If Disney trips bring lines, crowds and humidity to mind, consider this getaway to be your theme park antidote. Located outside Honolulu, Aulani is a Disney destination that’s truly relaxing, whose lush walkways, outdoor offerings and endless lazy river are nothing short of enticing.
With activities, entertainment and nods to Hawaii’s landscape and history, this gem tucked away in a private, gorgeous corner of the island can make for an ideal family trip — if you know how to do it right.
Curious about Disney’s Hawaii resort? Here’s what’s in store, and how to plan the perfect vacation there.
It’s Disney, but not too Disney.
Aulani features the quintessential parts of a Disney getaway — poolside visits by characters, adorable Mickey-shaped foods, unexpected doses of magic — but won’t feel anything like the theme parks, which is why it's best for those seeking a family-friendly tropical getaway instead of a replacement for Walt Disney World.
There are character meet-and-greets and small Disney touches throughout, but Aulani focuses more on pure vacationing, with grotto-style pools, two stellar water slides and a picturesque lazy river.
The food at Aulani’s sit-down restaurants is remarkably good. Makahiki, which hosts character breakfasts and dinner has phenomenally better offerings than your standard Disney buffet fare, while ‘Ama ‘Ama serves upscale dining from its elegant beachfront porch. Even the poolside snacks, particularly Papalua Shave Ice’s Mickey-shaped treats, are an exciting addition.
Tackle as many activities as you can.
You’ll be tempted to waste the day away in Aulani’s infinity pool and hidden whirlpool spas, but there are plenty of exciting diversions worth breaking away for. Hit Makiki Joe’s to experience Aulani’s scenic Ko Olina Beach by kayak or paddleboard, snorkel past schools of fish and underwater statues in Aulani’s impressive Rainbow Reef lagoon or head out for a round at Ko Olina Golf Club. Even the Menehune Adventure Trail, an interactive game that magically brings Aulani’s surroundings to life, is a perfect way to break up a pool day.
Expect plentiful Japanese touches.
Due to its proximity to Japan, plenty of guests are from overseas, and the resort caters to its global clientele with fabulous effect. There are rice cookers in villa kitchens, delicious traditional offerings at Makahiki’s impeccable buffet, and a full Japanese breakfast set served at ‘Ama ‘Ama restaurant.
Much of the unique resort merchandise features Duffy, Shellie Mae and Gelatoni, three easy-to-love characters who are wildly popular at Disney’s Tokyo theme parks.
Prepare for early nights and even earlier mornings.
Pool wristband distribution and chair selection begins at 8 a.m., with same-day Makahiki reservations and Auntie’s Beach House bookings starting even earlier. Thankfully, though, because of the time zone difference — Aulani is three hours behind the West Coast and six behind the East Coast — most American guests will adjust easily to the sunrise starts, and not be bothered by Aulani’s lack of late night activities.
Make the most of your time alone.
Family vacations make great memories, but your little ones’ favorites may just be made while you’re unwinding elsewhere. Aunty’s Beach House, the kid’s club and certified child care center included with hotel stay, offers so many delightful activities in its homey, trinked-adorned environment that they’ll likely spend at least one full day learning hula or making “space goo” with Stitch — giving parents just enough time to experience Aulani’s delightfully quiet adults-only pool or unique body treatments and couples massages at Laniwai Spa.
Attend the luau, if it’s the only thing you do.
Ka Wa’a Luau is a can’t-miss experience fusing Hawaiian culture and history with enthralling entertainment and a surprise appearance by Mickey Mouse himself — and that’s not even including the other festivities. The evening begins with hands-on stations for regional crafts like kapa printing and orchid floral bracelet making (while adults can enjoy the free-flowing bar), and when dinner time begins, a true feast is unveiled.
Related: The 15 Best Resort Hotels in Hawaii
Pros know to skip lunch and buy a top-tier ticket for first crack at the delectable whole-roast pig and other delicacies before tucking in for a fire and dance-filled show.
Make the most important phone call of the day.
Aulani’s Daily Iwa guide is your best way of finding out what’s happening at the Hawaiian resort, but the Character Hotline, which can be reached by hotel room phone, is how you’ll find out which characters will appear that day and where to find them. Be sure to call each day to find out about appearances by Moana, Stitch, Chip ‘n’ Dale, and other Disney characters.
Spend at least one day away from Aulani.
Hawaii is a gorgeous destination, sure, but it’s almost as if you need to leave Aulani’s phenomenal grounds to appreciate its immersive, family-friendly splendour.
Book a tour — either through the Disney resort or externally — or rent a car on-site to see the rainforest, waterfalls and beaches the island has to offer, and return to one of the most serene hotels on O’ahu.