Disney's Aulani Resort on Oahu is not what you would expect from the Disney brand. To be honest we were completely apprehensive about visiting this commercially recognized resort found on the leeward side of the island. In addition to the Disney persona that we traditionally feel is best left on mainland theme parks its location provided even bigger pause for concern. Far from the bustle of Waikiki, the breathtaking windward coast, and the scenic side of the circle island tour to the fabled North Shore, you get the impression that you may be stranded in the trap of all tourist traps in Hawaii. Ironically our trek to the brand known for bringing the masses the happiest place on earth had us trembling in our slippas.
However, upon arrival Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy were barely in sight. We at least anticipated Disney's Hawaiian character entry LILO & Stitch to be the door mat greeting but instead it was the smiling faces of the local concierge and service crew that worked every angle of the lobby and welcomed us with more aloha than a shrimp truck. While the Disney brand of Aulani Resort does rear its mouse eared head when it spots a toddler from the shadows, it's done with such subtlety that you can't help but give the planners full credit in pulling off the perfect balance. In fact, Aulani Resort is more Hawaiian that we ever imagined.
The rich earth tones and wood works stand out more than anything at this upscale but welcoming resort. It's as if butterscotch was dripped from above and coated everything in its swirling glory. Green flourishes from the hedges, accents pool side volcano shaded coves, and grows from regionally decorated pineapple shaped vases found in every nook. Sun streaks through the open air halls providing the only hint that indeed time does not stand still even though it feels this way at Aulani Resort. We suppose the only real discernible evidence of hours of the day come from the fact that the fast moving crowds of the daylight dissipate early seeing as half of the guests at Aulani Resort are under 10 years old. There's no real nightlife to be enjoyed here aside from grownups enjoying wine on the lanai while little ones rest, nor is it a stomping ground for teenagers, but that's why everyone skipped Waikiki in the first place, right?
Activity wise the Aulani Resort continues with its cultural immersion by offering hula lessons, lei making and other insights into the Hawaiian culture for those 12 and under at Aunty's Beach House. All of the beach activities (kayak, paddle, snorkle, etc...) you can imagine are abundant at Aulani Resort, except for surfing which is a 15 minute ride away. Golfers will want to also make a trek to a playground more appealing to them at the nearby Ko Olina Golf Club - one of the Top Resort Courses in the U.S.. Nightlife comments above aside there are outdoor movies in the evening on rotation, fireside storytelling, and starlit hula performances and song. The evenings at Aulani Resort may be tame, but they are more magical than you can imagine. There are also a Spa services and fitness facilities for the entire Ohana.
Dining at Aulani Resort is as rich as the Hawaiian culture with a wide variety of options for those seeking to get a taste of Hawaiian cuisine. Finicky eaters (often the young ones) have plenty of traditional options available so there are no worries about tantrums at the breakfast, lunch, or diner table.
Finally, for those staying at Disney Aulani Resort that still want to get out and explore the island of Oahu, the activities desk and personel on site will help you organize any adventure you can image. Whether an escape to the North Shore, a trek through Kualoa Ranch, a tour of Waimea Valley, or a sampling from the Dole Plantation is on your agenda, Disney Aulani Resort can accommodate you and your party.
The Aulani Resort is the perfect balance between family fun and Hawaiian culture presented with a level of service that only Disney is known for.
Mahalo to Disney for getting it right, once again.