Aulani Trip Report – Part 1
BY MARY WARING – JANUARY 2012
Day 1 (Tuesday)
Flight to Hawaii; ABC Island Market; Arrival at Aulani; Dinner at ‘Ama ‘Ama; Exploring the Resort
We arrived in Honolulu from Los Angeles in the early afternoon, on Hawaiian Airlines. We flew in First Class, which I paid for with frequent flyer miles. (It’s pretty easy to accrue HawaiianMiles by making purchases through the HawaiianMiles eMarket, getting a HawaiianMiles credit card and/or transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to HawaiianMiles, which is what I did.)
This was our fourth time flying Hawaiian. We like the Hawaiian music played on the plane, the tasty Hawaiian-inspired food and the pleasant “aloha” attitude of the crew members and staff. The whole experience makes us feel like we’ve started our Hawaiian vacation as soon as we get on the plane.
Unfortunately we got slightly lost on our way to the baggage claim for our flight, which for some reason was in the interisland terminal, but we figured it out, and after a somewhat hot and sweaty hike back to the right place, found our bags going around and around on the carousel. We walked out of the terminal to the center island and immediately saw an Alamo shuttle, waved to the driver and were on our way to the rental car location in minutes.
I had used Alamo’s online check-in feature. Supposedly at select locations, including Honolulu, you can do the online check-in, print your documents, and go straight out to the car lot. However, when I checked in online a few days ago, I was directed to go to the check-in desk or the kiosk, so there was no time savings there. In any case, as usual, there was a substantial line for the check-in desk, but there were at least five kiosks, only one of which was in use. I don’t know why people don’t use the kiosks, which save a huge amount of time, but their ignorance benefits those of us who are in the know!
I checked us in at the kiosk and about three minutes later we were out in the lot, showing our paperwork to the attendant. She told us to take any of the three remaining full-size vehicles, check it for damage, and then drive it to the gate and give the gate agent our paperwork, credit card and driver’s licenses. We picked a Mitsubishi Galant with only superficial scratches, though there were a lot of them for a car with only 10,000 miles on it. We quickly noted the damage with the gate agent, and we were on the road.
Aulani is pretty much at the end of Interstate H1 West. If you can get yourself to that freeway, you’re set. Eventually H1 West turns into Highway 93 (Farrington Hwy) and within a few miles there is an exit for Ko Olina. Once you exit, there are no turns until the driveway for Aulani. Just drive straight up to the Ko Olina entrance gate, give them your name and they’ll tell you Aulani is the second resort on the right. You’ll pass the Marriott Ihilani and the next resort is Aulani. Unfortunately the signs for Aulani are small and nondescript. Slow down so you don’t miss the barely-marked driveway, which is in the middle of the block. If you do miss the turn, you’ll have to make two U-turns to get back to it, because the roadway is divided.
Before arriving at Aulani, we decided to stop at the ABC Island Market, an upscale convenience store located across the street from Aulani. We picked up a few basics so we’d have food for breakfast the next day, and some snacks. I later compared prices on several items and found Island Market’s pricing was about the same as Disney’s gift shop (e.g., $7 for a half-gallon of milk), but Island Market has a lot more selection. Still, I’d hate to buy more than a few groceries there – it would really add up. Island Market does have an excellent selection of wines, including some high-end labels, at not-too-inflated prices.
A few minutes later, we were at Aulani. For the first time ever, I used Disney’s online check-in, which is available starting 10 days prior to your check-in date. It worked out well. We gave our name to the bell services staff, who took our bags and walked us over to a stand where we were given leis and offered water. We were then taken into the lobby, given a quick verbal overview of the resort and handed our keys. Quick, painless and no wait in line!
We went up to our ocean view one-bedroom villa. It was set back quite a distance from the lagoon, but we did indeed have a lovely view of the ocean, as well as the entire pool area. The furnishings are very attractive and the kitchen is fairly well-equipped. We were happy to see a rice cooker, rice bowls and chopsticks, since we planned to cook a lot of Asian-style food. There were two packets of coffee, enough for the first morning – we figured we’d buy more at Costco the next day.
We called down for our bags and were soon unpacking. Storage in the one-bedroom was enough for the two of us, but might be too little for a family. Part of the problem is that the large armoire in the living room has no drawer space, because the lower half contains a pull-down bed. The bed is a cool feature, however. We pulled it partway down to take a look, and both agreed that if we were kids, we’d fight over the privilege of sleeping on it.
There is a large continuous balcony off the bedroom and living room, which we felt sure we’d make ample use of. The view from the balcony was pretty fantastic – better, we both agreed, than the “ocean view” rooms we’ve had at a couple of other Hawaiian resorts. (To read more about the good and bad aspects of our villa, and about things I would bring next time, click here.)
We had a fairly disastrous, nearly-$200-with-tip dinner at ‘Ama ‘Ama, the resort’s “fine dining” restaurant. (Click here for that review.) After dinner we wandered around the resort a little. We took a quick look at the kids’ club, Aunty’s Beach House, which is very cute. We went into the Pau Hana room, also known as the Community Hall, where various crafts and other activities are offered. There is also a book listing DVDs for rent (no charge for DVC members). The selection isn’t very big and naturally it’s mostly Disney titles.
We checked out the Olelo Room, which is the very attractive bar next to the Makahiki buffet, and looked at Makahiki’s menu. I was a bit thrown by the price of the dinner buffet ($43 per person) but at least there is seafood and some interesting-sounding Asian items on the menu at dinner. We planned to eat there one night. I just couldn’t see spending what they are asking for breakfast ($27 a head; $32 on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, when there are characters) when we are not big breakfast eaters.
Olelo and Makahiki are on the first floor, which is pool level. The rest of the lobby is on the third level, so we climbed the stairs and went into the lobby gift shop, Kalepa’s Store. Immediately we could see we wouldn’t be buying any significant groceries there. First, it’s expensive: $14 for a pre-made salad or wrap?!? Second, the grocery selection is tiny. The choices are not even as good as what you’d find at the Walt Disney World resort gift shops.
Next we went to the front desk and requested a copy of the Daily Iwa, which is the resort newsletter listing all of the activities offered for the next day. Be sure to get a copy every evening, anytime after dinner: they have copies at the front desk, bell stand and sometimes in stacks or stands on tables in the lobby. If you don’t see the new issue, ask – they may have it, but just haven’t put it out yet. Without the Daily Iwa, you will not know about a lot of activities offered around the resort, including many free programs. Offerings range from yoga to craft classes to evening performances. Unfortunately, based on our experience and others I’ve seen reported, the resort is very bad about informing guests that this publication even exists.
On our way back to the villa, we stopped at the gift shop and bought a pint of Haagen-Dazs for $4.95. We figured it was a whole lot cheaper than what we’d have paid for dessert at ‘Ama ‘Ama, and probably better. We ate our ice cream and then the time zone change hit us hard. We were sacked out by 10:00 pm.