Aloha Hawaii: How Beautiful Aulani Disney Resort Can Make You Smile - 13 minutes read

How Beautiful Aulani Disney Resort Can Make You Smile

Let Hawaii mesmerize you. Open yourself to its shimmering emerald-green mountains, enticing shorelines, enchanting culture, fascinating history—and welcoming islanders who share an inviting aloha spirit. In many ways, our 50th State's allure feels magical. So it makes sense that Disney, the consummate magic-maker, chose Hawaii as an idyllic locale in which to set a hotel. The 21-acre Aulani Resort & Spaon the leeward (west) coast of Oahuexemplifies what Disney does best as an expert storyteller with fine-tuned attention to details and a commitment to warm hospitality. There is both a dramatic and sublime sense of place here, as everything—from architecture to art, activities to aliments—at Aulani connects to a deeper meaning and embraces the people, places, past and present, art, music, dance and foods of Hawaii. Not just another luxurious resort in Hawaii, Aulani is ardent about Hawaii. Yep, as expected, the vibe is definitely family friendly. Yet Aulani also attracts couples, honeymooners and gal pals (on getaways sans children) who have long been Disney-devotees. Here, count the ways this palm-tree paradise in the Pacific Ocean lavishes its pixie dust.

A cashmere-soft sand beach fringes the curved bay, protected from surging surf by strategic rocky barriers that cocoon a calm swimming zone. Stretch here under uplifting sunshine and swaying palm fronds. Then stroll, making footprints near the water's edge. Swim into the gentle-lapping blue water. Indulge in mermaid fantasies. Gaze at the seascape horizon. Relax and recharge. Perhaps jog on the paved walkway and running path, along a beachfront shared with other hotels. Spy whales offshore.

Have energy for stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking? Water sports can be arranged. Complimentary boogie boards, sand toys and lifejackets are available. Make your way to Aulani's outdoor H2O haven, called Waikohole Valley, which means mischievous water in Hawaiian. Laze in its three main pools, one of which is reserved for only adults.

Aboard an inflatable float, drift on a constructed lazy river (photo above) that meanders past verdant landscaping, two waterslides that are somewhat hidden among Disney-imagined, man-made volcanoes and, for little ones (48 inches tall or shorter), a wet-play zone with interactive geysers, water cannons, a colossal dump bucket and the rope-configured Menehune Bridge (photo below). In the rocks, look for carvings of animals, fish, shells and other native Hawaiian symbols.

Swoosh underwater at the Ka Maka Grotto pool to hear marine sounds piped beneath the surface. Unwind in four grotto-style whirlpools. Do much or do little. Aulani is not a theme park; it is a tropical-kissed hideaway with just enough Disney-orchestrated animation and activity to add rhythm and variety to your vacation days.

When you first enter the expansive, soaring, A-frame lobby, be dazzled by Disney Imagineers' enthusiasm for local Hawaiian heritage, culture and legend—and how they have conceived a unique Oahu-based Disney lore. Filled with story-rich Hawaiian art, the entrance hall is a guest gathering spot, especially on its nearby broad terrace that overlooks, in a kind of bird's-eye view, the heart of Aulani's outdoor goings-on. The lobby spotlights three distinctive ki‘i(wooden sculpture) by master carver and cultural activist Rocky Jensen; two pay homage to male and female ancestors and the third, topped with an ‘io (Hawaiian hawk), symbolizes generations of their Hawaiian descendants. In the lobby's transverse corridor arch, a mural by Doug Tolentino highlights a trio of powerful gods, including Pele, goddess of fire.

A 12- by 12-foot compass rose is embedded in the lobby floor. But there is an intriguing difference: In Disney story-morphing fashion, its four points do not indicate north, south, east and west; instead they mark the journeys that ancient Hawaiians followed: mauka (to the mountains) and makai (to the sea), left toward the feminine (side of the resort featuring smooth-finish lava) and right toward the masculine (side of the resort sporting rough-finish lava). There's a striking, rainbow-hued photo collage behind the lengthy front desk; all the images were shot by Hawaiian school children. The hotel towers are built to look like vertically stacked outrigger canoes—essential craft in Hawaiian history. Facing the ocean or mountain, the guest rooms are generously sized. In addition to standard rooms, there are one- and two-bedroom suites with kitchenettes and full kitchens. One tower contains units allotted to the Disney Vacation Club, a timeshare ownership program. When unoccupied, those suites can be rented as hotel rooms.

Aulani's architecture weaves together traditional and contemporary Hawaiian designs. For example, Hawaiian lashing—a centuries-old construction technique that uses braided or twisted cords in lieu of nails—attaches wood. Lashing is shown throughout Aulani on beams, canopies and trellises. Resort construction also incorporates natural elements into man-made creations; for instance, hefty coral boulders, saved from the site's excavation, are now nestled on the beachfront walkway as seating perches.

Indulge at its stylish, open-air ʻAMAʻAMA restaurant, named after a fish abundant in Hawaii. Overlooking the ocean, ʻAMAʻAMA is open all day, serving regional cuisine, locally grown produce and sustainable fish, in addition to contemporary American dishes with an island twist. Popular for breakfast is the traditional Hawaiian eye-opener loco moco—a sunny-side-up fried egg with white rice and a hamburger patty topped by onion gravy. Or try its signature chocolate milk-dipped haupia (a coconut milk-based sweet pudding) bread stuffed with bananas and peanut butter. A lighter option? Best: The açai bowl of berries, banana, granola and local honey. Wake up bright-eyed to Mauka Maile’s aromatic 100% Kona press pot coffee. Dinnertime delivers the signature Instagram-notable seafood platter brimming with ceviche, crab legs, shrimps and oysters. Savor the Maui onion soup and Hawaiian snapper lau lau. Got a sweet tooth? Opt for macadamia nut nougatine or lemongrass crème Catalana with coconut glacé.

A more casual choice is the Makahiki buffet for breakfast and dinner. Its sumptuous all-you-can-eat directive satisfies ample appetites. Again, the decor, paintings and glass art pay tribute to Hawaiian artistry. At the entrance, James Rumford sketched designs and wrote texts for Butch Helemano's wood carvings—a collaboration that unveils Makahiki's backstory as a season of harvest: peace, play and renewal. An inside wall is entirely covered in coconut shells. As day ticks toward evening, the restaurant's mood lighting transforms colors from rose to indigo. Dine indoor or outdoor under umbrella-covered tables near greenery—a particularly bustling arena during the Aunty’s Breakfast Celebration, which features Disney characters who visit each occupied table to hug-hug-hug and pose for photos. There is also often character dancing, prancing, banging pots and making music. The breakfast buffet has a Keiki (kids) Corner that serves Mickey-shaped waffles. Undoubtedly, you will see, ahem, 6-foot-tall "children" piling those waffles on their plates with glee. That's what vacations are for, so good for them. At dinner, the Makahiki buffet expands its culinary repertoire, drawing from a melting pot of cultures. Crowd-pleasers are lomi lomi salmon, seafood paella, chicken wrapped in seaweed and roast duck with plum sauce. To elate its Chinese and Japanese guests, the buffet stocks a wide array of Asian fare, including dim sum, miso soup, pickled vegetables, sashimi, satays, soba noodles and sushi.

Another classic Hawaiian treat is shaved ice. At Aulani's Pāpālua Shave Ice kiosk, order a dish of fluffy snow-like-textured ice, flavored with syrup, such as guava, lilikoi (passion fruit) and li hing mui (sour plum), then top with a "snow cap" of sweetened condensed milk and vanilla ice cream.

Zip to the Ulu Cafe, which offers fast-grab sandwiches, salads and pastries. Zero in on its fresh papaya and golden pineapple. Or dawdle-dine longer at Off the Hook, a food nook that is meant to remind you of a fisherman’s seaside shack—adorned with makau(fish hooks), cowrie-shell lures, shark-tooth knives and fish-shaped carved stones. Its bar, though, is appreciatively more sophisticated at night with cocktails and finger foods, such as kalbi (Korean for ribs) tacos with kimchi aioli. Its bartenders know their stuff—mixing and muddling, stirring and shaking. Cheer with a Pineapple Papaya Cosmo or Wild Hibiscus Royale Sparkling wine cocktail. The draft beer, too, is Hawaiian made: Big Wave Golden Ale, Fire Rock Pale Ale and Longboard Island Lager from Kona Brewing Company.

Relish the hula, a Polynesian dance distinguished by rhythmic movement of the hips and story-telling hand gestures—often accompanied by chants, songs or drumming. At Aulani, its Ka Wa'a Luau unfolds on the Hālāwai Lawn with pre-show diversions: guests learn how to kapa print, arrange floral wristlets and pound paʻi ai taro root. A grand buffet dinner follows, featuring roast suckling pig and prime rib, local seafood, steamed bao buns, poke, banana bread pudding and desserts. But the evening highlight is an extravagant luau stage performance that presents a Disney-originated story that explains ancestors’ journeys to Hawaii.

The award-winning, world-class spa manages 15 treatment rooms, offering lilinoe (fine rain) pampering, herbal body wraps, massage therapies, vitality baths and facials. Its signature lomilomi massage uses gentle strokes. Therapists also encourage guests to make a wish and cast a stone into the wishing pond. Rainbows are incorporated into the spa design, affirming the spiritual and cultural importance of rainbows to Hawaiians. This is the first Disney spa designed completely by its in-house Imagineers. (Spas at Disney World, Disneyland and Disney cruise ships have been planned by third-party designers.) Its 24-hour, 2,000-foot fitness center harnesses cardiovascular and strength training equipment, a Kinesis machine, free weights, a stretching area and aquatic exercise classes, meditation, spinning, tai chi and yoga. In addition, a full-service hair-and-nail salon beautifies.

The daily, complimentary childcare program has its own lively, comfortable 5,200-square-foot indoor and outdoor area, called Aunty’s Beach House, where kids ages 3 to 12 are supervised and exposed to the culture, art and music of Hawaii through interactive play. There are pool parties, trivia contests, sand sculpting and Disney movies. During evenings, a ukulele-playing storyteller entertains around a fire pit. Teens have their own retreat with lounge, computer stations and scheduled activities.

Alight upon the Menehune Adventure Trail, a high-tech, interactive game, utilizing a tablet-like device, that encourages participating guests of all ages to search the resort in order to solve riddles, unearth surprises and discover concealed Menehune—legendary little characters of Hawaii (photo above). There are more than 300 Menehune to find.

Throughout Aulani, Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, Chip, Dale, Stitch, Moana and their friends greet guests, sign autographs and are available for photo-ops.

The ‘Ōlelo Room boosts socializing and learning the Hawaiian language. ‘Ōlelo means word. This delightful lounge, run by fluent Hawaiian-speaking staff, teaches basic words and phrases. Enjoy its painting classes, ukulele lessons and refreshments: sashimi, ahi poke, macadamia nut cheesecake with guava, tropical cocktails, Hawaiian beers, lemonade and iced tea.

The Luana Lounge is a complimentary bonus for travelers whose flights arrive too early to the resort or depart too late in the day to access their guest rooms. Coming and going is thus smoother with changing rooms, showers, a bathing suit water extractor, lockers, seating, TVs, a monitor listing flights at Honolulu International Airport, a computer and printer to obtain boarding passes.

To discover Oahu beyond Aulani, a lobby excursions desk books guided packages to Honolulu, Pearl Harbor and more. Or easily rent a car (Alamo is directly on-site) to sightsee at your own pace. To travel the world on unique, deluxe, group-guided trips—37 getaways on six continents, consider Adventures by Disney.

For more Hawaii-wide ideas and inspiration, hula your way here.


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