From having breakfast with famous Disney characters to splashing around in the water features of Waikohole Valley, there are plenty of great things to do at Aulani Disney Resort & Spa on the Leeward Coast of Oahu, Hawaii. In fact, there are so many things to do at Aulani that it's doubtful any family can do them all during one stay. Fortunately, more than half of the activities, amenities, and accommodations are part of the Disney's Vacation Club, which makes it relatively inexpensive to return to this Condé Nast Traveler's top hotel multiple times.
Disney character dining is available on select mornings at Makahiki, the resort's buffet-style restaurant named after the Hawaiian harvest festival season. Throughout the year, the restaurant showcases beautiful works by local artists, from paintings to glass art, that depicts the story of the Makahiki season.
During these occasional events, known as "Aunty's Breakfast Celebration at the Makahiki," favorite Disney characters sit down with resort guests to enjoy the omelets, pancakes, waffles, French toast, island fruits, carving stations, traditional Asian offerings, house-baked pastries, and daily specialties. Aunty is often joined for fun and games by favorites such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Stitch, and others—all in their Hawaiian resort attire.
Nestled between the resort's two towers and flowing from the lobby to the beachfront, the Waikohole Valley is at the heart of the Aulani Resort. Hawaiian for "mischievous water," the meandering Waikolohe Stream can be accessed easily from its base or by one of the water slides on the large lava outcropping named Pu'u Kolo that juts out over the valley.
The Waikolohe Valley is also home to the resort's pools, a number of whirlpool spas, and several interactive water play areas including the Waikolohe Stream itself. Young visitors will surely want to stop by the nearby interactive water play area known as the Menehune Bridge, and if you're hungry after a ride along the stream, stop by the Papalua Shave Ice station or the Lava Shack for a quick snack.
A ride down the Waikolohe stream is the perfect way for guests of all ages to cool off on a warm Oahu afternoon, and every area of the stream is overseen by one of Aulani's lifeguard cast members, so even parents can relax while they're in the water with their kids.
One of the best reasons to leave the Aulani Disney Resort is to take in the breathtaking scenery of Oahu. Fortunately, you're near one of the best shorefront walks on the island when you stay at this tropical getaway—the 1.5-mile beach walk at the beautiful Ko Olina Resort.
The walk begins at the Four Seasons Resort Oahu, which is located next to Aulani and continues south past all four of the major manmade lagoons. It ends at the 43-acre world-class Ko Olina Marina, where you can stop by the Ko Olina Marina Beach Shop for some refreshments, check out ocean tours or fishing charters, or hop the resort shuttle back to Aulani.
Aunty's Beach House is a 5,200-square-foot kids' club that offers a full program of fun for younger children aged 3 to 12. Most activities here are included in the cost of your stay at Aulani, but registration must be completed at least two days before you arrive and there are a few special classes and programs that require additional fees to attend.
At Aunty's Beach House, Disney-trained counselors inspire and entertain with dance contests, games that explore the mysteries of Hawaii, science experiments, Hawaiian storytelling, dress-up, movies, snacks, and many other kid-friendly activities. Additionally, special surprises await at Uncle's workshop and Aunty's magical fireplace.
Fine dining is not the first thing that comes to mind when booking a Disney vacation, but experienced Disney travelers know that these resorts know how to offer great high-end dining experiences at reasonable prices.
The resort's beachside 'AMA'AMA restaurant showcases the abundant produce, fresh seafood, and classic tastes of Hawaii. Named after the local mullet fish, AMA'AMA' also features more than a dozen specialty cocktails and a huge selection of wines by the glass or bottle. At dinner, sustainable fish roasted in the wood-burning oven is a signature entrée, as well as a whole, salt-crusted catch for two that is cracked open table-side. A daily, four-course, prix fixe showcases cuisines from around the globe that include Polynesian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Latin influences.
Other on-site restaurants include Makahiki: The Bounty of the Islands, Ulu Cafe, the Wailana Pool Bar, Mama's Snack Shop, Off the Hook, and the ‘Ōlelo Room lounge.
A trip to Hawaii wouldn't be complete without attending a traditional luau, and the resort's KA WA‘A luau is a three-hour journey through Hawaiian history that includes song, dance, storytelling, and, of course, a Hawaiian feast. Tickets are required to attend this special event, which takes place on the Hālāwai Lawn on select evenings.
Pre-show activities include art workshops for flower arrangement, temporary tattooing, Kapa printing, and taro pounding. The show begins with an Oli welcome chant and includes stories that explain Hawaiian lore and legends. While you enjoy the show, you'll also feast on a buffet featuring a carving station with pig and prime beef, seafood, traditional island fare, and dessert. Offerings are family-friendly so kids will surely find something that pleases them.
With 18,000 square feet of indoor space, Aulani's Laniwai Spa ("Freshwater Heaven Spa") is one of Hawaii's largest and has been recognized by Condé Nast Traveler for its luxurious amenities and style.
The 5,000-square-foot outdoor Kula Wai Hydrotherapy Garden is unique to Oahu and is the perfect place for mom or dad to spend some pre-treatment time away from the kids, relaxing in one of the herbal pools, cold and hot whirlpools, and rain showers, or walking across the reflexology path. In addition, the spa also offers more than 150 different massage techniques and spa treatments in 15 treatment rooms designed for couple, family, and individual appointments.
For teens, the Painted Sky youth spa features treatments created especially for them, plus a yogurt bar; do-it-yourself mixology bar to blend personalized Hawaiian body polishes, perfume, and face masques; and evening programs. There is also a fitness center and a full-service salon for hair, makeup, and nail services.
See More of Oahu on an Aulani Excursion
While it may be tempting to stay in Aulani the entire time you're on the island, Oahu is a beautiful place worthy of exploring, and guests of the resort should make a point to spend at least one day of their vacation exploring beyond the property.
Fortunately, Disney offers a number of excursions across Oahu that appeal to guests of all ages and interests, including several that have been specifically designed for Aulani guests by Adventures By Disney. These special adventures feature knowledgable and friendly guides who weave stories and magic into the experience like only Disney can do. Guests can choose some traditional destinations such as a visit to Pearl Harbor, Dole Plantation, or Diamond Head, and classic beach experiences offered by the resort include surfing, parasailing, or a luau.
Aulani also offers special excursions such as a catamaran voyage, including dolphin spotting and, in season, whale watching; kayaking on Kailua Bay and a storytelling hike on a nearby island and bird sanctuary; a sightseeing and storytelling adventure through the beautiful Kualoa Ranch, with its private beach and movie and television locations; and a visit to the North Shore of Oahu and Waimea Falls.
Head over to the Rainbow Reef snorkel lagoon for one of the best opportunities to get up close and personal with some of the many fish that inhabit the waters off the coast of Hawaii. This 3,800-square-foot artificial lagoon is home to thousands of fish including angelfish, butterflyfish, surgeonfish, yellow tangs, and even reef triggerfish known as the humuhumunukunukuāpua'a in Hawaii.
This unique Oahu lagoon varies in depth from three to eight feet and allows for easy entry with good footing in its shallow area. Visitors are also constantly monitored by Aulani's lifeguards, so you won't have to worry about safety while in the lagoon. Additionally, all the fish are friendly and not very intimidated by people in the water, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to snap underwater pictures of the brightly colored sea creatures.
Relax in Your Room
In an effort to see and do as much as possible while on vacation, many resort guests miss the obvious—relaxing in their room at Aulani.
The room décor blends Hawaiian tradition and Disney whimsy. Working with local Hawaiian artisans, Disney Imagineers have created a charming and relaxing environment inspired by the fine arts and crafts traditions of ancient Hawaiians. Earthtone print fabrics in the rooms take their cue from traditional Hawaiian Kapa cloth, and retro Hawaiian floral print fabrics, locally known as “bark cloth” that became popular in the 1930s and '40s, provide touches of colorful vibrancy on accent pillows throughout the suites.
The homage to Hawaiian culture in the room décor is accented by Disney touches—the distinctive “hidden Mickeys” that guests can discover on a Hawaii family vacation at Aulani. In the corridors outside the rooms, wall coverings are embedded with a host of native cultural references—from poi pounders to fish traps to sea urchins—and more “hidden Mickeys” camouflaged within the richly patterned surfaces.
All Aulani rooms have lanai balconies or porches. Standard hotel rooms sleep up to four guests and feature flat-screen televisions, DVD players, small refrigerators, coffee makers and tea service, ceiling fans, free wireless internet, and an in-room safe. The bathrooms are spacious with deep soaking tubs, robes, and premium bath products.