Mahalo Aulani! Three generation, first-timer Trip Report

Discussion in 'Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa' started by twodogs, Jun 29, 2016.

  1. Regan117

    Regan117 DIS Veteran

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    We had cabanas 3 and 4 for our 10-day stay! I think they are the best ones there.
     
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  2. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    I remember reading about that in your trip report, and I agree that those cabanas are perfectly located! I really do think they could put more in and sell them out most days, but it would take up precious space for chairs that is already in short supply. It is a nice option to have the cabanas if they fit your needs.
     
  3. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    Climbworks:

    http://www.climbworks.com/keana_farms

    We did this activity on Memorial Day (Monday) which helped us avoid the holiday weekend crowds at Aulani. I booked this about 4 months out and had no problem getting the time I wanted. My children love to zip line, and this has the second longest zip line in the world (almost 1/2 mile long), and you get views over the North Shore of Oahu to boot. What more can you ask for? Well, you can ask for 7 more zip lines, 2 vertical drops, 1 vertical ascent, samples of macadamia nuts, tomatoes and bananas grown on the farm you are zipping over, multiple suspension bridges, an ATV ride through the mud/farm to start the course, extreme safety and friendly guides.

    This is located in Kahuku, along the North Shore. We were traveling on a non-rush hour day since it was a holiday Monday, and it took us about one hour to get there from Aulani, with no stops. It took us much, much longer to get back because there is a section of 83 that was down to one lane total with alternating traffic from each direction. This was past Waimea Falls if you were coming from Aulani. On the way back, there was a lot more traffic, and it took almost 45 minutes to go a few miles. The sign said it would be like that through August, so something to be aware of. We had booked a 9:30AM time, but we were early and another party was apparently running late, so they swapped us with them and we got to start as soon as we arrived. Awesome because we were anxious to get started on the fun!! They did offer a military discount to military members with ID. They only discount for the member, not family of military, which is understandable and any discount is appreciated.

    I chose this over Kualoa Ranch because they required each person to weight 70 lbs, and my younger daughter does not weigh that much yet. At Climbworks, you have to be at least 7 years old. They will put the child tandem with a guide if they are too light. My younger DD weighs around 55 lbs, and she had to ride tandem with our guide Danny on 2 of the lines, but the rest she was able to do by herself. The decision to ride tandem is up to the guides based on the winds that day and the length of line. She enjoyed both riding by herself and riding with Danny. There are side-by-side lines for each part of the course, so you can go next to someone else in your party (we may have raced a few times!). Along the way, you stop to have the aforementioned samples of things grown on the farm. Delicious. We all did the entire course, and we were matched up with two other families, so our group totaled 11, with 3 guides. They did all of the hooking in for you (double hooks for safety) and all of the braking for you. I felt extremely safe with the way things were set up and handled by the guides. My parents (mid 70s but very fit and active, exercise a lot) were able to do the entire course without any difficulty at all. We did not get too muddy, but others have, so bringing a change of clothes, shoes and some towels is not a bad idea. They do recommend against loose fitting clothes, and I will add that you might want to wear somewhat longer shorts so that the shorts pad your legs from the harness. Lastly, they take a handful of photos on the tour, and you can get them all (digital, emailed link) for $45. For our party of 6, we had about 20 photos by them, so we purchased them. My husband took his phone and got a lot of photos and videos as well.

    I can't recommend this tour enough!! It was a highlight of the trip for every one of us, and it gave us a unique view of the island that we could not have gotten otherwise. We will remember it fondly.


    This is my younger daughter about to leave the platform on a long, long line!! Not even the longest line on the course and you can't even see the landing platform in the photo!!

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    One of the longer bridges from one line to the next.
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    My younger daughter zipping tandem with Danny. You can see the ocean in the distance as you zip down!!
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    One more bridge. It looks like we are close the ground but those are really the TOPS of the trees that are UNDER the bridge!!
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  5. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    On the way back from Climbworks, we planned to stop for lunch at the shrimp trucks along the North Shore. Our guides at Climbworks also recommended Tita's Grill (same parking area as Giovanni's) for the girls since Tita's had nice grilled cheese sandwiches (my kids aren't too hot on shrimp, nor am I). They also recommended Ono Yo, a frozen greek yogurt place in the same area. We found easy parking and were all geared up to dive into our long awaited food when we realized we had no cash, and every place there was CASH ONLY except Ono Yo. We had brought some cash but used it to tip our great guides at Climbworks. Since we were packing light for zip lining so as to avoid leaving anything in the rental car (they give you a PO box sized locker at Climbworks for free, but it would not have held a purse by any means), no one had a wallet. I brought one credit card, as did my mom. However, neither of us had ever set these credit cards up with a PIN so that they could be used at an ATM (there was an ATM at Tita's and one in the convenience store next to the food truck area). Neither of us brought our ATM cards. UGH!!! I decided to call my credit card company (thanks USAA!) and they set up a PIN over the phone in less than 5 minutes. So I got cash, and all was well again! The girls had amazing grilled cheese sandwiches from Tita's, made on some very thick but light Hawaiian style bread. I had a chicken stir fry from there that was great. DH, GP, and GM went to Giovanni's and the line was very long and incredibly slow-moving. The girls and I were totally done eating by the time they got their food!! Tables there were scarce, so we ate at the tables for Ono Yo, since the girls were most definitely not leaving there without one of those! Ono Yo had two flavors of frozen greek yogurt to choose from, with a lot of toppings from sweets to fresh fruit. The girls loved these! The rating by my group on Giovanni's was "OK" but not spectacular. It was a lot of shrimp, no doubt, but the lemon shrimp was way too lemony per GM.

    There was a mini-mini-swap meet type stand there as well, selling inexpensive t shirts, dresses, purses, bracelets, flower clips for hair, etc. Since we knew we wouldn't make it to the real swap meet this trip, we let the girls have a few bucks and they chose some bracelets and hair clips. They took credit cards there, but only if purchase was over $20. Ours was only $10, so luckily we didn't blow it all at lunch!!

    We stopped on a beach along the North Shore on the way back where a lot of families had set up tents/chairs to enjoy their beaches for Memorial Day. We didn't bring the girls suits, but it was probably a good thing because the beach was kind of rocky and I would have been worried about them getting hurt. It was nice just to be out there enjoying the beauty of this great island!
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2016
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  6. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    Aunty's Beach House:

    Monday night was planned as our girls' first night at Aunty's. I pre-registered them (see link on how-to that I posted here: http://disboards.com/threads/auntys-free-activities-registration.3489715/). They were assigned Coconut Kings and Queens of Comedy Monday night (7:30PM0, Kekei Hula Tuesday night (6PM) and Stitch's Space Goo Thursday afternoon (3PM). I did not try to change what they assigned me since that worked out pretty well as it was. They kept both girls together in the activities as I requested. We had gone by on Sunday afternoon to check out Aunty's and get their bands. This process actually took somewhat longer than I was anticipating, even though there was only one family ahead of us when we walked up. I would not have wanted to be trying to do this when I was actually trying to check them in for an activity.

    The kids generally liked Aunty's and were not bored there as I feared. They are 8.5 and nearly 11, so I was a little concerned that the activities would be geared towards younger kids. Judging by the photos that the Photopass folks took each time, a lot of the kids were younger, but there were certainly other kids their ages in the groups. My kids don't mind playing with younger kids, so that may have helped too. They made several friends during the activities that they would see at the pools on other days, so that was fun. They did not go to any drop in time, other than that we had to drop them off about 1PM on the 3PM Space Goo day, as my husband and I both had spa appointments at that time (and my parents were off doing Waimea Falls that day). I was worried that drop-in might be full and we would be late for our appointments, but I discussed this with the very nice folks at the spa, and they assured me that the kids would be allowed in, even if they were at capacity, due to our appointments. The kids did ask to go to drop-in one evening since some friends that they had met in the pool earlier that day were going to Aunty's that night, but we didn't do it because we had other things going on. Overall they liked Aunty's and would go back. I did not line up in the mornings at all for other activities or to get meals at Aunty's (we fed them dinner before we took them to the two evening activities), so I can't comment on that. I did talk to some parents who tried it the week we were there, and they had good luck if they were the first few in line, otherwise, not so much.

    We planned on returning the Magic Bands prior to check out, but things got to busy and we didn't get it done. So they were kind of expensive souvenirs... I really wish Aulani could at least do room keys, towels and charging on Magic Bands so I wouldn't have to drag around my room key, but I don't see how they could replace the pool bands with Magic bands, since the pool bands have to be visible for the right day to the CMs that patrol the beaches/pools.

    My child loved every wrist band, and wore them for a few weeks after coming back until they literally started to break off:

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    Last edited: Jul 3, 2016
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  7. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    While the girls were at Aunty's on Monday night and Tuesday night, I planned some grown up dinners for me, DH, GP and GM. Monday we tried Monkey Pod, and Tuesday we went to Roy's. I had also made a reservation for all of us at Monkey Pod for our last night (Saturday) so that we could take the kids and so that we could try it one more time if we liked it on Monday (we loved it, so we kept this reservation!). I made the reservations on Open Table 2 months ahead of time. I considered a reservation at Ama Ama, but at 3 months out I could not get a sunset time, so I went with the others. I think it all worked out just perfectly!

    Monkey Pod:

    This is so wonderfully located, just across the street from Aulani. We walked both times that we visited with no issues. The first night, when it was the 4 adults, we were seated upstairs near the outer edge of the balcony. We had a great breeze and could hear the live music from below, but it was not too loud (GP is hard of hearing after flying those Army helicopters for so long!). Our server was excellent, and everything we ordered was outstanding (Mahi Mahi, brussels sprouts, Upcountry Corn Bread, Fish Tacos, special of the day)! The drinks were awesome (I had a Maui Mule, and my husband generously partook of their nice local craft beer selection on-tap). We were stuffed, so we ordered some coconut pie and strawberry pie to go. We ate the pies on other nights, and they were excellent!! We did have kind of an error this night, as I thought Aunty's ended at 9:30PM. NOPE. It ends at 9PM. At about 9:05, we got a call that we needed to get the kids; very friendly CMs and we felt terrible about messing up this detail. We were done eating and just visiting, so my husband jogged back to get them while we paid the server.

    Our second trip was our last night, and we had the girls this time. We were seated outside on the lower level patio, but not too close to the band. It was definitely louder being downstairs, and it was busier in general since it was Saturday night. We again had a great server, and the food was again excellent. Standouts were the pumpkin ravioli appetizer and the corn chowder appetizer (do NOT miss this if you are a big soup person like I am). Cocktails and craft beer were again great. Kids had a quesadilla (hey, we are from Texas!), though they loved the ravioli too!

    They have a little gift shop there were we bought some nice shirts and some pineapple-scented lotion (Dole Whip, anyone??). I would return to this restaurant anytime I am at Aulani. We didn't get over for the Happy Hour specials, but that would make it an even better deal!

    Roy's:

    On Tuesday night, after a day at the pools and beach of Aulani, the adults went to Roy's (again, walked from Aulani) while the kids were at Aunty's. This was our big "splurge" meal for the trip, so I was hoping it would be special. Roy's did not disappoint!! It was pretty windy that evening, so when given the option of inside or outside, we chose inside. We were seated right on the windows overlooking the golf course, and watched a beautiful sunset behind us. We had an incredible server (our receipt says it was Rosalia) who knew so much about each dish and was willing to explain anything we didn't understand about the menu. We had more outstanding cocktails (talk to me, Hibiscus Mule!!) and beers with this meal. Every single thing that we ate that night was just incredible! I think we had the following: brussel sprouts, crab cakes, Uncle Roy's Pulehu Combo, Citrus Grilled Local Makajiki, and Trio of Treasures. Just devine. Then came the desserts, which were just as awesome! The Macadamia nut tart (like pecan pie but with macadamia nuts and about 100x better) was amazing. Not to be missed if you love macadamia nuts. My husband had the chocolate souffle and loved it immensely.

    This dinner was everything I was hoping for and more. My father said that he had not had such a good meal in his entire life, and that he would remember this forever as a very special night. Now, for me, that is the kind of thing a trip like this is about. That is why I do all of this planning and research, and why I appreciate so much what all of you contributed to my family enjoying such a great trip. These boards are wonderful. And this night was one for the books, just enjoying a great meal with family in a wonderful location. Mahalo, Roy's!
     
  8. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    Pearl Harbor and Kama'aina Kids Sitter Service:

    Wednesday was our designated Pearl Harbor visit day. I considered bringing the girls, but decided not to (at least on this day) because I wanted my parents to be able to see what they wanted to see and not be rushed or distracted. My father is a fully retired military pilot and my mother's father was in WWII, so going to Pearl Harbor was a major bucket-list item for both of them. This was one of the primary motivators of this trip, and I wanted to day to be special for them.

    Kama'aina Kids Sitter Service:
    The kids stayed at the resort with a sitter from Kama'aina Kids (www.kamaainakids.com), the service recommended by Aulani. See my post here where I reviewed that service: http://disboards.com/threads/kamaaina-kids-sitter-service-review.3517775/#post-55912804. I will copy and paste it here, just so everything is in one place:

    We used the service as we (DH, my parents and I) were planning an all-day trip to Pearl Harbor. Kids were +/- about going (they are 8 and 10), and I did't want them to rush my parents through it. PH was a bucket list item for them, and one of the primary reasons for this trip and for choosing Oahu, since my dad is a retired military pilot.

    I contacted the sitter service by phone about 2 months prior to the date needed, and although Aulani's site recommends booking at least 24 hours in advance, the sitter service said they get booked up weeks in advance, particularly in summer. So bottom line, as soon as you know your plans, book it. You can cancel up to 8 hours prior if needed.

    I had to leave a message but Jenn Hew quickly returned the call and took all of our information. She emailed me the same day with the name of the sitter (Ashley), as well as a short form to fill out. The form notes that they can't take the kids swimming in pools or ocean while sitting.

    There is a 4 hour minimum, and then they charge you in 1/2 hour increments after that. They don't charge you until the day is completed, so you just need to give them a ball park time that you will return. Since we were going to PH for 9AM Arizona tickets, we wanted to leave Aulani no later than 7AM. We had the sitter scheduled to arrive at 06:30. The day before, the service called to confirm our room number, and the sitter came straight to the room.

    She was very sweet, and brought a big bag of crafts and activities. She gave the kids breakfast from our kitchen after we left, as planned. They made pineapple beaded key rings from her craft bag. I had looked at the Iwa the night before, and asked her to take the kids down around 7:45 to the Pau Hana room to register for the Canoe Racing activity, since activities had been filling up before they even got through the line at 0800. She did this as well as took them to the paper craft activity/bag designing activity that I asked her to check out (cost $25 extra, but she texted me to make sure price was ok). She was extremely familiar with Aulani and the entire process, since she sits there often. They got into the Canoe activity and they really enjoyed it.

    While we were gone, she (on her own!) called the character line, and took them to meet all the characters for the day. She took lots and lots of photos on her phone, which she sent throughout the day, as well as kept up with our Photopass card so we would have those photos too. At the end of the day, she even went to the gift shop and added all of the Canoe Racing pictures onto our Photopass card. YEA!! At that point in the trip, I hadn't even figured out how to add pictures from the group events to our card...

    She was strict with the girls about re-applying sunblock every 2 hours (again, her rule, which I thought was a good one), and had them wear their hats. They did go in the ocean to race the canoes, but I had asked her before we left if this was ok, and she said it was.

    She took the kids to check out a movie for the night at Pau Hana (again, on her own but I was very happy she did), so they were ready with that when we got back at around 5pm. They also did the Scavenger Hunt, and the girls said she showed them some really cool things since she has done it many times. We left the kids key cards with her, and they had charging enabled. This made it easy for her to pay for the bag-making activity and their lunches/treats.

    Charges for the sitter service went straight to my credit card, and we did give her a cash tip, though I don't know if that is standard or not. She paid for her own lunch and parking, though we offered to cover these things.

    Overall it was a very positive experience and I would definitely use this service again. She seemed very responsible, fun, engaged and knowledgable about Aulani.

    Passport to Pearl Harbor:
    I decided to book the Passport to Pearl Harbor (http://www.recreation.gov/showPage....&contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72369&page=passport), which is $65 per person ($35 for kids) and includes admission to the USS Arizona, USS Missouri, Bowfin and the Aviation Museum. It includes the audio tours for all sites as well, including the audio tour for the USS Arizona museum. When you book this ticket, you need to be booking it at exactly 60 days out, at 7AM Hawaii time, to get your USS Arizona timed tickets at the time you want. You do not book the USS Arizona ticket separately; you book the Passport, and it gives you a choice of USS Arizona times when you book the Passport. We chose a morning time to try to avoid cancellations for winds, and we went out without problems on the 9AM tour. Ticket confirmation is emailed to you, and I printed it and brought it to the ticket window to check in. There is a special line for the Passport (shorter), so ask for it when you come through security. We spent quite bit of time at the USS Arizona museum, and then toured the Bowfin. We skipped the Missouri because by then it was getting very hot. We did the Aviation Museum, and got a nice golf cart lift both ways out to Hanger 79. My parents ate lunch in the cafe here and said it was great. My parents stayed the full day (8AM to around 4PM) on this day, and then returned another day for another 5 hours or so of touring so that they could do the Missouri and other areas that they wanted to see again. You can extend your Passport by an additional day during the 7 day period, for just $10, which is what they did.

    I had booked just USS Arizona tickets for Saturday as a back up, in case winds cancelled our boarding on Wednesday (thankfully this didn't happen) here: http://www.recreation.gov/showPage....&contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72369&page=memorial. These are free other than a small service charge. Good peace of mind for me to have had this back up day booked so that I could make sure that my parents got to board the Arizona.

    Getting there was not too terrible, even though we went on a weekday and had rush hour traffic. We left Aulani at 7AM for our 9AM Arizona tour, and we had plenty of time. We actually used the HOV lane on the H1, which saved a lot of time. It does not let you exit the HOV until the Airport (which is just past PH, to the east), but it was still shorter to take the HOV, go one exit past PH to the Airport exit, make a U turn and come back, than it would have been to not use the HOV lane and exit right at PH. Someone here suggested doing this, and I want to thank them for that!! We found easy parking in the shade in the PH lot when we arrived around 745AM. There was a guard stand right near where we parked, so I was not worried about a car break-in. That said, we did not bring purses or leave anything in the car.

    Overall this was such a moving and emotional visit for all of us. I wanted so badly to execute this for my parents, so that they could visit, reflect and learn (as we all did) from this sacred place. I learned so much that I did not know about this event (both here and throughout Oahu at other military bases) and how it affected the people of Hawaii. If you have never visited and have an interest, this is a MUST DO in my book. The kids both expressed interest in going when we come back to Oahu, and I think they will get a lot out of it as well.

    Waikiki Brewing Company:

    DH and I finished up around 2PM (we had split off from my parents so that they could go at their own pace), and decided to head to Waikiki to grab a late lunch, and more importantly, a flight of craft beer, at Waikiki Brewing Company (http://www.waikikibrewing.com/). Getting down there was a little crazy, and parking was non-existent. It is located next to a Doubletree hotel, where I pulled into the valet to ask about nearby parking. They offered to valet the car for $5/hour. Um, yes please. Best $5 we spent since the one way streets and traffic were crazy. Waikiki Brewing is co-located with Cheeseburger Waikiki, and you could order off either menu. My husband had a beer flight, and I had a Jalapeno Pineapple Margarita (quite good actually!). We ate off the brewery menu, and it was delicious (the mac and cheese was off the hook!).

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    The USS Arizona Memorial in the background, with Ford Island, shot from the Bowfin Submarine:
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    Last edited: Jul 3, 2016
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  9. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    Well, it's bedtime again here (or past it), so I will try to post more later this weekend. Hopefully not boring everyone to tears with the length of this trip report....

    Coming up will be our catamaran charter with Wild Side Hawaii (http://www.sailhawaii.com/). This was the most amazing thing I think any of us has ever done on the ocean!! It far exceeded even our very high expectations and was the absolute highlight of this trip for us! Can't wait to share it with you!!!
     
  10. Disney4evermore

    Disney4evermore Earning My Ears

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    I'm loving your trip report. It's giving me great ideas about what we want to do when we go in June 2017. I loved the zip line pictures. I can't wait to read more. Thanks for a great report.
     
  11. alohamom

    alohamom DIS Veteran

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    Awesome do far, no such thing as a "too long" Hawaii trip report-I cant wait for the catamaran portion
     
  12. blessed2BaMama

    blessed2BaMama Earning My Ears

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    [QUOTE="twodogs, post: 56037960,
    Coming up will be our catamaran charter with Wild Side Hawaii (http://www.sailhawaii.com/). This was the most amazing thing I think any of us has ever done on the ocean!! It far exceeded even our very high expectations and was the absolute highlight of this trip for us! Can't wait to share it with you!!![/QUOTE]

    We cannot wait to hear about the catamaran trip!! Our family is getting ready to reserve it as soon as we plan our schedule- my husband has been on the fence but even after your short blurb today- he said "let's go for it"!! I have a 12 and 17 yr old and I'm on pins and needles to hear more!! Amy
     
  13. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    Wild Side Hawaii, Best of the West Catamaran Charter:

    I knew we wanted to experience an ocean adventure in Hawaii, and I looked at the offerings through Aulani and several other options. I chose Wild Side Hawaii because I very much liked their "one with nature" philosophy regarding the animals in the ocean, as well as the educational component. They offer several options, including a larger catamaran with about 20 people or a smaller catamaran that holds 6 people (called Best of the West on the A'laki boat, http://www.sailhawaii.com/activities_Oahu.html). Typically, children under 12 are not allowed on the Best of the West, probably because it is expensive, and can be intense, and they don't want others' experiences to be affected by small kids if they don't have any kids. Typically, you can book with less than 6 people in your party, and they will match you up with others to make the group of 4-6 to sail. However, since we had a party of 6, I called to see if we could bring the kids since we would fill out the entire charter. They were very nice and said yes, that would be just fine! They would then be able to pace the day around the kids' abilities and what we wanted to do. Perfect. I spoke with Sofia, who has a Master's Degree in Marine Biology and was extremely helpful with the planning process. She was very responsive by phone and email, and she ended up going with us on our charter!! She took amazing photos (which they give you a digital link for, and it is included in the price of the charter!) from the top of the boat while we were sailing and while we were snorkeling.

    The boat leaves from Waianea Harbor, which is up the west coast of Oahu from Aulani. I was happy we did not have to drive back into Waikiki to catch this charter. It took us about 30-40 minutes to drive there in minimal traffic from Aulani. It doesn't look far on the map, but there are a lot of stop lights, and we hit most of them! We had heard that the west side of the island can be a bit sketchy, but we did not feel concerned at all for our safety. The parking seemed safe in the Harbor, but again, we did not leave any temptations for anyone in the rental vehicle.

    We were to meet the boat at 8AM, and would return around noon (I think they actually let us stay out about 30 minutes longer than that!). The boat was staffed by Sofia, Caroline (our in-the-water guide) and the Captain Downing who drove us around and found the best spots. They provide snorkeling equipment, but we brought our own since some needed corrective lenses in the masks, and we also wanted to know that it fit us. DH and I have gone scuba diving and snorkeling a lot, so we were very comfortable with it, but my kids and parents were snorkeling for the first time in earnest on this vacation. The kids had practiced with their gear in our bathtub at home (quite a sight to see!) before the trip, as well as in the Aulani lagoon, but my parents had not. This was a mistake because my mom had trouble with her mask and then was a bit panicked for the rest of the charter. They did have great advice for my mom when this happened, and offered her several of their masks to try. They were also helpful when my older daughter felt her face was burning (combination of sun, salt water, sun block and the mask) under the mask. Sofia came to the rescue with Vaseline, which soothed her face and allowed her to go back in the ocean. Just telling you these tidbits because they demonstrate what professional, caring folks we had taking us out, and how much of a difference that can make to your experience. DH and I have taken sailing charters all over the Caribbean, BVI, Tahiti, Hawaii, Florida, etc, and these guys were top notch.

    They fit everyone for the snorkeling flotation device that will allow you to float on the surface of the water (unlike a life jacket). They had to get some smaller ones for the girls, but after that and a safety briefing, we were off!! Based on advice here, we got towels the night before from Aulani, and brought them back to the resort with us that afternoon. We also brought hats (good idea), sunblock (no spray allowed on the boat for safety, so make sure to bring lotion), and our waterproof camera. They provide cucumber water (which they told us helps wash the salt water taste out of your mouth), snacks, drinks (non-alcoholic) and lunch. Lunch was some yummy-looking chicken salad sandwiches, but we didn't try them since everyone was trying to protect their stomach (really it was a smooth ride, so I think it would have been ok to eat lunch). We also were served chips and salsa, fresh pineapple and some other snacks. Delicious.

    We headed straight out in the ocean, and very quickly we were in very deep water (2500 feet) and saw a pod of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins!! It was incredible how they are just swimming along in pods of several hundred to several thousand dolphins, jumping and leaping out of the water, right by the boat. The captain kept the boat lined up with the dolphins swimming so as to be less disruptive to them, and we just sailed right along with them for about 30 minutes. We were in awe of these beautiful creatures, in their native habitat (ok, I shed a few tears just watching them and seeing my kids experiencing this...). We watched these from the boat, as the plan was to get out in the water with the Spinner Dolphins, which are closer to the shore, later in the charter. It is impossible to show in photos just how close these dolphins were to the boat, or how many of them there were around us (100s). All of those grey things that you see in the water are dolphins! I will post more about the drops we did into the water with the Spinner Dolphins and then later with the sea turtles later on tonight when I have more time!

    Pantropical dolphins off the back of the boat:
    upload_2016-7-3_11-58-59.png

    upload_2016-7-3_11-59-52.png

    These are not zoomed in: this is how close they were to us. There were mom/baby pairs (adorable!!):
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    Last edited: Jul 3, 2016
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  14. heaven2dc

    heaven2dc DIS Veteran

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    I am absolutely loving your TR! I love the way you broke down different segments of your trip to keep everything in perspective (my OCD especially loved this!). Amazing catamaran experience! Can't wait to see pics of the spinning dolphins and to see a little underwater photography while snorkeling (hopefully!). I agree with you that a caring guide can make all the difference in an excursion or guided tour.
     
  15. lizard1

    lizard1 DIS Veteran

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    We also did a charter with Wild Life Specialty Tours. We did the Deluxe Family Charter, though, because there were 8 of us. We ended up not having another party matched with ours, so it was just our 8....that tour holds a maximum of 10. We had a similar experience as you- we got to see many pods of dolphins up close and were within 6 to 10 feet of them in the water! They were very much aware of the dolphins and their habits and taught us a lot during our experience. I also felt much more safe going in the water with them, than what I observed with the larger tours later in the day (where 40ish people were in the water surrounding the boats). We had pulled pork sandwiches on our trip, as well as the pineapple, potato salad and macadamia nut cookies. We ate on the way back to shore as we spent most of our time IN the water. Glad to hear that someone else has such a high opinion of their operation as well. I think it was the most amazing thing we did on our entire trip.
     
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  16. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    Wild Side Hawaii, Best of the West Catamaran Charter (continued):

    Here are a few more of the Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, with one doing its "spin", which is a vertical spinning jump out of the water. SO COOL!! Wish you could hear the sounds of these dolphins breathing as they swam so close to the boat. I posted a few pictures my husband took off the back of the boat, without any zoom (he was using the Fuji Waterproof camera so many recommended on these boards; took great pictures!).

    upload_2016-7-3_21-26-18.png

    Can you spot the "spinner" on the right of this photo?? Amazing!!
    upload_2016-7-3_21-26-32.png



    Taken right off the back of the boat (that's the metal piece you see in the center of photo), with the Fuji, NO ZOOM:
    upload_2016-7-3_21-31-30.png


    Looking back at the West side of Oahu as we sailed back to more shallow water to find the Spinner Dolphins (darn water spot on the Fuji lens; do wipe yours down when you are out in the water...):
    upload_2016-7-3_21-32-33.png

    After we boated with the Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, we headed back towards more shallow waters to see if we could find a pod of Spinner Dolphins to swim with. We were instructed to gear up (including the provided fins) and to get ready to move quickly for a drop in the ocean once they spotted the pod. Once we were near the pod, they had us all sit on the back of the boat to await the drop. We were all to very quietly go into the ocean at the same time, to cause as little disruption to the dolphins as possible. The guides were very informative of the ways we were seeing these amazing beings but trying to be the least intrusive. We dropped in several times (I think 4-5), as the guides wanted to make sure everyone got the full experience, as well as the fact that these dolphins are on the move (not in captivity, which made me smile so much) so we had to go where they went. It did get rather tiring getting in an out of the boat that many times, as well as swimming in the open ocean to get back to the boat (fins and floats helped, as well as the guide). By about the third drop, GM was exhausted and watched from the boat gladly after that. The rest of us made all of the drops.

    Here we all are, on the back of the boat, waiting silently for our cue to "drop". Caroline, our in water guide, has the orange sleeves and a float that you can't see here; came in handy when GM decided she was done for the day:


    upload_2016-7-3_21-34-24.png


    We dropped in, and then our jaws dropped because we saw this (again, absolutely no zoom; our Fuji waterproof camera):

    upload_2016-7-3_21-35-28.png



    Sofia was up on the boat and took some amazing shots of us snorkeling (you can see the yellow snorkeling floats around our upper torsos). This gives the best impression of just how integrated we were in swimming with this pod. What you can't see from the surface are that these dolphins you see in the photo had about 300 friends and family that were swimming right below and all around us. If I hadn't been concentrating so hard on seeing it all, I would have been sobbing with joy at my family getting to have this amazing adventure!


    upload_2016-7-3_21-28-29.png


    DH snapped this "spinner" while snorkeling! That's our boat in the photo.

    upload_2016-7-3_21-40-17.png


    I could post a million of these underwater photos that DH took, but I'll try to control myself:

    upload_2016-7-3_21-40-58.png

    More on the next post!!!
     

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  17. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    We cannot wait to hear about the catamaran trip!! Our family is getting ready to reserve it as soon as we plan our schedule- my husband has been on the fence but even after your short blurb today- he said "let's go for it"!! I have a 12 and 17 yr old and I'm on pins and needles to hear more!! Amy[/QUOTE]

    Hope these photos are helping your case!!! You WILL LOVE IT!!!!!! GO, GO, GO!!
     
  18. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    Here are a few more.

    DH took this one with the Fuji, and DD10 and GP can be seen snorkeling here. You get the sense of how close we were to the dolphins. Getting goose bumps typing this:

    upload_2016-7-3_21-44-21.png

    GP and the dolphins:
    upload_2016-7-3_21-44-39.png


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    DD10 looks like she is ready to join the pod!! The guides advised to swim the same direction as the dolphins, and she took this to heart:
    upload_2016-7-3_21-45-0.png



    Then it was time to leave these majestic creatures and see if we could find the sea turtles. The guides knew the best spot, the Turtle Spa, as they called it. We saw numerous turtles, and learned a lot about them before this drop. Sofia took this great shot from the boat of DD10 and DH with a turtle coming up for breath right by DD!! I am so grateful for the photos Sofia took (all free!) as they show a perspective we could never get since we were all in the water together.
    upload_2016-7-3_21-58-45.png
    View attachment 179217


    Turtles all around DD8; I'm sure they were checking out her wrist band assortment, ha ha!:
    upload_2016-7-3_21-48-21.png



    DH getting busy with the Fuji again. Gorgeous and the last thing we saw before heading back to the boat:
    upload_2016-7-3_21-47-17.png


    I truly can not say enough about this experience. It is the essence of Hawaii, and made a fantastic trip absolutely phenomenal. If you are good swimmers and want to see what real Hawaii is like, please splurge and do this tour (or one of the other similar ones they offer that have more folks and therefore are somewhat less expensive). To swim in the ocean with these amazing animals, free to live their lives in their natural habitat, was overwhelming to us all. We all agreed, this was THE top thing we did throughout the stay. Even my mother, who had some trouble with all of the physical swimming (I think she would have been totally fine except that her mask was initially leaking and then she started to get a bit panicked, and used a lot of energy), said this was the best day. If you can make this work, DO IT!!
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2016
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  19. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    PS while I am writing this installment tonight, I am listening to the music of Keili'i Reichel, who wrote and performed the music of Aulani, streaming free on Amazon Prime. :flower1::flower1::flower1:
     
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  20. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    On Thursday, the kids had Space Goo at 3PM, and I decided that it would be a good day for me and DH (somewhat grudgingly) to go to the Aulani Lanwani Spa. Our original plan was that my parents would have the girls for some of the day and then they would drop them at Aunty's. However, they decided to try hiking Waimea Falls that morning, with a stop at the Dole Plantation (for a Dole Whip only; priorities!!) and the military commissary for the day. So, we suddenly had a little logistical problem with the kids, but I'll explain how that went below. I booked the spa treatments 4 months ahead of time, and had no issues getting what we wanted. The people who answered the booking line were pretty helpful at telling me more about the treatments than the brief descriptions on the site: https://resorts.disney.go.com/aulani-hawaii-resort/spa-fitness/spa-therapies/

    Here is the spa pricing (including Teen Spa, which we didn't try): https://resorts.disney.go.com/media/resorts/pdf/spa/Laniwai-Spa-Pricing.pdf


    Aulani Laniwai Spa
    :

    I posted my thoughts on the spa in another thread (which asked if this spa was out of this world or not, so that is the idea of my response here), so I will just copy them here, again, just to keep it all together:

    My husband and I visited the spa, and the kids went to Aunty's. I had the Nature's Healing Aina, followed by a break, followed by the Kapai Herbal Poultice massage. My husband had the Signature LomiLomi. We could not book a couples massage because we wanted different types of massages from the standard package as well as different from each other, and they said they could not do this for the couples package. Ok, no problem to be in separate rooms. I went earlier in the day than he did, and had the Aina, which was very, very nice. Loved the aroma of the scrub, as I felt like I was being scrubbed with a Dole Whip! Pineapple was part of the scrub... This therapist was excellent, and the components of the treatment were also excellent. She asked me what type of music I wanted during the treatment (was not asked by the other therapist for my later treatment). The people who did the check-in were very nice, and when I arrived about 10:15am, there was no one anywhere in the hydrotherapy garden, so it was very peaceful.

    I did speak with a spa attendant about the kids and Aunty's. My husband needed to get to the spa at around 1PM for his 2PM massage (my massage was also at 2PM), and the kids were scheduled for Stitch's Space Goo at Aunty's at 3pm (2:30pm check in). Well that timing was not going to work. I was worried if Aunty's was at capacity when he went to drop them off at 1pm, he would miss his appointment (I was already at the spa from my morning treatment, so I was of no help). Spa attendant said that Aunty's would take them, even if at capacity, if the manager at Aunty's called the spa manager and confirmed our appointments. I wish I would have confirmed this earlier so I wasn't worried about it. It turned out fine as Aunty's was not at capacity.

    By the time my husband arrived at 1:30pm, the garden had quite a few people in it, with two couples stationed in the two private tent areas. These couples didn't leave for several hours, but we were able to rest in one after our last treatment of the afternoon, when they had left. If you want some privacy, seek one of these out early in the day. We did not try the showers at that point as didn't want to get wet right before the massages.

    My poultice massage was kind of rough and kneading and not terribly relaxing. I was unsure if she had much experience with the technique, as I have had outstanding poultice massages elsewhere that were quite different than this. My husband said his massage was too light, despite asking them to increase the pressure more than once. I think another poster reported the same in her trip report, so if you like a lot of pressure, maybe it is best to mention this on booking so they can put you with an appropriate therapist. His experience might have been a little marred by the fact that he wasn't feeling great that day (problems with his ear due to allergies). The little treat they give you after the massage was delicious, and I saw them bring an entire cupful of them to a person who apparently expressed his love of this treat!

    We then went to the gardens to relax. It was relaxing but there were people making a fairly big production out of moving from the hot tub to the cold plunge pool, and this marred the relaxing atmosphere a little. We tried all of the showers, the hot tub with jets and the hot tub without jets. I personally liked the still hot tub, so peaceful. I also tried the eucalyptus steam room, which was a steam room without any eucalyptus that I could sense. I have been to other eucalyptus steam rooms at other spas which were much better in my opinion, since they actually smelled strongly of eucalyptus. Maybe an off day for the steam room, or maybe they are just going for subtlety?

    The attendants who take you on your tour and give you the lockers were very friendly. I was a bit disappointed that the common areas in the locker rooms had used towels, paper towels, etc left about for some time throughout the day. At most high-end spas that I've been too, the locker room staff are constantly refreshing everything. For example, when I took a shower, 2 out of 3 shower stalls had no towels or floor mats in them (had been used by a prior guest, I'm sure). Yes, I got my own towels and lived without the mat, but this is not what I was expecting for the price of this spa. The break room for the locker room attendants is right by the toilet stalls, and many times I could hear them in there, so I know they were in the area, but they were not out in the locker room monitoring and refreshing things. At the price point of this spa, I just had different expectations.

    Since I was there over lunch, I was not sure what to do. I read that they had some snacks, but this was just a few mini muffins and cookies. I think there was whole fruit as well. There were several yummy flavors of water to choose from which were frequently filled up. I had a big breakfast knowing that I would not eat lunch, but if you are there literally all day, you might get fairly hungry. I saw no one eating at the spa or in the gardens, but I am not sure if this is offered. Many other spas I have been to offer a spa lunch option, but I did not see it here, and it was not mentioned as an option to me when I inquired at the time of booking.

    Overall I enjoyed my time there, and it is a little oasis that is hard to believe exists right around the way from all the pools, lazy river, etc. One of my treatments was excellent, the other so-so. My husband's was ok but not stellar. For me, it would rate middle of the road compared to other high end spas (Four Seasons Vail, Colorado; couples massage in private cliff-side Bohio at Peter Island Resort, BVI, Cuisinart Spa, Anguilla etc). I think it is a very nice way to relax, but I think they could do more to make it feel as upscale as the prices that they charge. I also wish that they could somehow take advantage of the beach location and showcase this in the spa. You can't really hear and certainly can't see the beach/ocean from the spa. This was one of the only things that didn't quite live up to my expectations for this trip, and it was still very nice, but not "best in the world" for me personally. I will say that we have never taken the time to do a spa day during a family trip. I love a great spa, and when DH and I travel alone, a spa is always on the agenda for me. So perhaps some of my less than stupendous feelings about this experience were due to me comparing it to a spa day on an "alone" vacation. Though it is an oasis within Aulani, it was certainly on my mind that my kids were 5 minutes away at Aunty's and would need to be picked up after my mini-bliss session... I would still absolutely recommend the spa, and I'm just certain that I need to try it again, each and every time we go to Aulani, to test my theory above. Yes, I'm going to have to go back, just to be scientific about it...:D:D
     
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  21. twodogs

    twodogs DIS Veteran

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    Saturday was another Cabana #4 day for us, with my parents returning to use a second day on the Passport to Pearl Harbor. Monkeypod with all of us was that night (see earlier review). Sadly, we were going to sleep for the last time in Aulani that night (for this trip, anyway....aren't we all planning the next one already??).

    Makahiki Character Breakfast:

    I planned the Character Breakfast at Makahiki for Sunday morning (we had a 5PM flight out that evening), as it mimics what we always do at WDW (Chef Mickey's for breakfast on departure day). I hoped this would soften the blow of leaving, but I think it only delayed the blow! When I went to book this about 5 months out, I accidentally chose the wrong date. Goodness. I didn't realize this mistake until about 2.5 months out, and by that time, I could only get 7:30AM or 9:45AM. I was not thrilled with this, but I booked the 9:45 and hoped I could move it up when we got there. Once at Aulani, I stopped by the desk at Makahiki and asked if we could come earlier. They told us to come at 8:30. Perfect. We packed up that morning as best we could, then headed to Makahiki. I knew I was going to get Photopass, as well as this package of photos. The PP folks had told me to buy the package and get the print at the table, then bring that to the Photopass kiosk in the gift shop to have the photos added to my photopass account. I was not terribly happy to be paying for these photos on top of the Photopass, but had to let it go...I will review Photopass in another post.

    We waited no time for our family photos with Mickey, and they let us do several different combinations of folks. Then we waited about 5 minutes more for our table, and off we went. I was happy to be seated on the patio, to soak up a little last bit of Hawaii before we left paradise. The buffet to me was very large, with some similarities to Chef Mickey's and some real differences too. Others have better intel on the foods in their posts, so I won't get into terrible detail here. We did have a great server, and he kept DD8 up to her ears in chocolate milk with whipped cream (a vacation treat, for sure). We were fairly quickly visited by Minnie and Goofy, and then Aunty made her rounds, singing with her ukulele. She stopped by our table and sang to the girls for a few bars; super sweet.

    upload_2016-7-3_22-43-2.png
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2016

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