In May, my husband and I traveled to Hawaii for a long-delayed vacation. We visited the islands of Maui and Oahu. As a pretty big Disney fan, I knew that I wanted to stay at Aulani- a Disney resort- when we were visiting Oahu. I knew that the resort primarily catered to families, but had always dreamed of visiting, so we made our reservation and stayed for five nights in May. Keep reading for our review of the Aulani resort for adults without children.
The Aulani resort is located in the Ko Olina resort area on the southwestern part of the island. This area is located about 40 minutes away from Waikiki Beach and about 30 minutes away from the airport. On one hand, the location is nice because it is much less crowded than the very popular Waikiki resorts. The Aulani resort essentially has its own private lagoon (although no beaches in Hawaii are private) as it is positioned on one of four man-made lagoons which it shares with only three other resorts. However, due to its location, it is generally at least a 40 minute drive to most of the top tourist attractions on the island including Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head State Monument, and Pearl Harbor.
The resort itself is lovely. The theming is well done and honors Hawaiian traditions and artists. The arched entryway opens into a stunning lobby area decorated with traditional Hawaiian artifacts and a water feature. Just across from the entrance is a balcony overlooking the entire property and the ocean beyond. The main lobby also has a beautiful chandelier and stained glass which add to the overall grandeur of the space.
Upon our arrival, bell services collected our bags and directed us to check in at the front desk. Located to the right of the lobby, the front desk is highlighted by a rainbow collage of photographs from the islands. Although there were a number of families in front of us, we did not have to wait long to check in because the desk was well-staffed. We checked in fairly quickly, received our Aulani buttons, and were off to our room.
We stayed in a standard hotel room with a poolside garden view. We were happy to discover that the Hawaiian theming continued into the rooms. Our room felt very clean and well-maintained. It was a nice size and the bathroom was quite nice. I especially enjoyed the waterfall showerhead and it had a large whirlpool tub for soaking. I also appreciate any hotel that separates the toilet into a separate water closet as was the case in our room. The mattresses were comfortable and there was plenty of space to spread out and to organize our belongings.
The room also had a fan which we really appreciated and the vanity was a decent size with plenty of room to lay out your toiletries. Even though we were only on the fourth floor, our room had a nice view of the resort property. Our balcony overlooked the lazy river and we could hear the live music from The ‘Ōlelo Room in the evenings.
The resort offers many of the amenities you would expect at a higher end resort. There are multiple pools and hot tubs. You could rent various beach equipment or enjoy the Laniwai spa. Our favorite part of the resort was the lazy river. It was beautifully themed and has various animals hidden in the faux rocks that surround it. It also offers a decent amount of shade. There were numerous beach chairs and pool cabanas for rent and even a private aquarium, The Rainbow Reef, where children could attempt to snorkel in a controlled environment.
The children’s play area was quite impressive with a number of slides and water features. We enjoyed the two-tiered adult-only infinity hot tubs that overlooked the beach and the ocean beyond.
More formal dining options
There are multiple dining options at Aulani, but the best by far was Makahiki. Located just below the main lobby, we ate at this sit-down restaurant for both dinner and breakfast during our trip. Dinner was good but breakfast was great. Makahiki offers a three course menu for a set price of $68 per person ($28 for children) for dinner and $45 per person ($28 for children) for breakfast. Breakfast is a character meal but there are no characters at dinner. I loved seeing the characters in their Hawaiian attire and getting to take photographs with them. You will want to make reservations for Makahiki well before your trip. Reservations are available 60 days in advance.
Disney also just announced that they will be re-opening the Ama Ama restaurant in the next few months. Unfortunately, it appeared to be under construction and was not yet open during our visit, but we hope to check it out the next time we visit Aulani.
There are also several more casual options. Right next to Makahiki is the The ‘Ōlelo Room. This is more of a lounge that offers drinks and appetizers as opposed to full meals. The fun part about The ‘Ōlelo Room is that they have live music every night beginning at 6pm and most of the seats are outside. The ‘Ōlelo Room is open from 5pm-10pm every day and guests are seated on a first-come, first-served basis.
More casual dining options
During the day, there is a casual lunch and dinner spot with a bar called Off the Hook. Located in the pool area, Off the Hook offers sandwiches, salads, and a few other entrees. Seating here is also first-come, first serve. Poolside dining is also an option and you can order from your phone.
Otherwise, there are a few snack stands and the largely self-serve Ulu Café. The Ulu Café had a hot food bar and a variety of self-serve items. This was very reminiscent of the food courts at some of the value resorts on Disney World property. Other than a sit-down breakfast at Makahiki, this was pretty much the only option for breakfast on-property.
Mama’s Snack Stand offers items like fish and chips and chicken tenders and there is a pool bar that offers coffee in the morning. Right next door to Mama’s Snack Stand is the Pāpālua Shave Ice where you can get mickey shaped shaved ice. Or you can visit Little ‘Opihi’s for some Dole Whip. This stand only offered watermelon and pineapple flavors when we visited but the Ulu Café has pineapple and vanilla.
I’ll plan to review these dining options in more detail in a future post, but ultimately having a suite or DVC room would have been really nice so that we could have made breakfast in the room and saved a bunch of money and hassle each morning.
There are three separate shops at Aulani. The main gift shop, Kālepa’s Store, is just to the left of the lobby. It is the largest shop (although I found myself wishing it was bigger) and has pretty typical Disney merchandise including clothing, toys, ornaments, Mickey ears, etc. along with some standard hotel gift shop sundries. It seemed that most of the items were Aulani exclusive. I got my Aulani Minnie ears and several gifts for friends and family.
Just down the hall is the Hale Manu. This shop was much smaller and carried primarily higher end and co-branded merchandise including Vera Bradley, Pandora, and Tori Richardson items. We purchased a coordinating Tori Richardson Hawaiian shirt and dress (and matching Minnie ears) that I am in love with.
The one other shop is in the pool area. The Lava Shack has mostly pool and outdoor-related items including a few swimsuits, sandals, sunscreen, and reef guards. It is really small but has items that cannot be found in the other shops.
In general, we really enjoyed our time at Aulani. We did tend to venture off property during the day (you can read more about our Oahu itinerary here) so we generally avoided the pools and lazy river at their busiest times. When we ate dinner, we did so at the higher end or more adult options- again minimizing our exposure to families and small children. But at the end of the day, there were so many children and families that the public areas of the resort verged on feeling crowded. We were definitely in the minority to be visiting as an adult couple without children.
I wouldn’t say that this detracted from our stay, but there were far more families with small children than at any other hotel I have ever visited. It is important to note that the children’s club, Aunty’s Beach House, was closed for the duration of our stay (it had not yet reopened after closing due to the pandemic). So this might have influenced the number of children and families that we were exposed to on our stay.
I don’t know that we would stay at Aulani again if just the two of us visit Oahu again in the future, but I am so glad we had the chance to visit at least once. The feeling of Disney magic can be found throughout the resort and I of course loved the exclusive merchandise. Next time, we might stay closer to Waikiki Beach but I would probably want to visit Aulani for dinner one evening or maybe to attend the luau (although now that we are Disney Vacation Club members, we will want to check out those rooms on our next visit for sure). We would absolutely return if visiting with family or friends with small children.
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