Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa
As Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Members, we always saw Aulani as a coveted and illusive DVC resort – one that would take a long time to check off the DVC bucket list. With the small number of points that we have, it was hard to image ever using them somewhere other than Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Well my friends, COVID makes you do strange things, things you would not expect. Having experienced Walt Disney World in Orlando during the pandemic, we were willing to wait awhile for things to go back to normal before returning. And since we already had plans to visit Maui for a five day trip, it made sense to extend the trip and loop in Oahu as well for the opportunity to experience Aulani! I will also disclose that we are not resort people and I think this was the first real resort experience we have had.
The Aulani project was lead but legendary Imagineer Joe Rohde who committed to the resort accurately representing the Hawaiian culture. The resort certainly was beautiful – i only wish we had more of an opportunity to learn more about the details. Typically, there is a tour of the resort that highlights the painstaking details that went into making this resort but unfortunately, this was not offered due to COVID. We spent time with one of the DVC cast members who educated us briefly on the resort.
- The main house lobby has a ceiling that is a curved arch mirroring a traditional Hawaiian canoe house
- The two towers of rooms are male and female dedicated – the male side has more strong, darker tones where as the female side is more softer colors
- The floor carpet in the room is leaves because back in the day, the floor was made of leaves
- You will not find tiki torches at Aulani – that is because tiki torches are not from Hawaii but another Polynesian island
- Little menehune – mythological dwarf people that can craft anything overnight with a bit of food motivation – are all over the resort, over 300! You can find them on a scavenger hunt – something i wish we had more time for
- Aulani has a new app that you can use for all information regarding the resort. You cannot self check in like you can at a Disney Orlando resort but you can provide your information as pre-check to get things rolling.
- Upon check in they check for your green check marks and QR code indicating you are cleared and not under quarantine – see more information Planning and Preparation for Travel to Hawaii during COVID Pandemic.
- Everyone is required to wear a mask – the only exceptions are sitting down to eat or in the pool/water. I can’t say they were perfect about this rule – though we were barely inside lounging in the shared spaces to complain about it. Then we were outside the large percentage of the time where it is not as big of a deal. Majority of people were respectful of the rules but that was the big reason we chose Hawaii – being outdoors so it was not as aggravating seeing non-compliance
- Elevators had posted signs for 4 people or 1 party per elevator – this causes lots of lines so while the view from up high is great, we were happy to have stair access only a floor up from the main lobby
- Our room was not ready until after 4PM so as the crowds start to increase, do not bank on early check in
- At dining locations, everything was outdoors and tables were spaced at least six feet apart
- Markings on the floor six feet apart were common in areas were lines form
- Cast members here were phenomenal!
- The beach and lagoon is where we spent a majority of our time and it was just fabulous! Each set of chairs has a small table and an umbrella. Due to COVID, the chairs are linked together so they cannot be moved from their socially distanced spot.
- Water activities on the lagoon include – paddle boarding, snorkeling, and there are also boggie boards available for rent. We brought our own snorkel gear (Packing in a Carry On: Hawaii) and had a great time in the water.
- Beach side drink service was super nice, we really could get used to this
- The pool was often crowded but not mobbed, we waiting until the crowds died down to take our pool opportunity – there are also several pool areas to choose from.
- Wrist bands for the pool and towels are given out each day and boy the line at 8AM to get them is intense – a rush of people each morning to get the best pool seats is no joke. Lucky for us, no one every goes to the beach. You have to give them your hotel room key and if you are DVC member, your DVC card for the sole purpose of getting a sparkly band.
- Have extra cash that you would like to throw into the wind? Rent a pool or beach side cabana for several hundred bucks.
- The main pool has two slides – one body slide (terrifying) and one raft slide (awesome), a fun lazy river, and multiple ancillary pools – just need to pick the times right to know when to use the pool. Pools hours were also limited but given how gorgeous the lights are at night, I have to imagine they are open longer in real life
- There is a parking lot available for guests as well as an onsite Alamo for car renting (expensive but convenient). Parking is also cra cra expensive – $40 a day – but free for DVC members! #perks
- We used our DVC points and stayed in a deluxe studio
- Our room was very well appointed and good size, kitchenette and a nice bathroom- loved the rain forest shower!
- This would be a great spot the splurge on a villa! One bed room villas and up have a full kitchen, laundry, and much more space. Especially for the kitchen, eating in Hawaii is expensive and having a kitchen for a longer stay is definitely something to consider.
- DVC members who are in studios have the option of getting coins to use the laundry services downstairs – something I thought we would need to use for sure – but we ended up being ok.
- Makahiki – the table service option with a pre-fixe menu
- The ‘Olelo Room – the bar that serves small plates
- Ulu Cafe – the quick service and self service grab and go option
- Wailana Pool Bar – self explanatory, pool bar
- Off the Hook – poolside spot for food and drinks
- Mama’s Snack Shop and Papalua Shave Ice – two huts at the pool with snacks and shace ice
- Good offerings but the hours were so wonky. If I wanted coconut shrimp and Mama’s Snack Shop (which often I did), it had to be between 11 and 4pm – same with shave ice. Only one dining location was not open while we were there – Ama Ama, the signature restaurant, and I do not think we missed anything. It was really nice to be able to eat on the beach or in the room without needing to sit and eat at the restaurant – which on the weekends were very crowded with everyone trying to find something to eat.
- There is a shopping complex across the street from Aulani accessible by walking which can also be used during your stay. I think we ended up an Island Vintage Coffee at least once a day.
- If you get a villa, plan a few meals to make your self – especially breakfast and lunch – Disney dining ain’t cheap and it’s even worse in Hawaii!
- There are two spots in the main building – Kalepa’s Store is open all day with traditional souvenirs, Aulani merch, essentials, and some snack options. Hale Manu is a more upscale spot with very limited hours
- Then there is a secret spot (not really a secret but I don’t think many people knew it was there cause it was barely open) The Lava Shack has very limited hours. I was specifically looking for an Aulani rash guard spirit jersey that I knew existed. After looking around the main store, I did not see it. A staff member (thanks Jamy!) asked if I needed assistance so I asked her if this store had the only merchandise and I explained what I was looking for. “Oh that’s at the Lava Shack that is open from 11 to 3PM” – is it just COVID that has these limited hours on the stores??? Lucky for me, she was amazing and she opened the store for me to but the shirt – what a rock star cast member! So if you are into merch, make sure to hit the Lava Shack cause they got great stuff there!
- Kevin lost his sun glasses – probably in the Maui airport – and the Kalepa’s Store had some great and affordable once.
- They did limit capacity in the stores as well, keeping tabs on how many people were in the store at all times
- DVC was 30% off merch when we visited which is a crazy deal!
We ended up spending five nights at the resort but only spending one full day enjoying it – we even left plans early later in the week cause we just wanted to relax at the resort – very unlike us! I think next time, we would dedicate two full days to the resort of a trip to Oahu. And I think we would get a villa so that we could take advantage of the kitchen. By the end of the trip we had experienced as much as we had time for and was offered due to COVID, it would have been nice to have another day to enjoy the water, we had the time to each at almost every location. Even despite the limited offerings due to COVID, we still had a great time and felt it was magical.