Friday, January 11, 2019

Sew Cute Travels: Aulani Resort Review

Today's post is all about my experience at Aulani a Disney Resort and Spa in Oahu, Hawaii. Before traveling to Hawaii I read a ton of blogposts, reviews, and got insight from my IG followers on what to do, eat, and what to expect. So, I wanted to create my own post outlining all of our experiences at the resort. Hopefully this will be helpful to you when planning your trip to Aulani!

The Pools & Beach 

If you are a pool or beach person obviously Aulani is your paradise. If I'm being totally honest my family is not beach people. We can't spend 12 hours a day everyday at the pool or beach. It's just not us. We are a family of do-ers. Activities, exploring, and site seeing is more our jam. With that being said, the pools at Aulani are very nice. Since everyone in our family was 18+ we spent 98% of our time in the adult only areas. We sat by the adult pool most of the trip and it was quiet and serene. Occasionally a small child would wander into the pool, but the staff was pretty good about making sure they left to the kid areas. There was also an adult only infinity pool that overlooked the beach. A few times we went there to watch the sunset which was stunning! I recommend getting there 10min or so before sunset to get a good spot. Again, there were some kids that wandered in there but the staff escorted them out. At one point a young boy said look there are other kids in here and pointed at me, so that was fun. Sir, I am 23 years old, thanks. 

My mom and I also spent some brief time in the lazy river and the waterslides. While dodging some obnoxious children we were able to have a pleasant time. The water slide was super fun! We only did the inner tube slide, but I'm sure the body slide was great as well. 

Some people may ask, if you're an adult at Aulani do you feel inundated by kids? To this question I would say no. If you work really hard you can dodge the kids at the resort. Spend your time in the adult pools as well as the bar areas. We had very pleasant experiences at the adult pools, and you could tell everyone was there to relax. There weren't any drunken crazy people roaming around, which was also nice. 

As for the beach I think we spent two days out on the beach. There are a plethora of chairs, both lounge chairs and smaller chairs that can be moved around. The beach was pretty empty compared to the pool areas. You can rent boogie boards, beach toys, etc. free of charge, but there are also some items that require payment for the rentals. The water was actually pretty warm, and the beach was spotless and clean. Again, we aren't huge beach people, but I enjoyed the beach area at Aulani. Also, you can spot a ton of weddings while sitting out on the beach. In a 4 hour time span no joke we saw 3-4 brides! 

When it comes to getting up early for beach chairs, we had no issues finding chairs. If you are super picky about where you want to sit I suggest heading out right at 8am. The pools opened at around 8am and stayed open until 5pm. Most of the resort shuts down after 5pm to be honest. 

We went to Aulani from November 25th-December 2nd. So, it was considered their "busy" season. However, I never felt overcrowded at the resort. Especially the adult pool. There were always dozens and dozens of open chairs available. No issues in that department. If you have kids and are planning on being in those areas I would maybe get up slightly earlier, which you probably already are, and head to the pool for chairs. Popular areas for the kids were near the kid friendly infinity pool and the water jungle gym area. 

Prior to each pool day you have to pick up a new colored wristband. This gives you access to the pool areas as well as character meet and greets around the resort. Disney Vacation Club members get a sparkly band and other hotel guests get a solid colored band. You can also pick up your towels when you get your wristband for the day! If you aren't planning on being at the pool the wristbands aren't necessary each day. We only got them when we knew we were going to be at the pool. These stands stay open during all pool hours so you don't have to get it first thing in the morning! 

The Food 

We had some great food at the resort. In total we had three sit down meals at the resort which included lunch and dinner at AMA AMA as well as character dinning at Makahiki. There were very mixed reviews on AMA AMA so we were for sure hesitant to eat there. I had heard from a few people it was amazing and a must do. While others said it was overpriced and the service was terrible. In terms of pricing I thought it was comparable to any other high end restaurant you find in Chicago or even Downtown Naperville in the suburbs. All items are basically a la cart at dinner so you need to purchase an entree plus sides for the table. I would compare it to a Sullivans style meal. I got the filet for dinner and my dad and I split the baked potato no problem. Most of my family got steaks, but my mom got fish. We all really enjoyed our meals! In terms of ordering we had a party of four and ordered two sides and that was plenty. Plus, one dessert because we were so full! Our service was great up until the end when our server got two large tables of 10+ people. I honestly don't blame him but it did take quite a while to get our dessert and check. But, overall the meal was very good. Dinner at AMA AMA also included some live music entertainment which was lovely. We also got photos of the sunset from the outdoor seating area at the restaurant. It was a gorgeous view! An added bonus of dinner at AMA AMA. Lunch at AMA AMA was absolutely fantastic! We had a great server who was super attentive and fabulous all around. Most of us got the lobster roll which was super fresh and yummy! Highly recommend AMA AMA for lunch. We were one maybe 3 families in the place. It was empty and lovely. There are great views of the beach and the water too! Side note: don't get a cocktail there! Both my brother and I got specialty cocktails and honestly they were gross and strong. Would not recommend those, but would for sure recommend the lobster roll. 

In terms of character dining, this was one of the best we have ever been too. The food was sooooo good! The actual characters going around was very busy though. For some reason there was always a random parade or something going on. It was kind of a lot, but the food made up for it. The breakfast included Minnie & Goofy then pictures with Mickey prior to entering the meal. We got some great photos with Mickey as a family and some different individual shots. They had a PhotoPass person set up so we got phone photos and professional photos. Some of my favorite things from the buffet were the bacon (it was amazing), pina colada yogurt, and the awesome fresh fruit! There were so many options it was overwhelming. 

When it came to Quick Service the food was pretty basic. My favorite things included Fish & Chips at Mama's Snack Stop, the kids mini burgers on the pool bar menu, and Mickey Shaved ice! The rest of the food was pretty standard. We ate at Off the Hook, Mama's Snack Stop, the Olu Cafe, and on the pool menu. Most menu items were pretty pricey for what they were. Again, wasn't expecting the world because it was poolside food. But, we did get sick of it pretty quickly. Luckily, being in a DVC Villa we had a full kitchen so we had cereal and other food in the fridge to eat when we got sick of the pool food. Again, nothing wrong with it, we just got sick of paying $18+ for chicken strips each day. So, we opted to pick up food at the ABC across the street for snacks and meals for lunches and even some dinners. 

While I am talking about food I wanted to mention there is a reusable mug on property at Aulani. I believe it is $20 for your stay and you have unlimited re-fills. Three of the four of us took advantage of this and it was super nice. With sodas or coffees at $3-4 a pop it was a no brainer to get the mug. Then while you are at the pool you can get soft drinks or coffee without having to pay each time. The adult pool is also right next to the Olu Cafe which made it easy to get a Diet Coke while lounging at the pool. I also opted for the re-fillable popcorn bucket which I think was around $10-15. This allowed you to get refills for I think $1 or $2. Both were a hefty price tag up front, but I think overall they were worth it to have an easy drink by the pool and popcorn! Popcorn is very important to me. Plus you can take the mug and popcorn bucket home as a souvenir! 


The Hotel 

Aulani as a complete resort is stunning. Fun fact: the same person who helped design Animal Kingdom helped design Aulani. You can see a lot of similar touches when you compare the two. Our hotel room was super spacious and nice. We had the two bedroom DVC Villa, which is normally what we stay in when going to a DVC resort. My brother and I shared a room with two queen beds and a full bathroom. I mainly used the powder room to get ready, minus showers. Then my parents had the master bedroom. Their bathroom had a separate shower room and toilet so they both could get ready at the same time. Having this size room really works for our family. If you have adult children I highly recommend this size! We like having room to spread out and hangout. Plus the full kitchen is nice for cooking meals if needed or holding all of our snacks. 

In terms of the grounds of the resort they were breathtaking! As you can see from our balcony view below everything is lush and green. You really feel the Polynesian cultural touches as well. That is what I love about Disney resorts, the theming is always spot on! The lobby area has huge vaulted ceilings all with Polynesian inspired carvings and decor. Honestly, the pictures s`

Overall, everything was pretty well maintained and the staff was super friendly. Our housekeeper was also fabulous! She even gave us extra pens at the end of our trip. We got the hookup! 

Character Experiences 

Each morning you can call the character telephone line to see what characters will be appearing each day. Some days had more characters than others. Mostly on the weekends the schedule was packed full of characters. While some days hardly had any. It was really hit or miss. Luckily being there a week we got to see mostly everyone, except Shelly Mae (SO SAD ABOUT IT). The characters available for meet and great while we were there were: Stitch, Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Daisy, Chip & Dale, Moana, and Duffy. All of the character experiences we had were great, in exception to Duffy. I was so excited to meet him but he was relocated to a different location due to rain. I ended up going by myself because my family was relaxing in the room. So, I had the greeter take my photos for me and they were pretty awful. Every photo was blurry and none of them were in focus. Luckily the PhotoPass photos ended up being okay. But, I was disappointed that the photos weren't as fabulous as all the other characters I had met the rest of the trip. That was the only day they had brought out Duffy, which is also kind of annoying. The line was super long so I knew he was popular so I wasn't sure why out of 10 days he was out once. ANYWAY I'm just being picky here. All of our other character experiences were great! 

The characters are usually all around the pool area during the day and into the early evening. Most times were around noon/ 1pm and some were at 5pm. Some had PhotoPass people while others did not, which I found odd. But, most greeters were really great about taking photos on your phones or cameras. Just be sure to have your room key or pool wristbands ready to show the greeters. Technically only hotel guests can meet characters. So, you must have some proof that you are staying there! 

In addition to the normal character meet and greets they had special meet and greets for DVC members. These were indoors and had special holiday Aulani backdrops. I imagine they change seasonally. We met holiday Pluto and Goofy at two different meet and greets. These characters and these meet and greets rotate. To get into the DVC meet and greet you will need your DVC card. They had the same thing for non-DVC members as well. The lines were just longer at those meet and greets. 

Gift Shops 

There were two main gift shops at the resort. One was higher end items like Dooney and Bourke purses and Pandora charms. While the other was your standard t-shirts, plushes, etc. I spent a fair amount of change in both of these gift shops TBH. In the higher end store I opted for a Dooney and Bourke crossbody bag. I was unsure about it at first, but I really liked the print and I knew I could't get the bag anywhere else. So, naturally had to get it. Then in the regular gift shop I went a little crazy. What can I say the selection of Duffy Japanese style merchandise paired with Spirit Jerseys up the wazzo was VERY dangerous! I will try and put together an Aulani haul for you guys. Since everything is already unpacked in may be kind of hard, but I will try my best! Let's just say there doesn't seem to be a ton of shopping, but trust me there is a lot in those tiny shops. 


In terms of things to do besides go to the pool, shop, and eat Aulani does have a large spa on property as well. They also organize different paid excursions, but we didn't do any of those. They also have some rentals like boogie boards, paddle boards, and things of that nature! 

However, there are a few paid and free experiences that are all outlined in their daily itinerary which you can pick up at the front desk. This piece of paper has all of the operating hours of restaruants, shops, as well as times for different activities. We went on the cultural tour which we thought was very cool! During the tour a guide who worked on property walked us around mainly the pool area and gave us cool facts about the resort and the construction/ meaning of things around the resort. It was very interesting, and a good activity for adults! Another activity they had was nightly story telling by the fire. We were always too tired/ lazy to get our booties down there for it, but I think it would be cool to go see. If working out is your thing they had a ton of different work out classes for free in the mornings. The first class would usually start at 6am and the last class would go until around 10am. Things like sunrise yoga, stretching, or boot camp were some of the offerings while we were there. 

There are a TON of child activities naturally, but we weren't able to take advantage of those. If you do have kids be sure to sign up your kids for the kid services ahead of time, I hear that slots fill up during busy seasons. 

As DVC members we also had access to DVC exclusive activities like the meet and greets but also tours and other things. So, if you are a DVC member or are going with DVC members be sure to look out for those. Also, DVC members can go to a member celebration on most Monday mornings at the resort. We had free breakfast which included juices, coffee, and pastries as well as games and DVC info/ sneak peeks! Also, we got a Hawaiian necklace and DVC baseball cap which was pretty cool.

Then there are also paid activities like t-shirt decorating for families/ kids, night photography classes, and more! These change daily so be sure to check the guide. I would always go first thing to the lobby to go pick up the guide to see what was going on for the day. 

Someone had asked how many days you would recommend going to Aulani. Well, my entire trip was a total of 10 days, one night we spent at a different hotel because Aulani was fully booked. I think 8-10 days is the optimal amount of time to spend at the resort/ island. I think a week would also do. I only say that because there is a lot to do around the resort and on Oahu in general. I will be creating a separate post on the things we did on Oahu in general! I know some people stay at Aulani for 2-3 days then go to a different resort, which I think could work well as well. But, I do think we had a good amount of time there to enjoy the pool, beach, food, and character meet and greets. Plus, if you really care about characters they space out all of them throughout an entire week. Something to keep in mind. 

Overall, we had a great experience at the resort. Everything was super nice and updated, pool areas were beautiful, and the food was pretty good too! I will say though.... (un-popular opinion ALERT) I prefer the Disney Cruise Line to Aulani... THERE I SAID IT. But, it is so true. I'm not sure if this is because we are a family of do-ers, but I found Aulani just kind of boring after a while. Also, the food and everything around the hotel was pretty expensive for what it was. While the cruise you pay a flat fee but everything is basically included. Again, that is just my personal opinion. Am I saying you shouldn't go to Aulani, of course not! I still think it is a stunning resort and could be an amazing vacation for you. Personally, however if I had to choose between the two I would for sure pick the Disney Cruise line. 

In this post I tried to be as brutally honest as possible. Hopefully this post will help you if you are planning a trip or debating going to Aulani! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below or DM me on Instagram. I'd be happy to give anymore specific insight on things you may be wondering about!

Have you been to Aulani? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!