Last week, my family took a trip to Aulani and it was amazing!
In this blog, I’ll give our reaction to our one week stay at the resort, with a promise of some YouTube videos and more details on the website coming soon!
First and foremost, everything you hear about the resort is 100% true.
It is expensive (but well worth the cost) and you are totally made to feel a part of the Ohana that is Aulani, with cast members recognizing you, remember details about you, your likes, and your experiences, and even your fellow guests remember you and will give you a warm “Aloha” during your stay. It’s truly a very special place where you feel part of daily life in the resort and the people who make it run (and stay there). One of our most fun interactions was with Tim Tracker and his son.
The resort itself is absolutely stunning. It is kept pristine, with cast members going above and beyond every single day to keep it clean, make repairs, and keep it in great shape. Here you will not find garbage on the floor or issues with maintenance. The cast members care deeply for the resort and a truly passionate about keeping in perfect condition. The lobby is absolutely beautiful and there are so many hidden menehune characters (their version of a hidden Mickey) throughout the resort. Each day it seems that you find more of them hidden behind a surfboard, sleeping in an elevator, or swimming in the Rainbow Reef. There are so many hidden gems in this resort, whether it be a hidden chair with a perfect view of the resort, the infinity pool and hot tubs, or the Luana Lounge where you can change and get ready for your flight home, they have carefully thought through every aspect of the resort and if you like what Joe Rohde did at Animal Kingdom, you will absolutely love his Aulani masterpiece.
Another thing you commonly hear which is very true is the need for lots of luggage room and resisting the urge to overpack. You will buy lots of things, collect lots of things (like popcorn buckets and resort mugs) along the way, and virtually live entirely in swimming gear. It’s extremely informal in all of the restaurants to the point where one night I wore swimming shoes to Off the Hook for dinner.
There is a reason that many people purchase luggage from Kalepa’s Store, the retail shop; there are so many unique items that you want to bring home, and you simply run out of luggage space to carry it. We were loaded like pack mules on the flight home with our carry-on backpacks and were 8 pounds over on our luggage, due to the amazing things to buy and had lots of clothes we didn’t wear in our suitcase by the end of our stay. One of the most popular items is the Mickey lamp in the room, which you can purchase for $299. Since Disney doesn’t ship them internationally, many international visitors (especially those in Japan) will bring/purchase a suitcase for their lamp. Cast members at the store are amazed at how many lamps have made their way to homes around the world and the lengths people will go to in order to make that happen.
Food at the resort is expensive, but in fairness, it is on the island as a whole. We ate at Ulu Café, Makahiki, Off the Hook, and the Olelo Room for full meals, and tried the shaved ice at Papalua Shave Ice, and the coconut shrimp at Mama’s Snack Shop. All of which was delicious. We also at a bit of everything at the Luau, which was by and large also good.
For those interested in pin trading, it is very limited. There are 3 formal hours of pin trading each day, with an hour at each of 3 locations (DVC area at 1:00, Lava Shack at 2:00, and Kalepa’s Store at 3:00), along with very few cast member lanyards (mainly through DVC and housekeeping cast members), with some scrappers and many, many Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland resort pins. Pin trading addicts are a little disappointed with the pin trading options, but I think that Aulani understands its popularity and will add more opportunities in the future.
The only real negative experience we had at Aulani was with the Hele Hele transfer to and from the airport. When you arrive, there are multiple pre-arranged pick-ups which made it challenging to find our driver (which in fairness to her, we didn’t have our phones off airplane mode so our text message didn’t come through). Once we found our driver (who was wearing Mickey ears), she was fantastic.
On our way home, it was a different story, with a flight delay causing us to lose our payment to Hele Hele and opting for a cab instead. Our flight, which was originally scheduled for midnight was delayed until 2:30 a.m. and the shuttle service insisted they could only pick us up at 8:15 p.m. That would have left us sitting at the airport for about 5 hours prior to our flight, which seemed unreasonable, and they have a 72-hour cancellation policy so we lost $50 for pre-booking (even though there is no way of knowing there was a flight delay that far in advance) and how the shuttle worked in the event of a flight delay was not clearly explained when we made the reservation through Disney. In fact, we were told that they carefully monitored delays and adjusted accordingly, which seems to only be true in the case of arrivals, and not departures.
The transportation service Disney uses to shuttle guests back and forth is very basic, and they only run limited times, which is not conducive to late night flights to the airport, especially if there is a delay. I’d strongly suggest booking it for arrivals but not departing flights, since they can also arrange for a taxi to pick you up for a slightly higher fare. That’s a more flexible and better approach, even if it is slightly more (about $15).
You will truly run out of time to do all of the fun things there are to do at Aulani. The pools and water slides are fun, the beach is incredible, and between the character meetings, snorkeling, and paid/free experiences, you don’t need to leave the resort to have a great time. We spent some time off-resort to visit some Oahu attractions and to visit Pearl Harbor, which we’ll also share in upcoming blogs and videos, along with an update to the website.