Disney’s Aulani Resort: What to Know Before You Go!

One of the most magical vacation destinations is a Disney resort. And if that resort is in Hawaii? Well, you’ve got magical and tropical family fun all rolled into one!

MICKEY MOUSE AND GOOFY VACATION AT AULANI -- With its fun recreation features and restaurants, its comfortable rooms, and its combination of Disney magic with Hawaiian beauty, tradition and relaxation, Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in HawaiÔi, offers a new way for families to vacation together on the island of OÔahu. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney Destinations)
(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney Destinations)

We took our second vacation to the Aulani Resort a few weeks ago, and I have to say, it was just as magical as I remembered it. Gorgeous views, lush tropical landscape, amazing food and your favorite Disney characters on vacation! I could go on and on about this resort, but I’m going to try and keep to my most favorite and best tips. If you have any questions that I don’t answer here, please feel free to leave a comment at the end of this post or reach out via email. While these tips will be mostly related to the resort, I’ll branch out to some of our favorite activities as well.

*Photos are property of Yellow Bliss Road unless otherwise noted.

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Disney-Aulani-Waikolohe-Valley
(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney Destinations)

1. Book well in advance. This trip we booked a little later than we had previously, leaving much of the premium view rooms already booked. Last trip we had a garden/partial ocean view, and this time we had what was considered a mountain view.

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However, it was also a view of the garden where the two weekly movie nights and the twice weekly Starlit Hui (A Hawaiian-inspired dancing, music and stories show). We got to watch it all from the comfort of our room instead of sitting on the grass, so that was a plus. So, although an ocean view is obviously preferred, I don’t think there’s a bad view at Aulani.

Disney-Aulani-AUNTY’S-BEACH-HOUSE4
(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney Destinations)

2. Visit Aunty’s Beach House. This “free” kids club is yours for the refundable price of a kid’s band (approx. $13 at time of posting). Register your children at the beginning of your trip for lots of fun activities, and drop them off for child care so the grown-ups can have a grown-up dinner at Ama ‘Ama (the gourmet restaurant located on site). Snacks are provided, and lunch and dinner can be added with a reservation for an additional fee. At the time of posting, dinner was $9 per child, and included all-they-can-eat pizza, chicken nuggets and fruit, plus a chocolate covered marshmallow for dessert. There are video games (Wii), computer games, princess dress-up, Disney character visits and lots more. My kids only went once since we stayed pretty busy, but they really enjoyed it! If you aren’t comfortable leaving your kids, they have an open house every morning where kids and their parents can check out what’s offered.

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Aunty’s Beach House staff (and Goofy!) also lead the pool party fun each day at 2 pm at the Waikolohe Pool.

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Photo from HERE.

3. Purchase a refillable mug on the first day of your trip. These mugs are available for about $19 (at time of posting) and may be refilled at any of the three drink station locations which can be found  across from the Papalua Shave Ice stand, next to Aunty’s Beach House and in the Ulu Cafe. Each of the beverage dispensers has a variety of sodas, fruit punch, lemonade or PowerAde. At Ulu, you can also get coffee and a variety of iced teas including sweetener and cream. We each used these cups at least once a day of our 7 day trip, and often twice, making them definitely worth the cost. Plus, they make a great souvenir! *TIP – we brought one from a previous trip and were able to use it. Not sure if this is encouraged or frowned upon, but no one questioned us.

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Photos from our amazing dinner at ‘Ama ‘Ama

4. Make dining reservations before you arrive. If you are traveling during an especially busy time at the resort (most of the summer and much of the year) be sure to make a few reservations in advance. Because of the time difference, we were up pretty early on the first morning and were glad we had breakfast reservations at ‘Ama ‘Ama. This is, in my opinion, the best way to start your vacation. It’s expensive, but the views are incredible, and so is the food. Be sure to order the press pot Kona coffee! I’d also recommend making reservations for dinner and any other meals you’d like before arriving. You can make them at each restaurant once you’re there, but the options can be sparse.

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5. Character Meet & Greets – These are probably one of the greatest freebies at the resort. Each day you can call the character hotline to find out when and where your favorite characters will be throughout the day. You’ll see Mickey, Goofy, Minnie, Stitch and Duffy the Bear (who is wildly popular – almost more so than Mickey!). My kids aren’t as impressed with the characters as they used to be, but we sure do love Stitch!

Aulani Character Breakfast

6. Character Dining – Reservations are strongly encouraged for these experiences. You’ll enjoy the amazing buffet at Makahiki (it really is really good!) for either breakfast or dinner and, during your meal, the characters will make their rounds to your table, some more than once depending on how busy it is. This is a great time to get extra special attention from your kids’ favorite characters, as they are usually able to spend more time than at a regular meet & greet. Be sure to have your autograph book and camera ready!

Disney-Aulani-Pau-Hana-Kids-ʻUkulele
(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney Destinations)

7. Pick up a copy of the Daily ‘Iwa when you arrive, and every morning thereafter. This is a double-sided activity page full of all of the many activities offered around the resort that day. There are fun activities like Lei Making and Ukulele lessons, daily specials for Laniwai (the resort spa) and other events and activities throughout the resort. Some require sign-ups in advance, so be sure to do that first thing in the morning, especially at Aunty’s Beach House, as those do fill up quickly.

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MENEHUNE BRIDGE -- With its fun recreation features and restaurants, its comfortable rooms, and its combination of Disney magic with Hawaiian beauty, tradition and relaxation, Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in HawaiÔi, offers a new way for families to vacation together on the island of OÔahu. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney Destinations)
MENEHUNE BRIDGE (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney Destinations)

8. Pack your swim suit in your carry-on. Check-in time for the resort isn’t until 4 pm. Sometimes your room may be ready early, but if it’s not you can leave your bags at the bell station and head for the pool.

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9. Where to buy Disney merchandise – While you are able to purchase Disney merchandise at the hotel’s gift shops, if you want Hawaiian themed Disney merch for your kids, take a trip to the Ala Moana Shopping Center. It’s an upscale outdoor mall that has big department stores like Bloomingdales and Nordstrom and also lots of other stores like Gap, Local Motion and, of course, The Disney Store. Here you can find Hawaiian-themed Disney merchandise … we pretty much bought at least one of everything they had. Be prepared to pay a little more than you’d expect for products, you are in Hawaii after all. But if your kids are Tsum Tsum collectors, this is the only place you can find these guys in their hula gear!

disneykoolina18_countrymarkets2011ss

Photo from HERE.

10. Where to buy souvenirs in Hawaii – As you might expect, the Aulani gift shops are not exactly budget friendly. There are a few options that we have found to provide a cheaper alternative for my kids and for bringing gifts home for friends. These options work no matter where you are visiting in Hawaii. 1) ABC Stores. Across the street from Aulani is a small shopping center. There are a few small restaurants, an ice cream shop, and an ABC (Island Country) Store. This store has everything you need that you may have forgotten, like toothbrushes and goggles, and a deli and grocery section for snacks, lunch or dinner. I like to pick up a sarong to wear around the resort over my swimsuit and it’s a great place to grab t-shirts, mugs and those adorable flowers for your hair. Pretty much everywhere you go there will be an ABC Store … we counted at least seven of them over a mile stretch of Waikiki! 2) Costco – 100% Kona Coffee, giant bags of macadamia nuts and six-packs of chocolate covered macadamia nuts (all great take-home gifts) are just some of the island exclusive things you’ll find at Costco. We brought home an adorable robe for my daughter, and also picked up a cheap pizza for dinner!

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Breakfast Flatbread from Ulu Cafe – really yummy!

11. For cheap(er) eats, visit Ulu Cafe and Mama’s Snack Stop. Food at the resort can get quite expensive, but Aulani does offer some more budget friendly options at Ulu Cafe and Mama’s Snack Stop. We really enjoyed the pizza at Ulu, and for $20 it fed four of us, so this is definitely the best deal around the resort. We also really enjoyed the breakfast, which averaged $8-10 per person.

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Mama’s Snack Stop has your basic poolside fare of chicken tenders, hot dogs and fries, and right next door is Papalua Shave Ice, which is of course a daily must while in Hawaii. Be sure to have them top your shave ice with sweetened condensed milk for a real treat!

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*TIP If you travel to the North Shore, be sure to visit Matsumoto Shave Ice, which is one of the most famous shave ice stands in the world, and for good reason!

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12. Rent a Cabana. Now, I’ll admit, these are a definite splurge at roughly $425 for the day. However, if you can swing it, it’s definitely worth it. We did this for our last day at the resort and it was a great opportunity to relax at the pool. Included are complimentary water bottles, a morning snack/fruit tray and a dessert tray. You can also order lunch, drinks and snacks. You should reserve a cabana before you arrive, as there are a limited number available. They can’t guarantee where your cabana will be but they do attempt to accommodate requests.

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We had one of the best locations near the Ka Maka Grotto pool. It’s an infinity pool that provides a spectacular view of the ocean.

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13. Snorkeling at Rainbow Reef. This was one of my son’s favorite activities. He’s been “snorkeling” in grandma’s pool for years but this was his first experience where there were live fish! Disney created a salt water lagoon within the resort where guests can don snorkel gear and get up close and personal with several varieties of fish. I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending my son out into the ocean so this was perfect for us. It’s only $15 a day for 9 and under, or $20 for 10 and up, or you can buy a pass for the duration of your stay for $29/39. Snorkeling equipment is included. Children 11 and under must be accompanied by an adult, but you don’t have to enter the water. There is a bench where you can sit at the edge of the lagoon and watch.

14. Plan to do something really tourist-y. You are in Hawaii after all and Oahu has some of the most popular tourist hot spots.

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My personal favorites are Waikiki Beach and the Dole Plantation. Super touristy, but really kind of fun too. Waikiki is arguably one of the most well-known beaches in the world (and we love the big waves!) and the Dole Plantation is just plain fun!

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It’s really neat to see pineapples actually growing, and learn some tips for how to choose them and how to cut them up. We also really enjoyed the train ride around the plantation.

American Touristor Disney Luggage

15. Get some cute luggage. Ok, so I realize that this isn’t a “must have” but it’s really, really fun and helps to get you into the Disney spirit before you even arrive. I got to try out this adorable Disney luggage set from American Tourister (thanks AT!!) and I have to say I’m in love and can’t wait to use it again! We surprised my kids with the backpacks first, then told them they were packed with stuff for the vacation we’d be taking, including the outfits they’d wear. It took them a minute to figure it out but then I pulled out the luggage and they realized we were going to Aulani! It was such a fun way to surprise them with this trip. The luggage is beautiful and the best quality. They are lightweight and easy to maneuver – my kids easily pushed their own suitcases through the airport.

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I’ve only ever owned American Tourister luggage (for reals!) and now that they have all of this Disney themed luggage, I’m a fan for life. P.S. Don’t tell my son they have Star Wars bags, too. I really wanted us all to match so I got him Mickey. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, right?

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Disney-Aulani-Lagoon
(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney Destinations)

I really could go on and on about what’s available for your family at Aulani. The question I get asked most often is, “Is it worth the cost?” I say, absolutely! You won’t find a place on Oahu that’s more family oriented, with a pristine beach and all the activities Aulani has to offer. There are ways to save a little, like booking through Costco travel or taking advantage of early bird deals.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments and I will do my best to answer. Or email me at kristin@yellowblissroad.com.

Want to see more photos of our Aulani/Hawaii vacation? Check out our slideshow on Facebook!

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Disney's Aulani Resort in Hawaii - What to Know Before You go! Tips for your Hawaiian vacation

Kristin Maxwell

Kristin Maxwell is the creator and main recipe developer, writer, and photographer of Yellow Bliss Road. A self-taught cook and self-appointed foodie, she specializes in easy, flavorful and approachable recipes for any home cook.

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Comments

  1. I wi)l need aa scooter for the duration of the trip. Can you do much with a scooter or are you pretty much limited. Also what dors the Spa consist of.

    1. Hi Maria, Disney is great about making their properties accessible, so that shouldn’t be a problem. The sidewalks are mostly quite wide. As for the spa, I’m not sure what they are offering right now. It would be best to call ahead or look at their website. I actually recommend calling ahead and seeing what they are offering when you will be there. With covid their offerings may be limited. Either way, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!

  2. Did you try the Luau at Aulani? We’re going there this summer and trying to decide which Luau to book.

    1. My mom took my son and they had a great time. The Aulani luau is very “Disney” and also a bit on the pricey side. If you can, get the VIP tickets to be able to be seated early. I have heard good things about the one down the street and also the one at the water park nearby, believe it or not. I don’t think you’d regret doing the Aulani Luau.

  3. Hi! We stayed at Aulani for Christmas a few years ago. We had the view of Luau/Ocean and loved it. Planing to go back but can’t remember our room number as we wanted to request that again. What floors and rooms are the good view for that?

  4. Thank you for this! We are huge Disney fans and are planning our second trip to Aulani next year. For me, Disney does it right with the way they cater to families. I know that when I go to a Disney hotel, specifically Aulani, that I can expect nothing but high quality and I feel comfortable with my tweens and teens exploring the resort on their own. We did Phuket a couple years ago and my kids begged to go back to Aulani. Just a matter of personal preference.

    1. Jill, we have the Disney Vacation Club so we use points for our stay. The cost really depends on so many factors that it’s nearly impossible for me to give an accurate answer. The time of year (summers are most expensive), where you are flying from and times you’re willing to fly, how fancy you want to eat.

  5. I’m still at a bit of a loss as to why Aulani is SO expensive. What makes this resort worth the cost? I’m sure it is a lovely, family-oriented place to stay, but you explained that it is not all-inclusive. What activities/experiences do they offer that we could not get by staying elsewhere on the island? If Disney characters are not important to us and we can find great places to eat elsewhere… why Aulani? This is coming from a believer in Disney quality and hospitality, but I still don’t get it.

    1. Hi Jen, There are so many experiences beyond the characters that are exclusive to this Disney resort. A “private” beach (no beaches in Hawaii are truly private, but this is as close as it gets), amazing food (and fairly easy to get reservations), an authentic luau show (included), child care with background checked and experienced leaders (included), a gorgeous lazy river that both kids and adults enjoy, two water slides, a huge kids water play area, an amazing spa (not included) and the themeing, well you truly feel immersed in the Hawaii experience so much that you may not want to leave! The quality and hospitality is top notch and they are truly thrilled that you are there. There are tons of activities and the accommodations are fantastic. I guess it really just depends on what you’re looking for. One of my personal favorite things about the resort is that it is outside of the city, making you feel that you are truly on vacation. The city is just a quick 20ish minutes away and so are many other activities. I hope that helps answer your questions!

  6. We didn’t stay at Aulani but honestly, I was underwhelmed with Hawaii. Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia all have nicer beaches; and they’re all more affordable once you’re there (even Australia!) Hawaiian beaches are quite rocky, the water’s not terribly warm; the beaches are incredibly crowded; and we also had some very odd encounters with the locals (like the guy on the beach who was obviously trying to steal our backpack, but was so stoned he lacked the coordination to actually do it.) I’d definitely recommend Krabi or Phuket in Thailand, Langkawi in Malaysia, or Cairns or the Gold Coast in Australia, over Hawaii.

    I know you’ll say airfares are more expensive. There is that; for us, living in Australia, we can find sale fares to Langkawi, Krabi, or Phuket for around $350 return and sale fares to Hawaii for around $450 return. Domestic airfares vary from a rock-bottom $25 return to a more standard $100-odd return. But even if you have to spend more to get to Asia or Australia you’ll spend a whole lot less once you’re there. Especially Asia – it’s just so cheap. I’d be very surprised if you didn’t make up the difference in the cost in the airfares, with the savings on food, accommodation, attractions, and souvenirs.

    1. I completely understand where you’re coming from, and I appreciate your perspective! Like you said, you did not visit Aulani, and if you had you would have seen it’s vastly different from what you described. Families who visit Aulani go not only for the Hawaii experience, but the Disney experience. For us, we live in Southern California and it’s a less than 6 hour flight. International travel is a lot more costly, take at least twice as long, and frankly I’m just not comfortable taking my kids on a long journey like that. So, for us, Hawaii is an amazing vacation!

      1. I understand that. Long-haul flights with kids can be daunting. For us, it’s 11 hours to Hawaii or 8 hours to Kuala Lumpur and then another hour’s flight to get to the beach. Add in the time it takes to clear customs and get your next flight and if all the flights line up perfectly (I’m not sure they do – we always spend a few days in KL since it’s such a great city) you’d be looking at a minimum of 11 hours travel time for an Asian beach too. Aulani is out of our price range (if you paid in SE Asia what you pay for a standard room at Aulani you’d get a deluxe villa with a cook, a maid, and a butler thrown in too); and none of us are huge Disney fans (we like the rides at Disneyland, but don’t care about the characters) so for us, Asia’s a much better option. We’ve been going to Asia with our kids since our 9 year old was a baby and we’ve never had a bad experience. I know it’s daunting to take your kids overseas, and I know Americans don’t really think of Asia as a vacation destination; but Asia is easy. It’s so family-oriented it’s a joy to travel with kids. And don’t get me started on the food!

  7. This is on our bucket list. We’ve never been to Hawaii, and this resort always looks so awesome!