Guide to Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
Almost 10 million tourists travel to Hawaii each year. Wouldn’t you like to be one of them? As a member of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), you have the ability to do that! You can use your annual points on a trip to one of the most popular resorts among the Hawaiian Islands. Here’s a guide to Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa.
A Brief History of The Disney Aulani Resort
The history of Aulani takes Disney back to the genesis of DVC. When corporate executives envisioned the program, they planned to construct Disney resorts at major tourist designations around the world. After Disney’s Vero Beach Resort and Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort opened, the company moved away from this strategy. They learned that their customers wanted to stay close to theme parks for the most part.
In October of 2007, DVC returned to its roots with the announcement of a forthcoming project in Hawaii. Disney selected the island of Oahu as the home for this 21-acre oceanfront campus. Oahu is also home to the capital of Hawaii, Honolulu. That city is on the south side of the island. Disney planned their new facility to take advantage of the popularity of this location, and so they purchased land on the west side of Oahu near Ko Olina Resort & Marina.
Disney planned to build 350 hotel rooms and 480 DVC villas, thereby defining the focus of the project. More than anything, Aulani is a DVC property, even though the final split was a bit closer. The hotel currently hosts 359 hotel rooms and 460 villas. Disney broke ground on the facility in 2008, began sales in 2010, and opened the resort in August of 2011.
The Style of Aulani
You may picture an exotic island getaway when you think of Aulani, and you’re not wrong. The relaxing ambiance at this hotel is readily apparent from any pictures that you see. Imagineers constructed the property with an eye toward the views. Many of the rooms overlook the island, the pool, or the oceans, thereby reminding guests that they’re vacationing in paradise.
This resort isn’t shamelessly touristy like so many places in Hawaii, though. Famed Imagineer Joe Rohde is proud to point out that he grew up in Waikiki. Once he became a creative lead on the Aulani project, he emphasized an authentic style rather than one that catered to visitor stereotypes. Disney built an advisory board of Hawaiian experts to ensure that the resort isn’t a cynical interpretation of the culture a la that Vincent Price episode of The Brady Bunch (google it, kids!).
Every element of Aulani is organic and respectful. Even the names of the buildings and stores have names that ably reflect the heritage of the Hawaiian Islands. For example, the Hawaiian word for Miki has several meanings such as spry, alert, and energetic. Not coincidentally, the gym at Aulani is named MikiMiki Fitness Center, a place where you’ll need all the energy you can get. When you visit Aulani, you should get in the habit of asking cast members to explain the meaning behind various names. The practice will enhance your understanding of the culture while you visit.
Even by Disney standards, Aulani is luxurious and environmentally friendly. Its list of awards is comically long, although the most recent one at time of publication is the most important to people involved with the daily management of the resort. Aulani recently earned the Hawaii Tourism Board’s highest honor, the Tourism Legacy Award. When you explore the grounds, you’ll appreciate the meticulous detail shown in sculpting the vegetation while highlighting the natural beauty of Oahu. It’s a breathtaking campus that will leave you in awe as you walk the grounds.
The DVC Aspects of Aulani
The Point Chart for Aulani has something for everyone. Disney wants guests to live out their fantasy of a dream vacation in Hawaii. They’ve built a versatile chart so that most DVC members can live out this dream.
You can spend a week in Aulani for as little as 119 points. Before we explore the details, let me point out a couple of quirks of the Aulani Point Chart. First of all, there’s no difference between a weekday and weekend night at this DVC resort. Hawaii is Hawaii to Disney, and the company understands that people are more likely to spend an extended time here than most hotels in the DVC program. So, they keep the Point Chart simple.
The other caveat is that the DVC seasons at Hawaii are different from the ones you’re most familiar with. All of Walt Disney World’s DVC sites share the same dates for each of the five seasons. At Aulani, there are only four seasons, and the dates are…well, take a look for yourself. The Point Chart here is based on Hawaiian tourist behavior, making it unique among DVC properties.
While planning your vacation, I strongly suggest that you study the chart. You may discover that you can save quite a few points by visiting during a different week or month than you’d originally intended. As an example, the rates June 1st through June 23rd are 133 points to start. On June 24th, they increase to 168 points as the baseline. By picking the wrong day for your vacation, you would increase your points cost by 26 percent. You can easily avoid this pitfall by doing a bit of research.
The villas at Aulani fall into one of four categories. The resort offers Standard View (i.e. parking lot), Island Gardens View, Poolside Gardens View, and Ocean View. You’ll pay more in terms of DVC points for a better view. During three of the four seasons, the best view is seven points more per night than the worst one. It’s eight points more during Adventure Season, the cheapest of Aulani’s DVC seasons.
The studio villas here are 356 square feet. Aulani also releases some basic hotel rooms to DVC members. Oddly, these rooms are a bit larger at 382 square feet. They come with two queen beds, whereas the villas are one queen bed and one pullout sleeper sofa. Both room types sleep four guests, and this aspect is important since Aulani receives larger travel groups than many DVC resorts.
When you bring a huge travel party to Aulani, you’ll have an option of three different suites. The one-bedroom is a modest 756 square feet, which is just okay by DVC standards. This room type only sleeps five, and so you might prefer the two-bedroom instead.
This larger suite is 1,125 square feet and sleeps nine. You may wonder how this is possible, and the short answer is that beds are everywhere. It has a king bed, two queen beds, a queen sleeper sofa, and a sleeper chair that you should save for your relative that you like the least.
The ultimate at Aulani is the three-bedroom grand villa. This monolith of a hotel suite is 2,174 square feet in size and sleeps 12. It functions as a wonderful home base for a large traveling party, as you can see in this video of the Aulani grand villa. The only downside of the Grand Villa room type is the cost. A week’s stay here starts at 672 points. When you want to max out your Hawaiian vacation, however, it’s the fantasy of an exotic island getaway brought to life.
I’ll mention two other important oddities about Aulani that DVC members should know. First of all, Disney originally miscalculated the maintenance fees for this property. The earliest owners here pay less. Currently, the difference is $1.88 per point for purchases before July 6th, 2011. So, you’ll see two different maintenance fees listed for this property.
Also, Hawaii charges a hotel tax for all tourists. It’s an inescapable nightly fee when you visit the islands. For most rooms, it’s only a few dollars per night, but the Ocean View Rooms and suites are a bit more. You can and should look at this tax chart to calculate how much you’ll pay in taxes for your DVC trip.
Aulani is a bit different than standard DVC resorts in that it’s selling an entire experience. The hotel is less than an hour away from many of the major tourist attractions on Oahu, including all of the marvelous activities in Honolulu. Most importantly, the resort is about 35 minutes away from the Pearl Harbor memorial and active military base. During your first trip to Aulani, the presumption is that you will spend part of one of your days visiting this amazing facility.
Discussing the food at Aulani is important, but the above once again applies. The entirety of the island is an option for your dining needs. Oahu is a culinary hotbed, and you shouldn’t feel locked into eating on the Disney campus. Should you choose to go that route, however, you’ll have plenty of tasty options.
Aulani features nine different restaurants on site. They have two lounges that serve food plus four Quick Service eateries. Yes, Disney uses the same terminology for the restaurants here as at Walt Disney World. The counter service offerings are Little ‘Opihi’s, Mama’s Snack Stop, Off the Hook, and Ulu Café. Whether you’re in the mood for fish and chips, a salad or sandwich, or fresh poke bowls, you’ll find it here.
The first two places are literal counter service in that you’ll grab and go since there’s no seating. The other two offer lounge seating. The seating and philosophy is the same at all four places. It’s a relaxing environment with an outdoor pool atmosphere. Off the Hook is a perfect example, as its sitting area combines an ocean view with the serenity of sitting under palm trees.
The two upscale restaurants onsite are Makahiki and ‘Ama‘Ama. The former name reflects a traditional Hawaiian celebration, and the cuisine is fittingly a buffet of local island flavors. It’s also home to a Disney character breakfast and the Menehune Mischief character dinner. The latter is a musical akin to a shorter version of Spirit of Aloha at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Suffice to say that your kids will love Makahiki the best. I actually know someone who ate here four times in five days. To a foodie, that’s insane, but to a proud Disney parent, it’s Mother/Father of the Year material.
‘Ama’Ama is a Signature Dining experience that will satisfy all of your cravings for Hawaiian fusion flavors. TripAdvisor ranks it as one of the ten best restaurants on the island, which tells you everything that you need to know. Like all of the restaurants onsite, it prioritizes sustainable fish, but it’s a great place to get a steak, too. Think Kona Café, only more refined.
Also, there are tons of pools on site, including one with a massive lazy river. This dovetails into another lovely aspect of Aulani. Disney knows that parents might want some alone time while traveling with their children. The hotel offers children’s activities at Aunty’s Beach House, but let’s call it what it is: a glorified babysitting service. While your kids are with Aunty, you can luxuriate at the adults-only pool onsite. Alternately, you and your children can hang out at Ka Maka Grotto, which is home to one of the most beautiful infinity edges on the planet.
Let’s be realistic here. When you visit Aulani, you’re going to do four things: you’ll eat, you’ll swim, you’ll relax, and you’ll shop. Disney’s built the resort campus under the theory that they can satisfy all of these needs through their tremendous amenities. You’ll be happy every second you stay here.
Resort Pros and Cons
I’m not trying to cheat on the resort pros and cons, but let’s be honest here. It’s a gorgeous resort that checks off every box in your exotic island getaway fantasy. Relative to its Point Chart, it’s also reasonable. A week’s stay here at certain times of the year is roughly the same as a week’s stay at Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort during Dream Season.
Disney gives you the flexibility to save on points by getting a worse view or max out by picking the lush Ocean View instead. You can turn this trip into whatever you want it to be, whether you prefer an intimate romantic getaway with that special someone or a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation in Hawaii. The only real con I can list is that vacation tax, and if $10-$20 a night extra is a deal-breaker for you, I have really bad news about the prices on food and merchandise in Oahu.
Seriously, the entire Aulani discussion boils down to one simple question. Do you want to go to Hawaii? Assuming that the answer is yes (it has to be, right?), DVC has you covered with this award-winning resort.