Saturday, July 27, 2013

Aulani, Disney's Hawaii'an Paradise

Disney’s Aulani resort is like a Hawaiian tropical paradise nestled amongst the ocean and beautiful sand beaches on the island of Oahu. Disney truly has given this resort its own special touches of magic and beauty that it is known for worldwide.

This resort can be for everyone, Disney lovers and Hawaii lovers alike. It is a special bonus if you are like myself and prefer both. If you look hard enough, there are touches of Disney whimsy everywhere you look, but not so much to be overbearing or obvious to those who aren’t seeking it. That is one of the benefits to staying at a Disney resort, the special touches, magic and service standards that only Disney can provide, with a location that can give everyone chances for many other non-Disney things that Hawaii has to experience. We originally had a split stay planned, with 4 nights at Aulani and 2 nights at a resort along the Waikiki beach. We cancelled the 2 nights at Waikiki and just stayed at Aulani all week and making it our home base. Even while there, we found ourselves mostly wanting to stay put at this Hawaiian paradise, not wanting to venture out into traffic and crowds, just to enjoy our own little piece of heaven. With SO many activities for all ages to do, it makes it very hard to have TIME to go and do anything else while staying at Aulani. I am a true believer now and huge fan of Aulani! It is now my favorite destination to vacation to.

Here is my top ten list of activities and experiences at Aulani that I personally LOVED: (There are so many other activities to do while there, but these were the ones that I was the most surprised with and exceeded my expectations.) All the pictures in this article do NOT do justice to the resort and surroundings in real life, but I tried to capture them the best I could.

1.     The Starlit Hui:
This night time entertainment show is FREE and available to all registered resort guests. It is only offered on certain nights of the week depending on the season. It was such a pleasant experience and much better than I was expecting. The music, the dancing, the storytelling was all out of Hawaiian stories and folklore.
A pre-show features traditional Hawaiian games as well as local artisans teaching and exhibiting popular Hawaiian crafts. I was also happy that all the females in the show were dressed modestly. The characters come out at the end and are available for pictures.

You can watch it HERE:

2.     The Rainbow Reef:
This snorkeling lagoon is located right in the middle of Aulani and is the only private snorkel lagoon in Oahu. It does cost for the entrance fee, but your snorkel equipment can be used for the rest of the day at the beach and reefs nearby Aulani as well. At first look, I thought the lagoon was MUCH smaller than I had thought and even thought it was lame because of its size. We had rented snorkel equipment for the day and thought we would give it a try since it was included. There are never many people in it and we had the wide array of fish almost to ourselves. Once inside, the lagoon didn’t seem so small at all and was rather breathtaking. It had the best array of fish that I have ever seen or snorkeled with. Some were quite large and were everywhere! It was clean, clear and beautiful. This lagoon is meant to be a safe environment where there are no waves or currents to hinder the snorkeling experience, or great for beginners or children. While I was there, I even was able to take part of an experiment they were doing by training the fish by feeding them. It was very neat and something that I never would have been able to do anywhere else. It definitely exceeded my expectations and was such a pleasant surprise.


3.     Aunty’s Beach House and activities for kids:
Aunty’s Beach House is a fabulous Kids’ Club that is available to children ages 3-12. What a beautiful, themed space for the kids, and it is complimentary for registered resort guests! This surprised me, I thought it would cost money like at the theme park resorts. It has a lot of activities for kids to do (like on Disney cruises) from computer consoles, to dress up areas, large craft rooms, age appropriate spaces and TV/Movie room. It looks like you stepped into someone’s private beach house! It has everything for younger guests to explore Hawaiian culture, art and music through complimentary activities and Premium Experiences (which may include a fee)

4.     Snorkeling along their own beach and reefs:
We looked up the best snorkeling spots on Oahu and several of the top 10 happened to be right in Aulani’s own backyard! Aulani’s own beach has rock reefs that have angel fish, parrot fish, sergeant fish and a resident sea turtle that seems to stay in the area. There are other reefs that are next door to Aulani and easy to walk to that have a lot of wildlife as well. Some of the areas are quite shallow with jagged rocks that can be easy to cut yourself on. It was definitely better than we thought it would be at first glance since it was just off of a beach, but once near the rocks, there were a lot of things to see! (They do have the areas where the currents are strong roped off for safety.)

5.     Lei greeting and outside refreshment stand:
Right when you arrive at the Aulani resort, you are welcomed with fruit infused ice water (look close for the hidden Mickey’s!) and a resort welcome guide waiting for you with a friendly greeting and flower and shell leis. They take you on a brief tour in the lobby pointing out where things are and activities that can be done. It just builds the excitement!!

6.     The Waikolohe Valley: This is the large area in between the 2 resort towers that has all the water fun! Water slides, a lazy river, The Rainbow Reef snorkel lagoon, pools, winding streams, interactive play areas, this is where it’s at! The water slides were so much fun! In Waikolohe Valley, 2 unique waterslides offer thrills galore:

Volcanic Vertical: An enclosed, extreme body slide that plunges you into Waikolohe Pool.
Tubestone Curl: An open-air twisting and turning tube adventure with single and double tubes that eventually launches you into Waikolohe Stream.

I was scared to try the Volcanic Vertical slide because I knew I would suddenly get fast water gushed up my nose, but when they told me that even little kids go down it and loved it, I figured that I better at least try it once. It actually wasn’t that bad and I went many times. As long as I was prepared and plugged my nose and braced myself as soon as I started seeing daylight, I was fine.


The Tubestone Curl was always lots of fun, but tended to have a longer line, unless earlier in the morning close to when it opened. (The rafts can also be all gone in the busiest times of the day.) My biggest pleasure was the Waikolohe Stream lazy river that ran all around the valley and along beautiful Hawaiian landscapes. It was calm, it was peaceful, it was relaxing. We mostly went in the mornings when hardly anyone would be in it. There were caverns to go through with waterfalls, there were winding curves and stone bridges, it was all just immensely beautiful. When I left, I had the hardest time leaving my Waikolohe valley, especially the Waikolohe Stream lazy river.


And don’t forget the Menehune Bridge where little ones will love this interactive play area that features 3 slides, a play structure and more!
Guests will need to get a new wrist band that is issued in a different color every day of their stay to get into this fun filled Waikolohe Valley. It also includes all the usage of chair and umbrellas in the pool area and down at the beach. This is also where towels are picked up.

7.     The shaved ice shack!! Yummmm!
By Mama’s snack shop, there is the Papalua Shaved Ice stand that sells the most delicious shaved ice! You can order one in 4  different ways and each one can be with up to 3 flavors. You can get a regular shaved ice, a shaved ice with ice cream in the bottom, or MY favorite, shaved ice with condensed milk poured all on top. Or you can get one with everything--- ice cream in the bottom AND condensed milk on top. When I got my first one, I didn’t know I ordered it with condensed milk on top, I thought it would just have the ice cream in the bottom. I wasn’t happy when they started pouring stuff on top of it, but I decided to try it and then I never got another one without. What a difference it makes!! These combinations range from $3.75 and up. Yummy!!


8.     The music:
One of the things that I noticed and loved as soon as I stepped into the beautiful and stunning Maka’ala Lobby, was the music! It was specially written and recorded for the resort by one of Hawaii’s most popular singers and songwriters, Keali‘i Reichel, and Grammy Award-winning composer Mark Mancina. This music is used in the main Maka’ala lobby and all throughout the resort. The resort even had Disney classic songs sung in Hawaiian (even in the elevators!!). It really added to the experience for me.


9.     The Iwa Vacation Daily Planner:
With so much to see and do in a day, there has to be a convenient way for guests to have access to all of it. This where the Iwa daily planner comes into use. These are available every day down at the towel and wristband station where guests have to go and get a new wristband every day. They have them available for free for anyone that wants one. Sometimes due to the wind, they have them put away where they won’t get blown away and guests have to ask for one.


10.  Hunting for Menehune!
One of the best activities to do for kids or adults, is keeping an eye out for all the hidden Menehune (think hidden Mickeys) throughout the resort.

These Menehune are legendary in Hawaii as tiny little mischief makers that stay up all night building great inventions and then during the day, they sleep. They tend to cause a little havoc as well… Lose your keys? It’s the Menehune. Misplace something important? The Menehune. So take time for the Menehune hunt to try and find as many as you can. They say there are more than 200, and you might be surprised at where you might find them!!

Things to be prepared for:

1.     The cost of parking:
Guests pay through the nose for parking anywhere in Hawaii and especially in resorts near the beaches. Aulani guests who are not DVC members will pay $35.00 per night in parking fees! It is still worth it to have a car though. The price is the same for both self-park, or valet, so we figured we would just do valet. But be prepared for this huge fee in your vacation budget.

2.     The cost of food:
All of Aulani’s food is very expensive! We usually either shared food, or ordered the kids meals. We found a lot of inexpensive places to eat across the street, and also down the road in a new shopping area. They have Target, Denny’s, and many other more places that people can take advantage of cheaper places to eat.

3.     Hawaii can be windy, like MOST of the time:
It was nice and warm, but also annoyingly windy for most of the time we were in Hawaii. Some water sports and attrations (like Pearl Harbor’s Arizona Memorial) can be closed for days due to the winds.

4.     Traffic into Honolulu can be a beast no matter what time of day.
Every time we tried to venture into Waikiki or any other tourist attrations in Oahu, we had to deal with awful traffic on the freeway. No matter what time it was, it was always bumper to bumper, and at times, stop and go traffic. Every time we tried to venture into Waikiki beach or Pearl Harbor or anywhere else Oahu had to offer, we wished we would have just stayed at the resort because the traffic was so bad….. The locals tell us that it is like that all the time no matter what day, and no matter what time.

All in all, this was a fabulous trip filled with wonderful surprises in such a beautiful atmosphere. For me, having the combination of Disney quality and attention to detail combined with the beaches, ocean, and relaxing tropical beauty of Hawaii, it is a perfect fit for me and my family. We will be back soon!

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