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Our First Time at Aulani - A Disney Resort and Spa, September 2017 - A Trip Report, Part One
DisneyDan  Friday, September 22, 2017 8:56:27 AM
Hello everyone,

At the start of this month (September), Jon and I visited Hawai'i for the very first time, staying for a few days at Disney's Aulani resort in Ko Olina, Oahu.

As you can imagine, with anywhere we visit for the first time, there is going to be a lot for me to talk about. I'm going to try to break things down into themes and categories, as to not be jumping around too much. This report will also be in two parts because of the sheer length of it, and the number of photos I want to share.

I'm going to start with first impressions and our approach to the resort.

Regardless of whether you arrive by shuttle or by rental car at Aulani, you're going to come in through one single road into what is known as the Ko Olina resort area. Ko Olina is community that encompasses a small shopping centre, a handful of high end hotels (including Aulani), a beach, a luau, and various other minor facilities (I'll come back to some of these later in this report/in part two).

If you arrive by car, you'll have to pull into the main lobby area, and have your car taken by valet before you are allowed to self park - you need a room key to access the overnight guest parking. If you are just coming for the day, there is other self parking available. It should be noted that unless you are a DVC guest, staying on DVC points overnight, you will be charged $37 per night for parking! Day guests also get charged $37, but this may be waived between certain hours if you meet certain purchase criteria at select restaurants and stores within Aulani. It's always advisable to plan ahead and check with Aulani before taking my word that this will absolutely be the case.

When you arrive at the main lobby (the maka a' la) you'll be offered a flower lei or kukui nut lei, and a refreshing drink. We learned at Aulani that the kukui nut is a very versatile nut that Hawaiian people use for many things, including consumption, decoration and burning for heat and light.

The maka a 'la is home to the front desk, bell services, concierge, car rental, places to sit and relax, a DVC booth, a kids' TV/play area, an ATM, mail box, and of course some beautiful decor and theming.

The maka a 'la has an outdoor terrace that overlooks the majority of the outdoor areas of the resort, known as the Waikolohe Valley. It's a stunning, beautiful space, complete with trees, water features, and a truly glorious view.

It's worth mentioning here a few things that I learned about the details around the maka a 'la and the Waikolohe Valley. Disney really tried very hard to keep with traditional Hawaiian cultural themes when designing Aulani, and the maka a 'la is a perfect example of Disney at its best. I would be doing the Imagineers and Aulani a great disservice to claim to know every detail, but I can tell you what I recall, at least.

Of course artwork around the maka a 'la is traditionally inspired, and they even used traditional methods to produce most of it. Facing south through the lobby and the valley, the west side of the resort is "masculine" and the east side "feminine". This is evidenced even in the floor in the maka a 'la, with the west wide being "rough" for masculinity, and the east side being more "gentle" for femininity. The east tower has a goddess on it (I apologise for not knowing which one), and the west tower has Maui on it (who of course is male). There is also a water theme throughout the resort, with streams enclosing the valley, representing how traditional community boundaries are defined. The streams start in the "mountains" of the maka a 'la (which is on the third floor), and run all the way through the valley below, through the pool areas, and down to the ocean, at the beach. Of course, that's just a small amount of what I retained, and I am sure I could never do the entire resort justice here. During our stay we were able to take various free guided tours, run by the friendly folk at the Pau Hana Community Room, where we learned so much about Hawaiian culture and the design of Aulani. I would highly recommend doing any of these tours during your stay.

This particular piece, below, is something that would be placed at the entrance to a village in the presence of royalty. The colours represent the house of the royal family members. Of course, Disney has its own "king" - do the colours remind you of anyone?...

In a lot of my photos that you'll see throughout this report, as we move through the resort, you'll notice some little wooden people. These are called the menehune, and they are very prevalent in Hawaiian stories and history, and you'll often hear about them on any given day. The menehune are basically the equivalent of mischievous sprites; tricksters.

We arrived before our room was available, but we were able to store our luggage at the bell services with ease. Transferring the car from the valet to the self parking was also no issue, and the self parking itself is extremely close to the main lobby if you need to store anything in your vehicle.

During your stay at Aulani, you will be required to wear wristbands to identify that you are an onsite guest, and that you have the right to use the pool areas and other facilities. Unfortunately you don't just get a wristband at the start of your stay that is valid the whole time - you have to get a new one each day at the towel kiosk (Kawele Korner) down by the pool. Each day there is a new wristband. While it didn't happen every single time, we were "wristbanded" (I.E. someone checked for our bands) several times during our stay when attempting to get in line to meet characters, etc. I suppose this avoids outside guest coming in and getting these experiences for free, when there are overnight guests who are paying upwards of $500 per night - so I don't necessarily see being checked for wristbands as a hassle to in order to retain these exclusive experiences for the cost we've paid.

Along from the maka a 'la there are two of the three main retail locations at the resort. The first is Kalepa's Store. This store would, for most, be considered the main store of the resort. It has a very wide range of merchandise, a surprisingly large amount of which is exclusive to Aulani, plus other Disney Parks items, essentials and sundries, food, and the PhotoPass desk. The photos on the walls around this store represent local community stores from around Hawaii.

Kalepa's Store also had something very interesting - a station where you could design your own Duffy and friends outfit! I have never seen this anywhere before, including the Asian parks where Duffy is very popular! It's a cute idea for sure.

The other retail store near the main lobby is Hale Manu, which carries more high end oriented items, including ladies wear, sunglasses, purses and bags, mens shirts, etc. The birds on display in this store are birds all native to Hawaii, whether they be alive or extinct.

We were staying in a DVC garden view room, which in our case was located on the second floor of the eastern tower - the Ewa Tower - overlooking the Halawai Lawn. Like most other DVC villas at all Disney resorts, there was a small kitchenette, a balcony and a separated toilet and shower area. It was a beautiful room, and I especially loved the Mickey Mouse lamp!

Before moving onto some other areas, let's take a look at some more of the internal details of the resort (the hallways, etc), which include some beautiful pieces of traditional Hawaiian art.

There are keycard entry points at all the doors around Aulani, suggesting to outside visitors that they should not enter, however, we didn't see these actually functioning during our stay.

There are six main dining/beverage locations at Aulani, plus a beach hut. Let's start with the Makahiki restaurant on the ground floor, which is a buffet that offers character dining on select days.

Makahiki is a very freeform, flowing restaurant that has indoor and outdoor seating that merges altogether. It's a pretty location, and the internal details are nice, but both times we dined here, we preferred to sit outside. We had both dinner and breakfast here, both of which were character dining experiences on the day that we attended (which of course was our intention). We learned (the hard way, which is another story!) that they don't offer character dining consistently all the time, and you will almost certainly have to double check that any intended character dining reservation you make for Makahiki actually falls on a time that the characters will be present. For example - trying to keep this brief - characters may only appear at dinner on a Monday or Thursday at 5.15pm or 7.15pm (or thereabouts). If you make an 8.30pm reservation you will not be seated for the character dining. My advice - check and double check before you visit.

During dinner we met Donald Duck, Chip, Dale and Stitch. At breakfast we met Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Minnie. We enquired with our servers on both occasions about the frequency of the characters, and from what we could gather, for the most part the characters remain static at any given meal, but scheduling and circumstances being what they are, you may get someone different; Pluto instead of Goofy, for example. So, don't hedge your bets on getting exactly who you want!

The food was exceptionally good on both occasions, and we informed our servers that we are vegetarian (the buffet, while very good, had a very meat-focussed menu), and were more than amply catered for by the chef, who came to our table.

Coming to Hawai'i was also part of our anniversary celebrations, and we were wearing the Aulani specific celebration buttons which (like at the parks) you can request at concierge or the front desk. When the servers in the restaurant saw that it was our anniversary they very kindly brought us some small free desserts, which was very thoughtful, and a nice touch.

You may have noticed in the character photos above a gentleman wearing green. This is one of several "uncles" at Aulani. We learned that Hawaiian culture likes to call elders "aunties" and "uncles" as a mark of respect, and your younger close friends and other family members may be "cousins" (think Lilo and Stitch here!). There were several uncles and aunties that popped up all over the resort throughout our stay, including at the character dining, where they tell stories and interact with guests around the dining room.

Here's just a few more photos of Makahiki and the atrium and entrance area of the restaurant, before we move on.

The outdoor space of Makahiki flowed into the outdoor area for the adjoining bar, The 'Olelo Room. The 'Olelo Room has a really pretty view over the koi pond, and in the evening offers live entertainment.

In front of the outdoor seating areas for Makahiki and The 'Olelo Room, leading further into the Waikolohe Valley, is the koi pond, which is a very pretty pond space filled with, as you can probably guess, koi.

Before we explore the Waikolohe Valley further, let's take a side trip back through the maka a 'la to the spa and fitness centre.

The Laniwai spa is a fantastic facility with a wonderful calming feel to it, that encompasses both indoor and outdoor areas. We took a free tour of the spa so that we could take photos, and were very impressed.

Next door to the spa is the Mikimiki Fitness Center - a well equipped gym, featuring running machines, exercise bikes and other equipment.

In the same area as the Laniwai spa and the fitness centre is Painted Sky - the teen-exclusive relaxation space, which we did not visit.

Aulani also has its own conference center, located on the east side of the resort. While we couldn't go inside, we were walked around to take some photos, of course!

Ok, that's all for this part, as we've already covered a lot and I've shared over 200 photos in this part alone! Stay tuned in the coming days for part two, where we'll discover character greetings, shopping, other dining venues, the pool, lazy river and much more!

Have a great day everyone,


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