Big Update 5/13 - Maui Christmas - a TR of Our Return to Aulani and First Visit to Maui

pepperandchips

[melinda]
Joined
Mar 16, 2014
Aloha! I'm Melinda. I mainly hang out in the Disney Dining Threads, but I tried my hand at an Aulani trip report over here: Dreams Come True in Blue Hawaii, where I did manage to recap our time in Hawaii before totally dropping the ball on the Disneyland portion. Hopefully that won't happen here, and I've actually already written up all the parts about Aulani. So here we go again, I hope you enjoy the report and that it's helpful for planning! Please don't be shy if you have questions :wave2:




A little about me... I got engaged in Hawaii in 2017 on a truly magical and amazing Hawaiian vacation (see link for TR above), and we got married in May 2018. When it became apparent that a trip to Italy over the Christmas and New Year holidays was not reasonable for this year, we decided to return to Hawaii. We weren't sure when planning whether to call this our honeymoon - and for a number of longwinded reasons that I'll spare you from, I am still waiting to call that future Italy trip our real honeymoon, but that was the background when planning this trip. We were also trying to be budget conscious while still planning a trip that we would really enjoy over what is arguably the most expensive travel dates of the year. :earseek: I'm really happy, overall, with what we got for our money on this trip and wanted to follow up with some reviews and recommendations in case anyone else is planning to visit Aulani during a peak season or would like recommendations for Maui.



Flights/Travel at Christmas

We are fortunate to fly in and out of Atlanta, where we can get a Delta direct flight to nearly anywhere in the world on any given day. Only problem... the long direct flights to Honolulu were astronomically expensive for the time period we could travel, while schools were out over Christmas break. We had a few thousand Delta skymiles socked away and had a great experience on Hawaiian airlines last time we visited Hawaii, so we decided to split our travel between Delta and Hawaiian Airlines and break up the long flight from the east coast while hopefully saving some money on airfare as well. I don't remember exactly, but I believe when I priced the Delta direct flight between Atlanta and Honolulu, it was about $2000+ each... in economy. :scared1: Yeah, definitely not happening. All told, we ended up spending a little shy of $1500 per person for our flights, but in addition to our roundtrip fare from Atlanta to Honolulu, that also included interisland airfare to get us between Oahu and Maui mid-trip, and as an added bonus, the legs getting to and from Honolulu from the mainland were in Hawaiian's extra comfort seats. We connected through San Francisco, with an overnight stop that basically allowed us enough time to take a long nap in an airport hotel. If anyone cares, we paid about $100 inclusive of tax for a night at the SFO hotel Aloft, which was fine and comfortable but we weren't there long. Maybe 5 hours total.

Our flight from San Francisco to Honolulu departed from San Francisco's international terminal (go figure :scratchin). The best thing I can say about this airport and this terminal is that it had a location of the famous Boudin Bakery, open early and serving up hot coffee and delicious pastries.

We split a good muffin and a fantastic almond croissant along with a couple of steaming cups of sweet, sweet caffeine. :coffee:



Extra comfort also gets you priority boarding on Hawaiian flights so we were able to board quickly and find space in the overhead bins for our bags. The flights and travel section is as good a place as any to explain part of my travel prep that made my family and some TSA agents think we were insane... but this is also verging on food budget territory as well... we packed basically all our stuff (clothes, toiletries, etc) in carry on bags only.

We checked one bag between the two of us from Atlanta to Honolulu to Maui, and that suitcase solely contained sunscreen and food. As a bit of explanation, I was dismayed to find upon my return from our last Hawaii trip that our food budget had been totally blown, in no small part thanks to several very expensive grocery stops. So this time I spent $40 on checked luggage fees to bring along an older suitcase we didn't mind parting with and ditching in Hawaii. I packed anything we planned to cook that was dry goods as well as several meals that we'd prepared in advance and anything we could freeze - tamales, lasagna, meatballs and gravy, frozen meat, frozen hot dogs, and so on. If you are thinking of this, it worked great. I packed the frozen and refrigerated items in an insulated grocery tote inside of the suitcase. The frozen stuff stayed frozen clear through til we arrived at Aulani, except for some frozen garlic bread, but who cares if that defrosts? Not us.



Here's a look at the extra legroom you get in extra comfort on Hawaiian:



We were really pleased with these seats. Hawaiian seems to charge a standard $80 for the upgrade between economy and extra comfort per leg of mainland to Hawaii flights, and I've gotta say it was worth every penny for the extra room and being near the front of that massive Airbus jet. :thumbsup2 The one negative thing I will say about Hawaiian is that their inflight entertainment leaves a lot to be desired - there aren't a ton of free movies to choose from, like on Delta flights. Fortunately I'd read this online before we left, so I bought a headphone splitter and downloaded some stuff from Netflix to my iPad, so DH and I spent the majority of our roughly six hours of flight time watching episodes of the Great British Baking Show and napping. We also were provided pillows and blankets on the return redeye version of this flight, which I greatly appreciated.

Our flight scheduled ended up a little crazy:
12/23/18 depart Atlanta 9:19 pm Eastern, arrive SFO 2:53 am Eastern. Take nap at airport hotel.
12/24/18 depart SFO 11:35 am Eastern (8:35 am PST), arrive HNL 5:20 pm Eastern (12:20 pm local)

On the way back, things were just as crazy, with the exception that there was no stop for a nap at an airport hotel and we suffered about an hour flight delay on the tarmac in Honolulu. Overall, it was worth it to save the amount of money that we did, but we arrived at Aulani feeling a little rough.



There's our first look at Disney's Hawaiian paradise, from the air. :cloud9:

Accommodations - Aulani and Maalaea, Maui:
So before I get to the "good stuff" I want to finish with the background for anyone else who's planning. We are DVC so we waitlisted Aulani as soon as we started thinking that Hawaii was a real possibility for this trip. I submitted a couple different waitlists for both the front and tail ends of our trip. Essentially, for the equivalent of our flight prices there was no convenient way for us to get to or from Maui without requiring a stop in Honolulu on both ends, so either our first night or two or last night or two could reasonably allow us to visit Aulani again. I was dying to get back to Aulani and DH was basically along for whatever ride I planned. He's good like that. :love:

On August 4, I got a notification that Christmas night had matched, so I changed our end-of-trip waitlist to a single night on either side of Christmas, and on September 6 I got a notification that Christmas Eve had matched. We'd be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas night in an Ocean View Studio to the tune of 62 total points :scared: (yes, cue your whistle, cause I about died spending all those points).

On Maui, we knew we wanted to be close to a convenient beach (as in, an easy walk from our accomodations) and we wanted a full kitchen. Based on our experience in Kauai, we also knew we needed a rental with air conditioning. This led me to searching VRBO. With our budget, it looked like we could get a condo across the street from the beach in Kihei, a few blocks from the beach in Kapalua or Napili areas, or... I ultimately found a great deal on a basic one bedroom condo in Maalea, right on the ocean. Maalaea is a little town (village?) where the harbor is located that a lot of the tour boats depart from. I'll discuss the condo more if anyone is curious, but it was efficient, clean, and about 20 steps to a small beach where we could read our books and get easy drink refills. Maalaea ended up being super convenient for driving to the points of interest on Maui - sort of halfway between Lahaina and Wailea, it was quick to get back to Kahului and a 15-20 minute easy drive to all the restaurants in Kihei. I would definitely stay in the area again.

Ground transport/rental car
We find it super easy to drive around in Hawaii, so I wanted a rental car for both portions of our stay. However... traveling over Christmas meant that all my early searches for a rental car in Honolulu yielded no cars available... not kidding... and an $800+ rate on Maui for the week in an economy car. I made a reservation with Alamo and kept searching. Finally, about two weeks before our trip, I was able to bring the cost of the rental down under $400 for the week using Costco Travel. We got an intermediate through Alamo and while the price was still more than I really wanted to pay, it was about half the initial quotes I was seeing, so I'm happy with what we got.

Even after all the checking and repricing, I only ever saw one-way rental availability on Oahu and the one way vehicle was going to be a pickup truck that was over $100 per day. We decided to use Charley's Taxi for our Aulani airport transfers, since we really weren't intending to leave Aulani anyway, and it worked out just great. Neither driver tried to pull anything funny with the $55 flat rate (which was $57.59 after tax) and the rides were quick and painless, with no traffic either direction of travel. I still recommend a car for most folks if you have time to explore Oahu, but if you're doing something like we were, Charley's was great and I'd use them again.

Wow, are you still awake?!

Now, let's get to the fun....
 

pepperandchips

[melinda]
Joined
Mar 16, 2014
As I said, let's get this show on the road!

We were flying over Ko Olina at 11:56 Hawaiian time and we were in the lobby by 1:00 pm. Not bad, and one of the advantages of a private transfer via taxi. With 20% tip, our taxi rides were $69.11 each. The Hele Hele shuttle Disney recommends would have been $48 each way for us plus tax and tip, versus the $55 flat rate taxi, just in case anyone was wondering about transfers.



Upon arrival, we were greeted with leis and water and told our room wasn't quite ready yet, so we were given a pass to the Luana Lounge to change or freshen up. We decided to go check it out, but I've got to say, it was not at all what I was expecting. I'd been binging on Aulani podcasts prior to our travel and it seemed that overall people were reporting really favorably about Aulani's arrival/departure lounge.

When we went in there just after 1:00 pm on a Monday, Christmas Eve, it was pretty full. A bigger family had taken up one entire seating area (there are two seating areas set up like living rooms, sort of, on either side of a central wall that has a counter where you can pack or repack as needed) and their luggage was occupying a lot of real estate. They were playing cards and literally lounging. The women's changing room was also pretty busy with both showers occupied. I just changed into my bathing suit and shuffled around things in our luggage as quickly as possible to get us set up with a "day bag" for the beach and pool.

Soon, we were swimsuited and ready for fun! But first, we needed to find food, since our bodies thought it was dinner time as it would have been at home. We decided to head down and see if we could get in for lunch at Ama Ama. Along the way, we saw this cute display of the kakamora from Moana





While there was no huge tree like at some of the Walt Disney World resorts around Christmas time, Aulani had a number of small trees located in discreet corners and garland hung from the rafters in the lobby. It was a nice acknowledgement of the holidays without disrupting the beautiful Hawaiian ambiance at Aulani.

We checked in at the host stand and were seated immediately for lunch at Ama Ama.



To start, we each ordered a beer while we decided on entrees. I went with the Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale, " a copper-colored ale made from roasted malts and a selection of premium hops. With a Hawaiian style all its own, Fire Rock is smooth, yet bold in both flavor and aroma." I'd say that's fair - it was neither overly hoppy or bitter and was great for drinking at the beach or pool. ($9)



DH went with the Kona Castaway IPA, "bold, citrusy hops with a touch of mango and passionfruit balanced by rich caramel malts. Castaway IPA has a clean, crisp finish that’s as fresh as the wind in your face when you set sail for adventure," which he was disappointed to find served to him in a bottle. ($8)

It's hard to stay disappointed in anything though with the view from Ama Ama :cloud9:



Before long, lunch arrived. DH ordered the Hawaiian Fish Tacos, which are listed on the menu as a rotating sustainable catch. I can't remember that day's selection but they were delicious. ($22)



After hearing a positive review, I opted for the half pound angus chuck burger with fries ($20)



It was a really delicious burger, and the fries had a nice flavor - I am not sure what they are using to fry them but both the regular potato and sweet potato varieties were really quite good. My burger was cooked to a nice medium, as requested.



It was huge! I shared with DH and we managed to finish both entrees, but just barely. We had another round of beers for dessert, and settled the tab, which to our surprise included a 10% DVC discount on the food items. Our total was $75.18 before tip.





After lunch, we headed over and found a couple of seats at the adult pool. We had lots of choices and selected two loungers right by the edge of the pool.



We settled in and within about 30 minutes I got our room ready text. When it came through, I could hardly believe our luck. I had noted to the cast member with whom I made the room location request that we were so excited to be returning to Aulani after getting married since we had gotten engaged while staying at Aulani before, and I requested essentially the same room/view we had last time, and it's safe to say they honored that request. Room photos up next!
 

pepperandchips

[melinda]
Joined
Mar 16, 2014
The Room

I wasn't sure whether the keys they'd given us would automatically work for our room door or whether we needed to stop back at the desk and exchange them. We had been given "blank" keys, unlike on our last visit when our names and I think the dates of our stay had been printed on them. Now it seems silly, but I didn't want us to haul all of our belongings up to the room and find out the keys didn't work, so I went up alone to scope it out. My husband told me later he was afraid I'd never come back! haha

Deluxe Ocean View Studio 1610, half of a two bedroom lockoff:





Oh yes! I had asked for a Waianae tower room overlooking the Waikolohe Valley on as a high of a floor as possible. How about the top floor?! The view was unbelievable, I could not get over our luck.



















We called and had our things brought up to the room and then "freshened up" for dinner - which was to be a quick meal from across the street at Ko Olina Station. At this point our bodies felt like it was about 10:30 pm and my husband was not happy that I wanted to drag him down to the beach to take advantage of photopass.



I am glad that I did, because it turns out that the photopass benefit from my WDW annual pass does still allow Aulani photopass pictures to be connected, but it took much longer for them to show up in my account this time than it did in the past. Here's one of my favorites:



We didn't end up using Aulani photopass on the following night because the photopass photographers all had long lines and I guess I had exhausted my husband's patience on the first night :) The photopass photographers are mindful if you don't want to get your feet wet in the surf, but we did get our feet sandy and my DH wasn't happy about that since we'd be walking across the street to get dinner.



Speaking of which, by the time we made it across the street it had gotten dark and our bodies responded by going full jet lag tired/groggy/grumpy. I'd wanted to get some sparkling waters to have cocktail mixers as well as just for drinking, and we decided to pick up beer and find something for dinner that night all at the ABC Store (Island Market).



It seemed like we spent forever circling the ABC Store, but it was really less than an hour based on my photo time stamps. R decided to go with a tuna poke bowl:



While I went with a hot pastrami sandwich served with fries:



Both were good - the poke bowl was really good. I was so tired by the time we ate that I thought my sandwich was too salty, but I ate all the fries and half the sandwich and made a drink and sat on the balcony. How could you not?





Up from the Olelo room wafted strains of live Hawaiian versions of Christmas music. I can't describe the magic of hearing Mele Kalikimaka in Hawaii on the amazing balcony of a beautiful resort. Ah, this was zen! and by about 8:30 pm, we were melting in to sleep.
 
  • pepperandchips

    [melinda]
    Joined
    Mar 16, 2014
    Mele Kalikimaka!!!

    We woke up naturally the next morning - Christmas - around 6:00 (much better than the 3:00 or so I woke up the last time we visited Hawaii - so maybe the crazy day of travel worked out in our favor) and the sunrise from our balcony was absolutely gorgeous. We had to tear ourselves away to head down to Makahiki for our reservation for Christmas breakfast!!!





    I didn't realize that the photo you get with Mickey on the way in cannot be attached to your Aulani photopass (meaning it also could not be attached to my WDW annual pass photopass) but at least I handed off my phone to get some Mickey shots.



    I forgot to ask to be seated outside, so most of my pictures with the characters inside needed editing to remove shadows from our faces. So ask to be seated outside if you go!



    The breakfast itself was great, in my opinion. I think my husband liked it a bit less but different parts of the buffet appealed to each of us. Also apparently the omelette guy was grumpy and I think he rained on DH's parade. Speaking of parade - I was afraid the Aunty shenanigans would be annoying to us as two childless grinches, but they weren't. It was very pleasant.

    Anyway, back to food... My favorites from the buffet were the fried rice, Mickey waffles with coconut syrup, li hing mui pineapple, and loco moco. My husband liked the fried rice, the different sausages, the biscuits and gravy, and the pastry selections. Here are some photos:


    fruit selections on buffet, all very fresh, ripe and delicious

    Hot selections:







    loco moco!



    Famous banana dolphins



    Mid-plate-filling photo op



    PASTRIES


    Yes, those are red velvet Mickey waffles!
    (I preferred the regular from the kid buffet)



    My "sweet plate" - the pineapple with li hing mui powder was soooo good.



    My savory plate... TOTS!



    Husband's plate.

    Makahiki was $41 each, for a total after tax of $85.86. Our service was pretty poor - our server disappeared for a long time, leaving us with empty coffee cups for most of the meal, and she brought our bill long before we were ready (but I didn't feel rushed in any way by her). Overall, I really really enjoyed myself. This is probably the most "Disney Parks" feeling thing you can get at Aulani, and the character interaction was fairly good. Mickey was spectacular, Minnie was good, and Goofy was okay, but I never know what to do when meeting Goofy. Anyway, yes, I think it was worth it as we both really enjoyed ourselves and the food was delicious.

    After breakfast, we went up to the room to change for the pool or beach. We noticed that from the elevator bank windows you could see Diamond Head! That's where we got engaged so I thought that was particularly cool.



    What you can't see it back there???



    There it is.
     
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    pepperandchips

    [melinda]
    Joined
    Mar 16, 2014
    Christmas Day, Continued...

    We spent the balance of the morning lounging at the beach and then the pool. Here are a few photos since there's not much to detail about reading novels in the sweet Hawaiian sunshine!



    Kamaka Grotto pool



    Looking back at resort from beach



    Beach crowds, 10:30 AM, Christmas day



    Our breakfast reservation had been at about 7:15, so early afternoon we had some signs of hunger. Around 2:00, we decided to wander over to Off the Hook and take a look at the menu. I was a bit disappointed to discover that the menu there is identical to the poolside service menu, so we passed on Off the Hook and decided to see if we could get in at Ama Ama again for lunch. I had tried for a reservation at Ama Ama months before at any time on Christmas, and there were no reservations to be had - I kept checking up to our travel date - nothing to be found. So I was quite surprised that the restaurant was probably only halfway full, and we only waited about 5 minutes for a table fronting the beautiful beach view. On Christmas!!! Merry Christmas to us indeed.





    (I was trying to be artsy...)



    We each started with a tropical mai tai ($15). For entrees, we were both tempted by the catch of the day preparation - today's chef creation was a seafood paella with shrimp, scallops, mussels, ono, and a very very tasty tomato sauce. We don't like to order two of the same thing, so I "let" DH order it. (He made fun of me for my phrasing on this, so hi to lurker husband once he finally gets around to reading this... :lovestruc )



    We both agree that this was one of the best dishes we ate on our whole vacation. I immediately wished that we'd just gotten two of the same thing! But I had a few bites and it was heavenly. If you get the opportunity, go for this one. ($28)



    I was craving the sweet potato fries again, so we got an order of those too. ($5)

    For my entree, I wanted something light so I went with the catch of the day served on a field greens salad. It was Mahi Mahi that day.



    I was happy with my choice since it is what I wanted, but also a little sad I didn't order another of the paella! The fish was cooked well, maybe a hair on the overdone side, and the salad was fresh and light, but I wouldn't go back specifically for this like I would other items we had there. (My salad with the protein upcharge was $25.) The tab for our lunch came to $86.07 after a $5.60 DVC discount of 10% on food. It was another absolutely delicious lunch in a beautiful setting and a great way to spend Christmas day!

    After lunch we decided to go back over to the adult pool. We had a nice time chatting with some folks from Seattle after we were all cannonballed by a wayward child - egads! :p (Don't worry, the parents schlepped him off to a family area after only a few cannonballs)





    On the way to the pool, we had stopped into Ulu Cafe to scope out the snacks. The pastry case, which was our particular interest, was pretty picked over midafternoon, but I did pick up a tasty coconut mochi cake.



    I think it was $3, and was nice and light and chewy and not overly sweet.

    I thought these gingerbread displays were super cute!



    The shave ice stand was particularly clever, I thought :) And who doesn't love the Disneyland entrance?

    We'd planned that evening to have lasagna and garlic bread in the room (remember my suitcase full of groceries?) so we had no itinerary and all the time in the world to enjoy the resort that evening. After we went up and freshened up, we decided to stroll around the resort beach paths and take in the sunset.



    I thought this little vintage trailer over on the Four Seasons grounds was adorable - they were cleaning up as we were getting our photos but I think they'd been selling beer and snacks (at least that Kona advertising leads me to believe so).





    While there were tons of Aulani guests still out on the beach and milling around the water, the Four Seasons grounds were much quieter.



    We ignored a few "Four Seasons Guests Only" signs and continued along the path that follows the shoreline. Sure, we belong here, ignore these sparkly wristbands :rolleyes1



    We were rewarded with this gorgeous view of the next cove north of Aulani.



    and looking back south, toward the Marriott

    I love how Aulani looks from a distance. It truly is a beautiful resort:



    We kept walking past Aulani, south and around the point to the Ko Olina Beach Villas cove









    Look at the number of people on the beach at this cove... like... none...





    It was a beautiful evening and a lovely stroll. As I said, we had intended to take advantage of photopass photographers but decided not to wait when we saw the line. It was also weird to me that the Ko Olina Wedding Chapel was still closed and "under construction" though not visibly so. Last time we saw that bride factory in full swing! So while the crowds at the resort were heavy, there was less... disruption?

    We enjoyed the sunset and went back up to our room to enjoy our homemade Christmas dinner. After dinner, we went down and took advantage of the infinity hot tubs while we could - we were enjoying the relatively late pool hours due to the holiday crowd! I think the hot tubs and the zero entry pool were open until 10:00 pm each night, which is not the usual closing time.

    After the hot soak, we decided to see what we could find for dessert at Ulu Cafe. DH grabbed a vanilla soft serve while I went for a coconut porter. Sorry, no pics, but they were great enjoyed on the balcony, again accompanied by the music of Olelo Room's musicians entertaining us.

    We finally turned in for the evening, not quite believing it was the final night at Aulani, but excited to see what Maui had in store.
     

    pepperandchips

    [melinda]
    Joined
    Mar 16, 2014
    Resort Day at Aulani December 26 - Departure Day

    On December 26, we were up early again, and headed out of the room early in order to take advantage of the resort prior to having to pack up and relinquish our fabulous room. I sent DH to go get towels while I settled the room charges with some gift cards, and it turns out that the DVC exclusive check-in near the grotto pool only operates on one side as DVC exclusive, so he had a bit of a long wait. By the time I joined him he had only just gotten a wristband and some towels, so I headed back to Rainbow Reef where there was no line for wristbands. Pro tip: check Rainbow Reef if you're getting wristbands at "rush hour".

    We headed down to lay claim to some front-row beach chairs and then doubled back to enjoy the Kamaka Grotto pool and hot tub before it became kid soup.

    It was incredibly serene at both the beach and the pool in the early morning hours. I didn't take any pictures at the pool but we enjoyed having a relatively empty pool and gorgeous view to the beach.





    Too early, we found it closing in on 11:00, check out time. We reluctantly headed up to our amazing room and finished packing, before we called bell services to hold our bags while we enjoyed the rest of our resort day. I snapped a few more pics from the room while we waited on an available cast member to head up to our room.









    After our luggage was collected, we headed back down to the adult pool. We had eaten a very early and quite meager breakfast of bagels and the last of the fresh pineapple from the ABC store, so we were pretty hungry by this time. I had been interested in fish and chips and DH noticed they sold them at Mama's Snack Stop, so we decided to head over and procure an order.



    We decided to split one order of the fish and chips, as we also wanted to order a couple starters from the poolside dining menu. Sharing was wise - this was a good size portion! It was $16 and included four pieces of fish and a ton of fries. We also got both the fresh dill tartar sauce and the sriracha tartar sauce. They were both extremely tasty.



    From the poolside dining menu, we had the maui onion rings served with jalapeno buttermilk dip ($13) and the chicken wings in "spicy korean" sauce (also $13)



    The onion rings definitely hit the spot if you need onion rings, but I wouldn't get the wings again. They didn't have a lot of flavor and were just kind of... meh.

    Midafternoon we were ready for dessert, and my husband went into the Ulu Cafe to see what snacks were available. I put in an order for a Dole Whip which was a bit melty by the time it made it out to me at the pool!





    R chose a mac nut sticky bun which was pretty good, but not life changing. It had a nice honey flavor.

    Sooner than I'd have liked, it was time to go try to use the lounge to get freshened up before we needed to head to the airport for our flight to Maui. If I thought the lounge was busy on Christmas Eve, it was absolutely mobbed on boxing day! It was a madhouse. I ended up freshening up in the ladies' room around the corner closer to the lobby, which was much larger and nearly deserted.



    We took the sad taxi ride (again, great and prompt service from Charley's) back to the airport for our flight to Maui that evening. There wasn't much open at the airport and not much to see at our terminal, but we were able to get a box of Honolulu Cookie Company cookies to take with us to Maui (and home, if any survived!) Soon, we were onboard and en route to Maui. The flight was just long enough to reach cruising altitude, get tossed a prepackaged POG, and to descend into Kahului.



    We picked up our rental from Alamo and were off to our condo in Maalaea, excited to see what adventures we'd get into over the next week.

    Reflection on Aulani - recently, someone posted asking whether Aulani was worth it for couples without kids. Once again, I absolutely loved Aulani and am dreaming of a return. For kicks and giggles, I looked up the cost of renting DVC points or renting our Ocean View Studio directly from Disney. For the former, a home resort premium would certainly apply, if you could even get Christmas at 11 months. (We had to waitlist our stay) So the two nights would have come to a hefty $1,116.00 or $558 per night. Through Disney, the same stay in 2019 would run you $2,446.40 at rack rate including tax, or an incredible $1,223.20 per night. So, as incensed as I was at the people who weren't recommending Aulani for couples, at those prices, no I don't think it would be worth it. (I can't imagine any resort room the size of a DVC studio commanding $1200+ per night)

    Fortunately our DVC points cost us nowhere in that vicinity to own and maintain, so at the DVC owner value proposition I do think Aulani is extremely worth it, considering all that's included. And for couples traveling without children, I can't highly recommend the adult pool enough. It's so quiet and serene and relaxing. Disney just does this resort amazingly well and I hope that we are able to return.

    Up next: some highlights and recommendations from our time in Maui. Thanks for following along so far!



     
  • DisFan84

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Aug 8, 2012
    Love your report so far! I’m so incredibly checked out at work lol and enjoyed reading- I also love your red (or pink?) dress from the photopass photo.
     

    ErinF

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jan 26, 2016
    Excited to read your report!! I remember reading your engagement one last summer when we first made our Aulani reservations (we're renting points for this June). All your pictures are beautiful!!! Can't wait to read your Maui portion. We will going to Maui as well this summer. DH and I spent our honeymoon there in 2000 and then went back in 2006. It's a number of years and 3 kids later, but I'm so excited to get back to Hawaii! For the time being I'm living vicariously through trip reports like yours. :-)
     

    cgattis

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jan 1, 2009
    Beautiful pics and fun report! Enjoy all your details and seeing another girl who eats as much as I do! LOL Totally :offtopic: but I wish I could convince DH to go ahead and shave his head too! I tell him he’s cute enough and with his awesome sideburns he can pull it off....gonna show him your DH and see if that helps convince him! Look forward to hearing about Maui—that and Kauai are going to be our next trip.
     

    Nalshersmom

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jan 29, 2012
    Thank you for sharing! Our family of 5 is headed to a 1 bedroom in June. We will be at Aulani for 3 nights with a few nights in Waikiki and Turtle Bay. We are also visiting Maui and the Big Island. I can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip!
     
  • tgropp

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jan 3, 2007
    Great report. Thank you. We will be there from Feb 6-11 so this report is getting me primed.
     

    pepperandchips

    [melinda]
    Joined
    Mar 16, 2014
    Love your trip review. Aulani looks so gorgeous, I can't wait to go!
    I love Aulani trip reports for the same reason! It's crazy that the photos can look so beautiful but that the resort can be even lovelier in person - I swear, there is magic in the air there.

    Love your report so far! I’m so incredibly checked out at work lol and enjoyed reading- I also love your red (or pink?) dress from the photopass photo.
    I am sure you are so ready to go!!! I am excited for you! And thank you - the dress is a regular in my travel wardrobe (I just noticed it's in my avatar photo too... haha). A great buy from Target, of all places!

    Excited to read your report!! I remember reading your engagement one last summer when we first made our Aulani reservations (we're renting points for this June). All your pictures are beautiful!!! Can't wait to read your Maui portion. We will going to Maui as well this summer. DH and I spent our honeymoon there in 2000 and then went back in 2006. It's a number of years and 3 kids later, but I'm so excited to get back to Hawaii! For the time being I'm living vicariously through trip reports like yours. :-)
    I remember! Welcome back! :wave2: I will do my best to move it along with the Maui portions instead of disappearing like I did at the end of the last report... haha. I love reading trip reports, it's a bit like having a virtual vacation!
    Beautiful pics and fun report! Enjoy all your details and seeing another girl who eats as much as I do! LOL Totally :offtopic: but I wish I could convince DH to go ahead and shave his head too! I tell him he’s cute enough and with his awesome sideburns he can pull it off....gonna show him your DH and see if that helps convince him! Look forward to hearing about Maui—that and Kauai are going to be our next trip.
    YAS! :banana: and Disney food is the best. So glad to have your company here!

    R's hair got pretty thin at an early age - his hairline hasn't changed much since we met in 2014. He got a fresh professional haircut before this trip, but the short buzz definitely makes it easy to maintain - most of the time I just cut it for him at home with the clippers. He is lucky to have such a beautifully round head :laughing:

    Your next Hawaii trip sounds amazing. Spoiler alert: I am totally ready to go back to Kauai. I loved Maui, don't get me wrong, but Kauai was almost on a different speed of life. Hawaii is amazing for having so much to see and do!

    Thank you for sharing! Our family of 5 is headed to a 1 bedroom in June. We will be at Aulani for 3 nights with a few nights in Waikiki and Turtle Bay. We are also visiting Maui and the Big Island. I can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip!
    That sounds absolutely wonderful! I am glad to have you here reading along. Those one bedroom villas look fabulous - we only have 75 DVC points so I haven't figured out how to justify the bigger villa at Aulani but I am sure we will stay in one - one day! That will be perfect for your group of 5. Enjoy that big beautiful bathtub for me!

    Great report. Thank you. We will be there from Feb 6-11 so this report is getting me primed.
    I love trip reports for just that very reason! I read MarbleBob's at least twice and then my husband read it too... we would be going someplace and say "well what did MarbleBob say about this?" It's so funny, it's like you get to know people. Glad to have you here.
     

    pepperandchips

    [melinda]
    Joined
    Mar 16, 2014
    Tips and other stuff I forgot...

    So a couple bits of housekeeping before I forget - I read somewhere that the gift shop at Aulani has a sale rack. It does! And I never would have noticed it if I weren't looking for it. They had some really cute Gelatoni merchandise on clearance. I am not a huge merch buyer but I can't resist some of the Duffy items because they're really adorable and they're not things I see often in the parks. I was able to pick up a cute plush coin purse as a gift and I got myself a really cute Gelatoni luggage tag as well as a Shellie Mae Christmas ornament, all under $5 each.

    Revisiting how much I love Hawaiian airlines... the infamous grocery suitcase was just a hair overweight after we repacked in Aulani for the flight to Maui. We weighed it at a kiosk and saw it was at like... 50.9 pounds or something. We managed to sweet talk one of the agents into checking it in manually (alright, we feigned ignorance and said "oh do we need to repack something in our carry ons?" and she immediately caved) and she didn't charge us for the slight excess, which was really nice. All that to say that we had excellent service at every turn from the portions of our flights that were on Hawaiian air. I wish they did direct service from Atlanta. Maybe one day!

    Another thing I wanted to mention was that Alamo offers "skip the counter" service in Kahului now. I have never used it anywhere else though we almost always rent through Alamo. The last time I rented a car was over labor day at Hartford Bradley airport and I didn't have that option there, so I was glad to have it on Maui. It was great to bypass all the dozens of other families that had been with us on the Alamo shuttle and breeze right over to the pickup area. We grabbed a Nissan Sentra and were on our way.

    We stopped at Target in Kahului because I wasn't sure what to do for dinner and knew we needed to pick up a few fresh groceries as well as heavy items and liquids that I didn't want to pack. This time I foolishly forgot our reusable grocery bags so we basically put everything loose into the trunk until we could unload with the grocery bags provided in the condo we were renting. So don't forget your grocery bags! (Or just don't be cheap and go ahead and buy the reusable ones at checkout) Our Target run came to $95.38.

    Finally moving on to some legitimate trip stuff...

    The next morning I awoke to the sounds of birds chirping and cars starting. I'd managed to accidentally open the louvered windows in our bedroom all the way instead of closing them like I thought I had the night before. Lesson learned! I sprung out of bed and tore back the living room curtains to see in the daylight what had been hidden in the dark when we arrived.



    This was the view from our lanai. Blissful! The big land mass across the bay there is Haleakala, East Maui's famous volcano. With this view began my daily humming of "Jolly Holiday" from Mary Poppins. I couldn't shake the line "Did you ever see the grass so green, or a bluer sky?"

    Our condo was in an older development called Maalaea Banyans, one of a handful of condo complexes between the harbor and Haycraft beach park. Here's a look toward that beach park, off in the distance:



    Our lanai led out onto the grass immediately across from the gate out to a small, rocky, secluded beach that was really only accessible by our complex and the one next door.



    We took out novels and beach chairs and spent the morning in the sun. I didn't actually bring out my phone or a camera, which was a decision I still regret, since just before lunch time a green sea turtle brought itself up on to the beach and was sitting in the sun so close to me I could practically touch it. I watched it for about 15 minutes before I could no longer stand the temptation to grab my phone, and when I returned 30 seconds later, the turtle had returned to the sea. The rocks just under the surf remained a popular place for the turtles, where we watched them bobbing in the waves for the remainder of the week. Sitting next to that sea turtle was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I wish I had a dang picture!

    We grilled some hot dogs for lunch and discussed what we should do for the remainder of the day, ultimately settling on a visit to Haleakala for sunset.

    Haleakala Crater

    Many people rave about the sunrises from the summit at Haleakala, an experience that requires an advance reservation for admission to the park, or a private tour. I'd read so many glowing reviews I was sure we'd need to see the sunrise - until I read about people enjoying sunset there as well.
    :idea:

    You don't need a reservation for park entry in the afternoon, and going in the afternoon would save us from a 3:00 AM wake up call as well as allow us to stop on the way up to see some of the lookout points or to hike in the crater. We were feeling adventurous, so off we set in the Nissan to Haleakala National Park.

    The drive up to the summit, with its many hairpin turns, was at least scenic, especially as we ascended above the clouds. Our condo had a copy of Maui Revealed among the books in its lending library, which was fortunate for our stay. One of the recommended stops was Leleiwi Overlook, which the book said many visitors drive right past. Based on our experience, that's certainly true, though the small parking area at the overlook was full. We arrived at a fortuitous time and grabbed a spot as someone was backing out.



    Many folks just hopped out of their cars and were rewarded with the view above. But the real treat is found by crossing the road and walking down a fairly short path to the overlook. You are just walking along lava rock and low shrubs and then all of the sudden, there is the crater. It's really hard to describe how vast it is - and photos really don't even do it justice.





    People say that it looks like being on the moon - it really does.





    There weren't a lot of other people out at the overlook - maybe 3 other families during the time we were there. When no one was talking, it was absolutely silent. It's weird how much noise we usually hear in quiet places, but as we made our way back to the car, we experienced near perfect silence. It was pretty calming.



    We got back in the car and finished the drive up to the summit, arriving around 5:00 for a 6:00ish sunset. We got one of the last sort of pirate-ish parking places in the summit lot - we parallel parked between some cars and not in a lined spot. If you intend to get a legitimate spot, you'd need to arrive earlier. We grabbed our jackets and the warmest weather gear we'd brought and donned most of it, carrying the rest with us.


    (these guys on the road are NOT getting parking spots)

    There's obviously a very dramatic view of the crater from up at the summit, and I think the sunrise would come up behind the crater. For sunset, our view would be marred a bit by the telescopes and equipment of "science city", behind us there in the below photo.


    (wearing my "airplane shawl", my rain jacket, a sweater, and leggings under my dress. It was cold!)



    Folks continued arriving at the summit, lining the edge of this ridge to watch the sun set.

    Our shadows grew long quickly









    You could see the big island of Hawaii in one direction and... Molokai? maybe? in the other direction.







    We walked around a bit as the sun dipped low and the light dimmed. We'd originally thought we might stay to see the stars come out, but with the government shutdown already underway, National Park services were reduced and I wasn't sure whether the restrooms were operational. Based on an experience later in the week, I think they were probably up and running just fine, but I didn't want to chance it.



    We began the harrowing journey back down in the dark, following a terrible driver. Despite wearing a motion sickness patch, I nearly lost my lunch on several occasions.

    Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely. It was a very cool experience. I highly recommend stopping at the Leleiwi Overlook as I think it was totally worth it and seems underappreciated. I am glad we did not get up for the sunrise experience, all things considered. And for better or for worse, our national park admission was free due to the government shutdown.

    Maui Brewing Company Dinner Review

    So what does one do to overcome the frustration of following the world's worst driver down the literal side of a mountain and the resulting nausea? Why, visit a brewery, of course!

    We both ranked Maui Brewing Company pretty highly on the list of attractions we wanted to visit in Maui, so now seemed as good a time as any. We programmed it in to google maps and headed to Kihei for the first time. MBC is in a golf club, basically, so it was kind of weird locating it at night. Once we figured out where the front door was, we were greeted by a vast hostess station, where we were asked if we had reservations. At a brewery? That was new for us. We put our names on the list and moved over to the tasting room for a pre-dinner beverage.



    I didn't take a picture of our beers, for some reason, but I know you know what beers look like.

    :drinking1

    DH picked the Bad Mamajama and I had the S Turns. They were similar in that both were hazy style ales but mine was an IPA while R's was an APA. We both preferred the ones we respectively selected - mine was a nice juicy ipa without a lot of bitterness. It went down easy and perked me right up after that brutal car ride. Shortly thereafter, our table was ready.



    I thought the decor was pretty cool. We were seated at a two-top on a banquette next to some friendly Canadians.



    We had an excellent server who walked us through the beer choices and helped us make entree selections. For round two, I went with the POG IPA, because when in Hawaii, one must try the POG beer, right? and R went with Freight Trains, another IPA selection. I think he liked the first one better. The POG IPA was okay. I liked the S Turns better, actually, and thought it was fruitier and less cloying than the POG one.





    For dinner we shared - as usual. First up, the MBC Cheeseburger, which is described as coming served with shaved red onion, butter lettuce, cheddar, and 8 island sauce ($14) and we added an order of fries served with sriracha mayo and furikake ($5)



    This was the Silversmith Pizza - local macadamia gremolata, two kinds of cheese, roasted garlic, white sauce ($16.50). The pizza was good but the herbs needed something else to really kick it up, flavor wise. The burger was very good, but the fries were AMAZING! And I am not sure what is in their ketchup but it was so addictive, and I am not even normally a ketchup eater.


    (someone can't even wait for the picture before digging in...)

    For dessert, we shared the Chocolate chip skillet cookie served with vanilla bean ice cream, and Coconut Porter chocolate sauce ($8). I had passed on appetizers because their skillet cookies caught my eye and I was saving room for this. It was fine to satiate a sweet tooth at the end of the meal but it wasn't as rich as I was hoping for, so I wouldn't get it again. We also had another round of beers, with me returning to the S Turns and R switching it up yet again and enjoying a pint of the Resilience IPA, the proceeds of which benefit those affected by the Camp Fire in California.

    The tab for what we had at the table (the first two beers we'd paid for in the tasting room) came to $74.48 before tip, which was very reasonable, especially coming off of Aulani prices. The beers we had there were fantastic and the food was solidly good. I said later in the trip that I wished we had time to return to the tasting room, but I wouldn't do a second meal on the same trip there. If we had an opportunity I would definitely visit again. Thumbs up!

    Coming up... will my husband ever get a malasada?
     

    alohamom

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Oct 31, 2003
    Reflection on Aulani - recently, someone posted asking whether Aulani was worth it for couples without kids. Once again, I absolutely loved Aulani and am dreaming of a return. For kicks and giggles, I looked up the cost of renting DVC points or renting our Ocean View Studio directly from Disney. For the former, a home resort premium would certainly apply, if you could even get Christmas at 11 months. (We had to waitlist our stay) So the two nights would have come to a hefty $1,116.00 or $558 per night. Through Disney, the same stay in 2019 would run you $2,446.40 at rack rate including tax, or an incredible $1,223.20 per night. So, as incensed as I was at the people who weren't recommending Aulani for couples, at those prices, no I don't think it would be worth it. (I can't imagine any resort room the size of a DVC studio commanding $1200+ per night)

    Fortunately our DVC points cost us nowhere in that vicinity to own and maintain, so at the DVC owner value proposition I do think Aulani is extremely worth it, considering all that's included. And for couples traveling without children, I can't highly recommend the adult pool enough. It's so quiet and serene and relaxing. Disney just does this resort amazingly well and I hope that we are able to return.

    This is an excellent analysis - thanks!
     

    Clawdius

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Dec 9, 2012
    I'm enjoying your trip report! I'm considering a trip to Maui, so I'm eager to read about the rest of your trip.
     

    ErinF

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jan 26, 2016
    Nice pics from atop Haleakala! DH and I drove up there one morning (mid-morning, not sunrise) on our honeymoon. I remember being swarmed by flies! But I also remember the amazing views as well, and it wasn't too cold since we went at the time we did.

    I'm a dessert lover and that chocolate chip cookie skillet looks so good! Too bad it didn't taste as good as it looked.
     

    pepperandchips

    [melinda]
    Joined
    Mar 16, 2014
    I'm enjoying your trip report! I'm considering a trip to Maui, so I'm eager to read about the rest of your trip.
    So glad to have you here and thank you for the kind words!

    Nice pics from atop Haleakala! DH and I drove up there one morning (mid-morning, not sunrise) on our honeymoon. I remember being swarmed by flies! But I also remember the amazing views as well, and it wasn't too cold since we went at the time we did.

    I'm a dessert lover and that chocolate chip cookie skillet looks so good! Too bad it didn't taste as good as it looked.
    Yeah, I felt like a wimp thinking it was so cold up there but I think we still had it easier at Haleakala for sunset than the sunrise crew. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

    I know... I am a chocoholic so I probably should have known that I was setting myself up for disappointment. The cookie somehow tasted prepackaged even though it very obviously wasn't! Thanks for sticking with me!!
     

    pepperandchips

    [melinda]
    Joined
    Mar 16, 2014
    December 28, 2018

    The following day we made breakfast in our condo and spent the morning and early afternoon at the small beach behind the condo complex. I enjoyed watching the green sea turtles bob and swim in the surf, nibbling algae from the submerged rocks:



    Bad image quality but I loved seeing their little heads pop up above the surf.



    This is how close they were to the shore!

    After our morning in the sunshine, we had worked up an appetite and headed out to find some of the famous Hawaiian seafood for lunch. We decided to head down to Kihei to Coconuts Fish Cafe, which I had read good things about here on the Disboards. Kihei is home to two locations of Coconuts - we tried the original location in a little strip mall. You order at a counter here and then they bring the food to your table. At the encouragement of the young man who took our order, we decided to share the fish tacos and the grilled ono sandwich prepared in the Asian sauce.



    (Asian style grilled ono sandwich - $13.99)



    (Two tacos grilled with white corn tortillas and a variety of 17 different ingredients, including cheese, tomato salsa, famous coleslaw, tomato, and mango salsa - $14.49)

    We absolutely loved this meal - the tacos were messy, tasty perfection with tons of great flavor and juice to drip down your arms. The sandwich likewise had a great flavor and the fish was fresh, light, and tasty. Once we finished our lunch I think we both started thinking about what we'd order "next time"!

    After lunch, we ran a few errands, picking up a few more odds and ends at Safeway since we knew we'd need a picnic lunch the following day. After our mission was concluded, we decided to stop for a treat on the way back to the condo. We'd read in our guidebook that the Sugar Beach Bake Shop had made-to-order malasadas. Well, when we arrived, we noticed a sign outside that notified us that the malasadas were a mornings-only item. Drat! Nevertheless, we had heard good things about Ululani's Shave Ice, next door, so we decided to stop in for a different kind of sweet snack.



    This was my selection - the keiki size with lilikoi, guava, and pineapple, topped with mochi

    They had these little picnic tables with holes drilled in them so you could rest your shave ice cup there without risking it toppling over.



    This was husband's but neither of us remember which combination he got:



    We ate our treats and enjoyed the view across the road to the beach. The shave ice was very good! I think I might give a slight edge to Matsumoto's in Haleiwa on Oahu, but this was excellent shave ice with a lovely light texture to the ice and tasty syrups.



    And back at the condo we took in the view again as the sun got low





    We did some swimming at the pool and hot tub in the complex, prepared a tasty dinner, and called it a night fairly early. We had a big day ahead!

    Malasada count: 0





     
    Last edited:

    pepperandchips

    [melinda]
    Joined
    Mar 16, 2014
    December 29, 2018 - Part One - Road to Hana

    The next morning we got up suuuuuuuper early and headed out - we were going to experience the famous road to Hana and we wanted to get a jump on things!

    First up, though, we needed to find malasadas. After reading further about other malasada options, we elected to stop at Home Maid Bakery in Wailuku. Fantasizing about hot, fresh, fried tasty delights, we eagerly entered and ordered up a dozen! Well... the nice lady working the counter let us know that they weren't preparing malasadas at the moment and it would be around 30 minutes before any would be ready. Womp womp. We picked out some other snacks from the dozens of different options filling their cases and DH picked out a breakfast platter with eggs, rice, and portuguese sausage. We stopped for gas and headed east!



    This was one of my favorite items we tried - a taro mochi donut hole. It was so unusual I knew I had to try one and it didn't disappoint! It was chewy yet soft and had a unique flavor with only a slight sweetness. I loved this!



    We'd purchased and downloaded the GyPSy Guide to Hana, a phone app that provided gps-triggered narrations appropriate to our location along the way. We got underway in earnest around 7:30 this morning, and our first stop came just a bit over an hour later when we stopped at a waterfall recommended by the Maui Revealed guidebook. Weellll. I will omit pictures from this stop since basically it was a very full, very muddy stream that we tried to follow upstream to the promised waterfall, but due to the rushing water we turned back to the car.



    Our next stop was the Keanae Arboretum, a public nature park with some local flora helpfully labeled. We stopped here at the suggestion of the GyPSy guide and mainly to see the famous rainbow eucalyptus.



    It really was truly striking seeing all the different colors in the bark - pictures don't really do it justice.



    Our next stop was for banana bread and to explore the Keanae Peninsula



    The waves there were crashing and dramatic - it was a beautiful stop and the banana bread was divine.





    Once we moved along, it seems that grey clouds followed us down the road as we went east. The most amazing and picturesque falls were ahead and the Three Bears falls were our next stop.



    There was a little area on one side of the bridge that allowed us to take pictures relatively safely. The road is very narrow so sometimes it's difficult to navigate both cars and pedestrians along the way.



    There were also little rivulets of water making hundreds of tiny waterfalls rushing down the rock face. DH particularly enjoyed this sight.





    As we moved along, it seemed that every turn brought more waterfalls. We stopped at some and reluctantly passed up some. It was hard to drive past so many photo ops, but the overcast day put a damper on my waterfall hunting.





    I tried to pick only the very best sounding falls from our guidebook and couldn't pass up one opportunity to see a waterfall from both the top and looking straight on. We stopped here as one of our last points of interest prior to visiting Waianapanapa park.

    from the bridge, looking over the top:



    looking straight at the falls:



    The best and most exciting part of the Road to Hana adventure in the next post...

    (Malasada count: still zero)

    TO be continued...
     

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