Trip Summary, April 1-8

Bmlors

Mouseketeer
Joined
Oct 30, 2011
I generally do not post a lot online, but I learned a ton from others who posted on this forum about their trips, so thought I'd do a summary of the trip we just finished. Hopefully this helps other planners so I can pay it forward! I'm happy to answer any specific questions as well.

First some context -- my wife and I went alone without our four kids, so a true vacation. We're from the midwest and this was our first visit to Hawaii, so we intentionally planned a low key week. We wanted to see some of the island and definitely Pearl Harbor, but our main objective was to relax and unplug. We are DVC members at Old Key West, so we used DVC points and had a 5th floor studio room in the Ewa building, checking in Monday April 1 and checking out Monday April 8th.

We flew into HNL at 1pm and had rented a car. We stopped at Target on our way to Aulani to get some breakfast foods and some snacks/fruits -- it was a quick stop and definitely worth it to have some things in the room. I did online check-in, so we just pulled the car up to the main lobby. You cannot park your car in the parking garage until you get a room key, so the valet takes the car until you're able to check-in and bring your luggage to the room. We were blown away by the lobby, so spent some time there taking some pictures, then went up to the room (which was ready prior to 4pm) to drop off luggage, then I retrieved the car from the valet and parked it in the garage. We grabbed a quick dinner across the street at Monkeypod, which we thought was very good. The rest of the evening we just toured ourselves around the resort to get the lay of the land and bought the refillable mugs, which I would highly recommend as we definitely got our $$ worth. We also got a tour of the spa, which sealed the deal for us that we wanted to use the spa so we booked a time for massages (more later on the spa). Then we crashed with a 5 hr time change kicking in.

Tuesday was a complete chill day -- we split time between chairs at the beach, the adults-only hot tub and the adults-only pool. We had no problems getting pool chairs at any point throughout the week, although I can see how if you had kids and wanted to be close to the kid areas it could get challenging. We felt like there were plenty of spots, including places with great umbrellas. I feel like the resort does a great job of catering to people like us who are there to chill out without kids, while also having incredible options for kids. Obviously if you're completely adverse to kids, this resort isn't for you, but for people like us who are fine with kids...we're just happy to be there without ours...it was perfect! That evening we had a dinner reservation at 'Ama 'Ama -- which in short was excellent. We were seated right at the edge of the restaurant, so while the food was very good, the overall ambience of having an open air dinner with live music while watching the sunset was amazing.

Wednesday we left Aulani early (~7:30am) to go to Pearl Harbor. As most have noted, the traffic getting into Honolulu is a pain -- the traffic situation around there does not jive with the laid back island feel you expect from Hawaii! That said, it wasn't horrible...just plan on it being slow. We got to Pearl Harbor around 8:30am and had pre-bought tickets to the Arizona Memorial, but our ticket time wasn't until noon. Fortunately, they still had walkup tickets available so we were immediately able to get on a boat tour rather than waiting. I won't go into details reviewing Pearl Harbor, but we were very glad to experience it and I think everyone should do it to further cement the sacrifices our military members make for our freedom. We also toured the Bowfin and spent a fair amount of time just reading and learning more about Pearl Harbor. After PH, we are state capitol buffs, so drove to the state capitol building downtown. Frankly, this was kind of a dud -- the building isn't overly visitor friendly compared to others we've been to and parking was a hassle. We considered touring Iolani Palace, but at that point we were ready to return to the oasis of Aulani, so headed back home. Relaxed at Aulani for the evening, including dinner at Off the Hook. Note that the servers at Off the Hook will get dessert from 'Ama 'Ama, so we took advantage of that for the amazing pineapple cheesecake.

Thursday morning we had booked a dolphin viewing/snorkel catamaran cruise through Hawaii Nautical, so left the resort fairly early to drive up to Wai'anae beach. For us first-timers, the cruise was an excellent opportunity to get out on the water, see the wildlife and do some "first timer" snorkeling. We returned to Aulani shortly after lunch and then headed to the spa for 4pm massage appointments. Others have discussed this at length, but I will reinforce that the entire spa experience (hydrotherapy gardens, relaxation rooms, sauna, etc) are what set apart Laniwai. We spent a lot of time there just relaxing and reading in the gardens, but frankly could have spent all day. This was absolutely a highlight of the trip and while the price of the massage alone is relatively expensive, the entire experience was worth it.

Friday we wanted to see the island, so we started by driving through the center of the island (past the Dole plantation) to Laniakea Beach (aka Turtle Beach). We had the beach to ourselves in the morning and while no turtles came on shore, we enjoyed watching them in the water just offshore. We then spent a fair amount of time eating and shopping in Haleiwa (quick plug for the Kai Ku Hale store, which has a lot of local crafts/art). We returned to Laniakea and one turtle had made his way onshore, so spent some time watching and learning (many more people were there, including a turtle "keeper"). We then took a leisurely drive then around the island going east then south, cutting off north of Honolulu to skip the traffic. The diversity of the island seeing the west, north, east and then south sides is amazing, particularly for us land locked residents, so we enjoyed seeing everything. Upon return to Aulani, dinner was the pizza at Ulu Cafe, which was surprisingly good and probably the lowest cost meal we had all week! Leftovers fit into the room fridge, providing lunch the next day too!

Saturday we hung out at the resort relaxing by the various pools throughout the day and also did ukulele lessons at 2pm, which were very fun. Around 4pm we got ready to head to Paradise Cove (just north of Aulani) for their luau -- we had done some research and decided to try Paradise Cove's luau rather than Aulani. We did the deluxe package at Paradise, which gets you table service and several other amenities, which we appreciated. The activities before the luau and the show were very well done and the food was solid, but not spectacular. We had a great time, but really can't compare it to Aulani's luau -- next time we'll do Aulani and compare. :)

Sunday was primarily another relax day although we did take the DVC cultural tour at 2pm, which was fascinating. There were only a few other people in our group, so it was essentially a personalized tour by "Uncle" (who also does the fireside stories at night, which I failed to mention earlier and are very entertaining). We probably should have done the tour earlier in the week, because you learn about so many details on the design and culture of the resort, very few of which you notice on your own. The amount of thought and care that went into the design and respect of Hawaiian culture is absolutely what sets Aulani apart from the other resorts in the area.

Finally on Monday all good things have to come to an end, so we prepped for departure. Our flight out was early evening, so we got to spend a few more hours relaxing. The Luana Lounge is normally available for showers/changing for those who have checked out, but it is currently closed. However, we were given access to a studio "hospitality room" from 2-3pm, which worked great. It was interesting to see a "hotel" style room with a view of the parking lot -- honestly, for the point different, the room was still very nice and we noted that if you can get it, those rooms are actually a pretty good deal versus the villas! After an uneventful drive back to HNL (traffic was only bad the other direction), we loaded up for the red eye home.

Overall, given our prior experiences with Disney resorts, we had high expectations for Aulani -- and they were met and exceeded! We absolutely were able to relax and enjoy the resort, along with adequate time to get out and see the sights of Oahu. Our highlights at the resort were probably 'Ama 'Ama and the spa experience, but I would say we genuinely enjoyed every moment we were there. We definitely hope to return at some point! Aloha...
 

tink too

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 27, 2005
Thanks for sharing your Aulani insights @Bmlors, we're looking forward to our first visit to Hawaii in the summer so appreciate all the tips we can get.
 
  • nkereina

    Last chance to lose your keys.
    Joined
    Feb 11, 2009
    Great review! Thanks for sharing, and glad you had such a great time! :)

    I feel like the resort does a great job of catering to people like us who are there to chill out without kids, while also having incredible options for kids. Obviously if you're completely adverse to kids, this resort isn't for you, but for people like us who are fine with kids...we're just happy to be there without ours...it was perfect!
    I totally agree. We spent part of our honeymoon there, and have no kids of our own, but never felt out of place. We saw all family dynamics! The only thing I'd say is that we thought there was a lack of evening entertainment for adults at times, but that just allowed us to go to bed early and get up early each day.

    This was absolutely a highlight of the trip and while the price of the massage alone is relatively expensive, the entire experience was worth it.
    Definitely agree on the spa - we loved it! I will say that I thought the spa was competitively priced for a high end spa in a tourist area. We usually splurge on spa treatments while on vacation and thought Aulani was the best we've tried with the most to offer in the hydrotherapy gardens. We found Aulani's pricing on par with other spas we've tried, which include cruise ships, all inclusive resorts, and even our local casino resort at home!
     

    keishashadow

    Proud Redhead...yes, I have some bananas!
    Joined
    Dec 30, 2004
    Thanks for the report, our time for USS Arizona was earliest on website, 11:30 am. Plan on being there when it opens, good to know we can check & try to move our existing reservation up if available.

    Haven’t heard many positive reviews of the standard studios as to ‘view’, only option that was open for us at 7 months and just recently consider ourselves lucky to have grabbed another night!

    First time I’ve seen a Target mentioned too. Is it of the type with small grocery selection of milk, bacon, etc?
     

    parkhopmom

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Dec 3, 2010
    The DVC cultural tour sounds really interesting. We will be staying on rented points. Do you need to actually be a DVC member, or can point-renters take part in this,too?
     

    linco711

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 17, 2004
    I generally do not post a lot online, but I learned a ton from others who posted on this forum about their trips, so thought I'd do a summary of the trip we just finished. Hopefully this helps other planners so I can pay it forward! I'm happy to answer any specific questions as well.

    First some context -- my wife and I went alone without our four kids, so a true vacation. We're from the midwest and this was our first visit to Hawaii, so we intentionally planned a low key week. We wanted to see some of the island and definitely Pearl Harbor, but our main objective was to relax and unplug. We are DVC members at Old Key West, so we used DVC points and had a 5th floor studio room in the Ewa building, checking in Monday April 1 and checking out Monday April 8th.

    We flew into HNL at 1pm and had rented a car. We stopped at Target on our way to Aulani to get some breakfast foods and some snacks/fruits -- it was a quick stop and definitely worth it to have some things in the room. I did online check-in, so we just pulled the car up to the main lobby. You cannot park your car in the parking garage until you get a room key, so the valet takes the car until you're able to check-in and bring your luggage to the room. We were blown away by the lobby, so spent some time there taking some pictures, then went up to the room (which was ready prior to 4pm) to drop off luggage, then I retrieved the car from the valet and parked it in the garage. We grabbed a quick dinner across the street at Monkeypod, which we thought was very good. The rest of the evening we just toured ourselves around the resort to get the lay of the land and bought the refillable mugs, which I would highly recommend as we definitely got our $$ worth. We also got a tour of the spa, which sealed the deal for us that we wanted to use the spa so we booked a time for massages (more later on the spa). Then we crashed with a 5 hr time change kicking in.

    Tuesday was a complete chill day -- we split time between chairs at the beach, the adults-only hot tub and the adults-only pool. We had no problems getting pool chairs at any point throughout the week, although I can see how if you had kids and wanted to be close to the kid areas it could get challenging. We felt like there were plenty of spots, including places with great umbrellas. I feel like the resort does a great job of catering to people like us who are there to chill out without kids, while also having incredible options for kids. Obviously if you're completely adverse to kids, this resort isn't for you, but for people like us who are fine with kids...we're just happy to be there without ours...it was perfect! That evening we had a dinner reservation at 'Ama 'Ama -- which in short was excellent. We were seated right at the edge of the restaurant, so while the food was very good, the overall ambience of having an open air dinner with live music while watching the sunset was amazing.

    Wednesday we left Aulani early (~7:30am) to go to Pearl Harbor. As most have noted, the traffic getting into Honolulu is a pain -- the traffic situation around there does not jive with the laid back island feel you expect from Hawaii! That said, it wasn't horrible...just plan on it being slow. We got to Pearl Harbor around 8:30am and had pre-bought tickets to the Arizona Memorial, but our ticket time wasn't until noon. Fortunately, they still had walkup tickets available so we were immediately able to get on a boat tour rather than waiting. I won't go into details reviewing Pearl Harbor, but we were very glad to experience it and I think everyone should do it to further cement the sacrifices our military members make for our freedom. We also toured the Bowfin and spent a fair amount of time just reading and learning more about Pearl Harbor. After PH, we are state capitol buffs, so drove to the state capitol building downtown. Frankly, this was kind of a dud -- the building isn't overly visitor friendly compared to others we've been to and parking was a hassle. We considered touring Iolani Palace, but at that point we were ready to return to the oasis of Aulani, so headed back home. Relaxed at Aulani for the evening, including dinner at Off the Hook. Note that the servers at Off the Hook will get dessert from 'Ama 'Ama, so we took advantage of that for the amazing pineapple cheesecake.

    Thursday morning we had booked a dolphin viewing/snorkel catamaran cruise through Hawaii Nautical, so left the resort fairly early to drive up to Wai'anae beach. For us first-timers, the cruise was an excellent opportunity to get out on the water, see the wildlife and do some "first timer" snorkeling. We returned to Aulani shortly after lunch and then headed to the spa for 4pm massage appointments. Others have discussed this at length, but I will reinforce that the entire spa experience (hydrotherapy gardens, relaxation rooms, sauna, etc) are what set apart Laniwai. We spent a lot of time there just relaxing and reading in the gardens, but frankly could have spent all day. This was absolutely a highlight of the trip and while the price of the massage alone is relatively expensive, the entire experience was worth it.

    Friday we wanted to see the island, so we started by driving through the center of the island (past the Dole plantation) to Laniakea Beach (aka Turtle Beach). We had the beach to ourselves in the morning and while no turtles came on shore, we enjoyed watching them in the water just offshore. We then spent a fair amount of time eating and shopping in Haleiwa (quick plug for the Kai Ku Hale store, which has a lot of local crafts/art). We returned to Laniakea and one turtle had made his way onshore, so spent some time watching and learning (many more people were there, including a turtle "keeper"). We then took a leisurely drive then around the island going east then south, cutting off north of Honolulu to skip the traffic. The diversity of the island seeing the west, north, east and then south sides is amazing, particularly for us land locked residents, so we enjoyed seeing everything. Upon return to Aulani, dinner was the pizza at Ulu Cafe, which was surprisingly good and probably the lowest cost meal we had all week! Leftovers fit into the room fridge, providing lunch the next day too!

    Saturday we hung out at the resort relaxing by the various pools throughout the day and also did ukulele lessons at 2pm, which were very fun. Around 4pm we got ready to head to Paradise Cove (just north of Aulani) for their luau -- we had done some research and decided to try Paradise Cove's luau rather than Aulani. We did the deluxe package at Paradise, which gets you table service and several other amenities, which we appreciated. The activities before the luau and the show were very well done and the food was solid, but not spectacular. We had a great time, but really can't compare it to Aulani's luau -- next time we'll do Aulani and compare. :)

    Sunday was primarily another relax day although we did take the DVC cultural tour at 2pm, which was fascinating. There were only a few other people in our group, so it was essentially a personalized tour by "Uncle" (who also does the fireside stories at night, which I failed to mention earlier and are very entertaining). We probably should have done the tour earlier in the week, because you learn about so many details on the design and culture of the resort, very few of which you notice on your own. The amount of thought and care that went into the design and respect of Hawaiian culture is absolutely what sets Aulani apart from the other resorts in the area.

    Finally on Monday all good things have to come to an end, so we prepped for departure. Our flight out was early evening, so we got to spend a few more hours relaxing. The Luana Lounge is normally available for showers/changing for those who have checked out, but it is currently closed. However, we were given access to a studio "hospitality room" from 2-3pm, which worked great. It was interesting to see a "hotel" style room with a view of the parking lot -- honestly, for the point different, the room was still very nice and we noted that if you can get it, those rooms are actually a pretty good deal versus the villas! After an uneventful drive back to HNL (traffic was only bad the other direction), we loaded up for the red eye home.

    Overall, given our prior experiences with Disney resorts, we had high expectations for Aulani -- and they were met and exceeded! We absolutely were able to relax and enjoy the resort, along with adequate time to get out and see the sights of Oahu. Our highlights at the resort were probably 'Ama 'Ama and the spa experience, but I would say we genuinely enjoyed every moment we were there. We definitely hope to return at some point! Aloha...
    Thank you for sharing.
     
  • Robn752

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Oct 4, 2017
    Thank you for your trip report. I was not sure where to stay in September with hubby and 3 kids(adult). Your report made up my mind. It sounds like we will have a fun but relaxing time.
     

    jodybird511

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Oct 31, 2014
    Thanks for the report, our time for USS Arizona was earliest on website, 11:30 am. Plan on being there when it opens, good to know we can check & try to move our existing reservation up if available.

    Haven’t heard many positive reviews of the standard studios as to ‘view’, only option that was open for us at 7 months and just recently consider ourselves lucky to have grabbed another night!

    First time I’ve seen a Target mentioned too. Is it of the type with small grocery selection of milk, bacon, etc?
    The Target has a full-service grocery section--it's basically a Super Target--with anything you could purchase at a grocery store. We always shop there and have never gotten groceries elsewhere on Oahu. Also, we stayed in a 1 bdrm standard view our last trip--I'm now a firm believer in these rooms. We actually had a good view of the mountains from where we were, and I couldn't waste the points on view, b/c we get all the view we want while spending all the time outside. We actually originally had an island garden view one bdrm and waitlisted for the standard view to be able to stay an extra night! The key is to research room views, and request a high floor (I think 7 is the highest for standard view).
     

    Mamasarges

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Jun 3, 2018
    The DVC cultural tour sounds really interesting. We will be staying on rented points. Do you need to actually be a DVC member, or can point-renters take part in this,too?
    Don’t know if rented points count for the tour, but there is also a tour for all other resort guests included with your stay.
     

    heaven2dc

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 26, 2003
    Enjoyed your review! I didn't see if you mentioned your view. Was it island garden view or poolside garden view?
     
  • gopper

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Apr 24, 2014
    Thanks for the report, our time for USS Arizona was earliest on website, 11:30 am. Plan on being there when it opens, good to know we can check & try to move our existing reservation up if available.

    Haven’t heard many positive reviews of the standard studios as to ‘view’, only option that was open for us at 7 months and just recently consider ourselves lucky to have grabbed another night!

    First time I’ve seen a Target mentioned too. Is it of the type with small grocery selection of milk, bacon, etc?
    It has been 4 years since we were at Aulani, but our first start was target and we were able to get all our groceries including produce and beer/cocktails there. Later during our stay we found a Safeway which was comparable.
     

    PopMom

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Dec 30, 2018
    Thanks for the excellent trip report! I really enjoyed reading it. We're leaving for Aulani in 3 weeks!! It will be me, DH, DD (21) and DS (19).

    How early did you have to get to the pool to get pool chairs? The spa sounds amazing!! Any advice when selecting or going for treatments?

    Lastly, did you try any other outside restaurants that you liked besides Monkeypods and the Paradise Cove Luau?

    Thanks again!
     

    Bmlors

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Oct 30, 2011
    Enjoyed your review! I didn't see if you mentioned your view. Was it island garden view or poolside garden view?
    Sorry, been away for awhile and just catching back up here. @heaven2dc -- we had a poolside garden view. I had submitted a very specific room request (via DVC chat) to get a 5th floor room (highest floor available to be considered poolside rather than oceanview), which we got. So we actually had a very good view of the ocean as well from our room -- we were facing west so a beautiful view of the sunset.
     

    Bmlors

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Oct 30, 2011
    Thanks for the excellent trip report! I really enjoyed reading it. We're leaving for Aulani in 3 weeks!! It will be me, DH, DD (21) and DS (19).

    How early did you have to get to the pool to get pool chairs? The spa sounds amazing!! Any advice when selecting or going for treatments?

    Lastly, did you try any other outside restaurants that you liked besides Monkeypods and the Paradise Cove Luau?

    Thanks again!
    @PopMom, I'm slow to reply so probably have missed your trip (or maybe you are gloriously there right now!). To answer your questions, though:

    -Pool chairs: At the adult only pool, we didn't have to be early anytime -- they were always available. We avoided the busy spots, so never actually made a concerted effort to score a pool chair. I saw a lot of people getting down at 8am or before to get an exact spot that they wanted.

    -The spa: I'd suggest just going to the spa and taking a tour...they will talk you through the various treatments and areas of the spa. Ultimately it probably just comes down to personal preference and budget. My wife and I both chose a massage and then took advantage of the amenities both before and after the massage.

    -Restaurants: We hit the taco place across the street from Monkeypod...it was okay but not amazing. We also went to a hole in the wall taco place in downtown Honululu on our Pearl Harbor day -- I don't recall the name, but it was good. In Haleiwai we hit a couple of small places...Island Coffee for an acai bowl...and some other place that I can't recall. Without kids, we were pretty flexible so on days we were out and about, I tend to just pull up Yelp and see what's highly rated whenever we feel like eating. :) Frankly, on most of our vacations I'm very focused on finding good restaurants...but this trip was different since we generally were just relaxing at Aulani, so food was secondary.
     

    heaven2dc

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 26, 2003
    Sorry, been away for awhile and just catching back up here. @heaven2dc -- we had a poolside garden view. I had submitted a very specific room request (via DVC chat) to get a 5th floor room (highest floor available to be considered poolside rather than oceanview), which we got. So we actually had a very good view of the ocean as well from our room -- we were facing west so a beautiful view of the sunset.
    Thanks! I didn't know the poolside garden view rooms could get a view of the ocean with the trees. Did you have to peak over the trees to get a good view? Just curious!
     

    rocketriter

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Nov 14, 2003
    About that Target: yes, it's a super-Target with all the merchandise you'd expect. But there's an entertaining bonus: a refrigerator where the locals can buy gorgeous leis, at much less than the airport prices, for when they're entertaining guests or visiting friends. Not something we see in Targets near Chicago!
     

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