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The Best Things to Eat & Drink at Aulani

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“Disney” and “food” has become a hot niche! If you’re the type that plans your Disney trips around snacks, then good news! You’re going to love Aulani! 

We’ve got restaurants, specialty snacks, and local favorites with a bit of Disney flair. 

The Food Situation at Aulani

I’ll be honest…I vacillate on what I think about the food situation at Aulani. Some of it’s great, some not so great, but here’s basically what you need to know: 

There’s a huge buffet restaurant (Makahiki) similar to what you’d expect from Disney (i.e. Chef Mickey’s, Boma, etc).. For breakfast it includes characters and for dinner SOME nights it includes characters but not all. 

There’s the “signature” restaurant (think California Grill, Napa Rose, etc.) AMA AMA that sits right on the water and serves dinner. 

There’s a quick service spot called Ulu Cafe which has grab and go snacks, poke bowls, acai bowls, flatbreads, and daily specials. 

There’s a food stand at the pool that serves mostly baskets of fried foods (Mama’s) and a shave ice shack. 

There’s a snack stand down by the beach, a coffee kiosk, an evening lounge, and a pool bar (Off Da Hook) which also does pool chair service. 

Besides these options there are three other large resorts within walking distance that all have restaurants plus a shopping center across the street that has a handful of restaurants plus a small market.

Those are the basic facts…now onto my opinions!

Everything You Need to Eat & Drink at Aulani

Makahiki (Character Dining)

I’ve done it three times now and every time I say I’m not going to do it again. The food is actually pretty good. My reluctance to return probably has more to do with the price tag and the fact that character dining kind of stresses me out. With tax and tip it ends up being $50/adult. 

You stand in line after you check in to meet Mickey (there’s a photopass photographer there), and then 2-3 other characters come to your table once you sit down. It’s usually Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto. 

There’s an “auntie” that roams around with a ukulele and a microphone singing songs and trying to get people to engage. There’s napkin waving, loud parades with children (I honestly can’t even remember if they’re shaking shakers, beating drums, or pushing coconuts around the floor with brooms, oh wait no that’s at WDW), and auntie singing songs to people celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. 

Geez, it’s not as bad as I’m making it sound but if you’ve been to Ohana, Chef Mickey’s or the Hoop Dee Doo at Walt Disney World then you already know what to expect. Kids love it. 

Note that since the reopening, it hasn’t returned to a buffet yet which is a real bummer because it was a seriously good buffet. Hopefully that returns soon and If I go back again, it will be to try the dinner buffet without characters. All you can eat seafood is so hard for me to turn down.

‘AMA AMA

This probably isn’t a popular opinion, buuuuttttt…I’m not a big ‘AMA AMA fan. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s just not as good as other comparable places. Especially for the money. This is the high end, check your kids into Auntie’s (the kid’s club) and have a nice romantic dinner at sunset place. 

The food isn’t bad, but I’ve never had anything particularly phenomenal there. If money isn’t a serious concern, then definitely have dinner there. And make sure your reservation is before sunset because if you show up after dark, you’re missing out big time. 

Here’s a note though: since AMA AMA reopened (it was closed for over two years), it has a prefix menu and honestly from what I’ve seen it’s probably going to be a skip for me in its current form. Many courses, tiny portions, and a bit too exotic for my taste. It’s just not the kind of dining experience I like and for $125 (that doesn’t include alcohol, tax, or tip) that’s just a lot. Anyways, if you’re going to try it, make sure you look over the menu first because it’s not the kind of place you can just get a steak or seafood. 

I’m hoping they start serving breakfast and lunch again soon, because that was my favorite time to go. 

Ulu Cafe

If you’re a frequent Disney traveler, you know the Disney quick service food scene. Ulu Cafe is on par with what you’d expect at a deluxe resort like the Grand Floridian or Polynesian and a little better than theme park food. 

It’s fairly small and there’s not an enormous selection (some of it does vary day to day) but what they have is good. There are usually a few different kinds of flatbreads and a daily special or two. 

The poke bowls and acai bowls are both pretty decent here and there’s Dole Whip. And then there’s a grab and go section with treats (so many of them Mickey shaped). 

The Mickey Musubi is a must try. 

There is covered seating at the cafe, but it’s also easy enough to grab your food and take it back to your pool chairs. Ulu Cafe is also where you can get your refillable mugs filled (they’re about $20 and you’ll get unlimited refills on soda, coffee, tea, water, etc. for the length of your stay). 

Food and Snack Stands

There are a handful of food stands around the property. Mama’s is your best bet if you want to walk up and get something while at the pool. Burgers, chicken tenders, fried shrimp etc. can all be found there. 

The shave ice stand is right next door. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a major shave ice fan. That being said…I don’t think the shave ice at Aulani is the best I’ve ever had, but it is the cutest! You can add little Mickey ears for $1. 

There’s a small snack stand close to the beach that’s not particularly notable but they do have Dole Whips and usually soft pretzels. 

There’s also a coffee kiosk near Ulu Cafe which is where you’ll find your more high end caffeinated beverages. 

Off Da Hook

I really like this pool bar. It’s a nice step up from Ulu Cafe without having to leave the pool. Food’s good, drinks are good, but the main thing you need to know are about the giant pineapple drinks. This is where you get them. They’re not cheap. But they’re fun! When I got mine, I think it was about $27 including tax and tip. You pick the drink you want and then I believe the pineapple was about $10 extra. 

Olele Lounge

If there is one food and beverage related experience you definitely shouldn’t miss, it’s after dinner drinks at Olele Lounge. The inside is cool and tells the story of the Hawaiian language (there’s often a linguist on hand), but outside there’s live music every night and I’m not going to lie…it’s often the best music I’ve heard ANYWHERE in Hawaii. 

I say “often” because they rotate different acts and they’re all great, but one night it was a duo playing traditional Hawaiian music and it was unbelievably good. The music usually starts around 6:30 and goes until 10 or 11. It’ll be printed in the Daily ‘Iwa.  

Dining at Other Resorts

The Four Seasons is right next door and the Marriott is a short stroll away. You can dine at either without staying there. Mina’s Fish House at the Four Seasons usually has a great happy hour and there’s also an opulent weekend brunch that I have not been able to try yet but it’s tippy top of my list for next time. 

The Marriott has a Longhi’s (there’s a couple on Maui) and it’s definitely worth a try. There’s also a Roy’s on the golf course. 

Ok, I tried to give it a fair shake and while food at Aulani isn’t exactly bad, I’m always left a bit at a loss for dinner. So usually I go to….

Monkeypod

I used to live on Maui and we went to the Monkeypod for happy hour sooooo often so when they built the one in Ko Olina I was THRILLED. Here’s the deal…it’s just always good. Food, service, atmosphere…check, check, check. 

It has some haters (I think mostly because so many people rave about it that there’s bound to be some naysayers), but every night it’s where I gravitate towards. 

Their mai tais are legendary and the atmosphere is always a party. But like the kind of party it’s ok to bring your kids to. The only downside is that it’s usually pretty crowded. So make a reservation or show up early for happy hour (there’s a late happy hour too) when drinks are $12 and appetizers are half price. 

There are also a handful of restaurants across the street from Aulani (in the same shopping center as the Monkeypod) to try. There’s a pizza place, taco place, breakfast place (Eggs n Things) and an Island Vintage Coffee. 

Groceries

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 Island Gourmet Market/ABC Store in the shopping center across the street. 

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. All of the villas (one, two, and three bedrooms) have full kitchens so if you’re trying to save money it’s possible to do quite a bit of cooking. 

Still Looking for a Place to Stay?

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable. 

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan. 

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too. 

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours). 

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before. 

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).  

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset. 

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly. 

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window). 

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot. 

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window. 

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot. 

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person. 

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle. 

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM. 

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of. 

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day. 

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before. 

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online. 

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor. 

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here

You’ve got three options here: 

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation. 

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas. 

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer. 

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation. 

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and they’ve been opening reservations (and selling out) 4-6 months in advance. You can call and get on the waitlist for one day or you can set notifications on OpenTable to alert you for cancellations every day of your trip. Most people have pretty good success on OpenTable. 

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist. 

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance. 

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance. 

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance. 

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance. 

Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about Oahu:

If you’re trying to figure out where to stay, you’re going to want to look at my favorite boutique resort in Waikiki and the lowdown on where to stay on Oahu besides Waikiki. Plus I’ve got the scoop on how to avoid illegal vacation rentals and a roundup of where to stay in Ko Olina and reviews of the Laylow and Disney’s Aulani Resort. And a LOT more on Aulani like is Aulani worth it?, tips for staying at Aulani, how many days to spend, and the best things to eat and drink at Aulani

If you’re researching luaus on Oahu, I’ve written quite a bit. First, I’ve got a full breakdown of the best luaus (and the worst) on Oahu. Then I’ve got complete reviews of Paradise Cove, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and Aulani’s Ka Wa’a Luau. And if you’ve narrowed it down to the top two most popular on the island and still can’t decide, here’s Paradise Cove vs Polynesian Cultural Center

If you’re trying to put together an itinerary full of the best things to do, take a look at my best 5 day itinerary, and roundups of the best things to do in Waikiki, “secret” things to do on Oahu, plus my favorite things to do in Kailua and the windward coast, in Ko Olina, and on the north shore. And if you’re looking for food recommendations, I’ve got the best restaurants in Ko Olina and where locals eat in Waikiki

And last but not least, some of my favorite things on Oahu like Jurassic Park at Kualoa Ranch, Shangri La and the Honolulu Museum of Art, tips for visiting Pearl Harbor, easy hikes on Oahu, and the best spas on Oahu. And everything you need to know BEFORE you go to Oahu.

 

P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!

Also, if you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And please share my account with your friends that are headed to Hawaii! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!

P.S. If you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And share my account with your travel loving friends! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!