Hi All or should I say ALOOOOOOOOHA! March 17 to 24th was a magical week for us in a truly magical place. My hubby and I were invited to join our dear friendmly on their first visit to their DVC home Aulani. Not only was this our first opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of a DVC resort it was also our very first time in Hawaii. Getting to experience both of these wonderful things with these wonderful people just made it even more special. Our last Disney trip was last July when we did the Alaska cruise on the Wonder with the same cast. And without further ado they are... My DH Mel, my childhood DBFF B (Disney4BB), her DH K, their kids (her DS C. 14, and her DD S. turning 17), and her in-laws (and my surrogate parents and the DVC benefactors for the entire group , DMIL S. and her hubby DFIL L., oh, and me, Tisza aka Meskamooska here on DISBoards. When I found out we were going to be going to Hawaii (Oh my gosh HAWAII!) and we would be staying at the Aulani (pinch me I’m dreaming ... me... ME! Living large at the newest jewel in the DVC crown. How cool is that?) I put in some serious quality time here on the DIS reading everything I could find on Aulani. I read every trip report, every discussion thread and pretty much every mention I could find. I also decided that I would contribute to the conversation for folks like me, who were looking for help preparing and planning for their stay. Be forewarned, this will be an exhaustive report. I am going to try to share not only what I learned and where I learned it but also what we did and where we did it. So, properly warned ye be and here goes... First I went looking on the good old internet for info on the resort and on Oahu in general. Along with the usual sources, Trip Advisor, MouseSavers and of course the best of all resources DISBoards, I also went shopping on the Apple App store (I admit it I am an App addict I have over 600 on my iPad) and I found some that I think are gems. Now if you are not an Apple aficionado this is your chance to get a drink of water, use the facilities or talk amongst yourselves for a bit The Apps I found most useful were: Oahu Gold which is a digital version of the shopping guide available at the airport and pretty much everywhere else. Why is this useful you ask? Because it gave me a chance to actually read the thing well before I set foot on the island. I found great coupons for discounts at the Dole Plantation (a buy one get one free admission for the maze), three different freebies with purchase at the Pearl Harbor gift shops and a coupon for a free ride in the flight simulator at the Pacific Aviation Museum, a free gift from Germaine’s Luau (the Luau that is offered through the resort) and many more. Hawaii Drive Guides. This gives you some great info about things to do, interesting articles about Hawaiian culture, customs and lore and driving maps on how to get around the area. Pretty cool. City Guides by Trip Advisor. This one will give you real people reviews about everything from restaurants to tourist attractions. The best part is that it is location specific so the information is not just about the general area but about the specific place you are at the time. When we used this app it gave us info about a specific restaurant that was in the parking lot we were standing in at the time. The restaurant was called Grylt 2764 Woodlawn Drive, Honolulu, Oahu, HI and it was awesome! More about Grylt later... MapQuest. This one is not a Hawaii specific app and that is a really good thing. You will want to have some sort of GPS if you choose to drive yourself about and this one works really well, has turn-by-turn audio directions, reroutes on the fly, is easy to use, and will automatically create the most efficient route if you are planning to go more than one place during your drive. Oh, and did I mention that it was free? Incidentally, all the above apps are free, which is a good thing because there isn’t much else in Hawaii that is free Now, enough about apps, a search on the App store (or in the Android Marketplace) will turn up more than you can shake a stick (or swivel a grass skirt) at. OK for those of you who took a little break... we’re back! We (the DH and me) were going to be flying out of LAX at the crack of dawn and I was going to be parking our car at LAX Parking Center (info@LAXParkingCenter.com) which was the cheapest, closest covered lot near LAX. My weeks parking was $56 and that includes a shuttle to and from the airport which operates 24/7. I was also dropping part of our party off at the Ontario airport before the crack of the crack of dawn and since I was extremely excited about our trip I didn’t get much sleep the night before (Read that one whopping hour!) But we were going to AULANI and, hey, I can sleep on the plane, right? Incidentally, it would have been a good idea if I had slept on the plane but I was too excited to even try. Ahh, well... cest la vie! One of the first rather unexpected (and not really awesome) things was about to happen as I dropped off S & L (the DMIL & DFIL) at the airport. It turned out that they weren’t both heading straight to the Aloha State. His 90+ year old father had suddenly been hospitalized and at that point wasn’t doing well. So, he was going to Oregon, hoping to join her later in the week, and she was going on to Aulani as planned. Oh and did I mention that the day dawned cold, grey and wet, wet, wet. It was a perfect day to be leaving for Hawaii but I wasn’t enjoying driving in the downpour. Anyhoo, we got to the airport with time to spare, got on our flight right on schedule, wound up sitting on the tarmac for almost an hour but still managed to land in Honolulu right on time. Gotta love a good pilot! When we arrived in Honolulu the weather was perfect but being a Native Southern California girl the humidity was a bit of a surprise. Fortunately, the only two times I was really aware of the humidity were when we arrived at the airport, and when we departed from the airport. Otherwise the weather was great. Not too hot, not too cold (80’s day/70’s night) and with lovely tropical breezes just where and when you’ed want them. My DBFF and her hubby had rented an 8 passenger SUV (a Toyota Sienna which was perfect and relatively fuel efficient) so we could all ride together. Since the resort doesn’t have its own transportation... yet... because I am sure they will sometime soon, renting the SUV was the best and cheapest way to go. Upon arriving at the resort we were greeted with our lei’s and our refreshing fruited water (I loved the hidden Mickeys floating in the dispenser, pretty ding dang cool if you ask me . We were given a brief tour and overview of the amenities of the resort and then they asked if we would like to be called or texted when our rooms were ready. We had arrived at around 12:30 and were told that our rooms wouldn’t be ready until four so we had some time to kill. We elected to be texted and then headed down to One Paddle Two Paddle to get a bit of lunch. A word about the food, pretty much every review/trip report or anything else I have seen about the resort mentioned the food and most were not complimentary. So, with that in mind I was not really excited about sinking my teeth into a rather pricey offering. However, I decided to keep an open mind and give it the benefit of the doubt. I chose the fish tacos and my DH went with the burger. The tacos were pretty good, and as a SoCal girl I think I know from tacos. The burger was nothing special but the sweet potato fries were amazing! Some of the best I’ve ever had. By the way, they aren’t on the menu as a stand alone side but they are available that way and I highly recommend them! They make a great aprés pool snack and the serving is large enough to share. Oh, and the first things I bought were two refillable mugs from the store (which by the way is the only refill station of the three where you can get hot drinks, but they are open from 7 AM to 11 PM and are very centrally located so that works just fine) which were truly a bargain. My hubby raved about the fresh ground Kona coffee and I was very pleased with the readily available assortment of teas and cocoa along with soda. I was also pleasantly surprised by the quality of the mug. It rivals those that I have from Starbucks and it looks good too! After lunch some of our group decided to stay at the resort and my DH, my BFF’s DH K. and I set off to Target and Costco to get some supplies. Since my DH and I were staying in a studio and the rest of group was in a two bedroom suite we were planning to make liberal use of the full kitchen. We found that Target had some of the things we were looking for (including a boxed Target branded Malbec which was very well reviewed and according to my DH and the rest of the group tasted great) but the fresh fruit and veggies section left a lot to be desired. The Safeway which is just a little ways up the road, is a better stocked choice and if you can get to one you can get to the other. Also, you can use your Safeway or Von's Club card to help shop more economically there as well. Costco (which truly does have the best prices, according to the locals, on the island for gasoline and milk which you can buy 1-gallon at a time) was a great place to get most of the items we could buy in bulk and cost wise it wasn’t that much different from what I am used to paying here on the mainland. Costco is also the best and cheapest place to buy chocolate covered macadamia nuts (they even have some that are Disney themed 20 boxes for $40 and they are neatly packaged in a nice carrying case) and, at the time of this writing, Cooke Street Hawaiian shirts ($19.99 and a steal compared to what you will find elsewhere). Oh and while you are at good old Costco, be sure to get yourself a gallon of POG (Passion Fruit, Orange and Guava juice that you will pine for when you leave), a fresh pineapple (intoxicatingly tasty and again a really good deal $2.39 at Costco $6.99 at the Dole Plantation) and then mosey over to the fresh Poke (pronounced Po-kay) bar and get yourself some of this Hawaiian specialty. If you are a sushi person this stuff is food for the gods and if you aren’t a sushi person do yourself a favor and give this a try (they will give you a sample) anyway as it may convert you. It is not “fishy” at all, just flavorful and good. This is another item that I really miss already and I am currently petitioning my local Costco to see if I can get these items here. And... Speaking of sushi... They have some beautiful sushi and sashimi platters (around $20 for a party sized platter) which look good and taste even better. This is also a good place to get beach and swimming supplies from swimsuits and good quality adult and child sized swim fin and snorkel sets to goggles, sunscreen and boogie boards. But enough about their inventory, back to the story... After grabbing our some of groceries for the week (we would head to Safeway the next day to finish stocking our larder) we headed back to Aulani. By this time I was getting a little punchy from the excitement and severe lack of sleep. The DH and I dutifully refilled our mugs with something caffeinated (his Kona coffee, and mine Barqs Root beer the only caffeinated root beer on the market) although in my case that didn’t help much, and headed up to the rooms. Based upon the smell that was wafting down the hall we are pretty sure that our group was the first one using the oven. Which reminds me, the kitchen was nicely equipped (and this is coming from someone with a neigh on professionally equipped kitchen at home) there were even some Tupperware like containers to store leftovers in. The things we didn’t find were: Aluminum Foil, Ziploc Baggies, a vegetable peeler, ice cream scoop or plastic wrap. So you might want to grab those items at the grocery or 99 Cent store if you need them. I brought an ice cream scoop from home. I also brought a travel spice rack, the idea for which I got from someone’s thread here on the DIS I think but the directions for making your own bear repeating: Get yourself one of those large multi-compartment pill boxes. (I cleaned off the printing on the top with nail polish remover.) Fill each section with the spice of your choosing (mine held Kosher salt, Fresh Cracked Pepper, Seasoned Salt, Garlic Powder, Lemon Pepper, Blackening Spices and Dried Onion) then label the lids to match their contents and pop the whole thing in a ziploc bag for travel and you are all set for nummy meals to come! I can tell you that I won’t be traveling without this handy item anywhere in the future. My BFF’s DH got the text that their room was ready while we were still shopping but we didn’t get a text to tell us our room was ready at all. When we got to the resort I called down to the front desk and they told me our room assignment. A call to the bell desk had our luggage delivered in relatively short order (about 15 minutes from the time we called). After a dinner of amazing New York Steaks everyone settled in to watch a dvd from the teen club. I made it about 15 minutes into Finding Nemo when the day finally caught up to me (they found him, right?) and I staggered down the hall and collapsed in a heap on the bed.