It’s time we start unpacking my most recent experience with Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa in Oahu’s Southwest Ko Olina region. After spending some time there in the last few weeks, I’ve quickly earned some essential peak season tips that will make your pool time easier and more enjoyable. I’ll let you in on 8 of my secret tips to keep your family comfortable and entertained while you stay in this Hawaiian oasis.
1: Get Your Chairs Early.
Poolside seating is abundant, or so it seems. On closer inspection, almost all the seating will be occupied, with rogue towels and miscellaneous flip-flops marking the territory already guarded.
Get down there early; I’m talking 7:30. Do your best to claim seats that provide shade throughout the morning for respite and are in the front row where you can keep an eye on kids. I recommend the ocean-facing side in front of the pool next to off the hook in the Summer. The rock that houses the water slides, the palms, and the Eastern side of the hotel provide varying shade until midday through the warmest months and are the best place to be. That’s if I am not already sitting there.
2: Get Your Towels and Wrist Bands at Opening.
The kiosk that supplies the wristbands, which give you access to the aquatic area, opens at 8 am, the same time as the pools and slide. While these aren’t specific checkpoints where these are policed other than the slide, you will need these to enjoy the pool area in theory. The band colors change daily, so you can’t use the ones from the day before, either.
People who want to use the slides and pool area will need to visit in person to claim their wristbands; you can not collect them for someone else. This is easy enough to do in shifts if people need to stay behind to mind the chairs and make a separate visit.
While there is no shortage of bands or towels, getting them early helps you stake out your area and get started before the flood of people. This leads me to my next tip.
3: Stake Out Your Area.
After 8 am, all chairs are monitored; sort of. If your area is unoccupied for a certain amount of time, a cast member will fold the towel that has been left and place it over the top of the chair. After an hour, your things will be removed and placed at the nearest kiosk for collection. This is so that people can’t take up all the best chairs and only use them for a few minutes every couple of hours.
However, while watching this process happen, most of the time, the only chairs that attract attention are the ones where single (still folded) towels have been left on chairs with no sign of anything else. My advice is to floof, yes floof, out your towel so it looks used. I’d also add your shoes and water bottles to the seats too. Now, I wouldn’t leave any valuables lying around, someone should always be in the area just in case, but this will stop other people from taking your seats. I saw so many pool chairs commandeered with just a folded towel on them! And the towels too!
4: Take a Rash Shirt
When you visit Aulani, there are two groups of people; those who show some / any signs of being sun safe and the others who have ended up with the lobster look at dinner, sporting a stinging sunburn. If you want to save yourself the $60-odd purchase of an Aulani sun shirt (which is actually really lovely, by the way), make sure you take a rashie/rash shirt/rash guard/swim shirt with you.
I am one of those who tan really easily and rarely burn (don’t worry, the universe makes up for it by adding pounds to my hips whenever I even look at something tasty), and even my Australian skin found the sun there hard to handle. Try starting the day when the sun is low with your additional layers off; that way, you can get some sun (with plenty of sunscreen on – we will get to that in a moment) without worrying too much. However, once it gets towards the middle of the day, be sure to get that shirt and hat on so you can enjoy the rest of your time without the dreaded burn of ignorance.
5: Have Your Waterbottle Ready
One thing that can catch you off guard in tropical places is how quickly you can become dehydrated. We know this lesson from being in the parks, especially in Florida, but it’s easy to forget when on an island surrounded by water. Even though we are swimming, the sun and activity can quickly dehydrate our body, and if you are ordering sugary drinks or cocktails, that won’t necessarily do the trick.
Keep a water bottle with you in the shade beneath your chair for those quick sips when the kids return from trips around the waterslide and lazy river. It will save you money in buying water bottles, and there are stations where you can refill them.
6: Re-apply Sunscreen with Zinc
Even if you are going for a walk, wear sunscreen. Wear sunscreen even if you think I will only be gone for a 15-minute swim. Even if you are only going out for lunch, wear sunscreen. Can you see where this one is headed?
No matter how much you think you need, add another layer, and be sure it is sweatproof and water resistant. Not all sunscreens are created equal, with many just about washing off as soon as you hit the water. Be sure to have a separate sunscreen with zinc in it for your face to add extra protection. No one loves a lobster holiday photo.
7: Order Poolside Food and Drinks from Off the Hook, At Least Once
You might think you should take advantage of places like Ulu Cafe, where you can get ready-made, over-the-counter items, and a few made-to-order meals. Well, I thought the same until I did it a few times and realized it takes a really long time and doesn’t end up being much cheaper. Having stood there for over 30 minutes at one point for something that was supposed to take 5 minutes, I started to doubt the success of my money /time-saving plan.
The following day, we tried ordering poolside food and drinks from the Off The Hook restaurant just behind where we were sitting, and I have to say, it was fabulous. We played in the water while waiting, and the food quality was much better. This was an instance where you really do get what you pay for and then some. While it might not be feasible all the time, definitely be sure to do it at least once.
If you dine at the Off The Hook restaurant (not from the poolside menu), do not miss the Crab Cake Burger. There is nothing like it in the world.
8: Get Your Timing Right
Once the sun has hit its peak and the middle of the day is upon you, it is best to retire for a few hours to give your skin a rest and have a break. Don’t be tempted to return in the early afternoon as you won’t get a chair for your things, and the water is too warm to feel refreshing on a hot day. Instead, try for later in the day, or have an early dinner and go back after for story time in the water. It’s pretty cool.
If you are desperate to stretch out your waterslide time a little longer, when most families are ordering lunch and sitting down to eat is the time to strike. Midday offers a small window to take advantage of a slight lull in the water slide area wait times, especially the long line for the raft ride. A great way to end your aquatic activities from the morning before moving on to your rest time.
The week after next, you’ll get my full review of our stay, and I have to warn you, it will be brutally honest with some notes that aren’t too complimentary. One indisputable fact is that this resort is truly a stunning place to be and a vacation you will never forget.
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.