About a year ago, I wrote a review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Within 48 hours it got 35 “helpful” reviews, which is apparently a lot, and my email box was filled with people asking me for advice for their upcoming Disney World vacations.
I just arrived back from my honeymoon at the Aulani on Oahu. I am now going to write a similar review of the Aulani. This is not going to be a typical review that says, “oh Disney is so magical…” I personally hate people that refuse to acknowledge that some things Disney does are not 100% perfect.
Instead, I am going to write a practical review of both the upsides and downsides of this resort and hope it helps people come to their own conclusions. Considering this place costs an arm and a leg to visit, I am hoping my review will help people decide if this is the best vacation for them.
The Aulani is located in a high end gated community on the West side of Oahu, called Ko’Olina. This is a far cry from most of the resorts on Oahu which are either located on Waikiki beach, which is within the city of Honolulu or the North Shore. In Ko’Olina, you have the Aulani, a J.W. Marriott, a Marriott vacation club hotel, and million dollar homes. That’s it. It is very secluded quiet, and peaceful. There is also a golf course, which, I did not get a chance to play on, but looked very nice, and judging from the price ($270/round including rental clubs) it better be.
Getting to the Aulani is tricky. There is no “magical express.” A cab will cost at least $100 each way. Disney has a preferred shuttle service which will cost you $55 per person each way. The other option of course, is to rent a car. We rented a car. We got it at a good price, $150 for 6 days. The car was convenient to have, and made getting from the airport to the Aulani very easy. However, parking is an issue.
If you are a Disney Vacation Club Member, staying on points, then self-parking is free. Otherwise, it is $35/day for self-parking or valet.
Whether you should rent a car or not depends on a lot of factors, which I will address later down the review. I will, however, say this. If you are not planning on leaving the Ko’Olina area for any reason, you shouldn’t waste the money or deal with the hassle of renting a car.
Checking in is just like checking into any other hotel around the world. You give them your ID, confirmation number and credit card. If you so choose you can do the online check-in before you arrive. I did not take advantage of the online check-in, but I saw other people who did that, and it didn’t save them much more than 2-3 minutes because you still have to get your keys, give your ID, etc. And besides, I was checked in less than 5 minutes from the moment I arrived anyways.
I only make check-in a separate category to add two points: You can opt to having charging privileges to your room key. I highly suggest you do this. You can charge anything, from a $300 meal, all the way down to a $3.00 coke to your room key. You do not need cash at the resort. I found that to be helpful because you don’t need to worry about leaving your money unattended, or even in your pocket when you are in the ocean, or pool or going down the water slides. Just take your room key, and if you lose it, they will print you off another one.
The second reason is the mugs. I didn’t know where else to put this tip. At the Aulani, just like at the Disney World resorts, offers mugs you can purchase for about $18.00, which allow unlimited refills on soft drinks, coffee, tea and hot coco. Get the mugs. Even if you are not planning on drinking much of those types of drinks. A cup of coffee at the continental breakfast restaurant is $3.50. 1 cup per day, for a 5 day trip comes out to $17.50. It is worth it to get the mugs. Right when you arrive. They are in the gift shop. There are several places you can refill these mugs, and they will even fill them for you for free at the sit-down restaurants (though I understand they are not supposed to).
Just like you’d expect with any Disney hotel, the staff was overly courteous, kind and helpful. They were so attentive and friendly it got almost annoying at times.
There is not much else that can be said about the grounds. In typical Disney fashion, the grounds of the hotel, the décor of the lobby, and every detail in between was meticulously planned, and executed. So much detail was spent in making this place look as “Hawaiian” as possible that it looks fake, it is so perfect.
Think the Animal Kingdom Lodge or the Wilderness Lodge at Disney World for the level of detail that went into the grounds.
This is always the part of reviews that annoy me the most. Let me be clear about something: IT IS A HOTEL ROOM! It looks like every other hotel room you have ever stayed in. There is a bed, and a pull out couch, or 2 beds. There is a TV, a desk and a bathroom. That’s it; I don’t know what people are looking for in these rooms that they’re so disappointed. If you’ve seen 1 hotel room, you’ve seen them all.
If you are booking a 1, 2 or 3 bedroom villa, they look just like the vacation club villas at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, etc. in Disney World. The rooms are just that, rooms.
The difference is the view. We had an ocean view room. The view was amazing the first time I looked out the window. After that, however, it kind of lost its luster. Yes, it was nice to see, but we barley spent any time in our room. We stayed on vacation club points, and we had plenty of points, so it was worth it to us. But if you are short on points, or are paying for the room cash, save the money and skip the ocean view room. Who cares if you look at a parking structure for an hour per day?
The Pool and Beach at the Aulani are the best I’ve ever seen at any Disney resort.
The pool area consists of a large pool, 2 hot tubs (one of which is a double layered infinity hot tub overlooking the ocean), 2 water slides and a lazy river.
The 2 water slides would be classified as “ok” if they were at a water park, but were phenomenal for a hotel pool. The body slide particularly was the fastest slide I have ever been on at a hotel. The tube slide wasn’t quite as fast, but it dumps you out into the lazy river, so you just go straight from the slide into relaxing on the river.
The lazy river is a typical lazy river. It took about 20 minutes to get fully around. I’ve read a lot of reviews that said it was hard to get tubes. That maybe the case during peak times of year, but in mid-November when we went, it was never a problem. There were dozens of both single and double tubes stacked up right at the foot of the stairs where you went up to get on the slide.
If I had one complaint about the pool area it is that the lazy river is covered by trees. You barley get any sun when you’re on the river. That, combined with the cold water, made it less than perfect.
There are hundreds of chairs by the pool, both recliners and upright tables and chairs. Some of the chairs have a small table between the 2 seats, and are covered by an umbrella. These seats go first. I have read a lot of reviews of people that say they couldn’t get seats. I can see how this could/would be a problem. As I said, we were there in November, which is not peak time. Even it being November, the best seats, those with tables and umbrellas, in the first row, were gone by about 9 a.m., but there were always some seats available. I know the Aulani is adding a 3rd room tower. I don’t know if it is open yet, but if it isn’t then yes, the pool area will get very crowded.
My suggestion is if you plan on spending all day by the pool, then wake up early and get down there to claim seats. They say their rule is if you leave your stuff for more than an hour they remove it to prevent people from putting stuff on seats, then leaving. I did not see them do this, and we left our stuff for more than an hour, but mind you, it wasn’t full when we were there either.
As far as the beach goes, it is perfect. So perfect, in fact, that you can tell it was created by Disney’s imaginers. Nature doesn’t create things this perfect. It looked like a post card. The swimming beach is in a small cove which Disney has enclosed with rock formations and a wall invisible to the resort guests. The wall is designed so waves don’t come into the cove. Therefore, it is nice and calm for swimming, snorkeling, or paddling.
There is snorkel equipment and paddle boards available for rent. They told me they’d charge $20 to my room for the use of the equipment but the charge never appeared, so I don’t know.
As far as beach chairs go, there are plenty. The beach chairs were never more than half filled. There is also an employee standing on the beach with umbrellas and a shovel. You tell him where to put the umbrella and he digs it into the sand, free of charge.
One other complaint about the pool area is while they had waitresses to come around and take drink orders, they did not come around particularly often, which is shocking considering they were charging $13 for a pina colada. And, there is absolutely no drink service on the beach. Mind you it was not all that complicated to get up and walk 10 feet to the bar, but still, for that kind of money, someone should bring it to me.
I will preface this by saying I hate massages, so I did not go to the spa. But, my Wife did, and I got the bill. She got an 80 minute massage and go knows what else which cost over $400. But she said it was the best spa she’d ever been to, and I know I’ve paid for a lot of massages for her, so take that for what it’s worth.
Disney offers a variety of entertainment at the resort, but we did not participate. We tried to stay awake for their version of the luau, but we fell asleep before it started.
There seemed to be a lot for young children to do. Every day at the pool, Goofy would come out and there would be a pool party for the kids. I did see the “Auntie’s Beach House.” A lot of adults would send their kids there for the day, which I found odd. It always appeared the kids were inside playing video games, and not in the Hawaiian sun. Mind you, I wasn’t paying all that close of attention as I did not have a child, it is just an observation.
Also in the “entertainment” section, I will add the excursions. You can book “excursions” online in advance or at the desk when you arrive. I suggest doing them in advance as they cost the same and they book up fast.
We did a luau, the “day on the bay,” and a sunset cruise on a catamaran. Do not under any circumstances participate in the “day at the bay.” It cost us over $300, and for our $300 we had to get to the location ourselves, which was a 90 minute drive in and of itself, and then once we were there, the “jet skiing” was really just driving around in a circle for 30 minutes. Conversely, the sunset sail on the catamaran was one of the best experiences of my life. If everyone in your party is over 21, I highly suggest going. Make sure you tip the staff well.
This is the area I’ve seen the most complaints, so I am going to try to set the record straight. There are several dining options at the Aulani. Ama Ama, the sit down restaurant, Mikahki, the buffet, Off the Hook, the bar area, and a snack shop by the pool. I am going to make one thing clear: This is a combination of Disney, which is expensive, and an isolated Island, which is expensive. The food and drinks are expensive.
Ama Ama was very good but very expensive. It also didn’t have the biggest menu. No pork option and only 1 chicken option. But, with that being said, the atmosphere is unbeatable. The restaurant does not have walls, it is all open, and looks out over the beach. If you time your meal correctly, you can have a wonderful dinner with the Hawaiian sunset in the background. If you have little children, I do not suggest going to Ama Ama. The prices are very high, even on the kid’s meals, and depending on how young they are, they will most likely not appreciate the view.
Mikahiki is a buffet. The food is just like every other buffet you’ve ever had. It is expensive for a buffet but as far as a Disney buffet, especially in Hawaii, it is about on par with what you’d expect. About $40 for an adult. It isn’t great, but it is decent with a wide variety.
Attached to Mikahki for breakfast is a continental breakfast option. If you are like me, and don’t like a big breakfast, this was a great option. Muffins, bagels, sweet rolls, cereal, etc. It was by far the cheapest breakfast option, especially if you have the refillable mug for coffee.
Off the Hook is where we ate most of our meals. It is an outdoor bar, right at the pool, with some food options. Burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, salads, etc. Being from the Midwest in November, we wanted to spend as much time outside as possible, and off the hook gave us the ability to sit outside enjoying the weather while eating.
There is also a snack bar by the pool that has hot dogs, fries and chicken tenders. I ate there once, the chicken tenders were fine, and it was very quick.
Personally I think they could use a midrange sit down restaurant and a second pool bar, but from what I understand the place is under construction now with upgrades like that coming.
Car vs. No Car
The decision on whether or not to rent a car is a tough one, so let me lay out the pro’s and con’s as best I can:
It will cost you at least $110.00 to get back and forth from the airport in a cab or shuttle and our car only cost $150.00 for 6 days (plus gas).
If you want to eat anywhere but Disney’s restaurants, you need a car to get there.
If you want to get snacks/food for your room from Target or Costco (less than 3 miles from the Aulani) you will need a car.
If you want to see Waikiki beach and the general “tourist” area of Oahu, you will need a car as a cab back and forth will cost about $100.00 each way.
If you want to see Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, it costs around $50/person to book through Disney. It’s $12/person to book through Pearl Harbor’s website and show up on your own.
PARKING!!! Except for DVC members, staying on points, it will cost you $35/day just to park the car at the Aulani.
You actually have to drive the car, which according to my Wife, takes away from the “vacation feel.”
Gas is very expensive in Hawai’i.
My personal assessment is the pros really outweigh the cons, except for the price of parking. But, depending on how many people in your party, the price of parking maybe offset by how much the shuttle costs for your party anyways.
Overall, I will go out on a limb and say that the Aulani is the best hotel Disney has yet to produce (at least that I have stayed at). If you are traveling to Hawai’i, and can afford it, I would highly suggest staying at the Aulani. Just keep in mind that because it is so far away and secluded that while you get the benefit of not dealing with the noise and crowds of Waikiki you also have to deal with the lack of transportation options as well as lack of dining options. If you have questions about the Aulani or anything else Disney (especially The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando) feel free to contact me. I’m always happy to offer my advice.
The North Wing facing away from the pool area has the best views of the coast of Oahu and the ocean.
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.