Awesome tips & secrets for staying at Aulani, Disney's Hawaii resort on Oahu!
After a few years of planning and saving, we were able to take a trip to Hawaii this year -- yes, it was amazing!
We had accumulated enough Disney Reward dollars to stay at the Aulani Resort in Oahu on our first night on the island and it was one of the BEST decisions we made on the trip!
Being able to stay at an all-inclusive resort and not have to worry about grocery shopping or driving to any activities for the first day after that long plane trip meant a great start to our vacation.
Here's what you need to know if you're heading to Disney's Aulani resort, especially if you're only staying for a short time --
Aulani: 9 Secrets to Disney's Hawaii Resort in Oahu
A few things to know before we get into all the details --
First, we only spent one day at the resort. We really wanted to see a lot of Oahu and weren't really looking for an all-inclusive place to stay. There were quite a few families who were staying on property for their entire visit and taking rental cars or buses for day trips so that option is available too.
However, we did a LOT in one day (that's just our thing on vacation -- we can cover a lot of territory :)
And second, vacationing in Hawaii is expensive -- and a stay at Aulani is no different.
I don't sugar-coat my travel posts because I know that families have to save a lot of money and take time off work to travel -- it's a BIG commitment, right! So just know that when you plan a trip to Hawaii, there will be some 'sticker shock' as you look into room rates and food prices.
But don't let that deter you because there are ways to stick to your budget and still fully enjoy your vacation!
Aulani's Breakfast Buffet
Have breakfast with Goofy! Ok, it's more than just Goofy ;)
There's also Mickey, Minnie and sometimes other characters at Aulani's Character Breakfast. And as you can see from the photos, you're never too old to get a picture with a character.
In fact, my son called Goofy over for a selfie and Goofy was all over it -- very fun!
Now most folks would take a photo of the food so you could see what they had to offer BUT this was our first meal after flying all day and getting in late, so I was super hungry and didn't even think of pictures until after I ate :)
When I'm hungry, I should be fed quickly (or it's not pretty ;)
A few tips for you: The buffet has a HUGE variety of food -- really, we ate breakfast at 7:15 am and then didn't need to eat a thing until after 2 pm.
You'll find an adorable kid-sized buffet area with all the faves like Mickey waffles AND Stitch waffles, a very large selection of hot brunch items (both traditional and ones with Hawaiian flair), an extensive offering of fruits and then a really nice section with traditional Japanese & Chinese food selections.
Here's a sample menu from Aulani if you'd like more details about what's offered. My kids will tell you that no matter what you eat, make sure you order POG to drink! POG is a mix of passionfruit, orange & guava juices and both of the kids agreed that the POG at Aulani was the best they had on all of Oahu.
In true Disney fashion, it's all about the details. I have a few dietary restrictions and when we arrived, the chef came out of the kitchen to walk me through the entire buffet and shared the ingredients of all the selections.
Seriously, I just adore that type of service! If you have any allergies or special diets in your family, just let them know when you check in and they'll be sure to accommodate you.
When you first arrive, you're given a Mickey ticket with your reservation time (it's a great item for the scrapbook) and you can then have a photo session with Mickey. Again, wonderful service with the photos as they will use YOUR camera to take a photo too in case you don't want to purchase the package.
(ps. we did buy the photos which included (1) 8x10 of the whole family, (1) 8x10 of Mickey & Minnie (2) 4x6 of the family and (2) 4x6 of the kids with Mickey. The package was approx. $25 and came in a very sturdy and Hawaiian themed cardboard frame.)
Psst. Ask for Drinks to go: Notice the take-out cups in the photo above? I wanted to take my iced tea with me and the kids still wanted to finish their POG, so the waitress was nice enough to bring us the to-go cups so we could have something to drink while we walked the grounds that morning.
It's the little things like this that really make a vacation :)
Relax in the Lazy River
Disney really set up this resort to be friendly for the WHOLE family no matter what your age.
I think we all had the most fun on our trip down the lazy river. First, you'll grab a tube (single or double) and head down a really cool and pretty long slide (some of the slide is enclosed and other parts are open so it's not all dark).
The slide drops you off at the beginning of the lazy river which I thought would be only a few minutes -- nope, it takes about 15 minutes to float the whole winding river and it's beautiful!
Along the way, you go under a few bridges, past some waterfalls and wind through a good portion of the resort -- don't forget to look up and enjoy the views of the buildings and beautiful trees.
And just when you think it's over, WHAM! they float you under this "you're gonna get wet no matter what" hidden waterfall area. We had a blast!
All the pools and slides are FREE at the resort if you're a guest -- stop by one of the towel cabanas for a wrist band (and towels) each day.
Aulani also has an adults-only pool and a really beautiful infinity pool that overlooks the cover and the ocean. Plus lots of strategically placed restrooms throughout the pool areas too.
Go on a High Tech Scavenger Hunt
Another OUTSTANDING activity for the whole family is the outdoor scavenger hunt they offer on the grounds of the resort.
There is no cost for this activity -- it's included with your stay.
Stop by the Activity Center to pick up an iPad for each of your kids and head off to your first stop (the iPad and "Aunty" will guide you to the various secret places you'll need to visit).
At each of your locations, your kids will be asked to solve riddles as they learn about Menehune (the mischievous little people with magical powers).
Each time they solve and riddle when you're standing at the interactive locations, these AMAZING things happen!
I'm not talking small either -- I'm talking HUGE amazing things!
While I don't want to spoil anyone's fun, I'll tell you that rocks will move, waterfalls will begin to flow and lights glow.
And you'll notice things you never saw around the resort -- we all swam and played in the lazy river and we never noticed that rock at the exit was in the shape of a whale (and one of the riddles makes the whale spout water!)
At first, my hubby and teen weren't all that excited about doing a scavenger hunt but after we set off the first 'secret', they were all in!
We only had time to go through 5 of the stops on the hunt -- it will take you all over the resort grounds and it's something the staff told us you can do over the course of a few days during your visit.
Find the Secret Slide
I know, more secrets ;)
Actually, this is just very well hidden and another great water activity for everyone.
The slide hidden in the large volcano exits into a private area within one of the family pools. The whole slide is in the dark and believe me, you fly down this thing! It's a nice long ride to the bottom so don't worry if you don't see the kids right away.
And I'm sure you're wondering how we got all these great water photos -- our little secret: we bought an Olympus TG-3 Waterproof Digital Camera before our trip knowing that we would be on the beach and in the pools a lot! You can learn more about the camera's details and see other reviews with the affiliate link above.
Our one BIG tip -- if you get a waterproof camera, be sure to also buy the foam float strap so the camera won't sink to the bottom of the pool or ocean. This was a big piece of mind when we handed the camera over to the kids to take photos -- and they took some AWESOME pics!
The camera really was one of the best and most used items we brought on our trip (other than our bathing suits ;) It takes wonderful pictures both in the water, under water and outside of the water so it's a great option for beach vacations when you don't want to take your 'good' camera or phone since sand can wreak havoc with those -- waterproof cameras also stand up well to sand.
Get a Photo with Stitch
They do have some nice photo stops around the resort and you can also get a Disney Photocard during your stay (it's a card that cast members will give you at your first photo and then anytime a cast member takes your photo at Aulani, it can be added to this card. At the end of your trip, you can review and purchase any photos you like.)
The Stitch statue is located near Aunty's Beach House -- which, by the way, has complimentary childcare and kids activities scheduled throughout the day for kids ages 3 - 12 years old. While we didn't attend any of the programs there, we did notice that the registration sheet was full early in the day so if you're kids do want to participate, be sure to sign them up early!
And just in case you're not familiar with Stitch, you can learn all about him in the Disney film Lilo & Stitch -- a great idea for family movie night before your visit.
Find a Secret (Quiet) Spot
Sometimes you just need to get away from all the hustle and bustle of large resorts and it's so easy to do that at Aulani.
Just follow the path around the beach (you'll pass a wedding chapel which is pretty popular) and it will take you out to the edge of the property and an AWESOME view of the ocean!
There's a large green area with sea breezes so you can even bring a towel or snack for an impromptu picnic.
It's a wonderful option for those times when you just need a few minutes of peace and quiet.
Learn about Hawaiian Culture
Learning how to pronounce the Hawaiian words during your stay is a must!
In the Great Hall near the character breakfast area, you'll find a huge wall detailing the Hawaiian alphabet. There are a number of wood carvings along with popular island activities (such as surfing) with the Hawaiian name for each.
And in the main area of the lobby, you'll want to spend some time admiring the artwork, paintings and design that reflect the history and traditions of the islands.
Swim in the Ocean
Yes, in addition to all the pools, Aulani also has their own private beach!
Since it's located in a cove, the water is pretty calm. My kids & husband swam out to the rocks that you can see in the photo and watched some black crabs scramble about for a while. We also had our snorkeling gear and used that near the rocky edges too.
You can rent paddle boards or kayaks at the resort if you'd like to explore the cove and not get all wet ;)
Enjoy the Details & Save Money
There is just so much to see in your room and on the property.
Take Home a Souvenir: When you first arrive, each person will receive a lei. While mine was made of fresh flowers (which will die after a day), each of the boys received a lei made from wood and my daughter received a necklace so they all had nice souvenirs to take home with them.
And of course, there will be hidden Mickey's all around the resort so you can do a Hidden Mickey scavenger hunt on your own too.
Enjoy nature on your visit -- We saw geckos as we walked the grounds and the foliage was just breath-taking in so many places.
More Frugal Fun: Be sure to take a walk around the resort in the evening too -- on select nights, you can also enjoy free movies on the beach for a nice down-time activity.
And the service is incredible!
Somewhere between the lazy river and the family pool, our room key fell out of my husband's pocket. Since we were swimming that day, we only had his key. Lesson: try not to swim with your room key ;) But after a quick trip to the concierge's desk, we were back in the room with a new key in less than 20 minutes. They just asked us a few questions to verify our account and told us it happens all the time.
Have a wonderful time on your Hawaii trip!!
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