Thursday, June 21, 2018

Disney Aulani Review

Aulani Resort & Spa

I had heard SO MUCH about the Aulani, and have always wanted to check it out. Everyone said to wait until M was 3 years old and potty trained, so she could take advantage of Aunty's Beach House (essentially an included daycare option where you can drop off kids).

The price is a little expensive (smallest room cost around $500+), which is why we only stayed for two nights. I think that was actually a good amount of time, since we really maximized our first day by coming early.

Aulani is located in Kapolei, which is about a 45-minute drive from Waikiki. Since we didn't have a rental car, we booked a one-way taxi with Charley's which cost $89 before gratuities.  The Aulani is located in a manicured development area and reminded me a lot of Wailea, Maui and Punta Mita, Mexico. There were a few other resorts/condos around the area, too, such as the Four Seasons and the Marriott.

There's a small market, restaurants, and coffee shop within walking distance from the Aulani, which was nice as we got really tired of the overpriced hotel food.

Check In

We purposely came early (around 10 AM) to maximize our time at the Aulani. Even though official check in time is not until 4 PM, we knew we could get started with enjoying the pool facilities, play areas, etc.

They provided us with lei greeting for the adults and a kid's necklace for M. Right next to the check-in area, there's a kids play area with videos playing. We were given the map of the resort, as well as an access key to the check-in/out lounge to change and shower. We grabbed our swimsuits, dropped off our bags with the concierge, and then headed down to the lounge.


We booked the Studio garden view room (their cheapest option!), and our view was of the parking lot. :p  I probably would recommend booking at least the next category up, which would at least give a view of the lawn area for not that much more.

The room felt a little small (around 380 sq feet). I think this was probably because we just came from the Hyatt Centric Waikiki which had much bigger rooms. The room is a little bit older, but not super worn out.  They do have a microwave, fridge, plates/glasses, dish soap, etc. which is nice. I also noticed a pack and play with sheets in the closet if needed for little ones.

The sofa pulls out to a queen size bed, which we actually used because the regular bed was too small for the 3 of us.

In the bathroom, there was also a step stool for kids, which was really nice, so M could go up to wash her hands at the sink by herself!

Aunty's Beach House

We registered M up for Aunty's Beach House. There's a $12.95 fee/deposit for the bracelet (which is used to track where she is at all times), and this is refundable. There is an "open house" each morning from 8 - 9:30AM where families can stay with their children to explore and enjoy the facility. From 9:30AM onward, only kids are allowed to stay.

A lot of families took advantage of this and dropped their kids off for the whole day. M didn't want to be left alone, so we only did the open house one morning before heading to the pool.

For the most part, this is covered as part of the stay. There are some other "premium" activities that you would have to pay extra for, which were noted in the schedule. They offer to serve kids meals (lunch/dinner) for an additional fee also.

Pool Area

By the time we got changed after we arrived, it was probably around 10:30AM. We went to the towel check-in area, where we showed our keys to get wristbands, towels, and a kid floaty. Every day we have to get a new wristband (different color), which is how the resort knows how to differentiate guests vs non-guests at the pool.

The pool area was so CROWDED. I walked around a few times and could not find a single seat. I finally found a pair of seats by luck, and we put our stuff there and were finally able to swim.

I read some reviews on Yelp that said that people camp out slightly before 8 AM to get the "premium" pool chairs. I found this to be true. The next day we came down before 8AM to get the seats we wanted. This takes away a little bit from the experience, as I felt that we shouldn't have to fight to get pool seating when on vacation. The resort seemed to be full, and from what I understand, the hotel has a 4,000 person capacity and only 1,000 lounge chairs, which is not a good ratio. As the time went by, I started seeing more and more guests looking for chairs, and I felt bad for all these guests paying so much and couldn't even find a pool chair! By the second day, we learned that you have to be down by 8:30-9 AM at the latest to find seating.

Honestly, we were already up early anyway because of the jet lag, so it's not a huge issue to come down by 8AM. It just made the whole experience less relaxing, as we had to make sure we get down at a certain time and make sure we keep checking on our seat (as they remove your stuff after 1 hour if you leave your seats).

There are multiple pool areas: regular swimming pool, lazy river, kiddie pool, adult pool, etc. so the pool itself doesn't feel that crowded, just the seating areas did.

Beach Area

The beach area is actually somewhat less crowded. We went around 10AM another day and still found plenty of seats available.

The resort provides free sand toys on a first come, first served basis, I heard they run out quickly, so we went early also, around 8:30AM to borrow one.

There's a small shack that sells snacks (pretzel, soft serve, etc.) right by the beach.

The beach area is in a small cove, and the water is very calm, perfect for little kids.

Laniwai Spa

I booked a massage at the Laniwai Spa. Dan offered to watch M, which was really nice of him. :) They automatically include gratuities, and the total was around $199. Not cheap, but I guess it is the standard for a "nicer" spa.

The experience was actually really nice. The whole spa area felt very secluded, not crowded like everywhere else at the Aulani! After checking in, I was greeted by someone who asked me to choose a stone that is engraved with Hawaiian terms - mine meant "Dream". She then asked me to drop it in a small pool area with my wish. She then walked me through the different areas (changing room, relaxation room, outdoor tubs, etc). They have 2 hot tubs, an area with 5-6 different rain showers, and a warm whirlpool and a cold plunge pool. There's also a seating lounge for people to relax. 

They called me in the co-ed lounge and took me to the treatment room. They provided options for the lotion, as well as music. The massage was great, and overall experience was very relaxing.

Ka wa'a Luau

Aulani introduced a luau not too long ago. We bought the general admission tickets, which was $119 for adult and $79 for kids. The other option is premium admission, which was $159 for adult and $109 for kids. The premium admission allows early entrance (15 minutes before), closer seating, and unlimited drinks.

We waited in line one hour before because I thought that they would be opening the entrance one hour before, but the opening time was actually the stated time on the ticket (6:15 PM). Again, this is a similar aspect of this resort that I am not a fan of. People line up early to get "better" seats, etc., after already paying for the ticket. I just wished they have pre-assigned seating for everyone, so we don't have to line up.

There are several pre-show activities that are all kid friendly. M got a "tattoo", learned how to pound poi, made a flower bracelet, etc. There is a little bit of a line for each of the activities, but not too bad.

The actual food is not served until another hour later (7:15 PM), and by this time, a lot of the guests & kids were very hungry. I wished that they would just start allowing people to eat at 6:15 or maybe 6:30, but not an hour after. The people in our table actually complained to the server about the lines after lines for everything, which I kind of agree with.

Food is provided buffet style, and they dismiss each table beginning from the first rows, etc. There is a separate buffet food for the kids which had pasta, mac and cheese, fruit cup, etc. The adult buffet style was actually pretty good. There's salad, poke, fish, chicken, pork, and sliced prime rib.

The actual show is nice, Disney style, and again very kid friendly. They try to incorporate kids when possible (for example: inviting kids to dance on stage with the hula dancers).

We didn't end up staying the whole show, as M got really sleepy around 8:40 PM.

Overall it was a nice show, but the lines were too much (lines for entrance, lines for activities, lines for food, etc.). Hopefully they have a better system with pre-assigned seats upon booking, and then serving food not too long after the luau opens. I probably would recommend purchasing the "premium" ticket so you can avoid some of the lines.

Overall Thoughts on Aulani

We are glad that we were finally able to experience what Aulani is all about. However, we probably will not be back.

The price of the resort is a little expensive ($500+/night) for the entry level category, and we felt that the experience didn't fully justify the price, as there were lines for everything. When we go on vacation, we want to feel relaxed. However, at Aulani, it's hard to feel relax when you have to wake up really early to get a spot for the pool chairs.

Everywhere we go in the resort (except the Spa), is super crowded, and it just felt like they really try to maximize the most number of rooms/people for profit, which then negatively affects the actual experience.

We do appreciate the kid friendliness of the resort (step stool in bathroom, pack and play in every room, etc.) -- and service in general is very good.

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