Aulani, an Overview
Last Monday, I had the bittersweet pleasure of coming home from a magical honeymoon at Aulani, Disney’s resort in Ko Olina on Oahu, Hawaii. There’s so much I can’t wait to share with you about our amazing trip and the Disney touches at our wedding, but first, I want to give a quick overview of Aulani.
A lot to people who know me and Ben were shocked to hear that we weren’t headed to Walt Disney World for our honeymoon. Yes, we adore the parks, but planning and executing a wedding were exhausting, and when we go to WDW, we go HARD. I don’t think either of us had the energy to walk 13 miles a day, powering through as much as we could from rope drop to park close.
For our honeymoon, Ben and I wanted to pick a place that was new for us both and that would be relaxing. Since neither of us had been to Hawaii at all, having a Disney honeymoon still felt right, and Aulani seemed like the perfect solution. (Spoiler alert: it was.)
Stuff to Do
While Aulani does not have an amusement park attached to its resort, it is still unmistakably “Disney.” Yes, that means you can still meet Mickey (in an adorable vacation outfit!), but it also means that Imagineers carefully planned each detail across the resort, and there were plenty of opportunities to explore those magical nuggets.
Each day at Aulani, guests can pick up an agenda for the adventures that day has to offer. You get your first agenda at check-in and can pick up each subsequent daily agenda the prior evening at the front desk, concierge desk, Pau Hana Community Hall, restaurant host stands, or other locations around the property. Some of the activities offered are “premium” activities with an additional charge associated with them, but those are clearly marked on the agenda, so they’re easy to spot (and avoid, if that’s your jam. For this trip, that was our jam).
From some of these free offerings, Ben and I learned great tidbits about Aulani that I can’t wait to share with you! Did you know there are four main themes that are the focus of the Aulani resort? I’ll tell you all about them when I share our experiences on some tours around the resort! (Comment below or reach out to @castleboundkim on IG if you want to guess them!)
In addition to these activities, Aulani also offers various meet-and-greets with characters that change each day. Guests can get the day’s schedule by calling 2447 (it spells CHIP!) from their room phone at any point after 8am. Since characters change daily, you may need to be patient to catch the character you’re hoping to see. We didn’t meet Daisy until the last full day of our trip, but she was so worth the wait! I also met Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Chip and Dale, Goofy, Pluto, Stitch, Moana, Duffy, and Shellie May during our trip (and I think I managed to meet every character at least once who was hanging around Aulani during our stay)!
Aulani also offered more low-key forms of entertainment. Guests could borrow up to 2 blu-rays at a time from the library at the Pau Hana Community Hall to watch back in their rooms, or they could just sit and watch the ocean waves roll in — something Ben and I spent hours doing.
Ben and I also rented a car during our vacation to be able to explore more of the island, though we could have easily spent the whole week without stepping foot outside of Aulani and never gotten bored. As a note, there typically is a daily parking fee for guests, but DVC members staying using points may park for free.
Aulani has a number of dining options on site. Its two more formal restaurants are Makahiki (breakfast and dinner) and ‘Ama‘Ama (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
Off the Hook is a fantastic pool-side lounge with more casual dining options and Ulu Cafe is a great quick service location where you can either grab-and-go or enjoy something pulled together just for you. Ben and I particularly enjoyed snagging a morning treat from the Wailana Pool Bar, over by the adults-only pool. My drink of choice was the Aulani Special, a macadamia nut blended delight that was basically dessert for breakfast.
Aulani also has a number of other dining stands and spots that Ben and I actually didn’t check out: The ‘Olelo Room, Mama’s Snack Shop, Papalau Shave Ice, and Little ‘Opihi’s.
I will be definitely be going into more detail about our specific dining experiences in separate articles, so keep an eye out for those!
(Updated: Here is a review on Makahiki Character Breakfast!)
Aulani has two main shopping locations: Kalepa’s Store and Hale Manu.
Kalepa’s Store is probably more of what you think of as a Disney resort gift shop. Duffy and his friends were featured extensively in this shop (and they are so cute!!) along with mugs, apparel, snacks, Mickey ears, sunglasses, sunscreen, toiletries, and some toys (Moana, not surprisingly, also had a strong presence here).
Hale Manu is what I refer to as the “fancy” store. This gorgeous boutique offered more upscale clothing, handbags, jewelry, and Aulani-specific gear. It offered a much more subdued shopping experience and the prettiest things that were oh-so tempting.
PhotoPass works a little differently at Aulani than it does at WDW. First, since Magic Bands have yet to be introduced at Aulani, guests need either a PhotoPass card or a PhotoPass wristband (each is free), which a PhotoPass photographer can scan to save photos. Since there isn’t an Aulani app, either, guests can view their photos on their room televisions, online, or at Kalepa’s Store (with the help of a Cast Member).
There are a number of PhotoPass “spots” around Aulani, with some manned with regularity (sunset photos on the beach, photos during fish feeding at the Rainbow Reef, and at most character meet-and-greets), but most of the time, we just stumbled upon a PhotoPass photographer. Since lines were short (or nonexistent), I feel like PhotoPass photographers at Aulani took more time with each guest, posing us and taking different shots each time!
Guests can purchase their photos for $99 at the end of their stay either at Kalepa’s Store or online (for up to 30 days after they check out). The line was pretty long at Kalepa’s when we were trying to leave, so we’ll end up buying our photos online. I’ll let you know more about those once I finish the purchasing process!
I should note that any PhotoPass photos taken at dining experiences are Not included in the $99 cost. When we went to a character breakfast at Makahiki, we took a photo with Mickey before being seated (with a PhotoPass photographer), but took cell phone pictures with Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto during our dining experience.
The photo with Mickey would have been an additional $35, and would have needed to be purchased on the spot. We passed on that one since we also got photos with Mickey on our phone, and could have gone to a non-dining character meet with Mickey to get PhotoPass photos with him (included in the $99 cost with all of our other non-dining photos) if we wanted.
I feel like I just threw a lot at you, but I wanted to start with an overview before diving in — and I can’t wait to do just that! Please reach out if you have any questions, or if you have a request on what I should cover next!!
You can find me on Instagram at @CastelBoundKim!
Wow. The pictures are stunning. I’ve been so curious about visiting this resort since my kids brought it to my attention. It looks like a must do. Planning for Hawaii in 2021. I will definitely look into this option.