Your Guide to a Staycation at Disney’s ‘Aulani Resort
Hawai‘i’s only Disney resort, ‘Aulani offers a top-of-the-line getaway for kama‘āina Mouseketeer families.
Overlooking a crescent-shaped lagoon on the cloistered beaches of Ko ‘Olina, ‘Aulani is a world-class Disney resort inspired by Hawaiian culture and artistry. It’s first and foremost for families looking for Disney magic on a Hawai‘i vacation.
Take a tube down the lazy river and maybe you’ll see Goofy flop into the shallows in water shoes. Ride the elevator and jam to classic Disney tunes sung in the Hawaiian language. Sit poolside and enjoy a li hing mui shave ice shaped like Mickey Mouse, then meet the mouse himself at a poolside dance party. If any of this sounds appealing to you, then you’ll likely have a merry time at ‘Aulani.
While the Disney name may carry tourist-trap notions, ‘Aulani is tastefully designed to avoid feeling like a theme park. Guests less interested in photo ops and gift shops can still enjoy the resort’s eateries, private beach lagoon and spa and all manner of events such as shows, stargazing, fitness classes and storytelling by a fire pit. The resort boasts lush landscaping, palatial Hawaiian architecture and a glittering seaside view.
If you’re looking to book a stay at ‘Aulani, here’s everything you need to know.
Click to the information you want to explore:
Booking at ‘Aulani
‘Aulani tends to offer special kama‘āina rates on certain rooms during the off-season period (generally fall and winter, excluding the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas), which can potentially shave hundreds of dollars off your stay.
Navigating the ‘Aulani website to find the right room can be tricky, especially if you want to survey a range of different accommodations. You can always call ‘Aulani directly to speak with a customer representative at (866) 443-4763 to find available bookings that work with your plans.
At the time of writing, kama‘āina deals require guests to present a government-issued Hawai‘i ID at check-in, and kama‘āina guests must stay at the room on the reservation. Be sure to check the ‘Aulani website for the full list of details and restrictions on kama‘āina deals.
‘Aulani books quickly, so try to make reservations as far in advance as possible.
Disney Vacation Club
For diehard fans who foresee yearly vacations at Disney destinations and properties, there’s a timeshare program called Disney Vacation Club. The membership allows members to spend a yearly allotment of points to book stays at ‘Aulani, Disney properties outside of Hawai‘i and other qualifying resorts. Members who select ‘Aulani as their “home resort” enjoy a priority period to book rooms in advance of the public. For more information, you can call ‘Aulani or visit their Disney Vacation Club office on the lobby floor.
‘Aulani offers a variety of rooms, suites and villas. The standard rooms hold either two queen beds or a king bed with a queen pullout sofa and sleep up to four guests. As a more premium option, the 1–2-bedroom suites offer a parlor area with a kitchenette, sleeping four to nine guests. Finally, the 1–3-bedroom villas are well-suited for families. These come with a fully equipped kitchen, a washer-dryer combo and a whirlpool tub in the master bedroom, sleeping four to 12 guests.
The entire resort is equipped with Wi-Fi access, and each room sports a private lānai with views of the west O‘ahu mountains, the ocean or the Ko ‘Olina Lagoon.
Small touches elevate the rooms, from earth-toned wood and wallpaper that draws inspiration from kapa cloth, floral prints and even the construction of outrigger canoes to wallpaper decorated with hidden Mickey symbols. You may even find your bath towels curled up on the bed sheets in a pair of Mickey ears.
‘Aulani guests can valet their vehicles at the front of the resort or self-park in the guest parking lot on the right side of the resort driveway. If you self-park, you can take a ticket and park in any open spot. Up to two room keycards can serve as designated “driver” keycards per your reservation, and they can be used to swipe in and out of the parking lot. Each reservation comes with up to two parking spots.
Guests who park at ‘Aulani without a reservation or a keycard will have to pay a base rate that increases every half hour up to a maximum of $37 per day.
Things to Do
Check the App
The free ‘Aulani Resort Mobile App, available on iOS and Android, contains an interactive map of the resort and a handy calendar with daily activities. You can also use the app to begin the check-in process, make dining reservations and book activity reservations.
Pools, Slides and Hot Tubs
During the day, the pool is where the action is. The resort boasts two water slides: a closed tunnel body slide and a half-open slide that carries single or double-rider tubes into a winding lazy river. Keiki can frolic on the kids-only water play structure called the Menehune Bridge, while families of all ages can enjoy an infinity pool with an oceanfront view as well as a more secluded pool flanked by tropical foliage and a poolside bar.
The sprawling Waikolohe Pool at the center of the resort is where many families spend the day and also where ‘Aulani hosts its poolside dance party with Disney characters. After chilling in the water, take a dip in one of the five heated whirlpool spas around the property. I recommend the adults-only ‘Alohi Point spa, which is just makai of the Waikolohe Pool. This terraced spa offers a sweeping view of the lagoon, making it the perfect spot to catch a sparkling sunset as you melt into the water.
Snorkelers can purchase a time slot at Rainbow Reef, a manmade saltwater lagoon teeming with hundreds of fish. This enclosed reef is a great way for beginner snorkelers to learn the ropes while swimming alongside colorful marine life.
If you’re looking to wiggle your toes in the sand, head down to Ko ‘Olina Lagoon. This white sand beach is free of coral and fenced off from the ocean, so you can splash barefoot without fear. Complimentary boogie boards and life jackets are available for guests, and you can also rent snorkel sets and stand-up paddleboards. Bringing your own stand-up paddleboard is not allowed, but you can bring your own floats and beach toys.
Those less water-inclined can still find a lot to do at ‘Aulani during the day. Check the app for meet-and-greet opportunities with characters like Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Stitch, Moana and more. The resort frequently offers family-friendly activities such as ukulele lessons, hair braiding, games, crafts, movies, a pin trading hour, an interactive treasure hunt and guided tours through ‘Aulani’s art collection and resort grounds.
You can also enjoy the 24-hour weight room or book a stay at the spa, which offers therapies, salon services and an outdoor hydrotherapy garden. Finally, whether you’re looking for a Stitch backpack or a Disney-themed Reyn Spooner dress, ‘Aulani has two gift shops full of resort-exclusive merchandise.
Evenings at ‘Aulani
As evening falls, check the schedule for outdoor movie nights on the Hālāwai Lawn, where you can spread a blanket and enjoy Disney and Pixar films set to crisp surround sound. You can also partake in karaoke, teen game and ice cream nights, Disney character drawing lessons and fire pit storytelling. For those willing to splurge for tickets, ‘Aulani’s premier evening show is Ka Wa‘a, a festive lū‘au with live music, dance, food and storytelling from talented local performers. If you’re interested, try to purchase tickets as far in advance as possible, as the show tends to book quickly.
What to Eat
‘Aulani has four sit-down restaurants that range in price as well as a grab-and-go cafe with hot meals and a snack bar with poolside fried food. As you’d expect from a Disney resort, dining at ‘Aulani is generally quite pricey. However, there are some decently priced dining options that offer good quality and portion sizes.
For a cool treat, check out the shave ice stand at the center of Waikohole Valley. The shave ice here is surprisingly yummy and the portions are large enough to share among two to three people. You can choose up to three flavors ranging from stalwarts like strawberry and banana to local flavors like li hing mui and liliko‘i. For additional 50-cent increments, you can add condensed milk, ice cream and even a pair of ice Mickey ears for a photogenic dessert.
For a quick meal that can be enjoyed poolside or taken up to the room, Ulu Cafe offers hot meals, sandwiches, pizzas and various pastries and snacks (often Mickey-shaped). Otherwise, if you want a sit-down dining experience that offers bang-for-buck, I recommend The ‘Ōlelo Room, which serves drinks, sushi rolls and pūpū-style dining. The portions are large enough to share amongst a group, and the food is quite tasty. Order a cocktail and split the karaage chicken, bacon cheeseburger sliders and steak bites.
‘Aulani’s premier dining options are Makahiki, which offers a three-course dinner or a three-course breakfast with Disney characters, and ‘Ama‘ama, a four-course prix fixe contemporary Hawaiian dinner facing the beach. Both options are generally heavily booked, so make reservations if you’re interested.
Tips for Locals
- Whenever possible, consult the mobile app to figure out what’s happening each day so you can make plans and reservations if need be.
- Because ‘Aulani’s activities change from day to day, try to check out any activities sooner rather than later to ensure that you can participate.
- For more dining options and shopping outside of ‘Aulani, check out the nearby Ko ‘Olina Center & Station, which is only a few minutes’ walk from the resort.
- The Island Country Market sells the goods of your local ABC Store but also serves hot meals, bentos, pastries and coffee. Try the prime rib plate and order a couple of mango or ube-flavored “mochizadas,” a malasada with the chewy texture of mochi. At night, the sushi and bentos are discounted if you’re in the mood for a sushi roll or a sukiyaki don.
- Mekiko Cantina is a Mexican restaurant and bar. If you want to have a seat at the bar, order a margarita, watch the game and share a heaping platter of kālua pork nachos, this is the place to be. I also recommend the dessert nachos. I know that sounds off-putting at first blush, but trust me. Vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup on tortilla chips baked with cinnamon—it’s like a crunchy churros ice cream party.
- Black Sheep Ice Cream Co. serves up rich, creamy scoops with ingredients like honeycomb cream, butter cake, and cracker brittle. I wrote about it recently here.
- Many of ‘Aulani’s exceptionally friendly staff are locals. If you let them know you’re a fellow local, they’ll be more than willing to give you tips and recommendations.