We (me, my wife and two daughters 14 and 8) have just returned from a wonderful trip to Oahu, highlighted by eight days and seven nights at Aulani in a one-bedroom villa. When Aulani was first being sold, we sold our Animal Kingdom points to buy in and bought just enough points to head there once every 2-3 years for 4-7 nights (depending on size and view chosen and time of year). You see, we love Disney. And we love Hawaii. So Aulani was like the best of both worlds. I was going to do a trip report but realize that Im never going to get around to doing it right so instead Im going to post some random thoughts and tips and will add some photos later. But for now, I just want to provide some insight on things we liked and things that could use some tweaking. We booked a studio Ocean View for Dec. 23-30 at the 11 month deadline and wait listed for a one-bedroom standard view at the seven month mark. Our wait list came through and the extra space was fantastic but this brings me to my first tip. We loved having the extra space of a one bedroom because we were there for a full week and because it was Christmas and we wanted to decorate and have the room for a tree and to be able to enjoy the room for breakfasts and other holiday fun. In the future, I will always book view over space largely because we will generally spend fewer nights at Aulani and it most likely wont be over Christmas. While our view was fine (a nicely decorated courtyard complete with waterfall) I could have used a water view more for when the girls were getting ready for dinner, etc. instead of staying outside by the pool or beach or at the bar. We booked a night at the Airport Hyatt the night before leaving since we had a 6:05 a.m. flight. And good thing we did. The airport was packed on the 19th and while we didnt almost miss our flight we surely didnt have enough time as we had thought thanks to a huge line at the United counter that greeted us at 4:30 a.m. We flew Pittsburgh to San Francisco to Honolulu and arrived in paradise at 1:35 p.m. Hawaii time. We used a van service to get to our first hotel in Waikiki - go808Express.com. And they were great. Our driver Josie was extremely friendly and gave us great tips and ideas. We actually used this service to go to Waikiki and then from Waikiki to Aulani and then from Aulani to the airport. They also dropped me off at the airport on the way to Aulani to pick up a rental car I couldnt get a big enough vehicle for all of our luggage so thats why we used the service too. Now its time for another tip. I really really regretted renting a car. We didnt need it in Waikiki at all. And we barely needed it at Aulani. We used it three times and we could have used alternative transportation for those three times. One was to go to the grocery store. Josie could have taken us there. Two we went to church on Christmas Eve. Could have taken a cab. And three we a day at the North Shore. Josies company offered an option to have them take us everywhere we wanted to go for a price that would have still saved us money over the rental car. Some highlights of our Waikiki time. We really love Waikiki more than you are supposed to. We have been to the islands 8 times now and avoided Waikiki for the first six times. Last time we spent 2 nights there and really liked it. This time we doubled it and liked it just as much. Love the energy of the area especially in the days leading up to Christmas it was fun and exciting. So many activities on the beach. So many places to walk to. We stayed at the Westin Moana Surfrider which we just loved. Hotel personnel were among the friendliest we encountered on our whole trip (including at Aulani). Some things we did that we loved. 1. Rode an Outrigger Canoe used the folks at the Royal Hawaiian two doors down. Great fun. 2. Swam in the pool and ocean. Water in both was a bit chilly but fun nonetheless. 3. Had breakfast at Eggs and Things. A great recommendation from Josie. 4. Kids did crafts every day at the Westin. We actually found the activities here more fun than at Aulani as the activities were for the whole family at the Westin whereas most of the fun kids activities at Aulani require check in at Auntys Beach House. Kids made leis, kukui nut bracelets, Christmas ornaments out of Hawaiian gourds and decorated gingerbread cookies with a chef from the Westin. 5. Hiked Diamondhead. This was a great day. 6. Went to Leonards Bakery for Malsadas. Yummmmmmmmmmy. 7. Shopped Waikiki the Rodeo Drive of Hawaii. 8. Bought and ate too many cookies at Honolulu Cookie Company. 9. Went to dinner at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and explored the wildlife and beautiful areas of the resort. Stayed and watched the fireworks over the ocean. 10. Had great fish tacos at Dukes. 11. Enjoyed a few tropical drinks at the beautiful and mostly friendly beach bar at the Westin. Bartenders were great but there was one waitress who after ignoring us for 20 minutes, finally looked our way and when I called her over asked her Can we order from you? She said&.if you want. I said&oh are you not assigned to our table. She said she was. But I guess she was just the worst waitress in the islands. 12. We went into downtown Honolulu to see City Lights which was the Christmas-decorated area of the city. It was raining the whole time but it was so cool..so pretty..so festive. Really got us into the Christmas mood. Despite all the fun we had at the Westin, we were all REALLY looking forward to our time at Aulani. As I said above&.Disney and Hawaii. Who could beat it? Rooms We checked in to Aulani on the 23rd and our room was ready immediately. We were in 453 which had a view of a courtyard that also contained a waterfall next to the convention center. Not a great view&but it wasnt a parking structure and we were thankful for that. The rooms are hands down the most beautiful of all DVC properties. Only really one problem inside the villa and that is storage. There is really no storage for anyone sleeping in the living room area and since our girls were using both the pull out couch and the pull down bed (what we call the drawer) under the TV, they pretty much had to live out of suitcases. Not a big deal but itd be nice to have some enclosed storage. There is a closet for hanging clothes here (and in the bathroom area). Area We went shopping to the Super Target to buy groceries and some Christmas decorations. This took way longer than I had hoped and when we also wanted to swing by Safeway for bottled spring water (they were out at Target) we got lost. Ended up getting the water at Costco what had to be one of the worlds busiest Costcos for sure. Like many have reported there arent tons of shopping and restaurant options within walking distance to Aulani but a MonkeyPod was opening within days of us coming home in the plaza across the street where the Taco place and ABC store are located. For us, we were fine eating mostly at Aulani and we did go to Roys twice since we dont have a Roys in our city we wanted to get our fill. The MonkeyPod will be a great addition to the area for sure. When we first drove in to Ko Olina it reminded us of Wailea on Maui or at least what we imagined it looked like in its early days. The landscaping is beautiful and the area just looks gorgeous. So different from Waikiki and most any other area that we saw in Oahu. Loved the beach walk through all the coves of Ko Olina. I did it several early mornings and it was great fun. We also had dinner one night at the Marriott Vacation Club property two coves away at the beach restaurant. It was a nice walk down there and the meal was good. It was just crowded as all get out as we had a pretty long wait for a table but well worth it. Public Areas of Aulani Again, the public areas are just breathtaking. The detail is what you would expect from Disney and more. I dont think I ever left the room and didnt see something amazing that I hadnt seen before. Construction walls were still up but it wasnt that huge of a deal although the night we ate at Ama Ama I kind of wish they would have not been there. We were not among the folks who received points back as that offer ended the day before we arrived. Not sure what changed in that overnight but again, it didnt really impact our stay. I just cant imagine it had an effect on those who were there the day before either. Pools The pools at Aulani were great. Loved the lazy river and probably floated around it 100 times in our week. The slides were super fun too. We spent less time in the large pool than we expected but thats because we generally defaulted to the lazy river. The two-tiered hot tub overlooking the beach was also awesome. And it was big enough that it never felt packed. I was expecting the body on top of body feel of a Disney Cruise but it never got like that. Beach This may be an unpopular notion but I didnt love the beach. I much preferred Waikiki and its really when I was most missing our favorite island Maui. The cove was beautiful for sure. The sand was soft. Everything was pristine but it was almost too perfect. No waves an almost artificial feeling to it. I was sorry I didnt do stand up surfing at Waikiki because you were required to wear a life vest here and I thought that was odd. We all did kayak but again, there wasnt that much space to kayak in and it was just like going back and forth in that small protected area and it got kind of boring. Food We pretty much tried every eating establishment at Aulani and as I mentioned we also hit Roys twice and the Marriott Vacation Club beach restaurant one night. Most breakfasts were in the room but here are some other thoughts on the meals we had at Aulani. 1. Where is the fish? We had to hunt to find out where we could get a grilled fish sandwich at lunchtime as they do not offer them at any of the fast service options. And there are no fish tacos anywhere. Where did we find the grilled fish? At Makahiki and it was good but it took a lot of time out of the day to have to sit down for lunch there. We finally asked if we could get it to go and while it almost seemed like they had never been asked that before, we did order grilled mahi sandwiches twice for lunch. But still. Where are the fish tacos? This is Hawaii!!! 2. Ama Ama Im afraid I have to report what so many others have. It was okay. Food was pretty good but very overpriced especially when you compare to a place like Roys with better food and service. The service was pretty average throughout the meal and got worse as time went on. It was non existant after our main course was served. And that wall. Our view was pretty much of the construction wall. That was the one big disappointment. 3. Makahiki We went here for lunch one day as I noted above and discovered the grilled fish sandwich (or salad) option. It was good but service was remarkably slow. We also attended the character breakfast just because when at Disney we felt we had to! I wouldnt do it again. Only 3 characters (Mickey when you check in for the pay-for-it photo like at Chef Mickeys and Goofy and Minnie at the tables. And the greetings are true drive bys. Food was okay but not as good as most of the breakfasts at WDW. 4. Olelo room this is the bar where they supposedly teach you Hawaiian. Went here twice (once just for a drink and once for food and drink as I had not really had dinner and was hungry late and there arent really many options). I like the concept of learning the language but the waitress (had same girl both times) was kind of creepy almost an super perky animatron who we couldnt really understand. Food was not good here but atmosphere is very nice. 5. Off the hook this was our favorite spot. Food was good even though there was no grilled fish or fish taco option!!! : Atmosphere was great. Service was excellent. Went here for drinks or food (or both) multiple times. 6. One paddle/two paddle possibly the best fast service lunch options this is also the same menu as poolside dining. Good wraps and salads for sure and I took advantage a couple of times. DD8 loved the mac and cheese from here. 7. Lava shack Im not sure if there is really food here. Ice cream yes. But I never saw anything else but I guess I was only inside once or twice and wasnt really looking for food. 8. Mamas snack stop hot dogs, chicken fingers, chicken finger sandwich. It is what it is. 9. Little Opihis beachside snack shack. Kids liked the Greek salad and tomato/mozzarella sandwich. I didnt ever get anything from here. 10. Papalua Shave Ice Yummo. Enough said. Some cool things at Aulani 1. Santa came on Christmas eve morning before taking off on his long flight. He arrived at the entrance in a red convertible, greeted everyone, then went to Auntys for the morning. Fun experience. 2. The spa is amazing. The outdoor hydrotherapy garden is just awesome. I had a great massage and a really great experience overall. I wish I would have gone back later in the week for another treatment. 3. They had cookies and hot chocolate every night for a few nights leading up to and right after Christmas. Just set up in the lobby. Nice touch. Some other fun stuff we did 1. We took a day to hit the North Shore. We visited the Dole Plantation, made a stop at Sunset Beach to see the big waves and headed to Waimea Canyon and walked to the waterfall. We also had lunch at Cholos in Haleiwa, a cool surf town on the North Shore. 2. We did a Dolphin/Snorkel Sail with Hawaii Nautical this is the same company that Aulani uses for its exclusive sailing trip but is $50 per person less when you are not on the exclusive Aulani trip. They picked us up at the hotel and we had a GREAT. I repeat GREAT excursion. Great snorkeling saw tons of fish and turtles. Got to see a couple of pods of spinner dolphins doing their thing even (jumping out of the ocean). The crew was fantastic. The food and drinks good and it was just an overall super experience. Highly, highly recommend it. 3. On Christmas Eve, we went to a local church for mass. It was an amazing experience. Kids of the church did a pageant and there were Christmas carols, including hula to Silent Night and other songs. We were welcomed like members of the congregration. One of those once in a lifetime moments. Bottom line is that we loved Waikiki. We loved Aulani. Next time we will most likely spend a little less time at Aulani probably four or five days and take some time to be in Maui. Something like 4 nights Waikiki, 4 nights Aulani and a week in Maui. There just isnt all that much to do in and around Aulani. Its a beautiful resort with fun amenities but 7 nights was great for the first time next time a few days less. Thats about it for now. Im sure I have a million other things I could bring up but I wanted to get the conversation started sooner rather than later for those who are heading to Aulani soon. Hope to have photos uploaded soon. Bring on the questions.