July 2012 was a most exciting time for us as we embarked on our first visit to O’ahu, Hawai’i. The bulk of our vacation of almost three weeks saw us at our Hilton Grand Vacations timeshare over at Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, but I had to plug in time at Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, a mere 30 minute drive to Ko Olina.
Booking a stay at Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa is super easy, they have their own website where packages are offered and you can even book your dining reservations ahead of time. Spa reservations can be made by calling the Spa and Fitness Center, Laniwai Spa at (808)674-6300.
The drive from Honolulu on the freeway took about thirty minutes, door to door. As we approached the area we saw a beautiful upper middle class neighbourhood to the North and a roadway leading to the Ko Olina Golf Club to our left, the South, which also lead to the resort area. Aulani is flanked on both sides by two Marriott resorts, which seemed nice, but paled by comparison.
Below, Aulani in the foreground, and you can see one of the Marriott Resorts at the top left edge of the lagoon. Photo: Google Images
As we pulled up to Aulani you can’t help but become captivated by the lush shrubs and flowers that flanked the resort, that looked as if they’ve been there for years.
We parked our car in the covered parking area which felt so familiar and comparable to the many Walt Disney World Resort hotel grounds in layout and logistics. That small detail made a big difference to us because we immediately felt at home.
Disney Imagineers replicated the feeling of being at any Walt Disney World resort by formatting parking and footpaths in a similar manner making it easy for anyone to find their way around. For seasoned Disney guests, it makes you feel at home because the familiarity is there. It’s a very comforting feeling that they evoke, making one feel right at home from the very first minute. Everything seems familiar, and somehow….it is!
My children walking towards the main lobby.
The welcoming begins even before you enter the lobby, be it as a resort guest or as a visitor. You are greeted warmly and women are offered a floral, fragrant lei, while the men receive the nut type called Kui Kui Leis. Guests are offered a refreshing drink of ice-cold lemon/lime infused water that you can enjoy while sitting in the vast, open air lobby.
Walking through the main doors, your breath is literally taken away as you are greeted by this sight.
Greeted by a massive, towering foyer with pointed, arched vaulting made of local woods, tweeds and thatchings leading the eye upwards towards the Heavens, also carrying your interest to the hand painted frieze depicting the Story of Hawai’i.
What is commonly known as the “Aulani Arch” is designed to resemble traditional hale wa’a (canoe house) and hale (homes), bringing even more authenticity alive.
A closeup of the frieze depicting the Story of Hawai’i through painted imagery of daily life, celebrations and ceremony of the local people. The panel above the frieze highlighting common patterns of decoration and colors. All in horizontal, hierarchical succession leading the eye upwards towards the Heavens, the ultimate destination.
Disney Imagineers worked closely with local historians and artists to represent and celebrate Hawaiian culture and history. Disney’s focus was to immerse guests in the legends of Hawai’i. Disney Imagineers, in my opinion, succeeded in doing so.
Aulani boasts 359 standard hotel type rooms and 16 suites as well as 481 Disney Vacation Club Villas and 21 Grand Villas. The resort offers four restaurants and two lounges, the Laniwai Spa, a Fitness Centre, a Kids Club called Aunty’s Beach House located near the pool, a Teen Spa called Painted Sky, pools, lazy rivers, waterslides, a pristine beach all with beach activities and a beautiful great lawn for celebrations and special events.
Our standard hotel room below.
A typical studio room below, image courtesy of Google.
A typical Parlour Suite, image courtesy of Google.
A typical Ahu Ula Suite, image courtesy of Google.
One corridor leading to resort rooms.
As you enter the main lobby, the Guest Services counter and Concierge services are to your right.
Across from Guest Services, conveniently located, is the ‘Keiki’ Room where children can relax, watch movies, and color, while parents fulfill their needs at Guest Services or Concierge.
A quaint gift and mini-grocery store called Kalepa’s Store offers Aulani merchandise as well as sundries, medications and snacks. Disney has replicated this style of gift shop and maintained a level of consistency with all other Disney resorts in Florida and California, allowing seasoned guests the feeling of knowing what to expect, thus evoking a feeling of being at home.
More shopping of a high end nature over at Hale Manu near the main lobby.
I was amused with the wood inlay design on the floor at Kalepa’s Store (see photo below). My husband’s feet accidentally got in the way.
One of the many comfortable sitting areas in the open air, main lobby, with balmy, comforting cross-breezes. It’s very easy to spend many hours here, people watching, relaxing and reading. I could easily ‘hang-loose’ here for a good chunk of time, snacking on something of course.
Enjoying the lobby over-look with my daughter.
The left wing corridor off the main lobby, leads to the Excursions Desk (photo below). Here you can plan outings to Honolulu for shopping, Pearl Harbor, The Polynesian Cultural Center and the Dole Plantation. You can also book on property excursions offered at Aulani here too. You can kayak, surf and ride on horseback at Aulani.
Please note there is Duty Free shopping at the DFS Galleria in Waikiki but remember that any items bought at the DFS Galleria can only be picked up at the end of your vacation at the airport terminal gate, just before you board the aircraft. I found that rather unnerving after I bought something early on during my vacation, yet had to wait until I almost boarded my aircraft to receive it. In hindsight I would have forgone saving the Duty Free Tax.
The Excursions Desk room near the main lobby, opposite Kalepa’s Store.
A beautiful stone wall with tropical plants lines a large staircase downstairs leading to the lower level and Makahiki restaurant.
At the base of the staircase, on your way to Makahiki, you are greeted by smiling Cast Members welcoming you to the elegant Makahiki and emphasizing the beautiful locally made artwork.
The beautiful hand carved, Acacia Koa wood panels depicting ceremonial and daily life representations above.
The impressive entrance to Makahiki, the buffet restaurant serving breakfast and dinner as well as a Character meals over the weekend at the time. We enjoyed a buffet breakfast here that offered a variety of delicious foods to please every dietary choice and palette.
The beautiful and intriguing ‘coconut shelled wall’ leading into Makahiki’s dining area.
‘Ama’Ama Hawaiian Cuisine Restaurant (below) is delicious for all three meals of the day and the views breathtaking.
The Lazy River emanating from the Waikolohe Stream where guests have the option of selecting a water slide adventure from atop at Pu ‘U Kilo: an extreme ride down or a serene ride down.
The refreshing Waikolohe Pool with a zero depth entry and a tunnel body slide near its’ end called Volcanic Vertical seen below.
The pathways surrounding Waikolohe Pool were flanked by rich flowers and succulent shrubs and you’d find the little Menehune (little people who are responsible for mysterious events) scattered here and there, adding interactive fun. The Menehune are crafty little musicians too!
My son and husband enjoying the lush pathways.
One of the many Menehune tucked away throughout the resort. A goal is to find them all. We found forty-three.
The interactive, water play Menehune Bridge, with three water-slides, within the Waikolohe Pool.
Our walk took us through a myriad of little spots and we quickly found the adult pool called the Wailana Pool, serenity abounds here.
Along the western side of the Waikolohe Pool are the posh Cabanas which are ultra luxurious and available on a reserve basis for a fee and offer flat screen T.V.’s, a ceiling fan, a fridge, complementary water, and WiFi, accommodating six people and you can even order your meals to be eaten here. Luxury at its’ best.
Further down you’ll find the beautiful Great Lawn, with its’ pretty arbor overlooking Ko Olina Beach. Here they do special events, such as the Hawaiian Starlit Hui, weddings, and movie nights for starters.
Our walk took us to the tiered, rest and sunbathing areas complete with loungers and umbrellas. It was very inviting.
The beach itself was beautiful, with crystal clear water and golden sand, offering a multitude of beach related activities, loungers and chairs. You could rent equipment from Makiki Joe’s. Boogie Boards, chairs and umbrellas are complimentary for resort guests.
The sunbathing over look just before the beach.
My son was delighted to find Minnie Mouse and we even had a chance to greet her and pose for a photo. Aulani utilizes the PhotoPass system for photography.
I cannot say enough about this resort. It’s worthwhile spending at least five days here. If you rent a car, then you have easy access to driving all the way to the North Shore, visiting the Dole Plantation and the magnificent Polynesian Cultural Center. As well a definite must do would be to visit Pearl Harbor and spend almost an entire day there.
In downtown Waikiki, which we loved, ample upper end shopping and dining is waiting and we loved our many visits to The Cheesecake Factory.
What a place!