The secret is out, I love the Hawaiian islands. O'ahu, in particular, is one of those places that just feels like home every year we return. In uncertain times, when the disruption to our travel routines and holiday rituals have us all wondering what to do, my answer to all of you is simple: Aulani.
Aulani itself is pretty impressive, secluded away on the shores of Ko Olina in the island's southwestern corner. Though, for those who aren't intimately familiar with the island, it can be easy to miss out on the best parts of what O'ahu has to offer.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about how Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, would be my pick for a Disney destination for the holidays. Today, I thought it might be time to share a few of my secrets on how to unlock the potential of this destination and take it from a Disney getaway to the vacation of a lifetime.
Rent a Car
Yes, everything you need is on-site so you aren't required to have a vehicle in order to do everyday things, however, some of the best parts of O'ahu aren't easily accessible from the boundaries of this Disney resort. Renting a car is a great way to make sure you experience everything this tropical destination has to offer while being able to return to your Disney resort at the end of each magnificent day.
Have a Plan for Your Time
Hawai'i is the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure, but you will need to have an idea of what you want to achieve while you are there. If you are familiar with visiting the parks, this won't be a difficult task, but many don't realize how much more there is to experience unless you take the time to do some research.
Aulani is perfectly situated on one of the most beautiful islands I know of, and planning for the popular tourist stops, or adding a bit of adventure to your stay, is easy to do. Not to mention a great way to split the difference with a family member that isn't as keen of a Disney fan as you are but you all get a little bit of what you enjoy.
Explore the Island
On the days you have set aside to explore, you might like to visit some of the more popular tourist attractions like the Dole Pineapple Plantation (for the original and best Dole Whip!), Hanauma to see the turtles, Pearl Harbor to take in some history, the Polynesian Cultural Center for some education, or visit the beautiful land formations like Diamond Head dormant volcano and the Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden for that famous Instagram shot of the tree-lined entrance.
Along the way, don't overlook stoping off for some local snacks and treats that won't be forgotten. If you fancy yourself some seafood, check out the shrimp shacks on the North Shore. I would recommend Fumi's up on the Kamehameha Hwy, or HONO'S Shrimp Truck in Haleiwa.
If you have a hankering for some shave ice, head on over to Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha in Honolulu. If you have been before and visited the one in Ala Moana Shopping Center, it has sadly closed.
Get Your Shopping On
Other than the resort gift shop -- where I always manage to drop more money than I should -- there are a few shopping destinations that you should definitely add to your list. One is not too far from your resort at the Premium Outlets in Waikele. These ones are a bit hit and miss; sometimes you don't find anything, sometimes you are glad you have a car and not trying to fit all of your loot onto the shuttle. But then again, isn't that the nature of all outlet experiences? In our family, there it is customary to enjoy a margarita (or two) at the Chili's on-site. Somehow, I always end up spending more after that pitstop...
The next one on the list is Ala Moana, located further east near Waikiki. This is a big shopping center with a wide variety of stores including a Disney Store, just in case the resort doesn't have what you need or you are like me and always check for a sale section. This is also where I visit Bath & Body Works for my Honolulu Sun and Waikiki Coconut candles and hand soaps. While you probably have a location near you that stocks these, we Australians do not, and this is one way I like to bring a little of that Aloha back to Sydney.
Pack in the Activities
Sitting poolside and enjoying the water slides is a great way to finish off each day, but don't be afraid to add some adventure to those vacation mornings. In the local area, you have tons of activities like fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, even a local golf course, and an assortment of tours. But when you travel a little further afield, you can discover so much more like Kualoa Ranch where take tours on horses, ATVs or even the movie tour, visiting all locations for films you know and love.
On the other side of the island, closer to Waikiki, you can find many options for boat tours, catamaran trips, and sightseeing. If there is one thing I can highly recommend, it's booking a luau. Aulani offers fire-pit storytelling, Hula dancing, and live Hawaiian music, but there is nothing like the history and immersion that come from a luau. My favorite one can be found at the Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki, though they do book a long way in advance so get in early.
Give the Gift of Disney Travel These Holidays
2020 has been a strange year, and most of us don't know up from down at the moment. Instead of buying expensive presents for the family that won't get used, why not give the gift of travel and surprise them with a Hawaiian escape? Relax, reset, and give your loved ones memories that will be cherished for a lifetime. Share in experiences, not more stuff, and use this time to reconnect with each other in the wake of a stressful year. Take the time to be together, sit down to meals you don't have to cook, just basking in the day's events. Revel in the time spent together with family or friends; laugh, and enjoy each other.
Personally, I believe that there is no bad time to visit Hawaii. That said, personally, I favor the in-between months like March and October.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when booking your stay:
- Flexible Cancellation Aulani is currently offering flexible cancellation stating: "To provide additional flexibility, you may cancel your Aulani Resort reservations up to 24 hours prior to your arrival date for stays through May 20, 2021, without Disney-imposed cancellation fees."
- Consider a Split-Stay Aulani isn't cheap, so if you are on the fence about whether to spend the money or not, I would suggest extending your time on O'ahu with a split stay to enjoy what Aulani has to offer while stretching your budget a bit further somewhere else on the island as well.
- Talk to Dreams Unlimited Travel Yes, they do sponsor this website and make everything happen, but, truth be told, they also really know what they are doing and can help you make all your travel dreams come true.
There are a million more reasons why you should visit this Hawaiian Disney paradise but honestly, nothing can convey its beauty better than seeing it for yourself. That traditional-looking Polynesian architecture, the spirit of Aloha in every interaction, and the resort's beautiful surroundings, second to none in the world. It doesn't get better than that.