Last Updated on November 9, 2022

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It had always been my mother’s dream to visit Hawaii, but like many others, family obligations and life responsibilities got in the way. When we finally were able to coordinate our multi-generational family schedules, we made our way to this Hawaiian paradise with a little Disney magic and pixie dust thrown in, a lot, in fact, at the Disney resort on Oahu.

Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa is located on the west leeward coast of Oahu only 30 minutes from Honolulu. Despite the proximity, it feels a world away from the maddening crowds of Waikiki and Honolulu. Set on the beaches and lagoons of Ko Olina aka Place of Joy, this fabulous family Disney resort on Oahu resort is a perfect home base to explore the beauty and history of this Hawaiian island.

Hawaii Disney Aulani Resort

When Disney decided to build Aulani, its ‘imagineers’ were inspired by the natural wonders and rich cultural traditions of Hawaii. They relied on the Hawaiian people, local artisans, cultural experts, and local legends to create an environment that truly celebrates the spirit of the Islands.

They succeeded magnificently. Everything about the Hawaii Disney Aulani Resort that opened in August 2011 pays homage to the Hawaiian way of life spanning generations, fully capturing the essence of aloha.

Arriving at the Disney resort on Ohau we were each greeted with a lei garland and a warm “Aloha” welcoming us to Aulani (meaning King’s messenger). The lobby check-in area and wings evoke images of an A-frame royal Hawaiian hale, literally a king’s abode. Murals depict Hawaiian life throughout the centuries. Furnishings and décor seem almost blessed with authenticity.

You will not find another Hawaiian hotel or resort that comes close to portraying the Hawaii we’ve always dreamed of. 

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Disney Oahu Resort Accommodations

Lobby of Disney's Aulani Resort- photo by Michael Kompanik
Lobby of Disney’s Aulani Resort- photo by Michael Kompanik

Although the Disney on Oahu property is renowned as a family resort, guests have many choices of accommodations from one or two-bedroom hotel rooms and suites, to spacious one, two, and three-bedroom vacation villas that provide all the comfort and amenities of home.

And while Disney is typically all about o’hana (family), we’ve known many couples without children who have stayed here as well. For those who have been guests here, they totally understand why.

For our family of nine, we booked a two-bedroom vacation villa and a one-bedroom suite. The two-bedroom villa has separate bedrooms, three baths, a full kitchen, spacious living and dining areas and a full washer and drier.

Due to varying ages, however, the additional studio suite that sleeps four was ideal for our daughter, son-in-law and their two children. The youngsters split their time between the two accommodations. Everyone had plenty of space, and everyone was happy.

The stunning decor at the Disney Oahu resort features classy Hawaiian touches. If views are important, consider this in your planning. For us, it was important that Grandma had the chance to sit out on the balcony lanai and enjoy the magnificent pool and ocean views.

However, even garden views provide lovely mountain scenes for those who want to save a bit of money on their stay or the view isn’t that important a factor. The grounds themselves provide plenty of fabulous island and ocean vistas.

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Disney on Oahu Amenities

Fun on Aulani's Lazy River- photo by Michael Kompanik
Fun on Aulani’s Lazy River- photo by Michael Kompanik

You’ll look far and wide to find a resort that provides so much to its guests – and all without paying a resort fee. That alone is worth its weight in gold!

I have to start with our family’s favorite feature of this island paradise – Aulani’s Waikolohe Valley pool area with its incredibly picturesque lazy river. Guests can don personal or family flotation devices and float through a meandering tropical stream surrounded by native plant life, waterfalls and other fun water features.

The 8,200-square foot pool area also boasts a tunnel body slide through a volcano, and the magical Menehune Bridge and Keiki Cove interactive play splash zone area that has even the adults joining in on the fun. Two other pools on the Hawaii Disney Aulani resortproperty include the Ka Maka Grotto, an infinity-edge pool overlooking stunning Ko Olina Beach and the Wailana Pool, an off-the-beaten-path adults-only pool. Cabanas and whirlpools are also located in the pool area zone.

You’ll look far and wide to find a beach as pristine as the sugar-white sand Hawaii Disney Aulani Resort Beach at the Ko Olina Lagoon. Waters here are crystalline, calm, and perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Guests have access to complimentary beach chairs and umbrellas, boogie boards, and sand toys. Snorkel gear, paddleboards, and kayaks are available for rent.

Lots and Lots of Complimentary Activities

No one will get bored at the Disney resort on Oahu. Families can find more than 30 complimentary activities on site along with Disney character experiences. Of course, you’re going to see Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Lilo, Stitch, and other Disney stars here. And yes, they are all dressed in Hawaiian garb!

Aunty’s Beach House has a myriad of complimentary kid club activities that focus on interactive experiences like orchid lei making, learning to play the ‘ukelele, Hawaiian scavenger hunts, and immersive story telling. Legends of the islands come to life through Hawaiian music, hula dance, fireside tales, and other enchanting events at the Mo’Olelo Firepit Storytelling.

Disney Oahu resort guests also love the Shakea-a-Shaka Pool Parties, Nature Tours, and ‘Ohana Movie Nights.

Dining at Aulani

Though guests staying in a vacation villa have the option of preparing many of their meals in their villas, it’s really fun to dine in some of the restaurants on-site. Here’s why.

Makahiki overlooks a shimmering koi pond beside the pool area. It’s a beautiful restaurant that through its elegant glass designs and jewel-toned murals depicts the story of the Makahiki season (celebration of the harvest).

But the real draw of this eatery is that each morning it hosts a Character Breakfast with Disney character antics and “Aunty” playing her ukulele. The characters and Aunty make it around to each table to the delight of the littles and big kids alike. And the food featuring fresh local ingredients and chef-inspired dishes is divine.

Other fun on-site restaurants serve appetizers, sandwiches, salads, fresh poke, sushi, coconut shrimp, and other classic Hawaiian and non-island food choices. One of our favorite poolside venues is Papalua Shave Ice, a refreshingly soft ice dessert served with a variety of tropical flavor choices.

Other Ways to Find the Aloha Spirit

Grand Villa views at Disney's Aulani Resort- photo by Michael Kompanik
Grand Villa views at Disney’s Aulani Resort- photo by Michael Kompanik

While many of the activities at the resort are complimentary, Hawaii Disney Aulaniguests can choose to immerse further into the Hawaiian experience by choosing one of these enchanting options:

Ka Wa’ A Luau Adventure takes guests on an enchanting trip through Hawaiian history with traditional dance, music, and multi-course island cuisine representing the cultural roots and aloha of this amazing ancient civilization. Off-site luaus sharing Indigenous culture are also a popular activity.

‘Imi Loa NaA Hoku means ‘explore the stars.’ Guests can stargaze through impressive telescopes and learn how ancient Polynesians navigated to islands throughout the Pacific the using only the stars to guide them.

Rainbow Reef is a perfect way to introduce kids to the snorkeling experience. In the resorts 3,800 square-foot saltwater private snorkeling lagoon, littles can swim with the fish without any rough ocean waves or currents impacting the experience.

Be sure to book tours of the USS Arizona Memorial and USS Missouri Battlefield well in advance. The more adventurous can schedule a shark dive!

Disney Aulani Resort Questions Answered

Disney Character Breakfast at Aulani- photo by Michael Kompanik
Disney Character Breakfast at Aulani- photo by Michael Kompanik

Another Disney resort property was recently found to be the most expensive hotel in the U.S. Is Disney on Oahu worth the money? Definitely. Our family has been here a few times and each visit is filled with delightful experiences and unforgettable memories.

Is it easy to get around? Yes. We always rent a car for ease of seeing the sites we want to see on the days we want to visit, but for those who don’t rent a car at the airport, Aulani’s helpful concierge’ can get you a day rental or set up a private or group excursion tour.

Are you held hostage to the Disney resort? No. Ko O’lina has restaurants, shops and other resorts within walking distance.

Is the Disney Oahu resort only for families? No. While families make up the majority of visitors to this resort, we have come on our own as a couple, with our adult children, and have met many other couples or friends staying here without little ones. There is something here for everyone. The bottom line is that this resort reflects the true spirit of aloha in so many ways. And good luck getting Grandma or the kids out of the lazy river!

On our grandchildren’s first trip to Hawaii Disney Aulani Resort, they cried on the day we left. Even the adults were sad. And my mother? Well, she got that trip to Hawaii she always dreamed of. And she got to experience it with her o’hana (family). That’s very special indeed.

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