If Disney’s Moana has you in the island spirit (and if you’ve seen the movie, we’re sure you are!), let us tempt you with a dream vacation that’ll have you throwing hats and sunglasses in a suitcase. Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, is one of the most magical places we’ve been. And with the addition of Moana, it’s extra special. While the photo is probably enough to tempt you, check out our list of 10 reasons why Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa needs to be your next family vacay.
1. Disney’s world-class hospitality in the most gorgeous location imaginable
Disney is known the world over for its incredible hospitality, and the Aulani is no different. Upon arrival you’ll be greeted with a cup of refreshing botanical water and a lei for everyone in the family. The cast members are all super friendly, more than willing to help with anything you might need, and super educated about Hawaii. Plus, Disney’s thought of every detail to make your stay easier: Order a diaper pail, step stool, high chair, or a blender to be sent to your room. Don’t bother packing a pack-n-play: there’s one in the closet. And (get this) their one-bedroom suites include a washer and dryer, so you don’t need to pack a lot *and* you don’t have to return home to mountains of laundry.
2. More water fun than you can shake a stick at
The first thing you (and definitely the kids!) will notice upon arrival is the incredible lazy river, which the resort is centered around. Pack your swimsuits in your carry-on luggage and jump right into the fun. If by chance your room isn’t ready, there’s a lounge where you can change into your suits. In addition to the lazy river, there are a whole host of pools for every age group, a gigantic water gym, and a private lagoon. For an anxiety-free snorkeling experience, check out the Rainbow Reef, where you and your kids can swim with more than 1,300 brightly colored fish in Aulani’s private and totally contained reef.
3. Thoughtful and culturally authentic activities
Disney prides itself on being culturally authentic, and the activities are no exception. Make and decorate a Hawaiian canoe and race it in the lagoon, dance the hula, or learn to play the ukulele. No matter what you choose, you’ll feel more closely connected to the Hawaiian Islands and Disney. (Tip: Don’t miss the fire pit storytelling, which is a 15-20 minute dramatic story told by Uncle and Moana after dark.) If you’re looking for something fun to do that’ll help you learn the resort, check out the Pau Hana Room, where you can borrow a tablet for a resort-wide scavenger hunt, known as the Menehune Adventure Trail. At certain spots, you’ll see scenery come to life (hello, Disney magic!) when you answer a clue correctly. At the front desk every morning, pick up the Daily ‘Iwa, which is a list of activities for the entire family (including kids-only activities at Aunty’s Beach House, the kid’s club). If you’re into group exercise, you can’t beat the sunrise yoga — or for a bigger challenge, ocean fitness or the total body circuit.
4. The Magic of Disney
The Aulani is Hawaii first, Disney second. This means you can expect a bit of Disney’s magic everywhere you turn, but you’ll be getting a truly Hawaiian experience (and get to meet Moana!). The character breakfast at the Makahiki restaurant is a great place to meet your favorite Disney characters, and get a delicious breakfast too. The buffet is full of fun details (our favorite are the dolphin bananas!). And, don’t forget your trading pins! There are as many cast members wearing trading pin lanyards as there are at Disneyland, and they’ll be thrilled to trade with you.
5. The Food (oh, the food)
We mentioned the dolphin bananas, right? In addition to the character breakfast buffet, there’s many more incredible restaurant options. The food is locally-sourced whenever possible, and includes favorite dishes with a bit of Hawaiian flair. Our favorites include the upscale restaurant, ‘AMA‘AMA, fantastic for dinner or breakfast, with an unbeatable view. Do not miss the pancakes at ‘AMA‘AMA’s breakfast: the combination of hazelnut and vanilla is to die for! We also love the ‘Ōlelo Room, a truly magical bar which houses approximately 150 shadow boxes containing hand-carved wooden examples of common, everyday objects labeled with their Hawaiian language names.
6. The Ka Wa’a Luau
You can’t visit Hawaii without attending a Luau and you can’t visit the Aulani without attending the Ka Wa’a Luau. Before the luau, guests enjoy special pre-show entertainment and family activities. Make a beautiful lei, pound taro, and receive a (temporary) tattoo, applied using a traditional method. The kiddos will jump at the chance to learn the Aulani Hula and perform along with their favorite Disney friends. The food is a plentiful island buffet featuring fresh salads and seasonally-sourced vegetables, local seafood, braised imu-style pork, teriyaki chicken and carving stations with whole roasted Hawaii-raised suckling pig and slow-roasted prime rib. There’s plenty to please the younger crowd, including shaka macaroni and cheese, chicken tenders, Mickey-shaped pastas and more. The show itself is everything you’d expect from Disney, with incredibly dramatic costumes, music, and dance. The performance tells stories of Oahu and legends of the demigod Maui. Traditional Hawaiian hula dances bring the stories to life.
Want to make an already incredible vacay extra memorable? Just like Moana, you can set sail on a catamaran and sail past the reef. Rather than being confronted with a lava monster, though, you’ll swim in the warm Hawaiian waters with sea turtles and brightly colored fish. Worried your little ones are too young to enjoy an excursion like this? Kids as young as four will be a-okay snorkeling in this kid-friendly situation, and younger ones are welcome to stay on the boat. Either way, the views and the breezes are well worth the trip! If you’re lucky, you might even spot a pod of spinner dolphins.
Other excursions include Kayaking on Kailua Bay and a storytelling hike, an exclusive sightseeing and storytelling adventure through the beautiful Kualoa Ranch, and a visit to the North Shore of Oahu and Waimea Falls.
photo courtesy Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
8. The culture, art, and people of Hawaii, with a little extra magic
When in Hawaii, you want to feel like you’re in Hawaii, and the Aulani resort does that beautifully. Everything from the decor to the activities are completely Hawaiian. When Disney set about creating the luxury Aulani, Resort & Spa, they wanted to do it right (it is Disney, after all!), and they consulted the people of Hawaii. The result is the most culturally authentic hotel on the island, complete with one of the largest collections of Hawaiian art in the world. Most of the staff is Hawaiian, and they all know an incredible amount about Hawaiian culture. The resort is Hawaii first, Disney second.
Local artists were involved in the decor of the hotel, including a breathtaking mural in the main lobby. An 80-year old local native Hawaiian craftsman helped construct the ceiling inside the main hall of ‘AMA‘AMA, which is made of real ‘ohia wood lashed together using traditional Hawaiian lashing technique that dates back centuries.
photo courtesy Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
9. The single best kids club we’ve ever heard of
Want a little alone time? Included in your stay is Aunty’s Beach House, a world-class kids club with free play, activities galore, and all sorts of Hawaiian-themed things to do. They’re open from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and most kids do not want to leave!
Aunty’s Beach House is designed for potty-trained kids ages three and up, but younger kids can get in on the fun during the open house in the mornings from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Lunch and dinner are available too, on a first-come, first-served basis.
All of the paintings and artwork in Aunty’s Beach House are authentic Hawaiian, and all of the games are Hawaii-based. Kids can learn the hula, sing a Hawaiian version of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and participate in Hawaiian crafts. Get your kids pumped for the day and sign up for whichever sound coolest to them – all of the day’s activities can be found in the Daily ‘Iwa.
Insider tips: On your first day, if you arrive before your room is ready and need some quiet time, send the kids to Aunty’s Beach House for a bit of free play. Kids can also nap here. Pre-register your kids online before you arrive—at least 2 days (but no more than 90 days) prior to your arrival date.
Mealtime reservations can’t be booked online ahead of time, so you’ll need to stand in line in the morning if you’d like to reserve a meal for your child. You can avoid the line if you don’t need a meal and you book your reservations online ahead of your trip.
10. The most amazing spa experience you could imagine
Think a resort spa means high prices and low quality? Think again. The Laniwai spa is truly one-of-a-kind. With every spa experience, guests have access to the Kula Wai hydrotherapy garden, which is a lush, peaceful adults-only area with two soaking tubs, a cold-water plunge (perfect for staving off jet lag!), whirlpool, sauna, and steam room. Don’t miss the outdoor rain shower, with six showers inspired by different types of Hawaiian rainfall.
And the treatments are some of the best you’ll ever experience. The Signature Lomilomi massage is a traditional Hawaiian massage you will not regret booking. For a unique experience you can’t get anywhere else, book an Ohana family massage. Because families who travel together tend to want to spend time together, Disney designed a special spa experience for your whole fam. 3-6 members of your family, including the kids, get to experience a spa treatment in the same room.
Your kids will be so relaxed they’ll be utterly silent—and they’ll get to bring home a lomilomi stick so they can give you massages at home. Our tip? Book that Ohana family massage one day, and a pedicure for yourself a different day. You’ll have access to the hydrotherapy garden no matter what, and who doesn’t want to spend more time there?! If you have teens, they’ll love Painted Sky, which is Hawaii’s only teen spa, with age-specific treatments.
From the warm ocean breezes to the incredible hospitality, Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa is one destination we’d hate for you to miss out on.
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
Address: 92-1185 Ali’inui Dr, Kapolei, Hawaii 96707
Phone: (866) 443-4763
Have you been to a Disney Resort with your kiddos? What are your tips?
Note: This trip was paid for by Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.
—all copy and photos by Sara Olsher except where otherwise noted