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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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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!
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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!