When I first purchased my Disney Vacation Club membership in 2007 at Animal Kingdom Lodge, I was only interested in using my points to stay there. I eventually ventured to other Disney Vacation Club resorts and thoroughly enjoyed exploring each of them as the years went by, but never thought of using my points outside of the Walt Disney World or Disneyland parks. Then, in 2011, I learned that Disney Vacation Club would be opening a resort in Hawaii called Aulani- A Disney Resort and it piqued my interest. The more I learned about Aulani the more I wanted to go see if for myself, so I started planning a Hawaiian trip and booked a stay in an ocean view studio villa using my DVC points. During my first visit to Aulani, I fell in love with the resort and the Hawaiian islands and have made it a regular vacation destination. Since I loved Aulani so much, I started wondering if it would be worth visiting the other 2 Disney Vacation Club resorts that are outside of the parks, Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort in South Carolina and Disney's Vero Beach resort in Florida. Living in California, it was not easy for me to get to these resorts for a quick getaway, so I decided to add a few extra days to my next two Walt Disney World vacations in order to check out these beach resorts. After visiting all three DVC resorts beyond the parks, I found that they each have their own unique qualities while still maintaining the Disney magic.
Disney's Vero Beach Resort
The main appeal of Disney's Vero Beach Resort is that it is directly on the beach. It only took me about 5 minutes to walk from my room to the beach. The beach has several access points from the resort for guests to use with key cards. This allowed for an enjoyable crowd free experience. Umbrellas, cabanas, beach chairs and lounge chairs are available to rent through DVC. My family rented a cabana for the day, which is basically a half dome cloth tent with two lounge chairs, and it was only $29. We were even given a bucket full of sand toys to borrow for the day when the cast member helping us saw that we had small children. This beach is also a sea turtle habitat that is frequented by 3 species of endangered sea turtles for nesting. I was there in May and saw several areas that were roped off on the beach that contained sea turtle nests. The resort offers sea turtle outings from May to October to allow guests to observe the sea turtles, and is dedicated to the conservation of these wild animals.
Disney's Vero Beach Resort offers deluxe inn rooms, deluxe studios, 1 bedroom villas, 2 bedroom villas and 3 bedroom cottages. On my vacation, I stayed in a deluxe inn room. The inn rooms are conveniently located in the main building and have 2 queen sized beds, which is a nice alternative and more comfortable for multiple people compared to the deluxe studios which only have one queen bed and one sofa bed. I found the room to be modern, comfortable and immaculately clean. All of the furniture, wall art, flooring, and fixtures looked to be recently updated and I could not find any faults. When exploring the grounds, I was impressed with the 3 bedroom cottages which are stand alone 2 story beach houses with a spectacular ocean view.
Vero Beach 3 bedroom cottage.
Food was easy to find at Vero Beach Resort. Winds & Waves Market is a quick service location right by the pool with basic offerings such as burgers, sandwiches, salads, Dole whips, Mickey pretzels and a soda station. My family and I ended up eating all of our meals at Winds & Waves Market, and, being a vegetarian family, we were pleasantly surprised with the variety of options available for us. Winds & Waves Grill is a sit down restaurant at the resort, but it was under construction during my trip so I did not get to experience it. Two bars are also on the property, The Green Cabin Room and Winds & Waves Bar.
The rooms at Vero Beach are gorgeous.
There was so much to do at this resort that my family never left the property during our entire stay. The pool area at Vero Beach Resort is amazing and I spent hours relaxing and having fun there. The pool is located only steps away from the beach so it was really easy to go back and forth from the beach to the pool. One of my favorite attractions at the pool was the Pirate's Plunge Pool slide, which is a 2 story spiral water slide. For smaller children, there is a nice splash pad area with a pirate ship and a mini water slide right next to the main pool. The pool area also features lots of activities like a 9 hole pirate themed miniature golf course, pool tables, bike rentals and much more. For adults, Vero Beach Resort offers a spa for massages and other soothing treatments. On select evenings we found that a sing along campfire was going on out by the fire pit where families were having a blast. My 3 year old daughter joined in at the campfire one night and she absolutely loved singing and dancing with all the other kids followed by eating s'mores. A Disney character breakfast is also offered once a week on Saturday mornings.
Disney's Vero Beach lobby.
Disney's Vero Beach resort offers a relaxing getaway, and, in my opinion, is a perfect way to spend a few days unwinding after a hectic and exhausting week at Walt Disney World. Additionally, the cast members at this resort were all phenomenal and went above and beyond my expectations when it came to customer service. I will definitely be adding more visits to Disney's Vero Beach Resort in my future.
Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort
Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort is not technically on a beach, but there is access to the beach about 1 mile away by shuttle, walking, biking or driving yourself. The beach is open for public use and has limited parking which fills up quickly in the morning so by the afternoon, driving yourself is not even an option during peak season. The beach offers umbrellas and lounge chairs to rent. Disney's Beach House is located right at the beach and is only available to use for guests of Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort. The Beach House has a large pool, a splash area, pool tables, games, lounge chairs, and a quick service location called Signals. The Beach House was actually very useful for my family because my young daughter was terrified of the ocean at the time and could hang out at The Beach House with me while the rest of our group enjoyed the beach just outside. The main downside of this beach is that it is not convenient to get back to the resort should you need to access your room for anything.
Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort is designed after a 1940's style hunting and fishing lodge and has deluxe studios, 1 bedroom villas, 2 bedroom villas and 3 bedroom grand villas. Most rooms are only accessible by stairs because the buildings are raised to prevent flood damage during storms and hurricanes. Some accessible rooms can be found in the main building, but must be requested ahead of time. When I stayed there in 2018, I was in a 2 bedroom villa and found the room to be outdated. Although everything was clean and the beds were very comfortable, the furniture was showing its age. The worse thing about my room was that the walls were incredibly thin. My room was on the bottom floor of a 2 story building and I could hear every sound from footsteps to conversations to kids playing day and night from the guests in the room above us, making it difficult to relax or sleep. Even after confronting our upstairs neighbors and complaining to the front desk several times about the noise, there was no improvement or any offer to move us.
Disney's Vero Beach pool area is lots of fun for the whole family.
Activities at this resort were plentiful and the kids in our group especially loved the Big Dipper pool. This pool area features a water slide, a large pool, and a toddler pool with fountains and a hot tub. Cast members were out by the pool area most of the day playing games and entertaining guests. The Big Dipper pool has easy access to Tide Me Over quick service restaurant where I enjoyed getting a daily Dole Whip to eat by the pool. We found lawn games throughout the resort such as mini golf, shuffle board, bocce ball, table tennis and basketball that were lots of fun for kids and adults alike. Another favorite activity was going on a dolphin watching cruise that we booked at the resort. An outside company came to pick us up by boat right at the resort and we found lots of dolphins in the channels surrounding Disney's property. Pluto is the only character that visits Disney's Hilton Head Island and he can easily be found by looking at the weekly schedule that the resort gives guests during check in. One very special feature of this resort is its mascot, a Golden Retriever named Shadow who lives at the resort and even has her own dog house out front. In Disney fashion, the grand finale of my trip was a firework show on the last night which could be viewed from the Big Dipper Pool or the pier.
Marsh view rooms.
Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort does not offer much in food service besides basic quick service meals, but there is a nice marina right next door within walking distance with lots of options for sit down meals. There are also several popular restaurants around the island within 10-20 minutes of driving, but many of them require advanced reservations during peak season. Many of the restaurants around the island even offer discounts for guests staying at Disney's Hilton Head Resort. Being a DVC resort, meals can also easily be made in the room kitchens.
Playing golf at Hilton Head Island Resort.
Although the rooms could use some much-needed updating (which is thankfully scheduled for 2021), I felt like Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort is a fun, unique and relaxing getaway in South Carolina. I especially enjoyed learning about the surrounding areas and experiencing the charm of the island. A wonderful advantage of staying at this DVC resort is that it does not require many points. In fact, you can stay at Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort for as little as 6 points per night! I would definitely visit this DVC resort again, but will be waiting until after the refurbishments are complete.
Aulani- A Disney Resort
Aulani- A Disney Resort resides in front of one of the Ko'Olina Beach Lagoons. The beach is open to the public and can be accessed through a gate behind the resort. Aulani offers boogie boards, sand toys, life jackets, loungers, beach chairs and umbrellas to use free of charge for resort guests. Equipment, such as snorkel gear and paddle boards, can be rented at Makiki Joe's Beach Equipment Rentals. The lagoon is protected from large waves and is an ideal place for families to play and swim in the ocean.
Hilton Head Island is a beautiful and unique place to explore.
The magic at Aulani starts at arrival where a cast member greets women with a fresh flower lei, men with a kukui nut lei, and children get a fun Menehune necklace. After the friendly greeting, a tour of the lobby area is always offered where a cast member points out many details of the resort. After the tour, check in consists of sitting at a concierge desk and getting treated like royalty. Aulani offers standard hotel rooms, suites, and DVC villas including studios, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom villas. Over the years, I have stayed in an ocean view studio villa, a 2 bedroom pool view villa and a 2 bedroom islands garden view villa. I found all of the rooms to be comfortable, modern and clean. I did not think that my ocean view studio villa had the best view and would consider it only a partial ocean view. The pool view I stayed in was directly outside of the Stitch statue so it was really fun to sit on our balcony and greet people as they took pictures with the statue. The islands garden view was right outside of the garden where the Lu'Au takes place. I had planned to watch the Lu'Au from our balcony, but it got rained out the only night that it was scheduled during my trip. I don't feel like the extra points for the ocean view is worth it since the pool view and island garden view are equal or even better in my experience then the ocean view. One downside of staying at Aulani is that the resort is so large, that, with two towers, it can be a hike to get to your room, especially if it is at the end of a hallway. When booking a room at this resort, I would recommend asking for a room close to the lobby. Another thing to note is that Hawaii charges an extra tax that must be paid at or before check-out when using DVC points.
The lobby at Aualni is very detailed and impressive.
There are so many family friendly activities at this resort that there is plenty to keep guests entertained for days without every needing to leave the resort. One unique feature of Aulani is Aunty's Beach House which is a complimentary kids club where kids 3-12 years old can enjoy games, crafts and many supervised activities. Another unique feature of this resort is the Laniwai Spa which not only offers the usual massages and spa treatments, but they also offer massages for the entire family designed for 3-6 family members including children to experience together. For adults, a hydrotherapy garden can be found at the spa where guests can relax in mineral baths at a beautiful tropical outdoor setting, and is included with any spa treatment. A salon is also available for families that offers hair, nail and other grooming treatments along with a special studio for kids 3-12 to get an island style makeover. The pool area is massive and includes several different swimming pools, a lazy river, water slides, hot tubs and a splash pad. A private snorkeling lagoon is located in the pool area where guests can enjoy snorkeling with tropical fish in a controlled environment. The fish can also be viewed through glass for those who do not wish to take the plunge into the lagoon. Poolside cabanas with flat panel TVs, ceiling fans, refrigerators, wifi access, a fruit bowl, and bottled water are available to rent for the day. Scheduled entertainment and activities are offered throughout the day. Times and locations of activities are easy to find by checking the Daily 'Iwa available at locations around Aulani or by checking Aulani's website. An excursion desk is available to help families plan activities outside of the resort such as horseback riding, zip lining, helicopter tours, Pearl Harbor tours, catamaran trips, surf lessons and many more Hawaiian experiences.
Finding places to eat at Aulani is quick and easy with nine food service locations offering a variety of options from snacks to sit down meals. A highlight for most families is the character meal at Makahiki which serves a buffet for breakfast and dinner. Ama Ama is Aulani's elegant open-air restaurant overlooking Ko Olina beach which offers spectacular views, especially at sunset. Several bars and quick service food locations can be found around the pool area as well, and, of course, there is always the option of cooking in your DVC villa. I have tried most of the food locations at Aulani and while they were all decent and convenient, I felt like they were overpriced so I prefer to cook most of my meals or eat outside of the resort. One truly unique dinner experience which I have yet to try is the KA WA'A Luau which features a show highlighting Hawaiian history and culture.
Arriving at Aulani is always a special experience.
Disney characters can be found all over Aulani. A quick and easy way to find them is by calling CHIP from the resort phone to get information on where they will be each day. I especially enjoyed seeing the characters at the pool where they appear at a daily pool party and will dance and play games with guests. Characters also make appearances at Aunty's Beach House where they love to play with children. Aulani offers some premium character experiences for an additional fee. These include Kakamora Chaos with Moana, where guests can play traditional Hawaiian games with Moana, and Surf's Up- A Surfin', Fishin' and Dancin' Party! hosted by Chip N' Dale. For Disney Vacation Club Members, Aulani offers a complimentary photo op with a character at the Luana Lounge between 7-8 PM from Tuesdays-Fridays.
Dinner at Ama Ama.
There is just so much to do at Aulani that after three vacations here I feel like I have barely scratched the surface. Every time I visit, I find something new and exciting to experience. Some of my highlights have been meeting the characters in their Hawaiian outfits, swimming in the lagoon, and soaking in the adults-only infinity hot tub while watching the sunset. I always rent a car and do several excursions around the island, which adds to the magic of visiting Aulani. I feel like a trip to Aulani is a luxurious and relaxing vacation and there is plenty to do for all ages.
Meeting Goofy by the Waikolohe Stream in Aulani.
Sunset at Aulani