I’m just playing around with using this blog for an extended space to write! (I have A LOT to learn before this will be fast or pretty – please be patient with me!) I find myself posting less and less often on Instagram because I often have a lot to say, and it’s hard to fit it into the Instagram caption box. I also really want to get around to writing all of our travel reviews, but I don’t want to overcrowd my Instagram page with just travel posts. I created the following categories to review for hotels that we’ve stayed at, but please let me know if you have additional things you’d like to hear about.
Check-In: a disaster. We arrived around 11AM because we had just finished at Pearl Harbor and that was clearly a mistake, as EVERYONE seemed to be either checking in or out at the very same time. There was a line to get in the hotel’s driveway. The unfortunate design of the driveway and parking garage also caused a back-up for the parking garage; the garage is located between the entrance to the (one-way) driveway and the hotel itself, so if you’re just trying to enter the garage, you’re stuck in the driveway traffic. And if you’re trying to exit the garage, you must get in line with the other cars trying to check in our out.
Back to the lobby: the queue for the front desk was completely full and backed up into the very small “open” part of the lobby. We are DVC members, and were able to use a separate queue designated for members, but the line there was also extremely long. There is also very minimal seating in the lobby, and we saw elderly people and young children sitting/laying all over the floor as they waited.
When we finally got to the front of the line, check-in was fine. The cast member wasn’t particularly friendly, but she was nice enough. She informed us that our room would not be ready until 4PM – if you’ve been to a Disney Vacation Club resort before, you’ll know all about this unfortunate late check-in time, and the fact that the rooms are RARELY ready early. We hoped that by getting there early, we might have a chance of getting into our room early, but it really took until 4:00 on the dot.
The check-in area/lobby ARE beautiful, but they’re just so small and cannot accommodate the number of people that need to use the space. Disney resorts typically have lobbies that are quite spacious, so we were really surprised.
Public Spaces: again, they were small. The lobby area just didn’t cut it – there were people and suitcases on every surface.
Aulani advertises a lounge that you can use when you check in but before your room is ready, or when you check-out but before your flight. It sounded so wonderful, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to check in early – we figured we could use the pool and/or beach and have the lounge available for changing and relaxing. No such luck – when we opened the door, the lounge was so full that you literally could not enter. There were, again, children and elderly people covering the entire floor. It looked like a hurricane shelter instead of a hotel lounge!
Disney really needs to work on this. Aulani is a HUGE resort in terms of number of rooms, but relatively small in terms of actual property size, causing major overcrowding in public spaces.
We experienced the same overcrowding in the pool and beach areas. At midday, we couldn’t find a chair to set up at. We tried the lazy river, but it was so full that everyone was just about on top of each other. We did try one of the water slides and it was great, but we waited about 30 minutes for one trip down the slide.
Keep in mind that we don’t have children, so the few free events like storytelling and Aunty’s Beach House (kids club) didn’t appeal to us.
The outdoor public areas were beautiful and more spacious, but the chairs were taken early (see the “pool/beach” section below), and it was hot outside – not ideal for waiting for your room to be ready.
Location: terrible, in my opinion. First of all, after exploring Maui and the Big Island, Honolulu just wasn’t for us, so I’ll make that note first. Aulani is located in a gated community, away from almost everything in Oahu. It’s in a fairly residential area, although there is a huge Four Seasons hotel on one side and a massive Marriott hotel on the other, so although the resort is in an isolated part of the island, it’s not very private either. Worst of both worlds? You can easily walk to either of the other hotels, but other than that, there’s not much in the vicinity.
Service: was great, for the most part. You can tell that it’s a Disney property because of the high level of service. Our server at lunch the first day (Jada, from California) saw us several other times – including just before we checked out – and remembered us each time. She was lovely. I do think service contributes significantly to “the Disney difference” and you can certainly feel that at Aulani.
Room: beautiful! We booked on January 30th for a check-in date of July 26th, and there was only one option left for studio rooms – a “poolside gardens view” room. Studios are the smallest DVC room, but they’re not small compared to your standard hotel room. We had a large bathroom, kitchenette, queen-sized bed (we really prefer a king-sized bed, though…!), pull-out couch, and a good-sized table with two chairs. We also had a balcony overlooking the pool area, although we were on the same floor as the lobby, so it wasn’t a perfect view of the ocean area, but we could see it if we stretched a bit!
Dining Options: we ate at three “restaurants” – the table-service restaurant by the pool (Off the Hook), the nice sit-down restaurant overlooking the beach (‘Ama’Ama), and the quick service restaurant with grab-and-go food items (Ulu Cafe). We really enjoyed all of them. Our dinner at ‘Ama’Ama was fabulous. Just prepare yourself for the prices that occur when you combine Disney and Hawaii pricing structures. Our poolside lunch was over $100, for example. Ulu Cafe has some Disney touches, like the Mickey ice cream parks that you can find in the Disney parks! The resort also had a character buffet, but neither characters nor buffets are really our thing.
Pool/Beach: everything looks bigger in the pictures that Disney shares. There really isn’t much to do at the resort besides the beach and pool, so they get extremely crowded, very early.
You need to obtain a colored wristband each day of your stay. The wristband station opens at 8AM and there was a LONG line at 7:55. You can then stop at a towel station and show your wristband to get a pool towel.
People get chairs and set up for the day at 8AM. And they seem to stay put all day. The pools are very crowded. The adult pool is small and not exactly isolated. Again, Aulani just doesn’t have much space compared to other Disney properties. The area IS beautiful and well-themed. The beach area is nice and the water is quite calm – however, you can see how manmade it is. Hawaii has so much natural beauty, so it was just very apparent that Disney has crafted the “nature” in an unnatural way. They have a snorkel pool and beach rentals (like snorkel equipment) available for an additional cost. The beach area beyond the lounge chairs is actually quite spaces. The entire area has gorgeous sunset views.
Gym: Great! No problems waiting for a machine. Fairly high-end equipment with cardio machines, free weights, some weight machines, and stretch area.
Value: We paid 29 DVC points for one (Friday) night in July. Having stayed at every DVC resort in WDW, I did not feel that the value was there at all. I can’t see us ever staying at Aulani again, although we do hope to return to Hawaii in a few years. There just isn’t enough to do at the resort considering the high price tag. We did purchase one refillable mug ($18.99) and felt that it was worth it; there are plenty of places to refill your mug with soda, juice, water, tea, coffee, etc.
But, I think there are much better places to stay in Hawaii, and our DVC points get significantly more bang for their buck in WDW.