water playground (Menehune Bridge), a small splash area for toddlers (Keiki Cove), and a lazy river (Waikolohe Stream).

Disney Aulani - Toddler at Keiki Cove
Splash pad fun at Keiki Cove.

Aulani’s beach is another big draw. Situated on a protected lagoon, it’s safe for even toddlers to wade. The beach hut has plenty of free sand toys or you can pay an extra fee for water activities like paddle board rentals.

Disney Aulani with Toddlers - Beach Sand Toy Rental
Free sand toys galore on Aulani’s beach.

Other things to do include the expensive but truly amazing KA WA’A Luau (usually held 3 nights a week), snorkeling at Rainbow Reef, Disney movie nights on the lawn, character meet-and-greets, and a variety of cultural activity offerings. There’s so much that it helps to check the resort’s schedule of events, the Daily I’wa, to plan out your day. Better yet, check it out in advance of your trip to get a sense of the overall weekly rotation.

Disney Aulani - Kawaa Luau
KA W’AA Luau.

Last but certainly not least, a major activity highlight for kids is the included kids club, Aunty’s Beach House. Kids ages 3-12 (who are fully potty trained) are eligible to attend. Aunty’s is the gold standard in resort kids clubs so expect for your kids to be begging to be dropped off.

Disney Aulani Kids at Auntys Beach House
Siblings playing together at Aunty’s Beach House.

Aulani Crowds

Potential Disney travelers always want to know about the crowds, and Aulani is no different. The resort can get its fair share of them during high seasons (summer vacations, Christmas holidays, spring break weeks).

To be sure, however, they aren’t Waikiki level. But it can sometimes be a scramble to get a pool chair at peak times. For parents who want to drop their kids at Aunty’s Beach House it’s important to note that it can and does fill up on some occasions. You can dodge some of that risk by booking and paying for the premium sessions to guarantee your child a space at a certain time, but that negates one of the huge benefits of Aulani – the fact that the kids club is complimentary.

Food & Dining at Aulani

Dining options abound at the resort. ‘Ama ‘Ama is the highest end restaurant on site at Aulani. Reservations are definitely required for dinner, but it’s easier to walk in at lunch. This is the spot to plan a romantic couples dinner at sunset, so drop the kiddos at Aunty’s Beach House and have a nice night out!

Makahiki is a more casual restaurant that offers a character dining buffet. Breakfast is served there daily with characters, and a character dinner is offered several times a week as well. Both are pricey, but the guaranteed character meet and greets can make this meal well worth the cost.

Disney Aulani - Makahiki Character Breakfast Mickey
Guaranteed Mickey meet-and-greet when dining at the Makahiki character breakfast.

Quicker service food options are available at Ulu Cafe (known for its well-reviewed poke bowls!) or Mama’s Snack Stop. The casual dining restaurant by the pool, Off the Hook, is another less expensive choice. And certainly don’t forget the shave ice stand in the center of the pool area. This is a daily afternoon snack for most guests during their stay. Be sure to ask for your shave ice with Mickey ears.

If you are looking to save a bit of money, venture over to Monkeypod, a restaurant in the shopping center across the street from Aulani within easy walking distance. It’s a cheaper option with plenty of authentic food and drinks and regular live music.

Aulani Rooms

Disney Aulani DVC Villa Bedroom
One bedroom DVC villa at Aulani.

Aulani has plenty of standard hotel rooms, but families may want to consider the Disney Vacation Club villas for more space and the amenities of a condo – kitchens, laundry, etc. These DVC units can be rented from Disney directly. But to save even more money, consider renting DVC points from a company like David’s Vacation Rentals. Find out more about how to rent DVC points at Aulani here.

Disney Aulani - Villa Living Room and Kitchen
Kitchen and living area in a DVC villa.

Episode Description

Considering a trip to Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii? Joe is, so Leslie’s got him covered with everything he needs to know about planning a trip to Aulani. From why it’s such an amazing vacation, to the wonderful Hawaiian details Disney sprinkled throughout the resort, and down to the logistics of what to do there and what to eat – we chat about everything you need to know. Spoiler alert – Aulani sounds like a ton of fun!

If you like what you hear, please share the podcast with others you think might enjoy it. Also, we’d appreciate if you subscribed on iTunesStitcherSpotify, TuneIn, PlayerFMiHeartRadio, or Google Play (please leave a positive review if you’re enjoying the show), liked our Facebook page, or followed us on Twitter!

You can also e-mail us at disneydeciphered AT gmail DOT com. Connect with Leslie @TripswithTykes on social media and Joe @asthejoeflies.

Episode Notes

Comprehensive Review of Disney Aulani

9 Aulani Splurges Worth Your Money

How to rent DVC points for Aulani vacations

1:53 – What is Aulani?

4:53 – Getting there from Honolulu airport

6:34 – Activities at Aulani and why you may never leave the resort

8:29 – Crowd levels?

11:33 – More activities at Aulani

14:25 – Eating options in and out of the resort

19:16 – Final tips and tricks

22:19 – Disney Dos and Don’ts

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