There’s paradise, and then there’s Disney paradise. In my opinion, both the Disney Cruise Line and Aulani offer the same unparalleled level of tranquility and relaxation, with a touch of magic, of course. When it came down to my fiancee and I deciding on our honeymoon it was surely going to come down to one of the two. As a full-time cruise travel journalist, I love to sail, but as a change of pace we opted to stay put in Hawaii. Besides, Heidi had already experienced the cruise line but not yet Aulani, and I had only stayed briefly before for two nights.
So, today I take a break from cruise coverage to give you a honeymoon review of Aulani written along with my now wife in a playful “he said, she said” banter. My wife is also a writer, so I mostly let her shine – because that’s what good husbands do. Enjoy!
He said: To briefly preface, my wife Heidi and I are huge Disney fans. We have annual Disneyland passes, and I even proposed to her at Club 33. Clearly, she said yes! Our wedding venue was even a park, complete with a train, in San Diego that is very reminiscent of Main Street U.S.A., and we also piped in music from the resort and served ice cream to add to the overall atmosphere. But before long, we were off to the Islands…
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He said: It’s always a pleasure to roll up to the Aulani driveway and be greeted by smiling faces, a refreshing infused water and a lei. Just ahead, the lobby breezeway is crowned with the resort’s signature Polynesian architecture and a welcoming narrative. Disney is always telling a story, and while Mickey and Minnie and the gang are on property for photo-ops, this is their “vacation” too as they join in on the fun with guests. But before heading out to the pool and beach, we first had to check-in.
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She said: There we were, the day after our wedding, sparkling new rings (my husband’s appropriately made of Hawaiian koa wood) on our fingers and matching sparkles in our eyes (not to mention our matching Disney “hubby” and “wifey” shirts that I had specially made for the first day of our honeymoon), and we approached the check-in desk. The cast member congratulated us, but then informed us that the resort had run out of standard King rooms. To be fair, this was never guaranteed in our reservation.
But when we got up to the room and put down our bags, it just felt wrong. This was our honeymoon. Our one and only honeymoon (knock on aforementioned koa wood). And here we were with two beds like a married couple on TV in the 50’s. My sweet husband went back downstairs, spoke with a different cast member at the reception desk, and secured us a room with a king bed. Thank you Jason and thank you Disney (also for our welcome chocolate)!
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She said: I’ll let Jason give you the specifics about what sort of room we were in, because I have no idea, and he’s better with details that I am. (Squirrel!) I thought the room was a great size with plenty of storage. There’s tons of room under the bed to store suitcases, leaving the closet free for clothes and shoes. The decor was contemporary with subtle Disney touches. We had a nice little balcony with a partial ocean view. I actually think the best part of the room was the bathroom! Nice and large with a separate room for the toilet, the space felt luxurious and upscale. The tub was perfect for a nice soak after a long day in the pool, and I thought the rain shower head was a great addition. Trust me, you’ll look forward to long, relaxing showers in your room. Maybe even twice a day. Because vacation.
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He said: Suffice it to say accommodations at Aulani are pretty plush. As much as I love the Disney Cruise Line, the rooms are decidedly larger on land and with good reason, namely that they are not on a limited-size vessel. Our 382-square-foot standard room with one king bed and one queen sleeper sofa had a partial ocean view that, although was on the backside of the property, included a lovely stretch of beach to gaze upon beyond the resort as we sat out on our balcony.
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While the room was plenty cool thanks to its conditioning, the ceiling fan above was a nice added touch to move some air around after a warm day outside, and we made good use of the refrigerator to keep bottled waters chilled at the ready. Even though we were mostly disconnected from the outside world on our honeymoon, it was nice to have complimentary Wi-Fi access included should we needed it. And the bathrooms as Heidi mentioned are indeed luxurious, particularly the shower and tub combo and its aforementioned rain shower head.
Plus, a lovely sofa and coffee table was positioned in the space normally occupied by a second bed. So, we took full advantage of this from time to time for room service meals – actually twice for dinner and once for a leisurely breakfast in bed.
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She said: We were always pleased with our in-room meals. I enjoyed my favorite Hawaiian breakfast of Portuguese sausage and eggs with white rice, and I remember a juicy and flavorful buffalo chicken sandwich that I may have even ordered twice.
She said: Jason and I love to eat. We also love Dole Whips. We even toyed with the idea of finding a way to serve Dole Whips at our wedding reception. When Jason first mentioned wanting to honeymoon at Aulani, I did have a little bit of hesitation due to my impression that a Disney resort would be overrun with children (more on that later). But when he said they have self-serve Dole Whips, I was sold. For a reasonable price (less than $5) you can load up a cup with Dole Whip, vanilla soft serve, or my personal favorite (he said: mine too), a swirl of both. If you get a Dole Whip in the theme parks, you know that they leave a hollow beneath the tower of sweet frozen nectar. The awesome thing about the self-serve Dole Whip is that you can pile it as high as you like.
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We ate breakfast most days at the Ulu Cafe, where we grabbed something simple like a bagel (there is a toaster oven outside next to the milkshake machine) or one of their hot breakfast options, like a croissant breakfast sandwich or a breakfast burrito. We did treat ourselves to the character breakfast buffet at Makahiki one morning, and it was a fun and delicious (albeit pricey) meal. Part of what you pay for is a photo-op with Mickey, which can sometimes have a very long wait time in other areas of the property, so that was a nice perk. The actual photo is an additional cost, however.
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Lunch is best enjoyed poolside. There are a few options for walk up service, such as the Ulu Cafe, the Mama’s Snack Stop, and Little ‘Opihi’s on the beach. You can also order from poolside waiters, who we usually had a hard time flagging down, but once we succeeded I did enjoy a perfectly decent grilled cheeseburger while lounging at the adults-only pool one afternoon.
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There are snack options galore, including Hawaiian shave ice, Mickey soft pretzels, Mickey head ice cream bars, and of course, the Dole Whip. Another tip for snacking: hit up the ABC Store in the shopping center across the street. It’s an easy 5 minute walk, and you can stock up on munchies, cold drinks, and of course, chocolate covered macadamia nuts. They actually have a whole deli and hot food section, but we opted to eat most of our meals on property, because we like to give Disney our money.
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The culinary highlight of the property is easily the fine dining restaurant, ‘Ama ‘Ama. The open air restaurant is at the edge of the property overlooking the ocean. We went for lunch on our last day before leaving for the airport (Jason raves about the burger) and once for dinner. It’s a delightfully romantic setting perfect for a long, indulgent dinner. We were tempted to order the chateaubriand for two, but decided to venture out on our own instead. I had a lovely chicken with spatzle, because that’s not something I see on a menu every day. Our waitress was surprisingly stumped when we asked for a recommendation for a mid-priced bottle of dry white wine, but took our request to the bartender nonetheless. The food was top notch, the setting could not have been more beautiful, and we ended our evening with a walk on the cool sand and a little cheek-to-cheek dance to the sound of distant Hawaiian music. Because yes, we are that adorable.
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Cocktails at Aulani are pricey, but no pricier than I would expect at a comparable resort. Your standard vacation drinks (mai tai, Blue Hawaiian, etc.) are all $13, so your bar bill can add up fast! Jason and I aren’t big drinkers, but we do enjoy a tipple now and then, especially on vacation. The best place on property to enjoy a cocktail and save a little money is the Olelo Room. This indoor/outdoor bar has a special “sunset menu” nightly between 5 and 7, where you can enjoy cocktails and craft beers for only $7. We enthusiastically recommend the $7 nachos and the $5 garlic fries. While not eligible for the special pricing, we thought the BBQ pork sliders were worth the $15 splurge. As an added bonus, there is live Hawaiian music played outside at this lounge nightly. Grab a deck of cards from the gift shop, order up a few rounds, and hang loose for a few hours. You won’t regret it.
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She said: We spent most of our time in the water. Aulani has a ton of pools and hot tubs, and we found ourselves gravitating towards the adults-only pool, the adults-only double-decker hot tub and the all-ages grotto. We never had trouble finding lounge chairs around the adult pool, but it can definitely be a challenge in the rest of the resort, which we found to be a bit frustrating, but honestly no different than most resorts and cruise lines. It’s a catch-22. If you don’t get up early and stake out a group of chairs, you will have a very hard time finding any later in the day, especially if you’re traveling with a large group. But if you get up early in the day and stake out a group of chairs and then leave and go back to sleep, you are a horrible person.
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Aulani has two super fun waterslides and a fantastic lazy river. We spent hours in the lazy river, which has a gentle current to keep you moving, as well as some water features that give you a welcome blast of cool water. Don’t worry, these can be easily avoided. Or you can push your new husband directly into them.
He said: Yeah, about that: it’s a good thing I love you, dear. Heehee! And oh, that lazy river, how I love thee as well. What’s particularly cool is that the raft water slide actually dumps right into the river to follow exciting thrills with a leisurely float. The entire pool complex, nestled between the guest towers, truly impresses. At the center is a towering volcano showcasing Disney’s thematic rock-work prowess. Stairs take you to the top to enter a pair of water slides. Whether in line for the slides or coasting down the lazy river, be sure to keep an eye out for the details carved in. Animal life cleverly emerges from many of the formations, and yes, so does a number of playful waterfalls and jets.
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Of the water slides, one is the raft variety, rode individually or as two in tandem, and the other is a body tube slide. Both are family-friendly, provided you’re tall enough, but still get the adrenaline flowing, and each are longer and faster than expected. The body one is almost entirely in the dark which is fun to descend while letting out a Goofy “yahahoohahoo!” for your wife to know you’re on your way down. And as a tip, the raft slide picks up even more speed and side banking if you ride together.
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I too loved the grotto and its zero-edge infinity pool overlooking the beach, but I must admit I’m a bit let down that what is described as “misty” on the resort’s website has never been in practice. Perhaps, those water effects are permanently out of commission despite my curiosity revealing what look to be holes in the rock-work where it could spray from. I haven’t been able to track down any evidence that the effect ever functioned actually, but I can only hope it is working by my third visit to the resort.
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She said: We also enjoyed a beach day, but I will always prefer a pool to the beach. (“I hate sand…it gets everywhere,” casually mused Anakin.) We easily found shaded loungers and checked out some complimentary boogie boards. Disney has built up a breakwater of sorts so that the lagoon is always calm and serene, which is fantastic for families playing in the water without fear of undercurrents.
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The spa is glorious. Jason and I booked a couple’s hot stone massage, and we weren’t disappointed. We were able to pick the music, pick the lotion scent, and we both thought our massage therapists did an excellent job. The facilities are lovely, and we spent time after our massage in the outdoor hydrotherapy circuit, enjoying different showers and soaking tubs. It was really windy the day we went to the spa, so we spent less time there than we normally would. But it’s absolutely a fantastic facility, and one we will surely visit again when we return for an anniversary trip in the future.
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He said: I had been on nearly one hundred cruises when we went on our honeymoon, but I had never been a spa guy and never had a massage. Previously, I had been too self-conscious, but Heidi convinced me to give it a try. (she said: note to self, listen to your wife, because she’s always right) And now, I’ll never look back. I loved it! I’ve since had a couple of cruise massages and can definitely say the hot stone variety from Aulani is my favorite as it literally melts away any tension. Of course, the resort itself does a fine job of that regardless of its spa, but I must thank the facilities here for getting me over my hesitations.
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She said: Aulani has a large snorkeling facility on the property, and Jason and I kept going back and forth on whether or not to try it. In the end we decided against it. I’ve been snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta, St. John, and the remote Caribbean island of Bonaire, so I felt like snorkeling in a large tank would be a letdown. I will say that I think it would be an awesome snorkeling experience for anyone who is not the most confident swimmer, or for families with kids.
Speaking of kids, this is probably where I should address the kid issue. Like I mentioned previously, I was afraid that Aulani would be overrun with children. It really wasn’t an issue. Were there kids everywhere? Sure. Everywhere except the adults-only areas, which are absolutely ample, in my opinion. Did it bother me? No, not really. There were a few times when I got splashed in the pool or was in earshot of a particularly loud Marco Polo game, but again, this is something I’d expect at any resort or on any cruise line.
I think one of the reasons I love Disney so much is because of my exposure to it as a child. My first trip to Disneyland was in the womb, after all. So, I want kids everywhere to experience Disney at a young age and learn to love it and appreciate it like I do. I want them to have joyful memories of their trip to Aulani. And I want to take a blissful nap by the adults only pool while all the suckers parents build sandcastles with their kids.
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He said: Indeed, Heidi and I are both definitely kids-at-heart. In fact, a highlight of ours at Aulani was watching the Disney characters roam about as if they were enjoying the resort along with us. Particularly amusing was one afternoon when Goofy, my favorite, was out around the Menehune Bridge. At one point he took a quick break to get in the queue to get a towel with the rest of us. There he was in total Goof-style hanging out in the zigzag line for a couple minutes in a tableau that we found absolutely hilarious.
In fact, even though we focused most on relaxation, there are plenty more opportunities to interact with the gang as well as local “uncle” and “aunty” characters. The kids facility is even called Aunty’s Beach House and features a number of great thematic elements in its own right. Aulani is an expensive resort, but when you take into account the fact that this offering and the extensive pool and beach areas are free, the value proposition is far worth it. Even Blu-Ray rentals are included.
She said: Jason and I were in serious relaxation mode, so we went to bed early most nights and didn’t actually DO a whole lot besides relax. We did book a luau at the non-Disney Paradise Cove just down the street (you can book this at the activities desk in the lobby) and we loved it. We enjoyed delightful kalua pork, very talented dancers, and gorgeous grounds with some fun pre-luau activities such as Hawaiian lawn games, weaving bracelets and headpieces, and learning how to dance with poi balls. I came down with a cold on our last couple of days at the resort, so I was very thankful that Aulani provided complimentary movies for check-out from the Pau Hana facility. They have pretty much every Disney movie you can think of. A little Good Dinosaur and Wreck-It Ralph with some room service was just what the doctor ordered.
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He said: And lastly, there is still plenty to enjoy when we return that we didn’t have a chance to on our honeymoon like the interactive Menehune Adventure Trail scavenger hunt where imaginative surprises throughout the resort are magically activated. And you can bet money that the spa will be high on our list of activities to plan for again next time too. Thanks Aulani and Disney for making our honeymoon a wonderful one!
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