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Friday, January 6, 2017

Aulani, Disney Vacation Club Villas, Hawaii: A Mrs. Lo Travel Blog

Aulani Resort, view of the beach from one of the pools
We have just returned from a one-week stay at Aulani, the Disney Vacation Club resort in Honolulu, Hawaii. As Disney Vacation Club members, Aulani is one of our home resorts (our other home resort is the Grand Floridian Villas).  This is our second trip to Aulani; the last trip was in July 2015. This trip was from December 26 to New Year’s Day, then we had to get the kids back to school!
Lobby during holidays

1. FLYING FROM THE EAST COAST.   We live in New York state and it is a very long flight from our home to Honolulu.  We like to break it up by staying on the West Coast for one night and then flying out to Hawaii the next day.   We flew to San Francisco, saw a few sights, had dinner and stayed at the Westin San Francisco Airport (there are two Westins in San Francisco). I highly recommend the Westin San Francisco Airport it is very convenient and positively sumptuous after a long flight.
2.  RENTAL CARS -  I would highly recommend getting a rental car for a few reasons. Unlike the Disney magical express in Orlando, there is no shuttle from Honolulu airport to Aulani.   It's nice to have a car all week so that you can go do excursions on your own. Disney offers excursions from Aulani but they are pricey and you are stuck doing them on the timeframe offered. You can also use your rental vehicle to go get groceries from Safeway, more on that later.  We like Alamo, they also have a rental office at Aulani.  DVC members get free parking, I think it’s otherwise $25.00 per day.
Aulani Robes, 2 per room
Aulani Studio Villa with Island view

3.  THE ACCOMODATIONS.   The villas at Aulani are simply beautiful.  We were on the waiting list for a one bedroom but they got snapped up right away. We were in a studio with an island view.  It was fine for our active family of two parents and two boys. Since we are out of the Villa pretty much all day it really didn't matter to us but a studio might be a little small for a family of four if you plan to spend time in the room (although this is Hawaii, who’s staying in?).  We were in the Ewa tower and had a great view of the palm trees and the gardens. We had a nice veranda where we went out and had our breakfast every morning.  There is a full size bed for the parents and a pull out sofa for the kids. The bathroom was very luxurious. I loved the rain shower and the custom robes.  There is a small kitchen but it was fine for our needs. We like to have breakfast in our room as well as snacks. The kitchen comes stocked with the usual dishes plates utensils, as well as a sink refrigerator microwave and toaster .   As with all DVC villas, you get the full kitchen when you get a one bedroom or bigger villa.  For those of you who are not DVC members, here’s the main benefit:  your stay at Aulani and any other DVC resort using your points is FREE!  So we only paid for airfare and food.

Aulani Laniwai Spa
Mrs. Lo taking Ocean Fitness class
Paddleboards at Aulani

4.  LANIWAI SPA AND FITNESS.  Definitely get a massage at the Spa, the place is absolutely magical!  I had no idea how big the spa is, it takes up a lot of real estate that you can’t see from the rest of the resort.  Get there early for your tour.  You can hang out in their spa area outdoors it’s magnificent.  Outdoor chaise lounges under palm trees, whirlpools; a hot pool to plunge into next to a cold pool plunge; special massage showers, and an exfoliation station where they make an exfoliant for you -- I chose plumeria.  Indoors there are locker rooms, relaxation rooms, a fountain, and beautiful showers with everything you need to get ready for the day from Hawaiian sea salts to sunscreen.  Also a steam room with peppermint and eucalyptus towels.  I had Sean as my massage therapist, he was fantastic, he used the hot stones and my muscles have never felt better!  Also, get the Fitness Class schedule for the week.  I took a class every morning.  I loved the Beach Body boot camp, Sunrise Yoga, Paddleboard Yoga and a Class called Ocean Fitness which is basically Pilates on a paddleboard (they’re anchored).  The classes all take place on the beach or the water.  Some of them are an extra charge like the Yoga but most are free.  I took at least one class every day.

Aulani Beach at sunset
One of the pools at Aulani
View from the bridge

5.  THE AMENITIES.  All beaches in Hawaii are public so anyone can go on any beach, no hotel “owns” any beach.  However, only Aulani guests can use the beach chairs and equipment.  The beach at Aulani is on the small side but the protected little bay is just right for families.  I wish they would drop the paddleboarding.  It’s too small for paddleboarding (like swimming in your bathtub).  Perfect for swimming and cooling off; and I like to hop on over to the beaches at the hotels next door and use their beach areas to swim in as they are a lot less crowded.  There are pools galore at Aulani, including 2 adults only pools as well as hot tubs.  It’s nice to go over there when the beach gets too crowded.  Ideal times at the beach are before 11 am and after 4 pm.  In the meantime, head to the pools or go off the resort to see the sights.  There is a small snorkeling area at Aulani, perfect for kids.  We all loved the Lazy River which is quite long, and also the slide, which is quite fun.  There is a community room and for younger kids, Aunty’s Beach house.
Photo opp with Moana

6.  THE CHARACTERS.  You can dial a certain extension from your room every morning to get the locations of the characters and you can use Photopass or take your own photos.  On any given day you can catch Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Moana.  Other characters we met were Duffy, Goofy and Pluto.

Mahi Mahi salad at Off the Hook

7.  THE FOOD.  Always get your Refillable mug.  They’re up to $18.99 but we must have filled each mug 50 times at the free refill station so worth the money and they make a great souvenir.  Definitely go to Safeways or another grocery store and get some groceries to get you through the week.  I always get a case of water (otherwise $3.00 per bottle) and things like fruit ($3 each) and bagels ($4 each at Ula Ula).  Buying Breakfast food like cereal and milk, snack food and PB and J will save you a small fortune.  For breakfast at the resort check out Ula Ula Cafe or Walilana Coffee Bar.  I would hit the Coffee Bar after Yoga or Pilates every morning and just chill out by the pool in the morning.  It was just me and the barrista; everyone else was still in their room, I loved it.  We love Off the Hook for lunch, I got the Field Green salad with Mahi Mahi almost every day.  The rest of the family liked the food at Ula Ula Cafe for lunch or you can get poolside service.  For dinner we loved the buffet at Makahiki, $45.00 pp for adults, $21.00 pp for kids 9 and under.  Mostly, we went off the resort for dinner.  Check out the food trucks on the North Shore, especially Giovanni’s famous shrimp truck (Food Channel famous).  They have everything from Fish taco trucks to Korean BBQ trucks.  Great cheap food all over the North shore and also Chinatown in Honolulu.  Also, Bravo’s and Anna Miller by Pearl Harbor.  In Waikiki Beach area, checkout favorites the Hula Grill and Duke’s.  Great food and great views of the beach.
Activities at Kai wa a Luau
Kai Wa a Dancers, Luau

8.  THE LUAU.  Ka Wa’A.  Well, the DVC Boards are all over the place.  Some people love the new luau, some really don’t like it.  We loved it.  The pros: it’s right at the resort, first of all.  There is a lot of history, storytelling, and culture.  The food is delicious.  Cons:  it’s not your traditional luau. There is wonderful dancing but there is a mix of dancing, singing and storytelling.  Your typical luau over at Paradise Cove has more dancing, more theatrics and more of the fire throwing that people expect.  Paradise Cove also has a beautiful view of the ocean and is less expensive.  However, the place is a bit of a dump and the food is mediocre.  We really liked Ka Wa’A and would do it again.  $129.00 pp for General Admission, VIP was sold out but I think that was $169.00 per person.  We got there an hour early and were at the table right behind VIP so we had great seats.  The Starlit Hui Luau (free show with Mickey and some hula dancers) is now gone, sorry to say!
Photo pass photographer taking photos of boys

9.  PHOTOPASS - get it and get the CD.  They have photographers all over including at the beach at sunset, with the characters, in the lobby and at the entrance to Ewa.

10.  MERCHANDISE .  Don’t forget to show your DVC membership card and Photo ID and get  your 10% discount.

Paddleboarding North Shore

11.  EXCURSIONS.  Disney will take you on excursions but we like to book our own.  Between the last trip and this one, we have been to:  Pearl harbor (give yourself 1-2 days), Waimea Bay (a must see), Paddle boarding on the North shore, Surfing lessons on the North shore (in a protected bay); the Kona macadamia nut farm, the museums in Honolulu including the Royal Palace, shopping all over including the Swap Meet at Aloha Stadium Wednesdays and Sundays; Waikiki Beach, and Chinatown.

With Micky at Character Breakfast Makahiki
With Pluto Character breakfast Makahiki 

12.  CHARACTER BREAKFASTS - what can I say, don’t miss them!  We went to two.

Well, that’s it for now, time to button down the itinerary for our next trip:  the Grand Floridian Villas in February followed by Vero Beach Resort.  We love being Disney Vacation Club members, Happy 25 years!!

Mrs. Lo