Photo Essay: Exploring Disney’s Aulani Resort


After years of planning and anticipation, Disney’s new Aulani Resort welcomed its first guests in August 2011. Walking around the grounds for the first time, I was struck by the grand scale of everything. For an Oahu resort, Aulani is large, sitting on 21 acres right on the beach at Ko Olina on the west side of the island.

I think that, overall, Disney has succeeded in bringing Hawaiian culture, heritage, language, and history to a new audience in a way that only Disney Imagineers could. Here’s a sneak peek of what you can expect from Aulani.

Disney's Aulani Resort & Spa is now bringing a touch of Disney magic to the islands, while honoring the traditions and culture of Hawaii. Great for keiki of all ages.

When you enter the lobby of Aulani, look up so you don't miss the traditional kapa bark cloths made by local artisans or the 200 ft long mural by artist Martin Charlot.

Lounge areas as well as the Kalepa store line the hallways leading off from the lobby.

The grounds are laid out to resemble a traditonal Hawaiian ahapuaa, a slice of land from the mountains to the ocean. This is the lush central area.

The main feature running through the center of the property is the Waikolohe Valley, whose name means "mischevious waters." Guests will be able to enjoy tube slides as well as a 900 ft lazy river which twists along the grounds.

Guests will also enjoy the calm Ko Olina lagoon located right in front of the property, great for swimming and water activities.

The resorts fine dining restaurant, 'Ama 'Ama, features indoor and outdoor seating (perfect for sunset) and ingredients sourced locally.

Makahiki restaurant features a beautiful mural by Al Lagunero and a light sculpture overhead. Buffet style meals are offered daily, as well as Disney character dining on select days.

One of my personal favorite spots at Aulani is the 'Olelo Room, one of the resorts bar and lounge areas. "'Olelo" means word in Hawaiian, and here the bartenders and staff speak it fluently! Shadow boxes above the bar feature words and their meanings, and flash cards are also available to help you learn a few new phrases. Tropical cocktails, local beers on tap, as well as a nice pupu menu invite guests to stay awhile.

Nonalcoholic drinks, like this pineapple ginger smash, are just as delicious and refreshing. Waialua sodas arealso on the menu.

Aunty's Beach House kids club offers drop in day programs for kids ages 3-12. Teen activities (as well as a teen spa!) are available, as well as excursion adventures for the whole family, like horseback riding, surfing, kayaking, and a catamaran cruise.

Kids will also enjoy spotting "menehune" hidden throughout the resort, many placed at eye level for keiki to find.

As you continue to walk around the grounds, you may run into other familiar faces...

...like Stitch!

With a location on the west shore of Oahu, Aulani is the perfect place to watch a Hawaiian sunset. Even Mickey and Minnie will agree...

Book Your Stay at Aulani

To book a stay at Aulani, use the widget below to search your preferred dates and enter “Ko Olina” or “Honolulu” for your destination. The next page will pop up your choice of booking sites – Expedia or Orbitz both worked for me – so that you can compare prices.

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Aulani is located in the Ko Olina resort area on the west side of Oahu, approximately 17 miles from the Honolulu Airport (HNL). You will also want to look into renting a car or booking a vacation package that includes car rental, as Ko Olina is a bit of a drive from the rest of the island. (If you’d prefer to stay in Waikiki, check out our list of Best Waikiki Hotels for Families.)

Tip: If you’re only interested in visiting the restaurants, spa, and grounds of Aulani, there are other properties in the Ko Olina development (Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club or the JW Ihilani Marriott) so you may also opt to stay there if the rates are significantly cheaper. Keep in mind that the pool area is for Aulani guests only, so you will miss out on the lazy river and other amenities.