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Disney's Hawaii Resort: Review of the Aulani Resort and Spa, Ko Olina, Oahu

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)

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Photo courtesy of Aulani Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai'i.
Photo courtesy of Aulani Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai'i. See more photos.
Reasons to Visit:
  • Perfect location on a gentle lagoon beach
  • Assured Disney quality
  • Waikolohe Valley -- the 7-acre center of the resort-- has lazy river, waterslides, water-play
  • Aunty's Beach House kids club (free) has multiple areas indoors and out
  • Beautiful design honors Hawaiian art and culture
Bottom line: don't expect a theme park vibe at this beautiful resort; Disney became a major patron of the Hawaiian arts for its design. Do expect plenty of complimentary fun for families, a perfect beach for kids, lush grounds that double as a waterpark, and a superb spa.

Background about the Aulani Resort:

Many people know and love the Disney Resorts at Mickey's theme parks, but may not know that Disney also has properties far from any rides or Fantasylands. The Aulani resort has sister properties at Vero Beach Resort in Florida and Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, is located at Ko Olina, Oahu, about 20 miles west of Waikiki on the island's leeward (and less rainy) side. Ko Olina has four man-made lagoons with sandy beaches, a golf course, several other properties, and a small commercial area. Aulani has a prime spot centered on one of the lagoons.

Oahu is the most-visited Hawaiian Island, best known for Waikiki Beach. Oahu is a mere 597 sq. miles, but has plenty of activities for families -- see Top Things to Do on Oahu.

The Aulani resort has 840 units and standard guestrooms include a balcony or porch, deep soaking tub, mini-fridge, and Pack 'n Play playard. Suites are also available -- see accommodation choices. The Aulani is also a Disney Vacation Club resort; Disney Vacation Club Villas  can be booked by regular guests also, depending on availability.

An impressive feature of the $800M Aulani resort is its dedication to Hawaiian art and culture. The open-air Makahala Lobby is vibrant with 200 feet of colorful murals by artist Martin Charlot. Wooden sculptures by master carver Rocky Jensen flank the lobby entrance; designs by traditional kapa maker Delani Tahany grace the heights of the lobby as well as the fabric details in the guestrooms. A major creative spirit behind the Aulani is Joe Rohde, an executive at Walt Disney Imagineering who was also the lead designer at Disney's Animal Kingdom (a unique theme park that's rich in cultural details.)

Features of Aulani Resort, for Families

Aulani is designed from the inside out as a family resort.  Room design in many units, for instance, incorporates a nifty bed that pulls out from the bottom part of a chest in the living room -- just the kind of spot where a kid would love to sleep.

The grounds are stroller-friendly  and the beach has a gentle entry that's perfect for small kids. A host of lifeguards are posted along the lazy river and at the pool.

That said, Aulani does have a grown-up side, with sophisticated dining at the oceanview 'AMA'AMA restaurant, the quiet Wailana pool and lounge area with its own bar, a terrific spa (plan to spend hours there before or after your treatment), and Fairy Tale Weddings services.

The Waikolohe Valley
The 7-acre Waikolohe Valley, with its Puʻu Kilo volcano, is the centerpiece of the Aulani resort. The lazy river Waikolohe Stream winds its way -- lazily!-- through the Valley. Two waterslides -- the Tubestone Curl tube slide and the Volcano Vertical body slide (dark!)-- start from the top of the volcano. Also in the valley is the  Waikolohe Pool, a lifeguarded zero-entry pool, a hot pool, and infinity pools overlooking the beach.

Menehune Bridge Waterplay Area
This area has waterslides, bridge, water showers -- lots of fun.

Rainbow Reef Snorkeling Pool:
This pool is full of colorful fish and is a great place for little kids to try snorkelling. Fish and snorkellers can be viewed through below-ground glass windows; parents can take photos while kids have a turn. Fee includes gear, and a length-of-stay price is available.

Aunty's Beach House Kids Club
This excellent kids club is complimentary -- a major perk as comparable resorts charge over $100 a day. Moreover, Aunty's Beach House is a wonderful facility with  multiple themed rooms in both Aunty's side and Uncle's side of the house: kids age three to five go to Aunty, and older kids go to Uncle.  Aunty's side features a large room with a magical fireplace, dress-up area, and other fun, and has several other rooms, including a kitchen, as well. Uncle's side has a room for video games, Uncle's workshop, and more. A large outdoor area has play structures and plenty of grass for running around. (See photos.)

Certain activities at Aunty's Beach House entail an extra charge; also, Aunty isn't actually in residence but does make appearances. Nice touch: the first stop inside Aunty's Beach House is a long sink where everyone, kid or grown-up, washes their hands! Kids are served snacks every two hours; parents can also arrange for meals, which might Mom and Dad to try some fine dining at the ʻAMAʻAMA restaurant.

Check prices at Kayak.com

-- Continue to more about the Aulani Resort -- more complimentary activities (including evening show and storytelling), and other features at the Aulani Resort including spa, watersports, and excursions

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodation and experiences for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.

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