This post is sponsored by Hotels.com. As always, all opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Hulaland possible.
Since you’re reading my little blog, you know that I love Hawaii, but what you probably didn’t know is that my love for Hawaii is transcended by my love for Disney!
So obviously, when the two mix, I am in heaven. I mean Hawaii x Disney…does it get any better than that? On my latest trip to Oahu, I booked the last part of my vacation at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Ko’olina and I’m so excited to share it with you!
Before I get right to it, here’s what you’ll find in this post:
My travelogue: everything I did, what I loved, and what I didn’t
15 things to do at Aulani: there’s soooo much to do at this resort
Tips for enjoying your stay: the scoop, the lowdown, the things the travel brochures won’t tell you
How to get a good deal at Aulani: Aulani isn’t cheap, but I’ll let you in on a great secret for saving $$$. Seriously, you need to know about this.
Aulani is located on the west side of Oahu in the resort community of Ko’olina. It’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and the perfect place to have a true getaway on Oahu. My mom and I had been staying over on the windward side of the island (Kailua) and racing around the island every day trying to cram a million things into each day, so we were super excited to get to Aulani and just chill for a few days.
We arrived at Aulani around noon and were able to return our rental car right to the bellman. Talk about easy drop off! We received a lei greeting and were led straight to the front desk to check in. Not only was our room ready, but we were upgraded to a partial ocean view. I suppose it was called partial because it looked out over the neighboring Four Seasons, but I thought it was a pretty awesome ocean view!
The room was lovely, spacious, and very well laid out.
After unpacking and reading the daily ‘Iwa (the schedule of activities going on around the resort), I’m not ashamed to say that my first stop was Kalepa’s Store (the gift shop). Because Oahu (and Aulani) is so popular with Japanese visitors, they stock some incredibly unique merchandise featuring Duffy, ShellieMay, and Gelatoni (all newly created Disney characters that are hugely popular in Japan). The week before I arrived at Aulani, they had just received a whole line of Gelatoni merchandise and it’s currently the only place in North America where you can buy it. Being a huge Disney fan, this was pretty exciting for me ; ) I picked up the most adorable ShellieMay bag and a few other cute things.
After my shopping spree, we grabbed a quick burger and sangria at Off the Hook Bar and Lounge, and headed to the pool for a couple of hours. We ended up at the adult’s pool (Wailana pool), because it was easy enough to find a spot to sit. We passed the afternoon reading and snacking on Mickey shaped food (a favorite Disney pastime). This was the only time we spent at the adult’s pool, because it was honestly a little too quiet and tucked away for me.
For dinner that first night, we walked across the street to Monkeypod. Their Maui location is a favorite of mine, but I have to say I may love the Oahu one more! Monkeypod is great if you want a nice but still pretty laid back dinner. It’s certainly not cheap, but it’s a way better deal than most of Aulani’s dinner options.
After dinner, we strolled back over to Aulani and hung out in the Olele Lounge, which offers live music every night. This night it was a duo playing traditional Hawaiian music and honestly it was the best I’ve heard ANYWHERE in Hawaii. Also, the ACE Pineapple Cider is amazing!
Our second day at Aulani started bright and early for me (I can never sleep in when I’m in Hawaii!) with a stroll around the resort to snap some pictures. I just love this place. I’m ready to move in!
We did the character breakfast at Makahiki and while the food was very good, I must say it’s a bit overpriced ($39/person), and I forgot how stressful character dining can be! When we checked in, Mickey was greeting out on the lanai so we waited 20 minutes or so to meet him. After that we were seated pretty quickly and had to time our trips to the buffet around Minnie and Goofy’s rotations. The buffet was extensive, the food was good, and we had a lovely location at the edge of the restaurant overlooking the koi pond, but overall I would skip Makahiki next time. All of the characters are available for meet and greets during the day and I think there are better (and more affordable) breakfast places with less chaotic atmosphere.
After breakfast, we set up camp for the day at the pool and basically just bummed around. Read. Dole Whip. Sleep. Repeat. All day long. With intermittent breaks to meet Moana, float the lazy river, and go down the slides.
I also splurged on one of these pineapple drinks! I’d had my eye on them since we checked in and I couldn’t resist the photo op. You can add the fresh pineapple to any drink for $9. I got the crushed pineapple mule. So good!
After lounging around a bit more (I can get so lost in a good book!), we got gussied up to go to the luau at Paradise Cove (it’s just down the street), and of course I had to get a picture with Stitch.
So even though Aulani did just open its own luau earlier this year, Paradise Cove is regularly reviewed as one of the best on the island and since we were staying out in Ko’olina, I wanted to check it out. I’ve got a full blog post about Paradise Cove coming soon, but suffice to say…if you want to do a luau on this side of the island, make it Paradise Cove.
Our third day at Aulani (wahhhh! Last day!) started with breakfast at AMA AMA. Y’all…this is the crown jewel of Aulani dining. It’s such a pretty restaurant (with an epic view!) that the food doesn’t even have to be good. But it is! Dinner can be pricey (and I’d done it on a previous trip), so we opted for breakfast. I went simple (even though the breakfast sandwich with lobster claw was calling my name!), and got the acai bowl. And it was one of the fanciest ones I’ve ever had! I honestly can’t recommend breakfast here enough. We wished we had done AMA AMA both mornings.
And then after checking out and storing our bags (we left on the red eye so we pretty much had the whole day at Aulani), we settled in to spend one more glorious day soaking up the sunshine, reading, and eating shaved ice.
And all too soon it was over. I managed to cram all my new Disney merchandise into my suitcase and we were off on a SpeediShuttle to the airport.
And I’m already planning my next trip back!
16 Things to Do at Aulani
If you’re anything like me, you probably like to take advantage of every little bit a resort like this has to offer. And let me tell you…that’s a lot! Here are 16 pretty awesome things to do at Aulani (and there’s so many more!):
1.Eat Mickey shaped things: Mickey pretzel, Mickey shaved ice, Mickey musubi, Mickey ice cream bar…eat them all!
2.Listen to live music in the Olele Lounge: Each night the Olele Lounge hosts live music and it’s one of my favorite things to do at Aulani. Get a drink and enjoy! It usually goes from 6:30 to 10 or 11.
3.Attend a luau: The Ka Wa’a Luau just opened at Aulani this year and features Hawaiian cultural crafts on the lawn prior to dinner, a fabulous buffet, and a great show. I’ll definitely try Ka Wa’a next time I’m at Aulani so I can compare it to other luaus.
4.Stock up on Duffy merchandise: Duffy, ShellieMay, and Gelatoni (special Disney characters that are super popular in Japan) have a ton of merchandise exclusive to Aulani. I went a little crazy ; )
5.Eat breakfast with Mickey and the gang: Meet Mickey while you’re eating Mickey waffles. Weird? Hey, it’s what you do at Disney and now you can do it in Hawaii! The buffet includes American and Japanese favorites with a Hawaiian twist.
6.Meet Disney characters: If you don’t want to shell out the big bucks for breakfast with the big cheese, you can meet plenty of characters out and about during the day. Call the number in the daily ‘Iwa each morning at 8 AM to get the schedule for the day.
7.Do the Menehune Adventure Trail: Follow these mischievous little guys around the resort on a high tech scavenger hunt. Check out an ipad, follow the clues, and see what kind of magic (or mayhem) unfolds.
8.Catch up on your favorite Disney movies: You can check out movies at the Pau Hana community center to watch in your room. Of course they have all the Disney classics along with a bunch of others. I watched Saving Mr. Banks. For like the 12th time.
9.Chill at the spa: The Laniwai Spa is one of the most spectacular spas in Hawaii and definitely not to be missed. I didn’t make it there this trip, but you can read this post about my last visit there.
10.Take a resort tour: Two different complimentary tours are offered at Aulani. One focuses on the resort’s extensive art collection, and the other about how nature and island influences play into the landscaping and architecture at Aulani. I really want to do these on my next trip!
11.Snorkel at Rainbow Reef: Too scared to snorkel in the ocean? You’ll love rainbow reef! It’s like swimming in a giant aquarium. It’s $15 for the day, or $20 for the length of your stay.
12.Leave the kids at Auntie’s Beach House: Disney runs some of the best kids clubs in the world and Auntie’s is no exception! Drop the kids off while you go to the spa or to dinner, and I guarantee you they’ll be begging to spend the rest of their vacation there.
13.Have a Dole Whip: It’s technically just “pineapple soft serve” but they have a pineapple and vanilla swirl that is my FAVORITE.
14.Do yoga on the beach: There are usually a couple of fitness classes offered on the beach each morning. Some are complimentary and you just show up and others need to be reserved through Laniwai Spa. Check the daily ‘Iwa for more information.
15.Float the lazy river and go down the slides: There’s no better way to spend a day than floating on a lazy river. Unless it’s going down a wicked slide in an inner tube.
16.Be a pool/beach bum: This is the BEST thing to do at Aulani. After your first day, you’ll probably find your sweet spot (at either the pool or the beach) and then you can show up early the next day to stake out your favorite spot.
Tips for Enjoying Your Stay
If you’ve been staying else where on Oahu and have a rental car, you can return it at Aulani for a $50 fee instead of returning it to the airport and then paying for a shuttle out to Ko’olina.
If you want to pick up some simple groceries, bottles of water, or liquor for making your own drinks, you’ll find all of that (and cheap souvenirs) at the ABC Store in the shopping center across the street.
If you want a great dinner off property, you’ll love Monkeypod across the street. They have decent happy hour specials (usually 3:30-5 and then 9-10 or so).
Aulani guests get a 10% discount at the restaurants at the Four Seasons next door.
If you have a car and you need to do a serious grocery run, there is a Target and Costco in Kapolei just about 5-10 minutes away.
While chairs are pretty easy to come by down at the beach, the pool is by far the most popular spot at Aulani and those chairs fill up fast. We saw so many people come down around 10 and not be able to find chairs in the main pool areas (Waikolohe Pool and Ka Maka Grotto Infinity Pool) but there did seem to be more availability in the more kid oriented sections (where the water feature/playground and splash pads are). The pools don’t open until 8 AM but many people come down early to get prime spots. There were signs posted saying that if you left items on chairs unattended BEFORE 8 they would be removed. So if you go down early, you’ll have to hang out with your stuff. There were also signs warning that if you left your chairs for over an hour, they would be marked by the staff and if you didn’t return in another hour, your belongings would be removed so that others can use those chairs. And I saw this happen a few times.
Character schedules aren’t announced until 8 AM that morning. You can access the schedule by calling the number printed in your daily ‘Iwa. Mickey, Minnie, and Moana are available most days. While I was there Donald, Goofy, Daisy, Stitch, and Chip and Dale were all available as well as Duffy. ShellieMay is apparently a “rare” character and I was so bummed I didn’t get to meet her!
If you’re staying for several days, consider purchasing a refillable mug. They’re about $18 and you’ll get unlimited refills on soda, coffee, tea, water, etc. for the length of your stay.
If you’re looking for a quick/cheap place to eat, that would be Ulu Café. They do breakfast, lunch, and dinner but I thought their menu was a bit limited and honestly it always smelled really weird when I went in there! They do have a selection of premade snacks and sandwiches as well as a great bakery case. This is where you can find pineapple soft serve, malasadas (until 11AM) and Mickey musubi (after 11:30 AM). Island Vintage Coffee in the shopping center across the street serves light breakfast and had amazing looking acai bowls!
Check the daily ‘Iwa for all of the scheduled daily activities. There is so much going on at Aulani!
Check out is at 11 AM but a lot of flights to the US mainland don’t leave until much later. No worries! Check out, store your bags with bell services, spend the day enjoying the resort, and when you’re ready to get cleaned up, bell services will give you a pass to the Luana Lounge where there are lockers and showers.
How to get a good deal at Aulani
Whenever I tell anybody how much I love Aulani, this is the question I get: “But it’s so expensive. How can I get a good deal??”
Well, it IS expensive. And while you’re probably never going to find it at budget hotel prices, I do have a couple of tricks for saving money that may make the difference between “out of the question” and “doable.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for the best way to book my hotel stays. I’ve tried booking directly and tracking individual rewards programs and I’ve tried booking with mega travel sites (the kind that do airfare, hotels, and rental cars), but here’s the deal: when I commit to accumulating points with a specific hotel chain, inevitably, the island I want to stay on Hawaii doesn’t have it or another place looks way better. And I don’t want to be a slave to my rewards points! Or…when I’ve booked with a major travel site, I haven’t gotten any type of rewards or loyalty points at all.
So here’s what I love about Hotels.com: It’s kind of the best of both worlds! They’re a major travel site so I get to take advantage of their bulk discounts and price negotiations, but they specialize in hotels (obviously) and have an AMAZING loyalty program that gives me my rewards AND lets me keep my flexibility.
Collect 10 Nights, Get 1 Free: You guys…this is a great deal! Especially if you travel somewhat frequently. No matter where you go and where you stay, when you book through Hotels.com you start racking up nights. And once you’ve stayed 10 nights, you get a night free! Depending on what kind of places you stay, this could be a HUGE savings. The value of the free night is the average price of your 10 previous nights, so if you’re staying at your average priced Hawaii beach resort, this could be quite a chunk of change.
I LOVE this feature of their loyalty rewards program because I can pretty much stay wherever I want and still take advantage of it. I can flip flop between Disney, Starwood, Marriott, Hilton, Aston, Four Seasons, or wherever and still get my free nights! For me, that’s a lot better than having to stay in a location that wasn’t my #1 choice just because that’s where my points were good.
Secret Pricing: Everybody loves a secret right?!? And this is the best kind of secret, because it saves you money! When you’re a member of the Hotels.com Rewards program, you’ll be able to unlock secret prices and you could save up to 50% off! That’s enough to add on an extra week! ; ) Only members can access them, and these aren’t just base prices marked up so it looks like you’re getting a discount. These prices are way cheaper than ones you’ll find on comparison sites and you can stack the discounts with other special promotions AND your free night! Now, of course the discount of these secret prices is going to vary depending on your destination, the time of year, and the specific property, but if you’re willing to be flexible, you can score some great deals using this feature!
Special Coupons: Good news, friends…if you book Aulani through Hotels.com, you’ll be eligible for up to a $100 cash rebate on your stay by using the code REBATES17!
Check out Hotels.com and sign up for their rewards program right here. It’s completely free and only takes a couple of minutes. And then get on to the fun part…start pricing out hotels in Hawaii!! Aulani may be a lot more doable than you think!
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