This gorgeous property in the Ko Olina resort complex delivers on all of the Disney staples -- but in a much more subtle way than the brand's mainland destinations. Service is excellent, the food is delicious, and the kids always come first. The pool area is gorgeous, boasting a lazy river, two waterslides, and a manmade reef, and the coved-in lagoon offers calm waters. Room decor is cheerful and bright, with nods to both the Mouse that made Disney famous and Hawaii's rich culture. Overall the resort is one of the best in Oahu for families, but those looking for more nightlife should consider someplace closer to Waikiki.
One of the best resorts on Oahu for kids of all ages.
Aulani bills itself as "a Hawaiian adventure, with a touch of magic" -- and that's a remarkably accurate description of the resort's focus. The beautifully designed resort exudes island charm, and Mickey Mouse is ever-present, but in a subtle fashion. You can check him out playing the ukulele or riding the waves in your room, but the reference is always kept to a tasteful minimum. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, with flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges, and (in suites and villas) full kitchens and washer-dryers, making them particularly family-friendly.
As at most Disney properties, the food is delicious and the daily activities are chock-full of fun for kids of all ages -- though things are heavily slanted for the young 'uns (or, as the Hawaiians would say, keiki). Characters wander the property and Goofy commonly leads dance parties at the pool, which is an expansive complex with two water slides, a lazy river, and a play area.
Adults aren't totally left out. The spa is one of the most lovely on Oahu, the beach is gorgeous, and the quiet pool offers a reprieve from the dozens of children at play. Still, nightlife is scarce on-site and in the surrounding Ko Olina complex. Waikiki is a 40-minute, $90 taxi ride away, so travelers looking to party might consider staying closer to the action.
Overall, the resort is one of the best on Oahu for families and for those that value relaxation over the hustle and bustle of more touristy Waikiki.
In the 642-acre, master-planned resort complex of Ko Olina.
Ko Olina translates to "place of joy," and many will consider that to be an apt name for this master-planned resort complex. Ko Olina is essentially a giant gated community with two luxury hotels, a top golf course, four man-made lagoons with perfectly turquoise waters, and activities aplenty.
Renting a car is almost always encouraged when visiting Hawaii, and as Ko Olina is a long drive from Waikiki and other tourist spots, it would be advisable to get one.
A shuttle runs from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. with stops at the Marriott Vacation Club lobby, the JW Marriott, Paradise Cove Luau, the golf club, and the marina.
Water-based tours, from snorkeling to sunset cruises, depart from the Ko Olina marina.
Scuba boats to the Mahi wreck, one of the island's popular dive sites, leave from Ko Olina.
Target, Costco, a 24-hour Safeway, banks, restaurants, and stores are a 10-minute drive into Kapolei.
Honolulu airport is about 20 miles, or a 25-minute drive, away; rental car is recommended.
40-minute drive to Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head Crater.
50-minute drive to Hanauma Bay.
30-minute drive to the Dole Plantation.
About a 50-minute drive to the North Shore to see sights like Banzai Pipeline, Turtle Beach, Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, or Matsumoto's Shaved Ice.
Cheerful, spacious rooms celebrate Hawaii's culture -- and Mickey Mouse, of course.
Rooms at Aulani are divided into two major categories: regular resort accommodations and Disney Vacation Club villas. The resort is huge, with 375 rooms and suites and 502 Disney Vacation Club villas. The main difference between the two is that DVC rooms feature either kitchenettes (in studios) or full kitchens and washer-dryers (in one-bedroom villas and above), while resort rooms and suites only feature coffeemakers and mini-fridges. Non-DVC members are welcome to reserve the Vacation Club villas, pending availability.
Both room categories feature spacious, cheerful accommodations that nod and wink at both Hawaii's rich culture and the Disney brand. The focus is decidedly more on Hawaii than Mickey Mouse, with only an (admittedly stylish) desk lamp depicting Mickey either playing the ukulele or surfing Oahu's waves. The rest of the room is outfitted in tasteful Hawaiian decor, with paintings of idyllic island life and traditional Hawaiian quilting patterns featured on the linens. Each room has a private balcony or porch with ocean, pool, or garden views.
Expansive pool area features lots of kid-friendly activities.
The expansive pool area is at the center of the resort. Disney outdid itself here, constructing a "volcano" around which most pool activities take place. Two waterslides, a lazy river, a play area for kids, and a man-made reef are all impressive -- and tailored to impress the kiddies, though adults may also enjoy plunging down one of the the slides or hopping in a tube to float down the lazy river.
The river can get quite packed with families, however, which detracts from the relaxing setting. Even the four whirlpools, two of which are gorgeous infinity tubs overlooking the beach, can find themselves filled with kids during peak bathing hours. Disney characters can be seen throughout the day wandering the pool area, taking photos with children and adults alike, or leading pool activities. Adults can retreat to the quiet pool without the kids to escape the hubbub.
Rainbow Reef, the only private snorkeling lagoon on Oahu, offers up-close viewing of the island's varied aquatic life -- without guests ever entering the ocean. An entrance fee, which can be purchased either by day or for the length of stay, includes snorkel gear and a life vest.
Eight cabanas are also available to rent, and feature flat-screen TVs, a ceiling fan, refrigerator, fruit bowl, and free bottled water.
Main pool area features lots of activities for kids of all ages, including two slides, a lazy river, and play area.
Quiet pool with its own pool bar (closed until September 2013 for enhancements)
Rainbow Reef offers a chance to swim with the fishes -- for a fee.
The calm waters at the man-made lagoon are perfect for swimmers of all ages.
The larger Ko Olina resort community has four lovely, man-made lagoons open to all hotel guests and easily accessed via a nice paved walking path. Aulani sits on Lagoon One, or the "Whale Lagoon," along with the JW Marriott next door. Just beyond this lagoon, there's a natural beach that's been used as a location on some episodes of Lost.
Lagoons have fine, white sand imported from Australia, and a bit of marine life.
Beach chairs, boogie boards, sand toys, and umbrellas are free to use.
Stand-up paddle board, snorkel sets, and kayaks available for rent.
Daily activities change, and can be checked in the resort's daily bulletin; they include sand sculpture contests, beach games, canoe racing, and toddler play parties. Guests can also go on an authentic Hawaiian sailing canoe excursion for a hefty fee.
Specialized activities for teens include a sunset mele and afternoon socializing events meant to evoke the spirit of Hawaii's laid-back North Shore.
Beach has a passably clean restroom and a ramp for handicap access.
No lifeguard on duty (none of the Ko Olina lagoons have lifeguards)
No surfing; for waves, head to Waikiki (40-minute drive) or Kaleola Beach for beginner's waves. To see the big surf, head to the North Shore's Banzai Pipeline.
Lagoons are technically public, but feel far more private than beaches in Waikiki.
Quick-service meals, such as sandwiches, wraps, or desserts, available from One Paddle, Two Paddle.
Well-equipped fitness center, but it lacks windows.
The fitness center is located in the same wing of the spa, off a relaxing hallway that stifles the din of the pool area. The 2,000-square-foot facility is well-equipped, featuring Life Fitness cardio and strength training equipment. There are also free weights available and a stretching area. The space is bright and cheerful, with one wall streaming videos of Hawaii's ocean life, but it does lack windows.
The fitness center is free to use, but guests can also sign up for personal or group training sessions for a fee. Yoga classes, beach workouts, and aquatic exercises also occur frequently. And if you really want to focus on getting on shape while on vacation, the resort offers boot camps, too.
At the beautifully outfitted Laniwai Spa, treatments focus on Hawaiian practices, with the Lomilomi massage being one of the most popular. There are also couples treatments, as well as specialty services for teens, children, and even toddlers. Infants apparently also benefit from the spa -- new parents can learn the art of baby massage while visiting.
All of the spa's treatments focus on using natural ingredients from Hawaii, such as mango, plumeria, hibiscus, ginger, lime, vanilla, and lilikoi.
The spa also has its own outdoor hydrotherapy gardens, featuring vitality pools, co-ed mineral baths, six different rain showers, whirlpools, and more. And at the Pulu Bar, spa attendants will blend custom body polishes for guests using herbs and essential oils.
Teens can relax in their own spa -- Painted Sky -- that features its own lounge, yogurt and "elixir" bar, computer stations, and mixology bars for perfumes, creams, and face masks. Teen-specific treatments go on throughout the day, while at night the space hosts programs for teens.
Unsurprisingly, this Disney resort is one of the best on Oahu for families.
It should come as no surprise that Disney delivers when it comes to family fun. Classic movie characters wander the grounds, posing for photos with kids of all ages, decked out in aloha shirts for that extra island flair. Dance parties at the pool happen daily. Keiki (kids) menus are available at every restaurant, be it sit-down or quick-serve. The spa offers treatments for everyone in the family (even toddlers!), or the whole family can enjoy a treatment together in the 'Ohana suite.
Rooms are also incredibly family-friendly, with spacious layouts and mini-fridges in every room. Families might consider reserving a Disney Vacation Club room, which features a kitchenette or full kitchen, as well as a washer-dryer.
Amazing pool complex for kids, with waterslides, a lazy river, and play area.
Calm waters at the beach, perfect for swimmers of all skill levels.
Dining options always include a keiki (kids) menu; the buffet at Makahiki offers lots of kid-friendly options, too.
Kid and teen treatments at the spa
Disney characters wander the property throughout the day.
Kids room off of the lobby with TV showing Disney movies and some toys
Two full-service restaurants and five quick-service spots
Whether guests are having a sit-down meal at one of the resort's two full-service restaurants or grabbing a quick bite at its five quick service eateries, meals are ono (Hawaiian for delicious). Menus feature Hawaiian staples, and even the American and Japanese dishes served have a bit of island flair to them.
The resort also features two lounges which serve drinks and smaller bites, but last call rings in early at 9:45. For nightlife, guests will have to either head 40 minutes away to Waikiki, or go to a quieter spot in Ko Olina. (Monkey Pod, across the street from the resort, is a popular recommendation from the Front Desk.)
'AMA 'AMA serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Menus focus on Hawaiian dishes with a modern twist. Breakfast is particularly delicious, with offerings including a traditional Japanese breakfast (catch of day with miso soup and rice), loco moco (a Hawaiian favorite; hamburger patty over white rice with gravy and two eggs), and an acai bowl. Dinner focuses on fish, but diners can also enjoy steak, duck, and pasta while overlooking the beach.
Makahiki hosts a Disney character buffet breakfast daily, and also serves lunch and dinner. Reservations for the character breakfast book up quickly during peak seasons, so be sure to reserve in advance. For dinner, both a buffet and an a la carte menu of comfort food is offered.
Drinks and light bites are served at The 'Olelo Room and Off The Hook. The 'Olelo Room is located adjacent to Makahiki and features live music on some nights. Off The Hook, near the main pool and 'AMA 'AMA, offers the same drink menu as 'Olelo.
This upscale resort opened in 2011, and upgrades are already underway. The pool area is being expanded to include an infinity pool with a misty grotto, after-dark experience, and sunset views. A kids' splash zone, additional deck space, and a poolside dining venue serving all three meals are in the works as well. The quiet pool also is undergoing enhancements, slated to be done in September 2013.
The spa also saw some upkeep: the outdoor hydrotherapy gardens were closed in April and May 2013 for refurbishments.
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