One of our favorite Disney experiences was our time at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa. It's one of our favorite vacation spots, and a truly unique place.
If you're at all considering an Aulani vacation, you can get FREE planning materials from Disney:
Beyond that, we've got 13 things you have to know about Disney's Aulani! Here they are!
There's No Theme Park
Most people start out a little confused about Aulani. You know Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but there's another "Disney" in Hawaii? Yes, just not the same kind of "Disney."
When most people think of Disney destinations, they think of the theme parks. But Disney actually has three resorts that do not have theme parks: Aulani, Hilton Head Island Resort, and Vero Beach Resort.
So when you arrive at Aulani, no, there won't be a big castle staring you in the face. But there are tons of great family activities at the resort, and it's a great base for exploring the island of Oahu.
There Are Tons of Daily Activities
Aulani is a great place to just kick back poolside and take in Hawaii, but you might want more. Aulani offers a wide variety of daily activities for guests of all ages. Each day, you'll receive "the daily 'Iwa" outlining the day's offerings. Some of these activities are free, and some come at an extra cost. We're particular fans of the art classes and the tours of the resort.
Aulani Is Disney's Best Themed Space
Sure, this is debatable, but we think Aulani should be included in any conversation about Disney theming. Animal Kingdom and Tokyo DisneySea are amazingly themed parks, but Aulani is a place unlike any other.
We're not fans of the term "Disney details" and that's partly because the best Disney spaces go so far beyond "detail." Aulani is one of the places. The names, the structure, the people, and every other element are teaching you about Hawaiian culture and giving you an authentically Hawaiian experience in a way no other resort can.
'Olelo Room Bar
'Olelo is the Hawaiian language, and Aulani dedicates a entire bar to it. At first glance, you might not notice the beautiful depth of the place, but the more time you spend in it, the more you'll feel the Hawaiian language around you.
The walls of the bar are filled with items labeled with their Hawaiian names, but the fun doesn't stop there. You'll find other labels throughout, in addition to aptly named drinks and delicious food items. 'Olelo Room Bar is not to be missed.
It Has Its Own Lazy River
The Waikolohe Stream is a 15-minute lazy river at Aulani. "Waikolohe" means "mischievous waters," and the stream can be a bit mischievous. It's a mostly relaxing experience, but don't bring a book or anything that can't get wet on this "lazy" river!
The Name Has Special Meaning
"Aulani" means "messenger of a higher authority." Really, everything at Aulani, especially the names of places, have meaning. Aulani is itself a messenger of Hawaii, bringing you within the culture of that amazing place.
You'll Receive Two Leis When You Arrive
When you arrive at Aulani, you'll be give a lei by the staff, as is traditional upon arriving at a Hawaiian resort. What you might not realize is that when you set foot in the lobby, you're receiving a second lei.
The Maka'ala Lobby is encircled by an artistic lei telling the story of Hawaii. While leis have a variety of meanings, one important meaning is that they are about welcoming you into a place. The circular shape of the lei surrounds you and brings you within something, be it a family or a resort.
"Maka'ala" itself means "watchful," and you should be watchful when you arrive and take a look around at the story that surrounds you and welcomes you into Aulani.
The Building Reflects Hawaiian Culture
Much of this post covers this concept in other ways, but Aulani is designed to reflect Hawaiian culture. This isn't just the "details" of the resort, though those are important. The shape of the resort, the valley it contains, the theming of the opposing towers, the names used throughout — all of these reflect Hawaiian culture.
We could spoil the details of just how it does this, but we'll save that. Go and experience the resort, and while you're there, take one of their free tours. The tour will explain how the place you've been experiencing has actually been revealing Hawaiian culture to you.
Two Great Restaurants
Aulani offers two signature-style restaurants (as well as some smaller offerings). 'AMA'AMA is a table service restaurant overlooking the ocean. It's the fanciest of the restaurants at Aulani, and it's a great place to spend a morning or evening, taking in the view.
Makahiki is a buffet that offers a character breakfast and a themed (not character) dinner. Makahiki is a big favorite of families, while 'AMA'AMA trends more toward couples or parents dining alone. Worry not, though, everyone is always welcome at both of these great restaurants.
There's An Easy Way To Get Big Savings
Aulani's rack rates (those you'll get booking through Disney directly) can be incredibly intimidating. $600 rates are common, and sometimes you'll be looking at over $1000 per night.
Happily, there is an awesome way to save at Aulani, and it's even how we booked our trip! You can rent Disney Vacation Club points from David's Vacation Club rentals. We've covered our experience with David's here, and you can see savings of 30% to 50% booking this way.
It Was Designed By A Familiar Friend
Joe Rohde, the genius imagineer behind Disney's Animal Kingdom, was the lead imagineer in designing Aulani. Joe grew up in Hawaii, and his dedication to working with and bringing in the local community really shows in Aulani.
It's Easy To See The Rest of Oahu (and Hawaii)
Aulani offers a variety of excursions throughout Hawaii. Most of these are on Oahu, the island which houses Aulani, Waikiki, and Pearl Harbor. But you can find excursions that will get you to the rest of Hawaii as well.
Keep in mind, these excursions are offered by but not operated by Disney. We found the service on ours to be good, but still missing a bit of that Disney charm.
The Characters Are Guests, Too
This is a subtlety, but at Aulani, the characters are actually "guests" as well. They're decked out in their Hawaiian gear because they're on vacation, too. The resort is more "hosted" by Aunty and Uncle, whose names reflect terms of endearment children use to refer to their elders.