Disney is at the top of many family travel wish lists, and so is Hawaii. How to choose? Luckily, you can have both. Aulani, a Disney resort and spa that particularly caters to families, opened in 2011 on the island of Oahu.
But is it the right dream vacation for your family? In many ways, Aulani offers a trip that will delight everyone in the family, with amazing pools, a plethora of activities and shows and all-day access to the kids club (which can help parents get alone time). However, it's not for everyone. Here's the scoop.
5 reasons to go to Disney's Aulani
1. Spectacular pools
There is a quiet beach at Aulani, but you will find most families in the five pool areas for kids, and a few parents sneaking off to the adults-only pool and hot tubs. The Menehune Bridge play structure thrills young visitors with water slides just big enough to make the toddler and “big boy” crowd feel like pros, while their older siblings head to the epic lava shoot-and-tube run at the Pu’u Kilo pool area. Mom can enjoy a float down the lazy river while families with kids of all ages, including those traveling to Aulani with babies, will love the zero-entry Waikolohe pool.
As for teens, they can head to the new Ka Maka Grotto, a stunning, oceanfront infinity pool (with hot tub) that's off limits for kids ages 11 and under unless they're accompanied by an adult.
At all pools, lifeguards are on duty all day and keep a careful watch. For young swimmers, complimentary life jackets are available.
2. Nonstop entertainment for kids
Kids will have a blast bopping from pool to pool, zooming down the water slides and playing water games with Mickey and his friends. They can organize a massive sand castle contest with the help of staff members or enjoy an epic volleyball tournament on the beach. Basically, if your kids can dream it, the staff will try to make it happen.
For young water enthusiasts, the calm clear waters of Aulani's beach offers a safe spot to try out a new sport such as stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking (separate fee). And while the beach isn’t ideal for snorkeling with little ones, the Rainbow Reef, a private onsite snorkeling pool, allows children (and adults) to try snorkeling in a safe and secure environment (separate fee).
Another highlight for kids is the Character Breakfast at Makahiki, arguably the best meal you will have at the resort. The buffet table is loaded with French toast, Mickey waffles, scrambled eggs, yogurt, fruit and Asian breakfast dishes. Characters move from table to table for photos and hugs, while the resort “Aunty” entertains visitors with songs and dancing.
3. Child care included
Parents are welcome to drop off their children between 9:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. at Aunty’s Beach House, a multi-room kids club for children ages 3-12 that's included in your room rate. At Aunty's, kids have many activities to choose from, including games, movies, video games and special events like Stitch’s Space Goo and meals with the characters.
It's not encouraged to leave kids at Aunty's the entire day, but it does give you the flexibility to have dinner together, try stand-up paddleboarding or enjoy a couples massage at Laniwai, the spa at Aulani.
You can also book in-room child care at an extra cost.
4. Loads of amenities included
The price of your room at Aulani may seem daunting (rooms start at $400), but when you add in all of the free amenities, plus the extras that you can add on, it might just be worth the price.
In addition to the child care that's included, a stay at the resort includes free beach toy rentals for families at Makiki Joe’s Beach Rentals and volleyball nets and ping-pong tables. Parents can take advantage of the sunrise yoga classes, beach boot camp, or a walking tour through the grounds that will teach you about the nature and wildlife of Aulani.
Other highlights include the Pau Hana Room, where you'll find activities such as Uncle’s Kahakai canoe racing: learn about Hawaiian outriggers and build your own small canoe to race on the beach. You can also pick up a Menehune Adventure Trail device that leads you through the resort on a scavenger hunt.
5. One-of-a-kind events
Most of the entertainment at Aulani is also included. Don't miss the evening Aulani Starlit Hui, where Hawaiian dancers introduce guests to traditional Hawaiian dances (your children will be up and wiggling in no time), with a story woven throughout the performance.
As the sun sets head to the fire pit for Mo’olelo Fire Pit Storytelling. A master storyteller shares the history and traditions of the Hawaiian people, and no two story hours are the same in one day.
3 Reasons to not go to Aulani
1. You have children under 3 years old
Unless you are an avid Disney fan, you won’t reap the benefits of Aulani with a baby. There is no child care for children under 3 years old provided at the resort, unless you choose the extra-cost options. You cannot drop your child at Aunty’s Beach House and you will need to keep an eye on them at all times while wandering the resort.
The staff is fabulous about keeping children safe, but as any parent knows, the younger they are, the more attention they need, making it harder to sit in that lounge chair and read your book. So you might wait a few years so you can take full advantage of all of the amenities the resort offers.
2. You have a character-phobic child
Although Aulani is not crawling with cast members in costume, you will see Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Chip and Dale roaming the grounds and in Aunty’s Beach House. This can be difficult for character-phobic children. Disney does a good job of helping you avoid the characters by offering multiple spots around the property to set up camp. However, since you are going to a Disney resort, chances are you will see Mickey.
3. You crave peace and quiet
Even though Aulani is on Oahu, make no mistake: This is a Disney property and there will be songs, characters, lots of children and, not surprisingly, noise and chaos. If you love opening your balcony door and listening to the ocean, be warned: It won't happen. Instead you'll hear other wonderful sounds, such as waterfalls, giggles and shouts of joy.