Disney Aulani: A Family Paradise in Hawaii

For the past few weeks, I’ve been giving you a rundown on our January trip to Disney Aulani, an amazing resort on Oahu. It was our decision to go to Aulani primarily because it’s such a family-friendly resort, with so many activities and amenities that you don’t have to ever leave the resort. And, aside from a couple of walks and one dinner, we didn’t! We stayed at Aulani for 7 nights, enjoying everything the hotel had to offer. It was simply one of the most stunning resorts we’ve ever stayed at. 

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From the natural landscaping to the introducing of menehune, which are an integral part of the storytelling at Aulani, you would never think “Disney” while at the resort. The touches are subtle, hidden in some food items or in the gift store; more than anything, Aulani is “Disney” because it was built, from the ground up, with families in mind. The layers of detail put into making the resort an “experience” are astounding. 

Right from the get go, you are welcomed to Aulani with warmth. Kids are given a menehune necklace, adults either a lei or a bead necklace. All employees at Aulani, from the front staff to the servers to the army of people keeping the resort pristine, are very much “Disney” – smiling, outgoing, helpful and polite. We always felt welcome. We always felt spoiled. And that’s what you want from a vacation.  

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Our Rooms

We stayed in a Standard Room with one bed and one pull-out couch. We thought our travel agent had booked two queen beds (which do appear as an option on the website), but were told when we got there that it was not an option. No idea what happened there, so we just let it go. The sleeping arrangements were mostly the same anyway – the kids in one bed, us in another. We felt like the jump in price from the Standard Room to the Suites or Villas was not worth it.

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Our Standard Room came with a small kitchen area – mini fridge, sink, microwave and basic dishes. Even though the restaurants at Aulani are expensive (see all dining options reviewed here), it was still cheaper than a room upgrade that included a kitchen.

The beds were comfortable, though slightly on the firm side, and the room was kept quite tidy. We never experienced towel figurines as I hear sometimes happen, but we found the rooms to be a good quality. I have only two complaints: one, our glassware was very dirty (see photo here), making me wary of just how “clean” our tidy room was. Second, they really need a makeup mirror!! The vanity mirror is so far away on the large sink that it was difficult to apply make-up. 

A note on view options: the garden view is cheaper, but the landscaping is amazing, so don’t consider this a bad view. Our room had an ocean view, but from the back of a building, so our view was interrupted by a big parking garage. I think the garden view would have been nicer!

Beaches, Pools & Other Water Features

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This is where Aulani shines above every other resort in Hawaii and, I would say, many other tropical destinations as well. It’s like the Disneyland of tropical resorts. There are many pools, from the zero entry Waikolohe Pool to the adult only options, there are 2 spray park / splash zones (one for really small tots, one for older kids with 2 watersides at the Menehune Bridge), a lazy river, plus two larger watersides. And don’t forget the (extra cost) Rainbow Reef where you can swim with the fish!

I talk about all the water features in my What to Do at Disney Aulani post, but I do have to say this was the most impressive part of Aulani. All the pools are beautifully landscaped, very large, and so much fun! There are so many options that you can go from one area to another and really feel like you’re doing a lot of things in one day – in a very small space!

The beach at Aulani is a man-made lagoon, as is common with many Hawaii hotels. There are beach toys and water toys available to use or rent, so if you’re beach people, there’s a lot to do! We spent some time playing in the sand and water… but we’re mostly pool people!  

Before you go: print off my Aulani Lazy River Scavenger Hunt!

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Disney Aulani Lazy River Scavenger Hunt

The Disney Aulani Waikolohe Stream features the lazy river, which includes a small ‘rapids’ section, and 2 water slides. Waikolohe means “mischievous water” in the Hawaiian language, and I think that is an apt description not only of the water features but of the hidden pictures throughout the rock features.

All the various pool areas are bordered by rock walls and features so seamlessly created as to look real, from the volcano rising in the centre where the two large waterslides culminate to the lazy river twirling around the property. If you look closely, however, you’ll note some hidden features in the rock walls. Every time I went around the property, I found myself spotting a new animal or sea creature popping out of the rocks. 

I fell in love with this feature of the property and thought I would create a scavenger hunt for others to play while staying at Disney Aulani.

Disney Aulani Lazy River Rock Pictures Scavenger Hunt


If you spot other creatures in the lazy river section (not the whole property, as I know they are everywhere), add a photo in the comments or email me the picture so I can add it! I have some photos that I think are something (here, here, here, here), but I couldn’t figure it out!

Since we had such a great time at Disney Aulani, I’ve created a series of reviews of our experience, including some tips on how to make the most of your stay with your family. For the full series of reviews, check here.

What to Do at Disney Aulani

One of the biggest selling features of Aulani is the variety of activities available for all ages. Since it is a Disney resort, what you’re getting is a full “package” experience – not just a hotel. It’s like the Disneyland of beach hotels. We stayed at Disney Aulani for 8 nights and spent almost that entire time on property, which is truly quite a unique experience that you can’t always pull off with family travel. 

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(photo credit: Aulani)

Disney Aulani is a well-designed resort, with the beach, splash zones and many pools, but the resort offers a wide range of daily activities to break up your day, from pool parties to the Menehune adventure trail to fire pit storytelling and the Starlit Hui

Disney Aulani: Activities and Entertainment

This is an overview of how we spent our week at Aulani, for two adults and two young boys (age 5 and 2.5). 

Take Advantage of Scheduled Activities

Check your Daily ‘Iwa for scheduled activities, including the family-friendly Pool Parties, Splash and Play (a mini scavenger hunt, you keep the toy, then some family play time at the beach), beach games, storytelling, the Hawaiian classes and crafts, or the Aloha fun session (where you ’surf’ with Chip & Dale). The activities do repeat more than I expected (I was hoping for more variety in the fun sessions and Aunty’s activities), but that’s really being quite picky! I highly recommend the Ukelele class!!

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The Aulani Starlit Hui: A Family-Friendly Lū‘au

The Starlit Hui at Aulani is an evening show with “lū‘au-style music” and hula, along with storytelling and a guest appearance by the Disney Characters (Goofy, Chip & Dale, Mickey & Minnie and Stitch). The show runs twice per week on the Hālāwai Lawn, off to the side of the resort. 

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When you enter the Hālāwai Lawn, your family will be given a pre-heated straw mat that you put down on the lawn in a grid, set up in front of the stage. Once you have your family mat down, you can then participate in some of the pre-show activities: hula at the front of the stage, or the mats around the outside that include crafts and songs and stories. These are fantastic!

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The show itself is well choreographed, with bright, vibrant costumes and great elements. It is, as with everything else at Aulani, pristine and well thought-out. Having been to another luau at the nearby Paradise Cove, the quality at Aulani was once again apparent. The show isn’t super long, which is great for kids. If you’re looking for a luau experience, and don’t mind missing the food part, this is a great (and free with your stay) option!

How to Make the Most of the Starlit Hui

  1. Send someone to stand in line early. We showed up a half hour early as a family and the wait was not fun, plus there were about 100 people already ahead of us. Have someone secure your spot and join the line right before it opens. 
  2. Use the washroom before you go in, as there aren’t any near the Hālāwai Lawn area. We were directed to use the washrooms at ‘AMA’AMA, which isn’t close once you’re on the Lawn. They funnel people into the Starlit Hui from only one entrance, so other washroom options are not available (big oversight here, I think). 
  3. Place your mat as close to the front as possible, as eventually everyone stands to take photos. Aisle seats would be ideal, if you have kids, so it’s easy for them to get up and participate when requested. 

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The show is great fun! Our only option to see the show was near the start of our stay, and the show was already at the kids’ bedtime, so they (ok, Aiden, who doesn’t nap) were pretty tired and jet lagged. Aiden was practically falling asleep the whole time, or asking to leave, but we made it through the main show and left when the audience was invited to dance at the end. I’m glad we stayed, as the Disney characters only come on near the end!

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The fire was Damien’s favourite part. He’s been pretending many toys are fire torches since we came back from Hawaii.

Since we had such a great time at Disney Aulani, I’ve created a series of reviews of our experience, including some tips on how to make the most of your stay with your family. For the full series of reviews, check here.

Disney Aulani: Meet the Characters

Aulani is a very low-key Disney resort, in terms of traditional Disney theming. The resort is inspired by local Hawaiian culture, celebrating local customs and traditions more than Disney-themes or characters. Indeed, the characters at Aulani are not “leaders” or “hosts” as they are on other properties, but rather are “guests” just like everyone else. They are only seen from time to time, and their visits are brief. But they are, without a doubt, a huge highlight of the trip! 

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There are several chances each day to meet these Disney characters, particularly if you follow the schedule. I found that the kids were able to spend the most time with the characters as they drifted around the property during the scheduled meet & greets. There were almost never line-ups beyond just a few families, so the kids (ok, let’s be honest, Damien) was able to see the characters quickly and get some personal attention. He made ‘Stitch’ claws with Stitch, Donald Duck played airplane with him, and everyone was hugged. Repeatedly. Especially Stitch, who Damien believed was a dinosaur. 

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The Disney Characters currently at Disney Aulani are:

  • Mickey
  • Minnie
  • Donald Duck
  • Chip & Dale
  • Goofy
  • Stitch
  • Duffy the Disney Bear
Duffy is the most elusive of all the Aulani characters. We saw Duffy only once during our 8 night stay. Mickey and Minnie sometimes travel together, but not always.
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Here are all the ways you can meet the Disney Characters at Aulani:

  • Book a breakfast at Makahiki – the “Aunty’s Breakfast Celebration at Makahiki” includes a posed photograph with Mickey, plus visits from Minnie and Goofy during your breakfast. See my review here.
  • Take part in a pool party for a visit from Goofy
  • Check your Daily ‘Iwa, your schedule for the day, to find the times and places for scheduled Disney Friends Meet & Greets with the characters. To know which characters are available, you’ll need to call Guest Services or ask at the Concierge. Note: the ‘Iwa is not delivered to your room, but is available all over the hotel (including the lobby)
  • Head to Aunty’s Beach House during the ‘Open House’ / family hours, right when the first open, for a dance party with Stitch
  • Go to an Aloha Fun session, which is basically a surfing lesson with a guest appearance by Chip & Dale
  • Attend one of the twice weekly Starlit Hui evening celebrations, which is like a mini luau, but without the food. We saw Goofy, Chip & Dale, Mickey & Minnie and Stitch all on stage for the end of the celebration

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Since we had such a great time at Disney Aulani, I’ve created a series of reviews of our experience, including some tips on how to make the most of your stay with your family. For the full series of reviews, check here.