DIS Contributors review meals, resort stays, and entertainment that they have paid for during their own vacations. They only utilize discounts and offers if they are available to the general public, such as annual passholder discounts, Tables in Wonderland, or DVC membership discounts. They receive no additional compensation for dining experiences or events, so that they may give their honest opinions about price and value.
*The review was written before Aulani's temporary closure, and all experiences and amenities are subject to change.*
It is not hard to enjoy a trip to Disney’s Aulani Resort in Oahu, Hawaii. We had a vacation of a lifetime last January during a five-night stay in a two bedroom with family and friends. As a first-time visitor, I did my share of exploring the resort, as well as a little of Oahu. Based on that experience, I put together a list of my top five things for adults to do while staying at Aulani.
1. Check Out the Daily 'Iwa:
This is a daily newsletter with activities for the next day. You can pick it up in the lobby every evening at 7:30pm, or grab a copy first thing in the morning at the concierge desk. There is one column of activities for Kieki (children), and another for everyone else. If you have taken Disney cruises, you will find this similar to the Personal Navigator that is published each night for the next day. The new Aulani app will also keep you updated on happenings around the resort.
2. Take in the Culture:
Disney has done an amazing job in bringing Aulani to life, working with the community to carefully reflect the culture of Hawaii. Each day, there are free opportunities to learn about the curated artwork, landscaping and design that Disney Imagineers and local artisans used to create the resort. Local cast members will take you on a tour of the lobby, the grounds and other parts of the resort. I took three of these tours to different parts of the resort with three different cast members, and every one of them was extremely proud to be part of the Aulani community. Also, each afternoon and evening, there is storytelling around a fire pit. It's another great way to soak in the culture.
3. See Other Parts of the Island:
There are lots of excursions to select from. We rented a car one day (do book it in advance), but you can also take an Uber or Lyft to another part of the island. The car rental was about $50 for the day, and we took it to the Manoa Falls Hiking Trail in the more tropical east side of the island and hiked up through a tropical forest to a 200-foot waterfall. Bring some sturdy sneakers for the hike to give you better traction on the somewhat slippery trail. We followed the hike with a great lunch at a local restaurant, Morning Glass Coffee, serving excellent sandwiches and iced tea. We then drove up to the North Shore – Sunset Beach or Bonzai Pipeline – to watch some very brave surfers navigate some pretty rough surf. One of our Lyft drivers told us that surfers die “all the time” on the North Shore, so she recommends surfing at Waikiki for anyone who is not already an expert on the big waves. The drive was stunning, with a view of luscious valleys and bright blue surf. We stopped for fresh coconuts and shaved ice along the way. Locals told us to try either garlic shrimp or fish tacos sold from one of the many food trucks, but we didn’t make the 5pm closing time for the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck that we tried to find.
4. Get Your Groceries Elsewhere:
There are plenty of places to eat at Aulani, but it can get a bit expensive; it is very expensive everywhere on the island, and grocery selections are slim at the resort. Taxis or ride sharing services will take you to the local Target, Foodland or Costco for $15 each way, or you can walk to the Island Country Markets located in a small mall across the street from the resort. There are a few restaurants there, too. We really enjoyed Monkey Pod, which has a great selection of local beers, and offers a tasty Mai Tai with fresh pineapple foam. My spouse swears the Mai Tai at Monkey Pod blew away the one at the high-end Ama Ama restaurant at the resort.
5. Take a Walk or a Run:
There is a nice paved path that runs between the resort and the ocean. You can turn left and follow the trail past more resorts and residences, and three other lagoons to a marina. Each morning, we saw a group of people who gathered at 7am to play ukulele and sing. Don’t forget to check out the Ko Olina Marina, as there are snorkeling and whale watching trips that run out of there a couple of times a day. If you walk to the right, there is a public beach (Paradise Cove), where we saw three green turtles.
There is so much to do at Aulani, and on the island, that it is hard to choose what to do first. Of course, there is the incredible Disney-operated spa, the lazy river, two infinity pools, and the saltwater reef where you can snorkel with tropical fish. There are unique wonders to discover, like all of the little Menehune (Hawaiian mythical little people) hiding around the resort, and creatures hidden in the rock formations just waiting to be found. These are just a few suggestions to help you plan your Disney Aulani vacation. Enjoy!