Disney’s Aulani, the company’s Hawaiian resort, recently celebrated its second anniversary. Weekend Update reader igrules shared this report from her recent visit. ~~Rick
Just after its two year anniversary, I finally made it to Aulani, Disney’s Hawaiian resort in Ko Olina. A trip to Oahu should include stops at Diamond Head or the Dole Plantation, but really, I am perfectly happy spending the whole week on property. With the finishing touches being put on a new pool area and cafeteria style restaurant, it should be even harder to play tourist next time. If you have to work some while on vacation, Aulani is the perfect place to do so with free wifi throughout the resort. From the stunning lobby to the awesome Disney tunes sung in Hawaiian on the elevators, this is a resort worthy of the Disney name.
On Monday and Thursday evenings guests can attend the Starlit Hui, a luau-type show without the food. Before the show starts, guests can go to different stations set up around the lawn to learn different Hawaiian crafts; also, some of the dancers teach hula for later participation in the show. Guests sit on woven mats, though some chairs are available toward the back of the lawn. The show is short enough to keep kids’ attention spans, and caps off with a character dance party and meet and greet.
Nightly entertainment is available at the beachside lounge Off the Hook, as well as outside of the Olelo Room. The singers and musicians we heard were top notch. Equally as good was the dessert we had as we listened: a hamburger macaron! The bun was a macaron, the cheese white chocolate, and the patty a flourless chocolate cake with chocolate ganache. The fries were shortbread cookies, with a strawberry dipping sauce. It also came with a Coke semifreddo, a semi-frozen concoction. The chocolate cake at Ama Ama is superb, the lemon yuzu cheesecake not so much.
Food at Aulani is not too traditional Hawaiian, and is pricey. The restaurant Ama Ama has a good selection of dishes, but it isn’t so great that I felt it would be worth it to eat on property every day. We did not do the buffet at Makahiki, and it did not seem to be very crowded. There are some snack bars, but their hours are limited. The shave ice from Papalua is not as super fine and creamy as other places off property, but at least it is tasty. A lot of people around the pool were eating chicken tenders from Mama’s Snack Stop. Across the way at the Lava Shack there is soft serve ice cream and a drink filling station for people who bought the refillable, length of stay mug. I would recommend stopping at Costco on the way to Aulani and stocking up on food there. Across the road from Aulani is a market, ice cream shop, coffee house and a few restaurants.
The center piece of the resort is a volcanic outcropping similar to the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, with creatures carved into the design of the rock. The pools and lazy river spring forth from Pu‘u Kilo. There are two water slides at the top of the outcropping, one for a 1 or 2 person inner tube, the other a pitch black twisting, turning slalom. I’m not a good swimmer, so I didn’t enjoy the pitch black slide since I was worried about what would happen when I hit the water. Inner tubing along the lazy river was too lazy for me – it takes about 29 minutes to complete the course, and there were some sections where the river was so lazy that you had to do a lot of work to make yourself move. I wanted to give it another try in the evening, to see if it was more relaxing looking up at the stars, but the pool closed at 8pm and we were too busy before then. The pool stays open until 10pm, and we tried to get into the jacuzzi, but it was always too crowded at night.
We spent two afternoons playing the Menehune Adventure Trail game, an interactive scavenger hunt played on a smart phone that you check out from the community hall (new devices are coming soon). Aunty sends you clues, and you have to go around the resort helping her and her friends solve problems with the aid of the Menehune, mythic Hawaiian builders who complete projects in one night or not at all. The game was a lot of fun – more so than using the phone to take the self-guided tour of the artwork around the resort, though the artwork is beautiful.
The Menehune are hidden throughout the resort and have their own bridge and water play area. There is a lagoon where you can go boogie boarding and snorkeling, but you can also snorkel in the Rainbow Reef, a tank like at the aquarium, viewing window and all! Everything is self contained, and lifeguards are at the edge and in the water, so it’s perfect for someone who doesn’t swim well. 41 species of fish fill the reef, which is 9 feet at its deepest. There are two feeding times every day, at which time fish swarm in front of you like you wouldn’t believe. Outside of Makahiki is a koi pond, along with jumping waters. One koi even has a hidden Mickey on its head!
Watching the sun and moon set on the ocean was a highlight of the trip, as was the free fireworks show that was the finale to the Hawaiian Food and Wine Festival. Other activities we enjoyed were a hula lesson, an animation/cel painting class, and storytelling by Uncle around the fire pit. Every day you had chances to see Mickey, Minnie, Chip, Dale, Goofy and Stitch, whether at photo spots, pool parties or family activities. Aulani is as relaxing or filled with excitement as you want it to be, and I can’t wait to go back!