Just back - Kualoa Ranch & Traffic PSA

purpliequeen

DIS Veteran
Joined
Dec 30, 2005
Hi Everyone,

Huge thank you to all who provided insight on Aulani & Oahu in general. Made for a fun trip. There have been several "Just Back" reports posted as of late & I don't want to sound like a broken record.@lovewdwfun posted a report yesterday that is spot on. I wanted to add a couple tips / certain areas that I wished I had paid more attn to during my trip planning.

Rental Car
This comes up a lot on the disboards. For Aulani, I DEFINITELY would recommend renting a car. I know there are a lot of folks who are skeptical about renting a car beause they don't like driving rental cars/driving in a new place. I completely understand where you're coming from - and my whole family agrees that the drivers on Oahu are very scary. (We saw some terrible driving - people drifting in their lane, running yellow/red lights, speeding 20+ miles above speed limit in work zones.) But I echo the responses to these comments - Aulani is in a very remote place. Without a car, you're pretty much stuck at the resort and there really isn't enough content for a week+ stay, especially since the resort is not all-inclusive and eating at Aulani adds up.

Traffic & Kualoa Ranch
Traffic is really no joke on this island. We made the worst mistake on our Kualoa Ranch day - listen to people on this Board. Leave before 6am for a 7:45am check-in. Ideally 5:30am or earlier!!!! I was monitoring the traffic and it was estimating 1 hr 12 min at 5:30am so I thought, "Oh, we have lots of time." We ended up leaving the resort at ~6:15am and traffic had jumped to 2+ hrs. Traffic on H1 was so backed up that Google was re-routing us via backroads through neighborhoods in Ewa. We followed Google bc if we had stayed on H1, it would have added + 40 min. It would've taken 2 hr 40 min to get to Kualoa! There was also construction in the tunnel on H3. But the backup was no where near as bad as H1.

Taking the backroads/off highway (and connecting again in Halawa to get to H3) took 2 hr. We got to Kualoa at 8:15am. I was on the phone with the Ranch staff letting them know of the late arrival (they orig told us to get there between 7:45 and 8am for an 8:45am adventure). It was extremely stressful & not a great way to start a morning. At one point on the drive, I was resigned to just forfeiting the reservation (they don't give refunds for no-shows).

To be honest, once we got there I was a little bit disappointed about the over zealous buffer they give us to "check-in." There were few, if any lines, and we ended up having 20 min or so to use the restroom and poke around the giftshop till we had to go to our safety briefing. We did take copious amts of photos with the horses. Had we have gotten there ar the requested 7:45am, it would have been too much time (1 hr) before our tour left. I understand why they put the buffer though - if they didn't, everyone would be late. All in all, the UTV tour was fun & worth the drive, and we had a lovely time at the Ranch, but if I were to do this again, I'd book an afternoon excursion on the weekday or any time on weekend. (We solely experienced rush hour traffic on a Wed morning.)

Activities
Hiking - I didn't know that Oahu is a hiker's paradise before this trip. We live in a fun mountain town in CO and LOVE to hike. We used the website alltrails to find a hike that wasn't as congested. (Also wanted something more natural & not tarred / paved with maximum views at the end.) We ended up doing the Kikoulou Hike and it was amazing. We lucked out with the fog/rain clouds, and they cleared when we summited. Great 3 hr (round trip) hike. There are so many on this island though - def recommend doing your research to find a hike that suffices for all in your hiking party.

North Shore - We enjoyed driving the N. Shore. We did hit a big wave day and it was fun to see the surfers & we packed our patience for the traffic crawl. Fumi's North Shore is an excellent shrimp truck with no waits. They get the shrimp in the agricultural pond right next to the truck & they don't serve frozen. The garlic butter version was to die for. Still dreaming of it. We also loved Matsumoto Shaved Ice and Kono's North Shore. Haleiwa is a cute town! We also stopped at Green World Coffee Farm - I wouldn't go out of your way to see it, but it was a nice stop & clean bathrooms. They also had free coffee samples.

Shops at Ko Olina - Really grateful for these so we didn't have to eat on-site on days we felt lazy. Island Market/ABC Store was really helpful & we found the prices to be reasonable and not price gaugey despite being in a touristy development area. Poke bowls ~$12 (for a large) vs. $16 on site at Aulani (and Aulani's is only during lunch hours at Ulu Cafe). Pizza Corner was fine - they match Ulu's prices. ($30 for a specialty pizza). But we found the pizza to be tasty. (We'd read reviews of Ulu's pizza and were told to go to Pizza Corner.) Note that the Starbucks here is a "we proudly brew" and not a legit store. I wasn't able to redeem a bday reward (I was not at all disappointed, but just figured I'd save those from trekking out there if not necessary). The employee mentioned that they let you earn stars, but can't redeem.

Eastern Side of the Island - Love Kailua. Such a cute area. Went to Kono's here for lunch. There was a farmers' market on Sun. in the Whole Foods parking lot. Traffic & parking were a bear, but great to see locals out & about. I really love this town. It felt truly authentic and had a Hawaii type vibe.

Honolulu - We enjoyed visiting Iolani Palace/City Hall grounds and walking around on the weekend. Such an interesting part of Hawaii's history.

Hawaiian Railroad - We did this tour on Sat. The 3pm tours are ice cream tours that stop at Two Scoops in Ko Olina. We Lyft'ed ($24 with tip) to the location an hr before it started to buy tix and check out the train museum. The single gauge railroad goes all the way to Kahe Point before turning back around. And then it stops at Two Scoops. We got off there and walked back to Aulani. Weather was misting so we were kind of glad to not have to go all the way back to the railroad yard. Great trip for those interested in trains (especially young kids) & those interested in a little slice of history. Really well run by volunteers and a fun 2 hours or so. Only on weekends. More info on their website.

Ka Waa Luau - I read LOTS of reviews on this site before deciding on Aulani's. Glad we did. So convenient to be on property. We are not picky eaters and LOVED the food. We saw those with allergies taken around by a Chef/Sous Chef and told what is safe/not safe for them. Typical Disney service. :) We did VIP because we were all adults and it was my bday. Not to mention we viewed this trip as a one and done and two of us had never been to Oahu before.

Paradise Cove - Def check this out!!!! Turtles are so friendly & swim up to you. We lucked out and saw a monk seal (not sure if it was the same one) sleeping on the beach ~4pm on one day and ~9am the second day. There was also a volunteer both times who provided us with lots of insight/knowledge. I love how much Hawaii cares about its beach life. Great beach with lots happening. Follow the sidewalk from Aulani - it's about a 10 min (easy) walk. Parking lot for Paradise Cove is staffed (for luau) but just walk by the attendant down a little path and it opens up to the beach. We talked to a family that walked via the beaches/coves and they mentioned it was a scary/treacherous walk (they did it at high tide). The sidewalk is much safer. Folks snorkeling closer to the rocks saw small blue squids & fish. The volunteers warned us that there are eels that bite & also baby sharks that tend to be around Paradise Cove around dawn & dusk. So be careful. It makes sense - seals are food so if there's a seal, there's likely a shark that can reach it. Paradise Cove apparently has a natural channel which allows sea life (like seals) in & out.

Whales - We also saw whales!!! There were reports our week of people seeing whales from their balcony. Bring binoculars if you can!!!!

Tips
Water - Bring water bottles & reduce your carbon footprint. (Plus the water is good!) Aulani had many places to fill up your water bottle. We also drank from the tap in the room and the water tasted just fine.

Rental cars - We used Truro and rented an electric vehicle. There's another great thead on this board about electric cars & Truro if you have more questions. I recommend that thread! There are some really helpful disboarders who are pretty active in posting/providing advice. Disney tries to be green and they have ample electric car chargers at Aulani really close to the elevators on every floor of the parking garage. We made use of them and they were free. (Free gas (electrons)!) Granted, we are DVC members & our parking was free - those who aren't have to pay to park in the garage.

Ama Ama - Beautiful birthday breakfast with great views, but agree with other posters that it was def not worth the value. Great presentation and service.

Aulani Grounds - Overall, this is a beautiful resort, but it did remind me of other Disney resorts where thousands of people are tramping through the spaces. Being on the ground/3rd floor at 4pm (check in) is not relaxing. It's insane and I commend the Cast Members for doing what they do with a smile. Every Cast Member we encountered were pleasant & friendly. I was really impressed by how many CMs were multi-lingual (or at least bi-lingual) switching between Japanese & English so quickly.

Characters - As some mentioned, the characters are only out during the day and get there towards the beginning of their postings, as the lines grow long. There's a character hotline you can call at 8am+ every day to get the character times & locations. The CMs at the Pau Hana Room will call for you and write the times down on a post-it note. I just took a photo of that post-it note.

Pau Hana Room - We must've not been there at a busy time. We lined up the first day (2/1) at 7:40am and there was no one lining up with me till ~ 7:55am. I felt kind of silly. We did the animation class and really enjoyed it. One day I wasn't able to line up for Explore the Stars so I called the resort. After being transferred 3x, they let me sign up via phone.

Explore the Stars - Great activity. We really enjoyed this. Greg (the host) is really knowledgeable. Aulani's is really packed with kids though. I don't know if going to the one at the Four Seasons would be more adult oriented. It didn't feel worth $39 pp though.... I would've been happy with using my free app and checking out the sky on my own (they're really clear at Ko Olina assuming you don't have any clouds the night you're viewing).

Liliha Bakery - As I mentioned, I celebrated a lovely bday on this trip. My wonderful husband didn't want to shell out $75+ for a Stitch (my fave character) cake. Thus, he did his research & ended up ordering a cake thru Liliha. We ended up going to Liliha several times on our trip (once to pick up the cake) & they have the cutest diner counter & baked goods. It's like a deli. Pull a ticket & they call your #. They're famous for their coca puffs. I can't remember their stats - but they sell a couple thousand a week or something like that. My cake was less than $30 and really well done. They do not answer their phones though, so use the email address to get in contact with the pastry team.

Groceries - Safeway in Kapolei. Prices weren't as high as I thought they'd be. Around +$1 more for most items at home here in CO. The dairy aisle was slim, which makes sense bc they import much of their milk, dairy, etc. Organic milk was ~$5, which is on par with what we pay for here. Artisinal bread was expensive, ~$6-$7 for a loaf made from a local bakery. Also bought Hawaiian rolls from a local bakery and they were $8. Local guava jam was also ~$8. When in Hawaii...The pineapple was the same price per lb as the ABC market in Ko Olina. Apples were the most expensive at $5.99/lb. We bought USA Envy apples for $3.99 / lb.

~~
All in all, we had a great time & enjoyed staying at Aulani on DVC points. Hawaii is a very expensive vacation and we were grateful to be able to do it in style - splurging on activities and staying in a gorgeous resort. We've been DVC members for 20+ years and it's nice to be able to use our membership outside of WDW. Thank you, Disney, for building such a great resort & staffing it with the most incredible people. Enjoy your time in Hawaii!
 
Last edited:

nkereina

Last chance to lose your keys.
Joined
Feb 11, 2009
Great report - thanks for sharing your tips and experiences!

Traffic & Kualoa Ranch
Traffic is really no joke on this island. We made the worst mistake on our Kualoa Ranch day - listen to people on this Board. Leave before 6am for a 7:45am check-in. Ideally 5:30am or earlier!!!! I was monitoring the traffic and it was estimating 1 hr 12 min at 5:30am so I thought, "Oh, we have lots of time." We ended up leaving the resort at ~6:15am and traffic had jumped to 2+ hrs. Traffic on H1 was so backed up that Google was re-routing us via backroads through neighborhoods in Ewa. We followed Google bc if we had stayed on H1, it would have added + 40 min. It would've taken 2 hr 40 min to get to Kualoa! There was also construction in the tunnel on H3. But the backup was no where near as bad as H1.

Taking the backroads/off highway (and connecting again in Halawa to get to H3) took 2 hr. We got to Kualoa at 8:15am. I was on the phone with the Ranch staff letting them know of the late arrival (they orig told us to get there between 7:45 and 8am for an 8:45am adventure). It was extremely stressful & not a great way to start a morning. At one point on the drive, I was resigned to just forfeiting the reservation (they don't give refunds for no-shows).

To be honest, once we got there I was a little bit disappointed about the over zealous buffer they give us to "check-in." There were few, if any lines, and we ended up having 20 min or so to use the restroom and poke around the giftshop till we had to go to our safety briefing. We did take copious amts of photos with the horses. Had we have gotten there ar the requested 7:45am, it would have been too much time (1 hr) before our tour left. I understand why they put the buffer though - if they didn't, everyone would be late. All in all, the UTV tour was fun & worth the drive, and we had a lovely time at the Ranch, but if I were to do this again, I'd book an afternoon excursion on the weekday or any time on weekend. (We solely experienced rush hour traffic on a Wed morning.)
I second this about leaving early for Kualoa Ranch. I mentioned in my own trip report in my signature that we left around 6:30-6:45 for an 8:30 check-in and we pulled in the parking lot at something like exactly 8:28. The Ranch is 36 miles from Aulani, but it took us nearly 2 hours to get there. We knew to give ourselves the extra time because we'd be fighting rush hour traffic on the highway, but the one lane roads on the windward side after we exited the highway were pretty backed up too. So I would also recommend leaving early, or perhaps doing an afternoon tour when available.

I agree that they give a big buffer between required check-in time and tour time. We had to be there at 8:30 for a 9:15 tour, and we did the VIP Movie tour which only has 12 people. All 12 of us were on time for our check in, but we still had to wait until 9ish for our tour to begin.

We also loved Matsumoto Shaved Ice and Kono's North Shore.
Great spots! I still dream about the pork bomber from Kono's three years later! We loved Matsumoto's too and tried to make time to go back, but never did.

Eastern Side of the Island - Love Kailua. Such a cute area. Went to Kono's here for lunch. There was a farmers' market on Sun. in the Whole Foods parking lot. Traffic & parking were a bear, but great to see locals out & about. I really love this town. It felt truly authentic and had a Hawaii type vibe.
We parked in the Whole Foods lot to wander around town, glad we didn't catch the Farmer's Market! I can only imagine how challenging parking was with that going on. I agree that Kailua has a more cultural and less touristy feel. Plus the beaches are so much better than the leeward side.
 


Sepo

11-3-2016 12:47 a.m.
Joined
Apr 30, 2014
That Kualoa unreasonable buffer is real. After experiencing it myself 3 yrs ago with unnecessary waiting around, I’d now show up 15 minutes before at the earliest if ever going again.

Great report.

We did the Aiea hike btw and loved it; ~ 5 miles round trip. Relaxing. Here’s a view way above the H3 in this pic. FABF4A56-C331-4457-8D6B-F7CF5DE79389.jpeg
 
  • dachsie

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 13, 2014
    Glad you had such a great trip! Totally agree with leaving early for Kualoa ranch. We had the same experience - got re-routed through Kapolei. It was nuts! We even left before 6. Took us 2 hours to get there.

    I watched whales from the infinity pool and the infinity hot tub. It was great.
     

    TwinMommyDec05

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Nov 11, 2009
    Where is Liliha Bakery? Googling makes it look as though their locations are all in downtown Honolulu? Is there one out by Aulani? Thanks for the update!
     

    kyton

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jul 10, 2012
    Where is Liliha Bakery? Googling makes it look as though their locations are all in downtown Honolulu? Is there one out by Aulani? Thanks for the update!
    Nope as your google search found all 3 locations are within the Honolulu area.
     

    purpliequeen

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 30, 2005
    Where is Liliha Bakery? Googling makes it look as though their locations are all in downtown Honolulu? Is there one out by Aulani? Thanks for the update!
    Yes - there are 3 locations, but we went to the orig. - 515 N. Kuakini St. (If you get a cake, this is where you have to pick it up.) It has an extensive bakery selection (gotta try their cocoa puffs & poi (purple) doughnut!) & diner counter (with diner service - menu online). Parking was not an issue. I highly recommend it. A Stitch cake (not 3D, but frosted on) was 1/3 the price of what Aulani would have charged for similar size. (And there were more flavors and customization options!)
     
  • htd3sid1

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Nov 14, 2007
    We loved having a rental car when we were there. We got a great deal through Costco.
    The free DVC parking was definitely an incentive to get the car.
    We loved being able to go to Costco for a food run.
     

    corgi_monster

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 10, 2007
    Yes - there are 3 locations, but we went to the orig. - 515 N. Kuakini St. (If you get a cake, this is where you have to pick it up.) It has an extensive bakery selection (gotta try their cocoa puffs & poi (purple) doughnut!) & diner counter (with diner service - menu online). Parking was not an issue. I highly recommend it. A Stitch cake (not 3D, but frosted on) was 1/3 the price of what Aulani would have charged for similar size. (And there were more flavors and customization options!)
    LOVE this location! It’s the only one worth going to. The nuclear red jelly is not to be missed.

    The other locations are weird ... mediocre quality, local Hawaiian-style diner-ish food in wannabe upscale locations with upscale prices that don’t match. We ate at the Ala Moana location recently. One Cobb salad, one steak entree, one tuna sandwich, and two soft drinks cost our family $85 after tax and tip! The bakeries at Ala Moana and Nimitz are fine, just don’t eat in the restaurants.
     
  • purpliequeen

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Dec 30, 2005
    I’m guessing the answer is no but had to ask - are there any carpool/HOV lanes along the way?
    Hi MilitaryMouse - Yep, they're on the far left. We were driving an electric car + had four people so we def could have been in that lane, but to be honest - it was all bad. Everything was backed up. We were pretty much at a standstill on the highway during the morning commute.

    We did use the HOV lanes throughout the trip though and they usually moved much faster than the other lanes.
     

    MilitaryMouse

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Sep 13, 2012
    Hi MilitaryMouse - Yep, they're on the far left. We were driving an electric car + had four people so we def could have been in that lane, but to be honest - it was all bad. Everything was backed up. We were pretty much at a standstill on the highway during the morning commute.

    We did use the HOV lanes throughout the trip though and they usually moved much faster than the other lanes.
    Thank you! That’s good to know!
     

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