Let me just say this out front: I would never choose this hotel and island if I didn’t have kids or didn’t have a reason for choosing Oahu as my island of choice, because I would could never recommend Oahu as the best Hawaiian island destination. Kauai is paradise, Maui is sunsets and honeymooners, and Hawaii is raw beauty. Oahu is pretty and the beaches are beautiful, but it is a metropolis with traffic, factories and Wall Marts.
That being said, Disney’s Aulani offers families and adults a large amount of options on a very crowded piece of property on a very attractive manmade beach.
The cast members are outstanding. Probably the best service of any hotel I’ve ever experienced in Hawaii. They went out of their way to deliver an authentic, friendly Hawaiian tone and hit just the right mix of playful and professional. The entry welcome was top notch and check in was perfect.
The ground and landscaping are beautiful, and will grow even more lush and lived in with time. There are bridges, nooks, streams and fish to bring a touch of nature to this very cramped resort.
The cuisine at the waterside fine dining full service restaurant, AMA AMA, is first rate, delicious and fairly priced for a Hawaiian resort hotel. The main dining room (to the right as you walk in) is very Hawaiian, beautiful and feels as if it’s been there for 200 years.
The Spa is stunningly beautiful and offers a water playground for adults that is truly amazing. You have to see it for yourself (especially at night). If this is the first Disney run spa – they are going to hit a home run.
Disney also offers a daily list of activities for the entire family and most of these are FREE! This is a great touch and very thoughtful. The amount of special activities, places and meals for kids cannot be beat anywhere in Hawaii.
The entire resort is crammed onto a sliver of land. This results in soaring hotel towers that resemble Hawaiian housing projects sporting fiberglass thatched roofs that unsuccessfully disguise their imposing, sun-blocking, view-killing characteristics. Simply put—the towers are not my idea of Hawaii or a vacation.
To make matters worse, the rooms are very small—especially for Hawaii. Some rooms offer a wider, more useful rectangular balcony, but others suffer from a useless triangular balcony that ruins both the room layout and the balcony itself. Outdoor space if very nice to have in Hawaii, so it is really disappointing Disney ended up with the worst lanais in Hawaii. On a better note, the room décor is the perfect casual Hawaiian palate of colors and patterns that says Aloha.
Although we loved the old Hawaiian dining area of AMA AMA, we loathed the left side of the dining area that resembled a pier under construction… or something like that. This are also has abrasive fluorescent lighting on a 1970s blue plaster wave wall that has the charm of an airport at night.
While there are a large number of pool safety attendants, it seems that every time we enjoyed the terraced spa at sunset, we were sharing it with half the beach… of non-hotel guests with beer cans, glasses and backpacks. There was no one watching this area and it was a disaster. We personally watched as two people nearly cracked their necks using the handicap chair lift as their handrail in and out of the beautiful spa. I also sliced my kneecap open of a sharp screw on the bottom on a plastic vent cover on the spa floor.
You would think the first Disney Resort in Hawaii would have the best pool it the world… you would think. But there is a lack of Magic when it comes to the pool area. The problem stems from an odd-shaped, dry looking, jagged rock lump in the center of the pool—is it a volcano? A meteor? Why does it look so dry and uninviting -- this is Paradise isn’t it? The lame structure is also the main focal point for the canyon of rooms that face the center area of the resort. Like a budget version of The Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, the structure offers a handful of creatures sculpted into its base, but it looks like a last minute effort to make more of the lump. The mountain also hides two good waterslides that lead to the pool below. What happened here? And why did this get by Disney?
There is a lazy river too. It’s nicely done, but short and shallow with no heater. Brrrrr.
But it isn’t the pool that strikes me as the strangest misfire at Aulani—it’s the total miscalculation of lack of retail. Guests in Hawaii stay at their hotel and look for things to do—this includes shopping. Disney currently only offers one small, disappointing store off the lobby. Really? Yes, that’s it! All Disney had to do is look at every other major resort in Hawaii to see that retail is part of the mix of a successful total resort. They are adding one additional store—but that seems like a pathetic fix to a major miscalculation.
So, should you make your way to Aulani? If you love Oahu to begin with and have young kids—this is the best place to stay. Period.
But if you are expecting a Hawaiian paradise resort with space to relax and take in all Hawaii has to offer—this isn’t it. Despite amazing spirit and the best staff in Hawaii, Disney’s Aulani is good, not great.
Ask for a rectangular balcony, not a triangular.
See more room tips
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.