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Welcome to the final installment of our series on Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa! On today's show, our panel ventures away from the resort to share with you some of the amazing things on Oahu. Let's start exploring!
Meet Our Panel
- Steve Kriese
- Co-Host of The DCL Podcast
- Owner at Aulani, His Parents Live on O'ahu, and work brings him to the island about once a month.
- Ken Booth
- Grant Peters – Owner at Aulani and Copper Creek Villas & Cabins
Getting Around Oahu
- Oahu is the “capitol island” of Hawaii, and its beautiful mountains are the centerpiece, according to Ken. Upon descent into Honolulu International Airport, guests will see sweeping views of Honolulu and Waikiki.
- With so many different things to see and do on the island, Ken recommends that visitors rent a car. If guests do not want a car for the length of their stay, several local companies offer day rentals for $70-$80 per day.
- Grant's family usually rents a car on their vacations, as it provides them with convenience. He can drive to the ABC Store to stock up on essentials, or they can tour the island on their schedule.
- Steve works in the airline industry and does overnight stays on Oahu at least once per month. Unfortunately, he does not get to tour the island much on these work trips, so he sticks to utilizing the airline's shuttle to the hotel. He recommends guests look into renting a car from Honolulu International Airport, as there are several rental companies there offering great deals.
Quick Drives from Aulani – Activities Near the Resort
- Grant recommends a morning walk along the lagoons and nearby beaches, a good activity for introverts, or those looking for a more quiet start to the day. Aulani shares a lagoon with nearby resorts, but there are plenty of more peaceful spots in the Ko' Olina area. Additionally, Secret Cove is just up the road from Aulani. This spot hosts the Paradise Cove Lu'au, but it also offers a quiet beach and excellent snorkeling.
- Grant also recommends a trip to Ko' Olina Marina, which offers many aquatic activities, including sailing and fishing excursions.
- Ken's family enjoyed a visit to Wet & Wild Hawaii, a nearby water park. At first, Ken was a little “offended” at the idea of visiting a water park in Hawaii, but ended up having a lot of fun! He warns that hanging ten on the surfing simulator is a lot harder than it looks, and thinks this is an excellent activity for a large group.
- Steve has played at the nearby Ko Olina Golf Club a few times and highly recommends it! He adds that guests can stop by the Concierge Desk at Aulani to arrange their tee times.
Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina
- This Four Seasons property is located next to Aulani.
- Grant enjoyed a walk around this resort during his last trip, and he found the resort to be quieter than Aulani. He's also dined at one of their restaurants, which he found added some variety to the meals guests can experience near Aulani.
- Steve likes that this resort has been recently updated to be a bit more “upscale.” He found the pricing at their signature restaurant similar to ‘Ama ‘Ama and found its water views amazing.
A Bit of Discussion on Luaus
- Steve has attended both the Paradise Cove and Aulani Luaus. He says the Paradise Cove Luau used to be the best, but Aulani “definitely gives it a run for its money.” He adds that guests cannot go wrong with booking either one, as they are both regarded as the best luaus on Oahu.
- Grant has been to the Aulani Luau, and he found it to be so different from others, in a good way! He enjoyed that each performance added something to the show's central story about the history of the Hawaiian islands. The luau carries on Disney's tradition of storytelling, perfect for guests of all ages, instead of featuring acts in a more “variety show” style.
Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman
- Just across the street from Aulani is a shopping center, featuring several shops, restaurants, and even a Starbucks. But according to our panel, the star of this center is Monkeypod Kitchen!
- Grant's family counts this restaurant as one of their favorites on the island! He also adds that a neighboring shop, Island Coffee, offers a great breakfast selection and acai bowls that are better (and cheaper) than those offered at Aulani.
- Ken highly recommends Monkeypod's Mai Tai, calling it one of the best he's ever had!
- Steve recommends guests enjoy happy hour at Monkeypod, as they have some great specials!
The ABC Store
- Steve describes the ABC Stores as not quite as big as a Target or supermarket, but with a great selection of items to stock in your room at Aulani. He adds that they have a great selection of breakfast items for families looking to save on this meal!
- Ken jokes, “I remember the first time in Waikiki, I was kinda laughing that I could peek my head out of one ABC and see another one like three stores down.” He says these stores have a little bit of everything and are great places to pick up souvenirs. (Pro Tip: Save your receipts! If you spend a combined $100 and turn them into the store, you'll get a free gift!)
- Grant adds that the ABC Store across the street from Aulani has a bigger selection than others on the island.
Exploring the Central and Leeward Parts of Oahu
- Steve and Ken both suggest that guests prioritize the on- and off-property activities they want to do during their time in Hawaii, and then booking those experiences ahead of time. Ken compares it to planning and booking things for your Walt Disney World vacation!
- Grant has observed that most flights from the mainland land in Oahu in the late afternoon or at night. He recommends booking other accommodations for your arrival night and checking into Aulani the next day – after some sightseeing, of course!
- Grant's family typically visits Pearl Harbor the morning after they arrive in Oahu, just before they check into Aulani.
- Steve recommends booking your tour time at Pearl Harbor as soon as you book your accommodations at Aulani. Tour times can be booked via the National Parks Service website and are a great low-cost activity. Tour passes are sold every day, but you may not receive a tour time in the morning or may not receive a tour time at all (on a busy day).
- Steve adds that there are three other great WWII attractions to visit at Pearl Harbor: the Bowfin submarine, USS Missouri, and Pacific Aviation Museum. Passes for these experiences can be purchased as single tickets or a package for all three.
- Steve shares a bit of background on this mecca for Dole Whip fans! The Dole Plantation was the last working pineapple plantation on Oahu, and still has some fields planted around the Visitors' Center. In the gift shop, you'll find almost every pineapple-themed knick-knack your heart desires. They also serve several flavors of Dole Whips, have a walking trail open to guests, and a train ride called The Pineapple Express!
- Our panelists all agree that the Dole Plantation is the perfect start or end of the day visiting the North Shore, as it is on the way! The plantation is approximately 30 minutes from Aulani, so your daily “authentic” Dole Whip is never far away!
The Aloha Stadium Swap
Ken explains that this is a sort of “swap meet,” where guests may be lucky enough to stumble upon some amazing finds. By purchasing your souvenirs here, you're not only coming home with something truly unique – you're also supporting to local artist community!
- Grant recommends that guests looking to stock up on groceries or those looking for a little more “of what they're used to” stop in Kapolei. This community is located ten minutes from Ko Olina and features all the amenities of a typical suburban area. Big box stores like Target and Costco are perfect for grabbing groceries, and chain restaurants are available for guests looking for cuisine that is a bit more familiar. Kapolei is also home to the Ka Makana Ali'i Mall, which features over 100 stores.
- For those looking for great deals, the Waikele Premium Outlets are just a fifteen-minute drive from Aulani!
- While you're shopping, Steve recommends stopping at a Leonard's Bakery food truck. This local favorite serves up malasadas, which are donut-like Portuguese treats. There is usually one parked next to the Old Navy at the Waikele Premium Outlets. Aulani also sells malasadas, but according to Steve, “They don't hold a candle to Leonard's!”
Honolulu & Waikiki
- Honolulu is the largest city in Hawaii, and when Chad visited in 2000, he was surprised at how metropolitan it is! He also saw Waikiki Beach as the beach one envisions when they think of Hawaii – a protected cove, mountains in the distance, and high rise hotels along the coast. To him, “It is the man-made, theme park version of Hawaii.”
- Ken says that Honolulu feels like Los Angeles, and Waikiki is a “sanitized version” of Hawaiian culture. He adds that the area has a lot of shopping and dining options, and it is very walkable.
- Fans of Hawaii Five-O will enjoy Waikiki, as many scenes were shot in the area! The shooting locations for Lost (like Makalua at the northern end of the island), are not quite as easily accessed. Ken advises fans of television shows and movies book a tour with one of the many companies on the island.
- Ken shares that The International Marketplace has changed recently, adding more high-end shops and experiences for tourists. Ken recommends visiting one of the tour companies here to book island excursions.
- Grant dislikes how busy the beach at Waikiki is, but he likes the variety of shopping and dining, especially in the International Marketplace. He recommends the Ala Moana Shopping Center for “serious shoppers,” as it is four levels of shops.
- This restaurant celebrates the legacy of one of the first famous Hawaiian surfers, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. The menu features island favorites and creative cocktails.
- Grant's family loves stopping in for dinner at Duke's after a day of exploring Waikiki. According to him, the restaurant's Hula Ice Cream Pie rivals the Dole Whip as the top island treat! He recommends making reservations, as the restaurant can get quite busy.
- According to Ken, if Honolulu were a Disney theme park, Diamond Head would be its icon. The drive up the mountain is not very far, and the Hawaii Kai residential area surrounding it is nice to drive through.
- Chad notes Diamond Head offers spectacular views of the city and ocean, a combination of the natural and man-made together.
- Grant notes that parking along Waikiki Beach can be difficult, so he recommends parking at The International Marketplace and walking to the beach.
- Steve recommends parking at nearby Fort Derussy. This well-maintained park features less crowded beaches, making it the ideal spot to learn how to surf. He notes the Aulani excursion to this site is a little expensive, so guests should consider exploring it on their own.
Royal Hawaiian Hotel
- Grant recommends a visit to this hotel for history buffs, as it was the first luxury vacation spot for the rich and famous!
- Steve says the hotel makes a great Mai Tai and adds this is the perfect place to stop before or after Duke's. Live music and great views of the ocean are also bonuses of visiting!
The North Shore
- Grant's family visits the North Shore several times per trip, as they love playing in the calmer surf of the Banzai Pipeline in the summer. They have attended Kai Sallas' Pro Surf School several times and recommend it for those looking to learn to hang ten.
- Ken encourages guests to plan their visits during the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, a big surf competition at the Banzai Pipeline that takes place during the winter months. He says that watching big wave surfing is a lot of fun, but cautions that these waves are not for amateurs! He also recommends checking out the work of photographer Clark Little, who captures beautiful images of the shore breaks.
- Steve and his family like to visit Sharks Cove to do a bit of snorkeling. He says this spot is perfect for younger kids or those that are just learning. Be sure to pick up some reef shoes at Target or Costco, as the coral can be very sharp.
- Grant also recommends visiting Waimea Bay. This is a cove beach with fantastic surf and a nearby botanical garden. People often jump off the large rocks into the ocean, so fun! For a small fee, you can hike up to the waterfalls where the ancient Hawaiians are said to have gone for healing.
- No visit to the North Shore is complete without hitting the food trucks!
- Grant has a few local spots that are his favorites:
- Steve notes that Hali'ewa has been “redone” in recent years and is now the most traditional little town you'll find on Oahu. He has two favorite dining spots:
- Ken recommends that visitors download the All Trails App. This app contains information about all the local hiking trails, including the level of difficulty and grade. He urges starting on less difficult trails recommended by the app and gauging your ability from there. Ken also warns hikers to pay attention to trail signage, as some of the trails do cut through private property.
- Steve recommends hiking Ka'ena Point with teen and adult hikers. This trail allows you to go to a point on the beach where the waves are hitting from both sides. It also offers spectacular views of the Waianae Mountains near Aulani.
The South Shore
- Steve's family enjoys scuba diving in Hanauma Bay. His oldest son just got his certification last summer with Island Divers! Hanauma Bay used to be very lax in how many people it would allow diving at one time, but now that it is a nature preserve, Steve recommends showing up early to be allowed in the water. Guests can also reserve a spot through several of the diving companies on the island.
- Grant's family likes to snorkel in the waters of Hanauma Bay.
- Ken urges visitors to pick up reef-safe sunscreen when they arrive on the island. Years of people using sunscreen with certain chemicals have destroyed a lot of the coral reefs in Hawaii. The Hawaiian government has since banned all of these chemicals, and there are plenty of places to grab approved sunscreen on the island.
- Steve recommends hiking with younger kids on The Lighthouse Trail. This paved, scenic path features views of the ocean and mountains, and the grade is not too steep.
- Ken warns all hikers that the famous Haiku Stairs (known as The Stairway to Heaven) have been declared off-limits. This trail is so dangerous that several people, some of them experienced hikers, had to be helicoptered out.
The Windward Side of Oahu
- The beaches on the Windward Side are some of Grant's favorites, as they are not very crowded. He recommends Waimanalo Beach for body surfing and a drive along Kailua Beach for some stunning views.
- Grant suggests a visit to Kualoa Ranch, the filming site for blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Godzilla!
Steve and his wife visited this center years ago, and unfortunately, he was not very impressed. He felt this version of Hawaii, run by BYU Hawaii, was too sanitized and reminded him of Disneyland. Each Polynesian culture was given its own “land,” with all of them connected by a river. Throughout the day, each land would have its own performance, and a parade of floats would come down the river in the middle of the day. Steve feels that guests can get more of the culture and history of the Polynesian through luaus at Aulani or Paradise Cove.
Your One Must-Do on Oahu
- Both Steve and Grant suggest spending a lot of time on the North Shore while on Oahu.
- Kenny recommends planning your travel to Oahu around the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational so that you can see some legendary big wave surfing.
- Ken says that island hopping over to the Big Island is a bit more of a challenge than going to Kawai or Maui. Southwest makes it affordable, with one way rates as low as $39. He advises guests to island-hop for a few days before arriving at their “main vacation” island.
- Grant says that it is better to just focus on exploring Oahu, as there is so much to do! For those who want to island-hop, he suggests treating your visits to the other islands as a traditional split-stay and not a day trip.
Final Tips for Guests
- Steve urges visitors to be smart and be safe. He warns to never turn your back on the ocean and to do any aquatic activities or outdoor excursions with an experienced tour company.
- Ken says that the natural beauty of the islands often hypnotizes visitors, but they should keep in mind that this beauty can be deadly. He also warns against disturbing the turtles or trying to speak Pidgin, the local language. You will come off as disingenuous and a bit rude.
- Grant advises surfing with a surf school, as they have the best equipment and will know the best spots on the island for each skill level. Having the pros help you will allow you to enjoy the experience more fully, as you won't be so worried about staying safe.
Connect With Us!
- Steve Kree'sea – The DCL Podcast (Website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)
- Grant Peters – My DVC Points Community
- Ken Booth
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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