So this is how Disney would do Hawaii.
Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, is like every idea you may have had about a resort designed by Disney’s imagineers, the people who know how to create entire fantasy lands.
At Aulani, located on the west shore of Oahu, there’s a conscious effort to focus on Hawaii first and Disney second. The result is a place where Hawaiian culture is showcased at every turn: an all-Hawaiian staff, a culture-based variety show on the lawn, art and decor inspired by the islands and a laid-back, welcoming energy.
Of course, Disney touches—and attention to detail—are everywhere, from the amenities to the activities (many of which are included with your stay). My daughter was thrilled with the idea of searching the resort for the mythical Menehune creatures, of which there are hundreds hidden about the property (kind of like the hidden Mickeys at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World). Our goal was to count 55 of them, but we spotted well over 100 of the gnome-like statues hidden everywhere from the corners of elevators to the greenery along the pathways.
The other big hit was a tablet-based scavenger hunt that takes guests throughout the resort and rewards them with Disney-level touches—like the volcanic cave that glows red with lava and rumbles to life when you step inside, or the drum set that starts playing itself when you have solved the clue. My child could have done the scavenger hunt all day. (Wait; she did, and started again another day.)
Want something a little more active? Head to the Rainbow Reef for some snorkelling. Thanks to the Disney imagineers, guests at Aulani can enjoy a large, rocky reef pool, complete with abundant, tropical fish (watch for more Menehune statues hidden among the rocks on the bottom). Then there are the waterslides, the lazy river, the infinity pool and the private beach.
The Laniwai Spa is nothing short of spectacular, and even offers family treatments (my daughter was thrilled to get a hot-stone massage alongside me in a family treatment room). Older kids (13 to 17) have the amazing Painted Sky Teen Spa, with full spa services as well as teen activities.
This is a resort geared to families. The kids’ club—appropriately called Aunty’s Beach House and staffed with a friendly, ukulele-playing Hawaiian “Aunty” character—is a welcoming place for kids, and the price is included in your stay.
So, how do you explain to the kids that there aren’t rides at this Disney resort? The answer is, you won’t need to. You’re in Hawaii—Disney style.
This story was originally published in December 2014 and was updated January 16, 2018.
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