My family stayed just recently this past February 2013 at Aulani and had a fantastic time.
As others have stated the hotel is gorgeous. I cannot recall the last time that I was so excited about traveling to a resort. I couldn't stop thinking about it for a week before. We took Charley's taxi from the airport ($55 flat rate) and arrived around 2pm. They were expecting us at Aulani and the room was ready. The bellmen use secret service style earpieces to communicate with the front desk staff. They gave us our lei's and water and guided us into the lobby. This was without a doubt my most favorite place in the hotel.The architecture, the breeze, the view and the beautiful music. The music, btw, was written especially for the hotel and is not currently available in US. I did find it on iTunes Japan and it's currently in heavy rotation in my car. I found myself wondering the lobby alone in the mornings with my refillable mug just taking it all in.
Our room was the 1 bedroom villa. This worked out well for me, the wife, and the 3.5 year old in the king bed, while the mother-in-law was in the pull out. The kitchen was very functional and housekeeping dropped by every day (we are not DVC members). The bathroom was very nice and had 2 access doors, one from the bedroom and one from the hallway. The wife said the shower smelled
slightly of mold, but I'm told this is somewhat common in tropical climates. I do not notice such things.
We headed down to the Makahiki for lunch. We ordered the bento box and the sashimi was fresh and delicious. It's a nice restaurant, just beneath the lobby. There was nothing extravagant about the restaurant or the service but it was nice.
We eventually made our way out to the Valley. This is where the trail, the lazy river, the big volcano water slide thing and the pools were. Our favorite activity at the resort had to be the lazy river (WAIKOLOHE STREAM). It was slow, relaxing and full of little details that really delighted us. There were always rafts available and the lifeguard staff was silent and present everywhere. I liked the 1923 insignia on the bridge and the lava cave near the end. Even though I'm a grown a** man, I couldn't wait to try the water slides. They have 2: the dark slide, and
the open multi-person open slide. Both were fast, furious and addictive. Loved the slides. One tip: as you approach the splash down on the dark slide, throw your legs straight up in the air and you'll create a huge splash! The larger pool was warm, roomy and one of my daughter's favorites. They had a great pool party at 2:30 some days. Lots of fun. There were also 4 separate hot tubs. The 2 infinity pools nearest the beach were most popular. I too am not used
to so many kids in my hot tub environment, but it was Disney, so....
Of the activities we tried the Starlit Hui, which also incorporates a lot of the music written especially for the resort. This was nice, although we wanted to see a little more of the fire being tossed around. We did the Menehune trail. My daughter loved this, but I found it ponderous while waiting for Aunty to do her rap and the effect to occur. We tried sneaking our 3.5 year old into Auntie's House for child care but they are surprisingly strict on the entrance requirements. I say sneak because our daughter is still working out the potty training thing, but in pull-ups. Well they said "no, sorry no pull ups. you can tour during the morning open house though". They have a whole host of things to perform before they'll let you in: wash your hands, have no coffee in your hand, put shoes on yer kids, etc. We did as we were told and loved the inside. Unfortunately, we'll have to do it next time.
The photopass is a terrific Disney feature that we utilized a lot. They have professional photographers around the property that take pro shots of you and your family not just with Goofy, but against the beautiful grounds, at the beach during sunset, in the river itself and in the lobby in the evenings. Great resource. You can even request a photographer in the gift shop to meet you somewhere. They show the photos on your TV in the room and they are very tempting to
not want to purchase.
The gift shop was interesting but not quite as impressive as I was expecting. I poured over the merchandise there but just couldn't find much to spend my money on. Lots of uninteresting t-shirts and hats, a few pins (they gave us a freebie when we checked in), some food, and a few of the room decorations from our villa for sale. The only thing worth buying for me was a tasteful Aloha shirt with menehunes and the A frame of the lobby on it for decoration. (I later ran into 2 guys, and 1 small child wearing the same shirt to dinner. Meh.)
We did rent a car to get out of the resort one day. It was $120 a day with a Costco discount. There was no way I was going to rent for our entire stay (from airport) and then pay $35 on top of it. We've seen most of Oahu in the past, but wanted to surf Waikiki again. Man, is there a lot of traffic in Honolulu.
All of the adults used the Laniwai spa. We all agreed that it was probably the best massage we've every experienced. We all got the 80 min. Lomilomi. Great attention, pampering, and comfort. Highly recommended.
I do want to note a few negatives:
- the weather was less than ideal. I can't believe Disney would allow such weather. It was reasonably warm (79 F), but occasionally rainy and conistently windy. I had more than a few occasions when I just did not want to swim because I didn't want to be cold getting out. I don't recommend winter time in Oahu. Brrrr.
- Food. Everyone says it, but the food is just not good value for the money. It's adequate and nutritious, but very expensive. Also, just for comparison we also ate at the Monkey Pod and Just Tacos across the street, and the Japanese restaurant (sushi) at the Marriott next door. All restaurants in this community are expensive in my opinion not just Disney. And none of the food is spectacular or plentiful (unless you count buffets). We regularly ate breakfast and lunch in
our room. Dinners were always out and cause a lot of anxiety when the check came.
- The Menehune bridge was closed the entire time! They claimed it would open 2 days after we arrived, but come Saturday morning they said "sorry". What was even more discouraging was that we saw not one workman working on the attraction! They just had barriers up. We would look longingly over the barrier and wonder what kind of coolness we were missing every time we walked
- Resort rates are very pricey. The wife and I make a decent living and love to travel, but I'm not sure we could every do this type of resort stay again. ~$500 a night is just a little more than I want to spend for a family vacation. It was a nice splurge and this vacation has definitely created some memories I won't forget, but I think perhaps I could find better value for my money somewhere outside of a Hawaiian resort (no offense to those that like Hawaiian resorts).
Overall we had a wonderful family experience. I'll never forget the giddiness of my daughter while she saw hidden menehune around the hotel, my wife's glow after her massage and spa treatment, the look of relaxation and joy on our faces in the photos we had taken, and the deep sleep we all fell into by 8:30 every night. I really recommend it at least once for families.