Aulani, a Disney’s Resort and Spa: what’s included in the Aulani value

There’s no doubt about it: Aulani, Disney’s new Hawaiian resort on the leeward side of Oahu, is jaw-droppingly fabulous. Throughout my stay, I experienced first class service, amenities, and activities across the board. For the average traveling family, however, it’s also jaw-droppingly expensive. Utilizing a quick room rate and availability search on Aulani’s reservations page, I was hard pressed to find a standard room for under $400 a night. Families of five or more can go ahead and double that (though room rates vary considerably depending on season, type, etc). Is the value worth it? I believe the answer is yes, if families take advantage of all that comes included with a stay and educate themselves on resort values.

So what is included in that rack rate? Much more than is offered at most high-end destination resorts. With the price of a room, families will not pay a penny extra for the following amenities:

Within the room itself, families will love the extra touches provided for convenience. For starters, all rooms come pre-stocked with a port-a-crib. All rooms also feature a mini fridge (snacks and breakfast foods are available in Kalepa’s Store as well as across the street from the resort for a more reasonable price), flat-screen TV, wireless internet (at no extra charge), an iPhone/Pod docking station, and a large-for-standard-rooms table and chairs. Suitcase storage is provided under every bed to increase usable space in the room, bathrooms include deep bathtubs as well as showers, and toilets are separate from the main vanity, making heavy bathroom traffic more bearable.

Your kids will love the kids’ club at Aunty’s Beach House. Designed for kids ages 3-11 (up to age 13 welcome), Aunty’s is a cozy and welcoming respite where children are fully supervised for no additional charge. Just drop in anytime during open hours (open until 9 pm or 11 pm). With multiple (adorably themed) rooms for different ages and activities, as well as a large outdoor play area, kids have the run of the place, enjoying individualized attention from staff and engaging in fun and educational activities (think volcano or space goo creations!). While I stopped by during my Aulani stay, I watched a ten-year-old girl receive an impromptu ukulele lesson, preschoolers play dress up with the many Disney costumes, and a group of boys engaged in a computer game competition. Daily special events are also offered (to be listed in each day’s resort schedule.) The Disney details are abundant at Aunty’s: kids love the way it always rains outside the windows of the media/movie room (because you can only watch movies in Hawaii when it’s raining outside!), the climbing fort outside, and ‘Uncle’s workshop’, an extensive art and craft center. What I loved best: special toddler programming for kids too young to be dropped off at Aunty’s is offered for parents to enjoy with their kids…and these programs are scheduled for select mornings at 7:30 am, a time when kids are up and restless, but other activities are not yet open. (Bonus: parents can go off-site while kids are at Aunty’s…nearly unheard of in the resort business!)

Everyone will love the unlimited water recreation in the Waikolohe Valley. Cruise the lazy river (complete with volcanic bubble action underfoot!), play in the free-form pool, slide down the plunge and tube slides, soak in the whirlpool spas, or just hang out in the lush garden areas. Papalua Shave Ice is the best deal going: for $3.75, kids get a huge snow cone with up to three tropical flavors.

The instant beach access means time and money saved on a car rental. Not only can guests dip their toes in the Pacific just a few steps from their room in the Aulani Lagoon, but miles of additional beach access is available as well. Snorkeling is an option right in the lagoon, but only two short coves away by foot (past the JW Marriott) is an absolutely fantastic snorkeling location. Bring your own snorkeling gear, or rent gear for a reasonable fee at the beach rentals shack on the lagoon (you get to use it all day). If you have young kids who might be intimidated by the (small) ocean currents, Aulani also offers Rainbow Reef, a manmade snorkeling cove in Waikolohe Valley. There is a $20 fee per person, which seemed steep until I realized that for the price, you can keep your gear all day, using it in the ocean as well as the reef. (Tip: If you want to try Rainbow Reef, be sure to rent your gear from that location, not the beach shack. You can take Rainbow Reef gear into the ocean, but not vice versa.)

Fish feeding viewings are both free and fun to watch. Families can watch the fish feeding at Rainbow Reef (at 8 am and 1:30 pm), or go next door to the JW Marriott to watch their daily 7:30 am ocean feeding. Tropical fish will swim right up near shore, where kids can watch them as they gobble up fish food.

Free cultural tours, evening entertainment, and fun is offered multiple times a week. At any time during their stay, guests can drop in at the Pau Hana Room, the starting point of the interactive Mehehune Trail (a bit like a scavenger hunt) and location for Mo’Olelo Storytelling, offered multiple times nightly. Additionally, ‘Ohana Disney Movie Nights are held every Friday on the Makaloa Garden lawn, starting at dusk.

Access to characters are free at Disney Friends Meet and Greets. Three times daily (on the week of my visit), Disney characters such as Stitch, Mickey, and Chip and Dale made appearances.

Teens can hang out at Painted Sky. Designed for kids ages 14-17, Painted Sky is one part teen spa, one part teen dance club, and one part teen computer cafe. Events are planned there daily, such as Xbox Zumba Fitness or teen movie nights, but kids can also just congregate there to hang out and chat.

Parents will appreciate the state-of-the-art Mikimiki Fitness Center. Located adjacent to the impressive Laniwai Spa, the fitness center includes weight-lifting and toning equipment, cardio equipment, and classes both in the center and on the beach (though a fee applies to some).

Do all these perks add up to that pricy rack rate? I believe they do, especially when you add the intangibles on top: I’m speaking, of course, of the Disney touch. In addition to the total immersion into the culture and fantasy Disney so effortlessly seems to provide in all their experiences, guests can also count on the Disney standard of guest services and quality. Could you spend less at a another hotel brand on Oahu? Certainly, but when families pay Disney prices, they get…well, Disney. And that’s pretty priceless.

Honolulu on Dwellable

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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