Welcome to the third installment of our Aulani series! In this episode, our member panel discusses all of the fun things that you and your family can enjoy at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa. We cover the storytelling in the resort's design, booking a room with a great view, dining, pools, and activities for all ages!
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Meet the Cast of Episode 086
In episode 083 we developed a greater appreciation for the resort by taking a look into Aulani's history and cultural background. In episode 085 we looked at tips at booking a room, flights, and car rentals. Now, for episode 086, we're arriving at the resort and covering everything on-property. In episode 087 we'll discuss adventuring off-property in mother nature's theme park called Hawaii. The cast of today's show is Sandy Symianick and her husband Thomas Desmeules, owners at Disney's Vero Beach and Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. Sandy joined us for episode 069 which is our Vero Beach Resort review. Roxanne Steele is an owner at Copper Creek, Beach Club, and Old Key West. Former direct sales guide with Disney and current DVC Resale Market guide Andy Berry is back to share his love of Aulani as well.
Lobby & Initial Greeting
Just as Disney does with all of their parks and resorts, everything in the lobby at Aulani tells a story. Sandy summarizes the architecture and art of the lobby as a meeting of the masculine and feminine to ultimately form the family, the center of Hawaiian culture. On one side of the lobby's mural, tasks associated with men are pictured, while on the other, tasks associated with women are pictured. As your eyes move to the middle of the lobby (by the entrance or the windows overlooking the ocean), activities associated with the family and nurturing children are shown. The resort carries this theme throughout, with one side of the resort featuring sharp lines (masculine), and the other featuring more curvature (feminine) in its architecture.
Roxanne sums the experience of the lobby up best. She says, “It's a wow moment. It's like when you walk into Wilderness Lodge for the first time – and you see that lobby – and you're in awe.”
Upon arrival, male guests receive shell necklaces while women receive leis. Guests also have their pictures taken upon entering the lobby for the first time, and this makes a great Christmas card, according to Roxanne.
The Daily Ewa
The Daily Ewa is your guide to all the amazing activities offered at Aulani each day. Our panelists recommend going over it each day, so you don't miss out on any of the fun! Roxanne likens it to the activities guides on the Disney Cruise Line. Andy noted that The Daily Ewa could also be accessed online before you arrive, and upon your arrival, a Cast Member will take the time to review it with your family. Sandy likes that it is divided into activities for the whole family and activities for kids of different ages.
Where Have We Stayed?
- Roxanne enjoyed Aulani from her One-Bedroom Ocean View villa. Her room was on the 16th floor (top floor), and she admits that she thought of switching rooms because it seemed too high. According to a Cast Member she spoke with, all of the Ocean View rooms are located above the 10th floor, so guests do not have to deal with partial obstruction by the tall palm trees. She loved that she could stand on her balcony and see the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other.
- Sandy and Thomas's family stayed in a Deluxe Studio with an Ocean View. They loved that their placement allowed them to see beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Their room was also located just above The Olelo Room, so they could enjoy the sounds of live music every night if they kept the patio doors open.
- Andy's family always books a One-Bedroom Island/Garden View villa. They like how the configuration of the room allows the adults and kids to each have their own spaces, and the kitchen allows them to cook in the room, so they don't have to eat out for every meal. He recommends booking this room category and requesting a higher floor, as this will get you an ocean view without paying the extra points (his preferred room is 1571).
Are There Any Bad Views at Aulani?
- Sandy and Thomas both recommend booking whichever room category is available. According to Sandy, the view doesn't really matter because your family will not be spending a lot of time in the room. Thomas says the Ocean View is amazing, but a lot of the rooms on higher floors have great views too.
- Roxanne also recommends booking whatever is available at seven months (if you're not an owner at Aulani). She points out that the rooms over the Wailana Pool (adults-only) do face The Four Seasons, so the view there may not be so spectacular. She says that next time, she will be requesting a ground floor room with a pool view, so her family can be right in the middle of the action!
- Andy says, “Where you live in the world is a function of the room view you'll want to book.” For example, he lives near the beach in California, so he doesn't feel the need to book an Ocean View room. Someone who lives in the midwest may feel differently!
Cooking in the Room vs. Dining Out
- Sandy and Thomas's family stocked up on a few essential items at the nearby Target, which allowed them to have breakfast in the room each morning. They purchased a waffle maker to make it feel extra special! Their strategy was to have one meal at a restaurant – at Aulani or off-property – each day, and then have sandwiches or fruit from their room for the other meal. Thomas highly recommends DVC members taking advantage of the free refills on the popcorn buckets, as it's easy to add this to a light meal to fill up!
- Roxanne's family enjoyed breakfast on their balcony each morning. One of the adults would head down to the Wailana Pool in the morning to take advantage of the Kona Coffee bar, which also offered blended beverages. She recommends purchasing the refillable mugs, as they work the same at Aulani as at Walt Disney World and are a great value! Mugs can be filled at The Olelo Room, Ulu Cafe, and at the gift shop.
- Andy recommends stocking up on breakfast items or snacks at the nearby Costco or ABC Store.
Dining at Aulani
Makahiki – The Bounty of the Islands
- Andy highly recommends the character breakfast at this dining location! He says the experience makes for amazing pictures, and guests will get to meet Mickey and Minnie in their special Hawaiian outfits.
- Sandy and Thomas really enjoyed breakfast here as well. Sandy liked that Auntie spent a lot of time interacting with guests at each table, telling them stories of the islands, and asking about their home. Thomas liked that the menu kept with the theme of the resort, with Asian-inspired dishes featured on the buffet. The family also had dinner scheduled here, but the kids wanted more pool time, so they canceled their reservation.
- Roxanne's family enjoyed dinner at this dining location. Her teens were not enthused by the idea of the character breakfast, as they had plenty of other opportunities to interact with them at the resort.
‘Ama ‘Ama – Contemporary Island Cooking
- Sandy and Thomas enjoyed a date night dinner at ‘Ama ‘Ama, while the kids were at Aunty's Beach House. They were fortunate enough to see the tail end of the sunset while they dined, and they enjoyed the picturesque setting of the restaurant. They recommend this as a date night spot, adding that children may not be able to appreciate the menu fully.
- Roxanne also enjoyed a date night with her husband here, while their teens spent time doing the teen-centric activities at the resort. She loved the spectacular ocean view and how the Cast Members lit torches after the sun went down. She says that lunch may be more cost-effective, but notes that it would take away from other fun daytime activities.
- Andy puts the experience and cuisine at ‘Ama ‘Ama on the same level as Palo or Remy on the Disney Cruise Line. His family enjoyed dinner here in celebration of his wedding anniversary. He highly recommends it!
- This quick-service dining location offers a variety of meals and snacks, sure to please everyone! Menu offerings include sandwiches, salads, Dole Whips, Mickey Premium bars, pizza, popcorn, and more.
- Roxanne liked that this location offered one or two more “upscale” options at night, similar to what is served at Makahiki.
- Thomas liked that they offered pizzas, which makes a great quick dinner for families. He and Sandy enjoyed the Pork Flatbread and recommend each person in your party ordering their own – they're that good!
Waikolohe Valley Shops
- Our panelists liked the location of all the shops, as they are on your way to all the pools and the beach. They also liked the variety of items offered, as they made great snacks or meals!
- Thomas and Sandy are now huge fans of shaved ice and recommend ordering it with condensed milk.
- Roxanne says the Mickey Ear shaved ice was a bit more expensive but worth it!
The Olelo Room
- This upscale lounge quickly became Roxanne's favorite place at the resort! She and her husband enjoyed the cocktail selection, and she liked that the menu offered items that adults and kids could enjoy. Roxanne says this spot is very family-friendly, relaxing, and offers great live music. She told the Cast Members they were celebrating her daughter's 13th birthday, and they surprised her with cake and a Hawaiian song!
- Thomas enjoyed the live music and atmosphere, saying the lounge had a very “crooner vibe.” Sandy liked that the menu offered things that kids would enjoy, and she shared that their son Jakob liked learning Hawaiian words from the Cast Members and menu.
- Andy loves that the lounge immerses guests in Hawaiian culture through interaction with the Cast Members. The Olelo Room is the only place on the property where they are allowed to showcase their native tattoos and piercings, and every Cast Member speaks fluent Native Hawaiian.
- Aulani has forty-two activities listed on their website, for guests of all ages. Check the website and The Daily Ewa to plan out your day! According to Andy, “There's so much to see. Indulge yourself with as much as you can do.”
- Sandy and Thomas's family enjoyed a lot of activities in the resort's Community Hall, such as ukelele lessons and t-shirt design. Their kids had a lot of fun at Aunty's Beach House, including a cultural activity led by Moana!
- Roxanne recommends stopping by the Concierge Desk! The Cast Members there offered her family great recommendations for dining, activities, and off-property fun.
Menehune Adventure Trails
- These fun scavenger hunts are for the whole family and are hosted indoors and outdoors.
- Sandy and Thomas's family completed the outdoor trail, which takes place after sunset. They enjoyed seeing different parts of the resort come to life and even received some help on a clue from Moana!
- Andy's family completed the indoor trail on a rainy day. They enjoyed exploring the resort while playing a game.
- Sandy says they loved finding Hidden Menehune throughout the resort. Thomas added that these mischievous little helpers were the origin of the creation of Stitch!
Tweens & Teens
- Roxanne's 13- and 15-year-old enjoyed the groups and activities for their age group! Their meeting spot was located by Aunty's Beach House and provided different games and chances to mingle throughout the day. Tweens and teens can check themselves in and out of these activities, allowing parents to enjoy a date night at ‘Ama ‘Ama.
- Roxanne's daughter also loved “Explore the Stars”. This 45-minute activity allows guests to use telescopes to observe the night sky as an astrologist points out all the constellation.
- Thomas snorkeled in the lagoon, venturing closer to where it opens into the ocean. He observed a lot of cool fish but warned it might be too choppy for kids to enjoy.
- Roxanne says the lagoon is crystal clear and adds that large nets deter large fish, jellyfish, and sharks. She liked that the water was calm, allowing for activities like paddleboarding and snorkeling. Her teens did not love the tranquility of the water, preferring the surf instead.
- No one from our panel enjoyed a day at the spa, but they all plan to in the future after hearing glowing reviews from other guests! You may want to check Ella Porter in Episode 015 for her review.
- Thomas and Sandy wanted to enjoy the hydrotherapy garden without taking time from their vacation to book spa appointments. Unfortunately, the spa does not offer a day pass for access to this amenity.
Ka' Wa'a Lu'au
- Chad shares a pro tip for booking this must-see show: book the lu'au the first night you can. This way, if it gets canceled or rained out, you'll have first dibs on any available slots for the rest of your stay! This is the show not to miss!
- Sandy and Thomas regret not booking this experience ahead of time. They enjoyed an obstructed view of the show from their room, but there was no availability when they went to book it for their family.
- Andy booked VIP Seating for his family, which allowed them early access to the venue and time to enjoy all the pre-lu'au activities the Cast Members had to offer.
- Roxanne's family went to The Paradise Cove Lu'au on their vacation, but will definitely be booking this one the next time they visit Aulani!
Disney Vacation Club Exclusives
DVC Member Celebration
- Roxanne said this party was worth waking up early for! Members are treated to a continental breakfast, can participate in a variety of games, and received DVC baseball caps. She enjoyed the chance to mingle with other members and learn about the latest DVC resort, Disney's Riviera Resort.
- Sandy enjoyed the Family Feud-style game show that Cast Members were running, and she was happy that the Cast Members remembered her children's names and made them feel really special. She and Thomas also enjoyed a tour of the One- and Three-Bedroom Villas.
- Thomas says, “It was very much so a drinking the DVC kool-aid morning. It was good fun!”
DVC Membership Magic Activities
- Aulani Art & Nature Tour
- PhotoPass Scavenger Hunt
- Cocktail Hour in The Olelo Room (no pre-registration required)
- Aulani Chefs' Demonstration (pre-registration required)
Other DVC Perks
- Check the Disney Vacation Club website! Over 30 perks are currently listed for members visiting Aulani.
- Free Parking
- Roxanne rented a car from the Alamo desk at the resort and found it super convenient!
- Sandy and Thomas rented a car from the airport. They liked having their own transportation to and from the airport, as well as an easy way to pick up groceries at Target on the way to Aulani.
- Andy recommends using the private driver services of Henry K. Hasegawa. He can be reached at 808-780-8208 or email@example.com.
- Member-exclusive wristbands
The Pools at Aulani
Waikolohe Valley – Mischievous Waters
- Sandy and Thomas's family had a lot of fun in Aulani's main pool area! Sandy liked the fact that there were lots of fun little details for them to stumble upon as they explored. Thomas loved the Waikolohe Stream, as he felt it “went on forever” and had lots of twists and turns.
- Andy explains that the Waikolohe Stream is not a lazy river, as there are no “true rivers” in Hawaii. He says the vertical and tube slides on the volcano are a must-do!
- Roxanne's teens loved the pool parties with the characters! Everyone was dancing around and having a great time, and they got some fantastic pictures with their Disney friends.
Menehune Bridge & Keiki Cove Splash Zone
- Thomas loved that this huge play zone had a lot of different hoses and fun water features.
- Sandy said the area is perfect for kids to play in, but points out that it does have a height restriction.
Ka Maka Grotto
- This was one of Roxanne's favorite hangout spots at the resort. She could sit in the infinity-edge pool and look out at the ocean all day!
- Andy finds this pool, located by The Olelo Room, very relaxing!
- Thomas points out that this pool area is adjacent to Ulu Cafe, so it may not be as quiet and tranquil as is advertised.
- Enclosed snorkeling for all ages
- Guests may bring their own snorkeling gear or rent it from the resort
- DVC discount offered on length-of-stay pass!
- Sandy and Thomas's kids enjoyed this aquatic activity! The calm water allowed for a safe environment for their kids to snorkel and explore on their own. They purchased a length-of-stay pass for the kids and Thomas so that he could accompany them. Sandy said the pass was worth it for the kids, as it was a fun activity they could do independently. Thomas does not think it would be worth it for adults, as he never spent more than 30 minutes in the reef, and it's quite cold!
- These can be booked in advance and for two different locations: Waikolohe Valley and Wailana Pool.
- Roxanne is thinking of renting one for a day on her next vacation to Aulani. She heard from other guests that the loungers near ‘Ama ‘Ama see less through traffic, and you can see wedding parties coming and going from the resort's chapel.
The Best Thing About Being at Aulani
- Thomas says Aulani “felt like Hawaii.” He says that other areas of the islands are so developed and touristy that they don't remove you from the “hustle and bustle.” In contrast, Aulani felt calm, relaxing, and secluded.
- Sandy loved how the resort allowed her family to spend quality time together in a relaxed atmosphere. They could participate in different activities throughout the day but at a slower pace than a Walt Disney World vacation.
- Andy says the Cast Members are the highlight of the resort. They are warm and engaged, and he ranks them with the Cast Members at Tokyo Disneyland. According to Andy, they are the reason the resort is so successful.
- Roxanne says Aulani is the best part of the island. She says, “You drive in, and you feel like you're at this great destination resort. The theming and the relaxation just hits you right away. You feel like you can really unwind and hang loose.” She loves the resort's signature Disney service and that there truly is something for every age.
Connect With Us!
- Andy – DVC Resale Market
- Direct Line: (949) 412-0850
- Roxanne – My DVC Points Community on Facebook
- Sandy & Thomas
Today's episode was produced, edited, and engineered by Chad Pennycuff. Show notes by Samantha Kurtz-Seif. Facebook admins and moderators of the My DVC Points Community Group: Valerie Fairnington, Donna Bickert, Tamara Speidel, Caleb Allison, and Mary Anne Tracy.
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