Aulani Tour

By Kate Riley April 10, 2013

Midweek greetings all –  I promised a tour of the Aulani where we stayed while vacationing in Oahu a few weeks ago. The Aulani is one of Disney’s several vacation spots so at first I was skeptical as to just how relaxing this place would actually be and since it’s Disney, I had “theme park” expectations. We picked it knowing the kids (age 8 and 10) would enjoy it. Truth is, we found the resort to be just as fun as they did, and the entire experience was incredibly relaxing. Here are some scenes of the amenities and perks that are included when you stay at the Aulani resort in Oahu.

oahu aulani


The hotel sits on a manmade lagoon in KoOlina where you can lounge and little kids can play in the gentle lapping waves. There are plenty of water activities, including paddle boarding and canoeing, and morning yoga to start your day.

aulani beach lagoon

aulani lagoon boating

aulani morning yoga


The greeting is impressive, you’re welcomed with smiles and leis upon arrival and the check-in process is smooth. After a long plane ride and the jostling to pick up your bags and rent a car and find the place 25 minutes up the highway, there’s something so so AMAZING about stepping out of your car, and being welcomed to the islands like this.

aulani lei greeting


I asked a lot of questions about the architecture of the hotel since it’s so new (less than 2 years old) and the staff answered them all in great detail. I was really impressed with the hotel’s dedication to authentic Hawaiian art and culture seen everywhere in the construction, artwork, and decor – these are some images of the ceiling in the grand entrance.

aulani entrance

aulani ceiling view


Hawaiian music is softly playing all the time and you’d think that might bother you but on the contrary it gets you in the aloha mood as you stroll around the well manicured grounds filled with plumeria, hibiscus, orchids, giant ferns, palms, waterfalls and koi.

aulani grounds and waterfall

aulani koi

aulani drums

aulani orchids


The resort has two main towers for rooms, the grounds are lush and well maintained and the pools and built in spas fill up the center of the resort.

aulani pools


The best thing, and I mean the BEST thing about this place was the lazy river water feature. After a morning adventure, we would spend several hours each afternoon floating around and playing in it with the tubes provided. There are plenty of lifeguards too, one around every bend so you don’t need to worry about the kids at every moment, we liked that a lot.

aulani lazy river from above

aulani lazy river


There is also a play structure for little kids (the 2 to 6 crowd) with splashing water and bridges to climb (below left) and next to it a salt water pond (below right) where any kid young or old can snorkel with a huge variety of colorful tropical fish.

aulani kids play area

Grab snacks or drinks at the little shack next to the pool, they serve shave ice and sweets too.

aulani mamas snack shop

Aulani does have a more grown-up side to their pool area which is where we spent most of our time (next to the lounge area and bar, oh yeah). I absolutely LOVED this mango wood countertop, so gorgeous in person with the random curved and polished edges.

aulani pool bar

We booked a standard garden view room with two queen beds, but were upgraded to a partial ocean view on arrival for free (nice!) and it was very comfortable. There are also the fancier one and two bedroom vacation villas with kitchens, here’s what they look like (I popped into the “open house” for their vacation rentals) which take up much of the resort.

aulani one bedroom villa

aulani bedroom

aulani villa living room


Aunty’s Beach House is complimentary (I repeat COMPLIMENTARY) child care program with a lot of daily activities for the keikis (kids) so adults can have some time to themselves while the kids are entertained. Did I mention it was complimentary? This alone is worth the price of admission for a lot of parents (we only used it twice, but it was nice to have it.)

The kid security is top notch, you need to fill out registration forms and have secret passwords and the kids wear special bracelets, all of it to ensure they are released only to the authorized adults – we liked the peace of mind from that. And they make every person who enters wash their hands, both grown ups and kids, a smart thing with so many germs *ahem* little ones coming into the child care playhouse.

There’s a lot to do in here, from dress up to art, to outdoor play. They also have video games and movies and special activities you can schedule your kids for throughout the day.

aulani dress up

aulani kid art

aulani kids club

aulani kid play

A tip for parents: book kid reservations at Aunty’s first thing in the morning!  The line starts forming at 8:00 a.m. for check in and activities, but if you get there just before it opens, you’ll get through the process quickly. The hotel provides a list of all the activities the day before so you have time to plan ahead.

aulani kid activities


We ate at the ocean front ‘Ama’Ama cafe twice for breakfast, and also once for lunch when we arrived (see my notes below on saving money).

aulani ocean view from amaama

I was crushing on these coral and botanical motif chairs in the waiting area – love the duo of fabrics used on these cushions!

aulani chairs


A few times a day you can pose with various Disney characters around the hotel if you want to snap a picture. Also there are several shows during the week, from luaus to movie nights – they do a great job of having a lot of activities available throughout the day.

aulani character meet


Five Tips for Saving Money:

1) Look for deals on Expedia or other similar travel sites before you book with the resort. We ended up saving over $50 a night by booking through Expedia, and still got a free room upgrade, but the hotel sometimes has package and specials so do some research before you make a reservation.

2) Eat “off campus” as much as possible. We spent mornings and lunchtime away from the hotel which saved us a few bucks but eating at cheaper places recommended by locals. There are only a few restaurant options at Aulani and their food is not cheap – they are resort prices.

3) Shop for a few groceries before you arrive. Each room has a refrigerator and you can shop at the Safeway down the road for food and snacks (and booze) and store it in your room. There is an ABC store across the street which sells sandwiches and other simple groceries too.

4) If eating at the hotel, skip the super expensive buffet restaurant and order a la cart at the ‘AMA’AMA restaurant for breakfast or lunch. Dinner is expensive, but we found breakfast wasn’t too bad and they had really delicious local fruit and strong coffee (all I need!)

5) Don’t bring a car if you can manage it. This is something we just couldn’t do since we are adventurous and needed a rental car to explore the island of Oahu. The reason to consider not bringing one is the *gasp* $35 parking fee each day, and really our one big complaint about the hotel. They do offer Alamo rental car services (Hertz next door at the JW Marriott) if you want to get out for a day, but we went traveling somewhere on the island each morning so we ended up paying that parking fee (kind of annoying it was so high).

The resort was expensive, we paid several hundred dollars a night for a basic room even after we booked through Expedia, but it was worth the splurge given the amenities and location. We’ve stayed in a lot of places in Hawaii over the years, even next door at the Marriott many years ago, but I highly recommend the Aulani if you have kids. Two thumbs up!

aulani tour oahu

   Let us know if you visit sometime in the future, we’d love to hear your thoughts too.



  1. We stayed at Aulani right before Christmas and got a great deal on an ocean view room with 3 bedrooms, living room, dining room, and kitchen area (we are Disney Vacation club members, and because they were doing some construction, our room was half off the usual price). We went with several family members which helped with the costs. We LOVED staying there and would definitely go again- our 2 and 4 year old girls had a blast, and there was so much to do every day with all of the activities they offer for all age groups. The food was great (but yes, expensive); we saved money there by shopping at Costco (about 20 minutes away) and a grocery store, so we mostly made our own meals. Disney really knows how to do vacation resorts well, and everything was clean, organized, and the staff were incredible. We can’t wait to go back again!

  2. Interesting! My husband and I stayed next door at the Marriott in February 2011. I sat on the beach right in front of it and watched them work on it (it looked like they were getting close to finished) and wondered what it would turn out like. It looks pretty neat! I’m not really into the Disney thing, but now that I have a kid, who knows? But, my primary reason for the comment was to ask you if you got to see any of the elaborate Japanese bridal parties that had weddings at that place down the beach. To the left of the resort. They were so much fun to watch! That ended up being what I remember most! Anyway, glad you had fun and I love your blog.

    • Yes Jacqueline we saw one wedding while we were there, idyllic spot for them!

  3. Breathtaking views. Beautiful hotel and those swimming-pools….. It’s a heaven on earth.

    Ewelina & Eva

  4. I’m so glad you posted about this resort! I think Disney does a great job and I’ve often wondered about their other resorts. The complimentary child care is amazeballs – we took advantage when we went to Disney World and the hub and I enjoyed a little Epcot adventure by ourselves one night – so fun! This place looks amazing!

  5. Dying to go back. Thanks for the tour of the Disney resort! It’s the only Ko Olina property I haven’t stayed at yet. I much prefer any of the Ko Olina hotels over Waikiki. Waikiki is nice to visit, but it gets a bit too busy for my taste. It’s like NYC on the water. Ko Olina is peaceful and relaxing.

  6. The resort looks awesome, but it makes me sad to see how they took over the lagoon with chairs and other activities. That used to be our favorite lagoon because it wasn’t so crowded.

  7. I visited one of my very best friends when she was living in Waikiki some time ago. I was a poor college student who had managed to grab a cheap, round trip ticket (when such things were not so horrifying expensive as they can be these days!) She introduced me to the public transportation on Oahu. It is amazing and goes almost anywhere you could want to go. They sell visitor passes (or, at least, they did then) which aren’t terribly expensive. It could be a way to save on the car rental and parking fees.

  8. I remember looking at this resort last year and fell in love with it. I didn’t know about the snorkeling pond. That’s great for kids and moms like me who don’t get in the ocean past their knees.

  9. Oh My!! We just got back from the Marriott Beach Club at Ko Olina with our 5 kids! And man, what a great resort area-we did NOT want to leave! Did you love it as much as we did? I seriously look at my pictures all day long! Loved the lagoons, the path in front of the resorts, sunsets and the frozen Mai Tais! Everything was perfect and we are already planning on going back next year!

  10. I’m from the Uk and didn’t know there was a Disney vacation village in Oahu. So beautiful, looks like a very calming and peaceful vacation. The photos are amazing.

  11. We had dinner at the restaurant in the opening scene of Mad Men in 2010. Would go back to Kauai in a heart beat!

  12. Thank you for posting. My husband and I have considered going but have put it off because my daughter is 2 and there’s another on the way. Looking at those pictures just confirms that we definitely need to go. I was going to ask you how the resort was, so I’m glad you wrote up this post. Thanks again!

  13. I live in Hawaii and I follow your blog. Our family was at Aulani the same time you were and I had been wondering if maybe you were there since I knew you were in Hawaii! So funny that you were. We get a special kama’aina (local Hawaii ) rate but it is still expensive. For a special treat you can always just book ONE night but use the hotel amenities for the full two days. There is a full lounge, showers, and bathroom as well as a community hang out room which is available all day so you can check out at 11 and then stay until night time. Try doing the Menehune Trail which is an iPod touch game you check out from the community center. It is a scavenger hunt for the 8 and up set. My 10 year old loved it. You realize you have been walking by rocks or decor that actually lights up and talks or has music or something when you play the game. You can even spray people with hidden water guns! The Auntie’s Beach House and the pools, water playground, and lazy river are the reason we go. For ages 3-10 it is FREE and so worth it so we can eat dinner out as a couple without the kids! If you are coming back to Hawaii let me know; I am happy to share my favorite spots. Next time check out the Windward side for a day trip or a beach house rental. I live there and it has beautiful beaches and a fun beach town vibe.

  14. My husband and I were in Hawaii 3 years ago, and we stayed at the Marriott next door! Aulani was still under construction but it looked amazing then – and WOW your pictures are incredible. Such an awesome place to stay, especially with a family!

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