I had the good fortune to spend five nights at the Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, located on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. While the resort is a Disney Vacation Club property, you do not need to be a member to stay there (I am not). The accommodations range from a standard room to 1-or 2-bedroom suites plus 1-, 2-, or 3-bedroom villas, equipped with kitchens and washer/dryers, for DVC members.
One of the first things you notice, and one that the cast members pride themselves on, is that the resort puts an emphasis on Hawaiian culture first with Disney coming in second. The lobby at the Aulani is called the Maka’ala, which is the Hawaiian word for “watchful” or “alert.” The open-air lobby faces both the Maka (mountain) side as well as the Maka’i (ocean) side.
The artwork found throughout the resort is created from local artisans, such as the mural that runs along the walls of the lobby.
Even the local schoolchildren contributed. Each of the photos that comprises the colorful collage found behind the front desk was taken by a child in grade school. They were given the task of taking a picture that they felt embodied Hawaii and the result is beautiful and fun to look at.
First time at the resort? Celebrating a special occasion? Much like the Disney Parks, the Aulani also has celebration buttons, but the designs are exclusive to the property. During my stay, I spotted birthday, wedding, and “welcome” buttons. I was gifted one of the “welcome” buttons, which a cast member kindly personalized for me. I love the inclusion of Duffy the Disney Bear on this one. Duffy and his friends, Shellie May and Gelatoni, are a big deal at the Aulani. This is most likely in part to the resort’s proximity to Japan and the large amount of Japanese guests.
Head through the Maka’ala and you end up at the lanai overlooking the resort. The view of Waikolohe Stream, Aulani’s lazy river-style pool, is stunning and you can even see the private beach in the distance.
If you time your visit to the lanai right, you might be able to look down and spot guests taking pictures with Mickey Mouse as they enter Makahiki, a buffet-style restaurant, for breakfast. There are also Photopass cast members available, just like you would find at the Parks.
Even with the occasional presence of costume characters, Hawaiian culture is front and center at the Aulani. You can find cultural displays, such as this 1/6-scale Hōkūl’a, a double-hulled voyaging canoe. The accompanying placard describes the Hawaiian people’s relationship with ocean voyages as well as the history of this particular type of vessel. Another area highlighted the season of Makahiki, the namesake of the previously mentioned restaurant.
If searching for Hidden Mickeys is a favorite pastime, you will be pleased to know that the discreet mouse head silhouettes are scattered throughout the resort. I spotted some in the wallpaper, the painting hung in my bathroom, and some in the pavement. I’m sure there are plenty more, but there is just so much to take in at the Aulani!
The Aulani has two different wings, the ‘Ewa Tower and the Wai’anae Tower. The ‘Ewa Tower is the “female” wing and features art depicting women on the entrance to the tower as well as along the tower’s wall on the outside.
As you might have guessed, the Wai’anae Tower is the “male” tower and has similar art, but with men rather than women.
On the last day of your vacation, check-out is at 11AM, but if you have a late flight, you may find yourself hanging out at the resort far beyond that time. Thankfully, there is the Luana Lounge. You need to request a one-time entry key card from the Front Desk after check-out to get in and the place is great for that last bit of time spent at the Aulani. If you spent the morning in the pool, there are showers to get cleaned up in after you finish swimming. There are also several soft couches and chairs. It can get a tad crowded in there, so I would recommend peeking through the window before using your key. No sense in entering only to discover that all the seats are already occupied.
I mentioned previously that the Aulani is a Disney Vacation Club property and as you would anticipate, there is a Disney Vacation Club Preview Center onsite where you can join the timeshare community, if you so choose. A note was left in our door during our stay inviting us to talk to a Disney Vacation Club sales representative. There was an incentive, but we declined.
I hope you enjoyed part one of our survey of the Aulani. Come back next weekend for part two!
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