Disney Aulani Review: Is Disney Aulani Worth It? Or, Is It Overrated?

Been to Disney Aulani yet? Thinking of going? If you’re a local family, chances are you’ve either been or you’re planning to go and check it out soon. I had family visiting Oahu recently and I thought it would be a nice conclusion to their trip if we headed out to Ko’olina to enjoy the resort. Here’s a review of my experience.

Before I begin, this review is NOT a sponsored review of the Disney Aulani Resort. Aside for having recently stayed at the resort for one night in March 2015, I have no affiliation with, nor will I profit monetarily from writing this review. The opinions expressed in this review are my very own. This is probably the ONLY Disney Aulani Review you’ll find online that does not involve Disney footing some part of the bill.

What is it?

Disney Aulani Resort & Spa is an all-inclusive vacation destination for families. Part of the Disney Vacation Club, it’s the third Disney Vacation Club Resort located outside of a Disney theme park. It opened August of 2011.

Who is it for?

It’s primarily a vacation destination for families with children, but, it’s really light on the Disney aspect, so if you don’t’t have children it’s still a good spot.

What does it involve?

Disney Aulani offers complimentary children’s activities and programs which includes: story-times, karaoke, ukulele lessons, bracelet-making, beach body boot camp, sunrise yoga, kids’ club planned activities and adventures, plus much more.

The facilities of Disney Aulani includes: four room categories from studios to grand villas, two full-service restaurants, a buffet eatery, two lounges, and two pool-side “shacks” that serve beverages and pupus . Also included is Internet access. Wireless internet access is available in guest rooms and public areas of the resort and is included in the room rate.

The grounds also include a toddler splash zone, an 8,200 square feet pool complex that includes two slides, an interactive water zone, a lazy river and an artificial snorkeling lagoon.  They have a TON of pools, I mean I whole bunch. Disney Aulani really packed the fun into this place that’s for sure.

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How much is it?

Kama’aina for room rate we received was about $957 + tax for a 2 bedroom villa (4 adults and 4 kids). We did the character breakfast which was about $240, we had food poolside $30, did some snorkeling in their lagoon $45, purchased some late night snacks at Aulan $20. Our grand total for our one night 2 Day 1 Night stay was about $1,300.00

Where is it located?

Disney Aulani is located here on Oahu, just past Kapolei in Ko’olina.

Here’s what I like about it.

Disney Aulani is Hawaii flavored with a sprinkle of Disney. I liked that although check-in isn’t until 4PM you can arrive as early as you want to enjoy the facilities.  They don’t nickel and dime you for extras, because the extras are already included. Aunty’s beach house (their kids club for three years and up) was free. Beach toys were free. Shaded beach chair on the beach free.  I thought the personalized individual room keys with everyone’s names on them were a nice touch.

We loved that there were tons of water options for the little kids. They loved the lazy river, the splash pads, the pools, building sand castles on the beach, I mean we did a lot. It’s like having a private water park with heated pools everywhere. Let me say that again, in case you didn’t catch it, HEATED pools.  Disney Aulani has temperature-controlled water which is simply wonderful.

I also enjoyed interacting with the characters. Disney does a great job at training their characters, so the “This is Hawaii” stigma regarding certain aspects doesn’t translate to the Disney characters. They were consistent and engaging, just like in  Disney California, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disney World in Florida.

Here’s what I don’t like about it.

You have to figure the place out on your own. Things aren’t clear and apparent. For instance, we had no idea the character breakfast required a reservation. I knew one was required if we weren’t staying at the resort, but had no idea one was required even if you’re staying at the resort.  So, we were pretty surprised when we get down to the host stand and they ask if we had a reservation. The guy manning the host stand like, “No reservation? Not my problem… Next!” Luckily though, this was easily resolved by speaking with head of their restaurants who was able to slot us right in, no problem.

Also, they have something called “Photo Pass” which pretty much works as if you have a personal photograher to snap photos of your and your family all around the resort. We didn’t have a clue about this until we checked out, I would have totally used the heck out of that. I hardly ever get photos of me and my girls together.

I was also given bad information when I called to inquire about renting a movie for my girls to watch. Disney doesn’t do in-room movies on their television, instead, they have something called the Pau Hana room, where you go to ‘rent’ movies during your stay. I was told to go there to rent the movies. However, when I went there, they had been closed for like an hour… That was pretty frustrating.

Thus, while they do an awesome job at offering up a lot to do. They do a poor job of disseminating key information to resort guests. (Disney if you’re reading, I have a few easy ideas on how to fix this.)

Here’s what you should know when you go.

-Go as early as possible. Seriously, get there at like 8AM and just hang out all day long until your room is ready. They’ll give you access to a lounge for changing your clothes and will store your baggage for you.

-Do the character breakfast and make a reservation for it immediately after checking in.

-Sign up for Aunty’s beach house as as soon as you can.

-There are no shuttles from the airport to the resort.

-The Menehune Bridge (interactive splash playground) doesn’t allow parents on it.

My Overall Impression for locals and tourists.

Local families might be wondering if it is truly worth going, since a part of the Disney Aulani experience is ‘Hawaii’ and we already live here and get to experience Hawaii everyday. I wondered this myself. Here’s my answer: Disney Aulani is possibly the closest thing you’ll get to a (pre kids) really enjoyable vacation right now, especially if you have small kids. The free childcare offered at Aunty’s beach house was pretty awesome (only one of my kids qualified with age, but hey, that works!)

Despite a few hiccups, we enjoyed our time at Disney Aulani. It was the perfect end to a wonderful week with my big brother and his family. While an extended stay could get super expensive quickly, a short stay offers the perfect combination for enjoyment and wallet comfort. If you’re a local family looking to enjoy a staycation, Disney Aulani offers up a nice alternative Hawaii stay. As only Disney does, they manage to create a new Disney branded Hawaii experience. We’ll definitely do a short stay again. I doubt we’d ever do an extended stay there.

Tourists… I recommend starting out with a 3-4 day stay at on of the nice family hotels in Waikiki, then ramp up your stay with 3-4 nights at Disney Aulani to end on a really high note.

What say you?

 

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Takara Bullock

Takara is a thirty-something wife, mother-of-three sweet girls, web designer, and FIT4MOM Honolulu Owner. Before Hawaii, she resided in Japan for six years where she researched as a Fulbright Fellow and later worked as a headhunter recruiting talent in the tech industry. Fun Little Ohana was created to help families with children have more fun on Oahu. Subscribe to our Oahu with Kids Weekly Email for more family-fun ideas.

6 Comments
  1. I wish I would have known:
    You can reserve activities in advance online. They had canoe building and other activities the days we were there, but ALL the activites were full. People had either signed up online or booked when they arrived and they’d been there for 4 or more days. If you’re local and only spend 2 days there, good luck getting into the activites.

    You cannot take younger children to auntys beach house at all during the day. They have an hour long open house in the morning where you can play, but if you need a break from the water in the afternoon, there is literally no other place to play besides in the water or at the beach. The only playground on site? Auntys Beach House. That was disappointing.

    Every.single pool and spa closes at 8 pm, including the adults only areas. We went with grandparents (hooray free babysitters), and put our son down at 7:30, then headed out for some dessert and spa time. It was a no-go. Not one hot tub to soak in. What a bummer!

    We won’t be going back until we can utilize Aunty’s Beach House, we will sign up for activities ahead of time, and we’ll plan for other evening activities.

    1. Excellent Jen! Totally agree! I do wish Aunty’s beach house could accommodate the smaller ones too 🙂

  2. Although Aulani is a very nice resort, it pales in comparison to the other Disney resorts. I was born and raised in Florida, so Disney and Disney Resorts were an every-weekend thing for us. The Hawaii resort has nothing on the resorts in Orlando. The Hawaii resort does not have the large, colorful sculptures of the characters and the Disney magic everywhere you look. Upon walking in, everything is mostly wooden. Disney was trying to make the resort less Childish and more Hawaiian. In my opinion, spending that much money to go to a Disney resort, is wasted here. A normal hotel would be a better option in this case. Upon entering the gates to go to a Disney resort in Orlando, you are always greeted with a “Welcome Home.” I was extremely disappointed with the realization that they don’t do that here. If you look, there are a few carved wooden sculptures of characters around, but that overall “Disney Pizazz” is lost on this resort. You really have to go looking for the Disney in this place. Nonetheless, characters circulate and attend the meals and such. Customer service is great and on a resort scale I would give it a 9. But after being an Orlando Disney Baby, I would rate it a 4 on the Disney scale. I advise tourists to really consider before bringing their kids if they are expecting the whole Disney experience.

    1. Thanks for chiming in Megan! I like that Aulani is very ‘light’ on the Disney aspect. I felt like they hit the right balance of Hawaii with a sprinkle of Disney. However, I totally agree that you have to manage your expectations, especially if you’re expecting the Orlando Disney Resort experience.

      I have to disagree though, regarding the normal hotels on Oahu though– we’ve tried a lot- about (ten as of June 2016) and Aulani is our choice for just having a staycation on the island.

  3. Actually, you should make reservations for Makahiki (the buffet) and Ama Ama before you leave home. It’s a simple process that can be completed 180 days in advance. Making a reservation once you arrive doesn’t guarantee dining times will be available.

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