Disney’s Hawaiian Resort: Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
LAST UPDATE: 4/5/17Disney has a resort, Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, on 21 acres of oceanfront property on Hawaii’s island of Oahu. The resort’s first two phases opened in the second half of 2011. The third phase opened in 2013. See below for information on Aulani discounts, as well as tips and tricks, information on FREE activities, and more!
The property, located on the island’s western (leeward) side in the Ko Olina Resort & Marina, is home to Disney’s first mixed-use family resort outside of its theme park developments. The resort overlooks breathtaking crystal blue lagoons and sandy beaches, with a total of 481 two-bedroom-equivalent Disney Vacation Club villas and 351 hotel rooms including 16 suites.
The resort offers an extensive and elaborate pool and water play area, an 18,000-square-foot spa, a children’s club (Aunty’s Beach House) and dining at two full-service restaurants and several convenient quick-service dining options.
The pool area, known as the Waikolohe Valley, includes:
- A large 8,200 sq ft pool (Waikolohe Pool) with a zero entry area, and tunnel body slide
- A lazy river (Waikolohe Stream) pool that twists through caverns and glides through tropical landscape
- A themed family pool (Ka Maka Grotto), featuring an infinity edge, a misty grotto with beautiful sunset views and an after-dark experience with glittering lights
- A kids’ splash zone (Keiki Cove) that’s designed to resemble a tidal pool, with images of tidal pool creatures on the pool floor, rainbow water jets and hidden menehune – the legendary “little people” of the islands
- Rainbow Reef, a private saltwater snorkeling pool stocked with tropical Hawaiian fish, is located in the resort and is good for beginner snorkeling
- Wailana Pool – formerly the quiet pool – is now an adult-exclusive pool area
- Four whirlpool spas, two with beautiful sunset views (one is reserved for those 18 and older)
- Ulu Cafe, a poolside dining venue serving breakfast, lunch and dinner – and featuring an outdoor patio with resort and ocean views
- A shave ice stand (Papalua Shave Ice), grab’n’go shop and a hot and cold item snack stand (Mama’s Snack Stop)
- Deck space, chairs, chaises and cabanas surround all of the resort’s water features, and numerous chaises are available at the resort’s sandy cove beach.
Aulani offers activities and amenities that aim to engage every member of the family. At the resort’s signature waterway, for example, family friendly tubes and body slides weave through volcanic rockwork and around an iconic caldera volcano, while a nearby wading pool gives parents with toddlers a welcoming alternative to the sprawling zero-entry fun pool. In addition, more adventurous family members will find vibrant fish species in a saltwater snorkel lagoon, Rainbow Reef.
At the heart of the resort, an open-air lobby building — dubbed Hale Aloha — draws its design inspiration from a traditional Hawaiian canoe house, visually connecting families to the sea and beyond. Window designs, wall graphics and other details welcome families with tales of adventure, myth, legend and more, while twin streams flow through the building before uniting as a single cascade into the center garden below.
Hawaii’s aloha spirit influences the many intricate details for which Disney resorts are famous, with stories woven into the architecture, interiors, art, graphics and signature gardens, all brought to life through carefully selected colors, patterns, materials and forms. Wood, thatch, lava stone and coral are among the materials represented in the resort’s two 15-story guestroom towers, each oriented perpendicular to the ocean to maximize ocean views from the strategically angled guest rooms. Façade murals add to the distinctive look of each tower and portray some of the stories and legends of the islands.
Aulani is designed to respect and connect with the local culture of the Hawaiian islands. The Walt Disney Imagineering team has researched Hawaii and worked with local architects and cultural experts as part of the resort’s creative design process. The resulting design is a village celebrating the Hawaiian customs and traditions that lead to a life filled with joy and in harmony with the natural world.
To further incorporate Hawaiian traditions, cultural programming including music, dance, history, and arts and crafts; a story-driven, technology-enabled adventure game; a new lu’au and other surprises come together to create a Hawaiian destination that’s uniquely Disney.
You can read MouseSavers.com founder Mary Waring’s review of her January 2012 stay at Aulani, and Kris Borchardt’s November 2016 review, which are linked from the Trip Reports page.
- Booking a Vacation at Aulani
- Discounts on Aulani Vacations
- Aulani Resort Tips and Tricks
- FREE Activities
“Rack” (full price) rates at Aulani start at $399 a night (plus 14% hotel tax) for a standard hotel room. Rates vary by season of the year. Generally speaking the rates are lowest when kids are in school, and highest in summer, at Christmas and during other holiday periods.
Parking is an additional $37 per day for either valet or self-parking.
Vacations at Aulani can be booked in various ways:
- For a full-service travel agency that specializes in Disney and can help you plan your stay at Aulani, contact Small World Vacations.
- If you prefer to self-book your vacation, Travelocity and Expedia now offer online booking for Aulani.
- If you want a hotel + airfare package, Alaska Airlines Vacations and Funjet Vacations offer air-inclusive vacations to Aulani.
- It is sometimes possible to book an Aulani stay by renting Disney Vacation Club points from an owner. This is the only way for non-owners to book one of the fabulous DVC studios or villas at Aulani more than 60 days in advance. The best way to do this is through David’s Vacation Club Rentals.
Renting Disney Vacation Club Points
When available, renting Disney Vacation Club points from an owner is a great way to save money on an Aulani stay. (It is also the only way for non-owners to book the studio or villa accommodations more than 60 days in advance.)
- The best way to rent Disney Vacation Club points is through David’s Vacation Club Rentals.
Annual Passholder Discount
Aulani is offering an ongoing discount for ALL Disney theme park Annual Passholders, no matter which Disney theme park. Discount is typically 10% but sometimes up to 30% with special offers, which will be noted below when available. This includes Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Resort.
- To book with the Annual Passholder discount, you can log into the Passholder site or contact Small World Vacations and request Annual Passholder rates.
Aulani has an ongoing discount for active duty military: 25% off, subject to availability.
- To book with the Military discount, we recommend contacting Small World Vacations and requesting Military rates.
Kama’aina (locals/Hawaiian resident) rates may be offered seasonally. You will have to show a Hawaiian resident ID (drivers license) at check-in.
- Getting to Hawaii
- Transfers to/from Honolulu Airport
- Checking In and Out
- Local Dining, Drinking and Luau Options
- Saving Money on Groceries & Beach Items
- Internet Access
Links to major airlines that fly to/from Honolulu from North American mainland cities:
- Air Canada
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- United Airlines
There are no Disney-provided transfers between the Honolulu Airport and the resort. We strongly encourage you to rent a car (click here to find rental car discounts). Otherwise you’ll have to take a taxi, which will be costly because the resort is 17 miles from the airport.
If you prefer to rent a car only for the drive to/from the airport, or for only part of your stay, Alamo has a rental car desk at Aulani (location code is HNLR72).
You can check in at any time, but your room will not be ready until 3:00 pm. Check-out time is 11:00 am.
Bell Services can store your luggage if you arrive early or depart late. In addition, Aulani offers an innovative Early Check-In/Late Check-Out Lounge for guests with flights that do not sync up well with the check-in and check-out times. The lounge, which is open 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, provides restrooms, showers and dressing rooms. It also offers a TV viewing area and a touch-screen computer where you can print boarding passes (but you can’t surf the Internet on it).
Get ready for some sticker shock: Hawaii is expensive, and Aulani is no exception. Here are a few of the resort’s prices to give you an idea:
- Refillable mug – $18.99 plus tax
- Shave ice at Papalua Shave Ice – $3.75 – $5.25
- Frozen yogurt (4 oz with 3 toppings) – $6.00
- Ulu Cafe (self service) – Breakfast Platter or Specialty Flatbreads $12, Sandwiches/Hot Plate selection $12-$18, Pizzas $18-$24, Keiki (kids’) meals $8 (includes milk or water), Milk $2, Fountain Drink $3, Juice $3.25, Bottled Water $3.50, plus tax
- Continental Breakfast at Olelo Room (self service) – Hot Breakfast Sandwich $7, Danish/Muffin/Croissant/Bagel $4, Cold Cereal $4, Whole Fruit $3, Coffee $3
- Breakfast at ‘Ama ‘Ama (table service restaurant) – Full Breakfasts $17-$24, Cereals/Pancakes/Waffles $8-$16, Bakery Baskets $9, Sides $4-$9, Fresh Juices $2.50, Coffee $3 and up, plus tax/tip
- Non-Character Breakfast at Makahiki buffet (Mon/Tue/Thur/Fri) – $27 for adults (ages 10+) and $14 for kids (ages 9 and under), plus tax/tip
- Character Breakfast at Makahiki buffet (Wed/Sat/Sun) – $37 for adults (ages 10+) and $18 for kids (ages 9 and under), plus tax/tip
- Lunch at ‘Ama ‘Ama (table service restaurant) – Starters $7-$15, Sandwiches/Salads $15-$25, Hot Entrees $16 and up, Desserts $10, Cold Beverages (juice, tea, soda) $2.50-$4, plus tax/tip
- Dinner at Makahiki buffet – $47 for adults (ages 10+) and $21 for kids (ages 9 and under), plus tax/tip
- Character Dinner at Makahiki buffet (“Menehune Mischief”) – $49 for adults (ages 10+) and $24 for kids (ages 3-9) plus tax/tip
- Dinner at ‘Ama ‘Ama (table service/fine dining restaurant) – Starters $14-$19, Soups/Salads $13-$18, Entrees $34 and up, Desserts $10-$14, Cocktails $9-$13, Wines by the Glass $9-$26, plus tax/tip
- Snacks at Mama’s Snack Stop (11:00am – 5:00pm) – Hot dogs $7-$9, chicken tenders & fries $10, salads $10-$12, cupcakes or fruit $5 plus tax
- Little ‘Opihi’s beach snack shop (11:00am – 5:00pm) – Salads, wraps and rolls $9-$12, fresh fruit, nachos, soft pretzels $5, ice cream sandwich $3.75, bottled water $2.75 plus tax
- Snorkeling in Rainbow Reef, Aulani’s artificial lagoon – one-time $20 adult, $15 child; or length-of-stay $39 adult, $29 child, plus tax
- Beach rentals – Snorkel Set: Hourly $10, Half Day $15, Full Day $20; Single Kayak: Hourly $20; Double Kayak: Hourly $30; Stand up Paddle Board: Hourly $30, Half Day $75; Double Chaise Lounge Chair: Half Day $30, Full Day $40, plus tax
- Pool Cabana – Full Day (9:00 am – 6:00 pm) $325 – $425, Half Day $150-$225, plus tax and optional gratuity for attendant; furnished and includes 32″ TV, wireless Internet, fruit tray, bottled water, ceiling fan, for up to 6 registered guests
You can also click here to see sample grocery prices from the Aulani gift shop, the ABC Island Country Market across the street, and the Kapolei Safeway and Costco.
General Excise Tax (similar to sales tax) of 4.712% applies to almost all transactions on Oahu, including food, gas and medicine.
If you are using DVC points for your stay at Aulani, be aware that a Transient Accommodations Tax of 9.25%, times 1/2 of the per-point Aulani maintenance fees, times the number of points used, must be paid at the resort. This applies to those renting points as well. In short, you’ll be paying tax of roughly 26.5 cents per point used. For example, if you stayed for a week in Adventure Season in 2011, in an Oceanview 1-Bedroom Villa, the total points required would be 322, times ~26.5 cents, for a total tax of ~$85.33 due at checkout.
If you are paying cash for your stay, the tax on your room rate is just a hair under 14%.
Food and Restaurants
Aulani has two full-service restaurants:
- ‘Ama ‘Ama offers full service/fine dining breakfast, lunch and dinner. Click here to read Kris Borchardt’s 2016 review of ‘Ama’Ama or click here to read MouseSavers.com founder Mary Waring’s review.
- Makahiki offers a buffet breakfast (with Disney characters three days a week) and buffet dinner. It also offers a la carte lunch and dinner options. They also offer a Disney character dinner called Menehune Mischief on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
- See above for sample prices for the two restaurants.
- The two restaurants take online reservations, and we strongly recommend making advance reservations for Makahiki, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. If you can’t get reservations online for your desired time, check when you get to the resort. We found that there was some table space reserved for walk-ins.
In addition, there are two beachside/poolside bars and an indoor/outdoor lounge, all of which serve limited bar food.
There are also six quick service locations: The poolside Ulu Cafe serves breakfast, lunch and dinner – and features an outdoor patio with ocean view; the other five, including the beachside Little ‘Opihi’s, and Mama’s Snack Shop offer snacks like gourmet hot dogs, chicken fingers, wraps and ice cream sandwiches or frozen yogurt. Papalua’s Shave Ice offers only that, in a variety of tropical flavors. You can get a few pricey “grab and go” wraps and salads in the two resort stores, and there is room service.
Across the street from Aulani is Island Country Market (an upscale version of ABC Store), which has a deli area with very reasonably priced take-out food: $6.99-$8.99 will get you a substantial sandwich, hamburger & fries, or salad. There is also a selection of health-conscious fare, also reasonably priced. Its grocery prices are high — about the same as Disney’s Aulani gift shop prices — though it has a lot more selection.
Next door to Aulani, the Four Seasons Resort at Ko ‘Olina has several restaurants, including the casual outdoor poolside Waterman Bar and Grill, which offers shared bites ($9), Hawaiian and Asian inspired salad and rice bowls ($16-$34), and an assortment of burgers ($18-$24) plus tax/tip. They also have a very decent kid’s menu with chicken tenders, shrimp scampi, fish sticks and more ($8-$16) plus tax/tip. For a fine dining experience there is Fish House, a “line-to-table” restaurant featuring local fresh caught seafood in a casual open-air environment overlooking the ocean beach, or La Hiki, a restaurant serving breakfast and dinner with a modern update on traditional Asian dishes inspired by local ingredients. Reservations are recommended for both Fish House and LaHiki.
If you’re looking for more dining options, Roy’s Ko ‘Olina is located at the Ko ‘Olina Golf Club, close to Aulani. Roy’s is a well-regarded chain of high-end “Hawaiian fusion” restaurants.
If you are on a tight budget, skip the Four Seasons Resort and head across the street to the Ko ‘Olina Station Shopping Center, a 5 minute walk. There are several dining options including MonkeyPod Kitchen Restaurant, a popular evening spot with live music, creative cocktails and cuisine crafted from local ingredients sourced from Hawaii’s farms. Appetizers range from garlic oil truffle fries ($9.95) to a raw bar mixed plate ($22.95), salads and pizzas, including several vegetarian options ($10.95-$18.95), and entrees include burgers, fish tacos, noodle dishes and fresh caught fish dishes ($14.95 – $38.95). MonkeyPod Kitchen is known for it’s cream pies ($9.95), and if you have room after dinner you’ll want to try a slice. However, if you want a cup of Kona coffee, you’ll need to head next door to Island Vintage Coffee; MonkeyPod Kitchen only serves 32oz. full pots of Maui coffee. You’ll also find a Two Scoops ice cream shop, Ko ‘Olina Hawaiian Barbeque, Pizza Corner, and Just Tacos Mexican Grill and Catina in the shopping center. While you can spend significantly less at these restaurants than you might at Aulani’s full-service choices, you can still expect to pay $18-25 and upwards per adult, excluding drinks.
If you are in the mood for sushi, try Sushi Yuzu. It’s located on the north side of the shopping center and offers terrific happy hour prices from 4:30-5:30pm daily. We ordered sashimi, ngiri, seaweed salad and several maki rolls and left full for about $35/person.
Aulani has three bars: two outdoor pool/beach bars (Off the Hook and Wailana Pool Bar) and one indoor/outdoor lounge in the lower level, below the lobby (Olelo Room). Most of the featured cocktails are around $13, and in our experience they are terrible. Their recipes all seem to be cloyingly sweet, yet flavorless. The bartenders seem to have no idea what they’re doing and the drinks they produce aren’t even consistent.
You will do slightly better (lower price and it’s harder for them to screw the drink up) if you order a very simple liquor-on-the-rocks or liquor-plus-mixer type drink (Baileys on the rocks, gin and tonic, etc.), in which case you’ll pay around $6.25 for a drink using house liquor and a buck or so more for premium liquor. Avoid complex mixed drinks like Mojitos. Beer is at least a safe bet, but costs around $6.50 for a bottle, $7.00 for draft. Wine is high-priced (5 times retail, so a glass will cost you about the retail price of a bottle of the same wine), but at least the selection is good.
Across the street from Aulani is Island Country Market (an upscale version of ABC Store), which has an excellent wine selection. Prices are a little high, but compared with buying wine at Aulani, it’s a bargain.
Aulani has its own luau, KA WA’A – A Lū’au at Aulani. The luau is about 3 hours long and currently only for guests staying at Aulani. Performances are held on select nights, weather permitting. Seating will be assigned upon arrival. The price for general seating is $119 for adults and $79 for children (ages 3-9), plus tax. The price for VIP seating is $159 for adults and $109 for children (ages 3-9), plus tax. The prices include gratuity. Check out Kris Borchardt’s November 2016 review of Aulani’s KA WA’A Lū’au here.
Paradise Cove Luau is located immediately on the other side of the next resort over from Aulani (the Four Seasons at Ko Olina), so it’s very close to Aulani and requires no transportation.
- You can book this luau directly with Paradise Cove, or through the tour desk at Aulani, but it’s a better deal to book it through Viator.
If you are a Costco member, you will definitely want to stop at the Costco in Kapolei, about 4 miles from Aulani. It is by far the best place to stock up on essentials, and it offers a nice variety of Hawaiian specialities like kalua pig, pork lau lau, ahi poke, Portuguese sausage, Hawaiian sweet bread, lomi lomi salmon, Kona coffee, POG (passion fruit/orange/guava) juice, pineapples and more. You can even buy leis and exotic floral arrangements. Costco also usually has the best gas prices on the island.
Another good option is the Target in Kapolei, also about 4 miles from Aulani. You can pick up basic foods and beach items like snorkel gear, sand chairs, beach umbrellas, etc. Having your own gear can save you a fortune in rentals.
Even if you don’t plan to have a rental car, you can walk over to Island Country Market, across the street from Aulani. The food prices are about the same as what you’ll pay at Aulani, but there is a lot more selection. We don’t recommend doing a lot of grocery shopping here: it would be like buying all your groceries at 7-11, price-wise. However, the market has a very nice selection of wines and offers things like inexpensive, basic snorkel sets.
Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members get 10% off Aulani beach rentals, Rainbow Reef snorkeling and full-day cabana rentals. To get the discounts you’ll need to show your blue DVC membership card.
Access to the Laniwai Spa complex, including the outdoor Kula Wai hydrotherapy garden with private vitality pools, co-ed mineral baths, a reflexology path, six different “rain” showers, whirlpool jet spas and more, is complimentary with any 50-minute spa treatment. You must be 18 or older (14 and older with an accompanying adult) to use the Kula Wai facility. Click here to read more about the spa in Kris Borchardt’s 2016 review, and click here to read MouseSavers.com founder Mary Waring’s spa experience.
For younger guests, there is the Painted Sky facility (ages 13-17) and a private family suite where the whole family can enjoy treatments.
Click here to download a PDF of the spa brochure, describing the various treatments. (Information was valid as of 10/25/16, but prices are subject to change.)
Click here to download a PDF of the spa treatments price list. (List was valid as of 10/25/16, but prices are subject to change.)
Spa treatments at Aulani’s Laniwai Spa can be booked by phone at (714) 520-7001, or you can do an online information request and someone will contact you by email.
- Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members may qualify for discounts or free upgrades to Laniwai Spa treatments. Be sure to ask when booking — they do not volunteer this information! You’ll need to show your blue DVC membership card when you arrive at the spa.
The Four Seasons at Ko Olina across the street has a spa.
Childcare for kids ages 3-12 at Aunty’s Beach House is complimentary for guests.
If you are leaving your child at Aunty’s during a mealtime, you can pay $14 for the child to be served lunch or dinner.
A “bonus” activity is offered daily, for which there is a fee. For example, the “Fish are Friends” activity (learning about fish, making fish food, feeding fish at Rainbow Reef) costs $69 (includes lunch).
Babysitting services are available for ages 6 weeks to 14 years in your villa or room. Click here for more information about Kama’aina Kids Sitters.
Wireless Internet access is available in guest rooms and public areas of the resort and is included in your room rate.
Parking at Aulani is $37 per night for either self-parking or valet parking.
- Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members get FREE self-parking for up to 2 cars per room.
- If you spend $35 on food, drink or spa services (at ‘Ama’Ama, Makahiki, the ‘Olelo Room, Off the Hook or Laniwai Spa) or if you spend $50 or more on merchandise at Kalepa’s or Hale Manu, you can show your receipt(s) to the valet and parking is complimentary for up to 4 hours. This tip is great for locals who want to visit the resort.
When booking a stay at Aulani, you can enjoy a wide range of activities at no additional cost!
In addition to the beach and the resort’s themed pools, Aulani offers many complimentary experiences:
- Mo‘olele Storytelling: Guests of all ages gather round a fire pit for a night of enchanting tales, complete with puppetry, props and magical effects.
- Mo‘olelo Fireside Stories with Moana: Guests of all ages gather by the fire pit as “Uncle” brings legends of the island to life and Moana tells of her dangerous open-ocean quest to save her people.
- ‘Ohana Disney Movie Nights: Watch family-friendly Disney movies under the stars, as well as enjoy pre-movie games, activities and trivia competitions.
- Aunty’s Beach House: Kids are invited to explore this special area designed just for them as they engage in Hawaiian activities, games and crafts.
- Uncle’s Kahakai Canoe Race:Guests of all ages can learn about the wa’a or Hawaiian canoe, build a wa’a model and then take part in a canoe race.
- Menehune Adventure Trail: On this high-tech scavenger hunt, guests explore Aulani to solve riddles, search for statues and discover surprises.
- M‘ka‘ika‘i, the Art of Aulani: This guided walking tour showcases the art of Aulani.
- M‘ka‘ika‘i, the Nature and Wildlife of Aulani: On this guided walking tour, learn about the native plants, nature and beauty of Aulani.
- ‘Ohana Hula: Delve deeper into Hawaiian culture with a free hula lesson for the entire family.
- Self-Guided Excursions
- Great Oahu Excursion Ideas
- DVC Member Discounts Outside Aulani
- Go Oahu Card
- Standard Excursions from Aulani
- Adventures by Disney Excursions
Exploring the island on your own is usually much less expensive than Disney’s standard excursions, as well as more flexible. We highly recommend it.
For self-guided exploration, a rental car is a must. The resort’s location is remote and there is very limited public transportation. The nearest bus stop is 1 mile from Aulani and major attractions are located 30 minutes to 1 hour away by car. Click here to find rental car discounts.
If you prefer to rent a car only for only part of your stay, Alamo has a rental car desk at Aulani (location code is HNLR72).
If you plan to drive around Oahu, be aware that traffic is often very bad, particularly along the south shore/Waikiki/Honolulu. Avoid driving into the Honolulu area on weekdays between 5:00-8:00 am and out of Honolulu between 3:00-6:30 pm.
Snorkel at Hanauma Bay
For a much less expensive — and far more authentic — alternative to Aulani’s artificial lagoon (Rainbow Reef), drive about 1 hour to Hanauma Bay, which is open daily except Tuesdays. Hanauma Bay is a protected marine life conservation area and one of the world’s best places for novice snorkelers. Within the bay’s pristine and clear waters, visitors can swim through a stunning coral reef with more than 450 species of vibrant tropical fish. You can drive down on your own and snorkel all day for just $7.50 per adult, and kids 12 and under are FREE. You will need snorkel equipment of your own, or you can rent some on the beach for $20 per person.
Hanauma Bay is very popular, and you’ll do best to get there early. Only 3,000 visitors per day are allowed in, and there is limited space for parking. You’ll want to add extra driving time for traffic if you are coming from Aulani (or need to drive through Honolulu), but if you have 2 or more people in your car you can use the HOV carpool lane and bypass the worst of the traffic.
Tip: If you arrive between 6:00am and 7:00am, before the ticket booth opens, you don’t have to pay the entrance or parking fees. A park ranger will give you instructions and let you walk down to the beach. The snorkel equipment booth does not open until between 7:30 and 8:00am.
In our opinion, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay was a highlight of our trip. We’ve snorkeled at several coves on the Hawaiian Islands, and Hanauma beats them all, hands down. You’ll see many types of fishes, urchins and varieties of living coral in a short span of time. Much of the bay is fairly shallow, which gives you an “up close and personal” view of all that you see. To read Kris Borchardt’s November 2016 review of Hanauma Bay snorkeling click here.
Consider a visit to Kualoa Ranch, located on the opposite coast of Oahu, about 45 minutes’ drive from Aulani. Many movies and popular television shows were filmed at the Kualoa Ranch complex, and the area is a popular tourist destination that offers a wide array of reasonably-priced recreational activities, including catamaran sailing, ATV tours, horseback riding, a “secret island” beach and film set tours. Kualoa Ranch is on land once inhabited by the Kahuna members of Hawaiian society, who served as advisors to Kualoa’s resident royalty. The ranch acreage includes a lush valley, natural streams and mountains with beautiful ocean views, and an 800 year old Hawaiian fishpond.
- The Go Oahu Card includes multiple activities at Kualoa Ranch, plus over 30 other Oahu activities and excursions. If you buy a 3, 5 or 7 day card, you get a FREE bonus attraction.
- Kualoa Ranch offers kama’aina (local resident) discounts. Click here for details.
Explore the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC)
You can easily spend a full day at the Polynesian Cultural Center, located on the northeast coast of the island, about an hour from Aulani, and open daily except Sundays. The PCC is focused the cultures of the 1,000+ Pacific islands that make up Polynesia. The park is divided into six different villages representing islands of Polynesia and their customs: Aotearoa (New Zealand) Village, Hawaiian Village, Tahitian Village, Fijian Village, Samoan Village and Tongan Village. Each of the villages allows visitors to experience cultural practices of that particular island. Some of the activities include fire pit cooking, coconut husking, lei-making, learning the haka dance, fire-starting, tree climbing lessons, tattoo-drawing, and fire knife dancing.
General admission includes the villages and the Rainbows of Paradise canoe pageant, Hawaii’s only water-borne show. For an additional fee, one of the best luaus on the island, featuring a buffet and spectacular show (HA – Breath of Life) with over 100 performers, can be added to your admission ticket. The PCC is run by Brigham Young University-Hawaii and there is an optional tram tour focused on the history and beliefs of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) church and its activities in Hawaii.
- The Go Oahu Card includes general admission to the Polynesian Cultural Center, plus over 30 other Oahu activities and excursions. If you buy a 3, 5 or 7 day card, you get a FREE bonus attraction, and one of the choices is the Alii Luau and Dinner show at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Visit Pearl Harbor
The most popular thing to do at Pearl Harbor is to visit the Visitor Center and USS Arizona Memorial. Other options are the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Pacific Aviation Museum and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park.
The Visitor Center and USS Arizona Memorial are operated by the National Park Service. They are FREE to visit and parking is free, but you must get a ticket for the boat over to the Memorial. Boat tickets are frequently all taken before noon. Show up as early as you can (tickets are distributed starting at 7:00 or 7:30 am) and avoid weekends if you can. Paying your respects at the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor — the final resting place of many of the 1,177 American sailors who were lost in the Pearl Harbor attack on the ship — is intensely moving for most adults, but can be boring for young children. It may be worth taking children 10 and older, especially those interested in history.
There are fees to enter the Battleship Missouri Memorial, Pacific Aviation Museum and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park. The Battleship Missouri and the USS Bowfin are interesting for some younger children because they can tour through the massive ships, but children under 4 are not permitted on the Bowfin. Children who are very interested in planes and/or history will enjoy the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Be aware that you cannot carry ANY bags (fanny packs, wrist purses, handbags, diaper bags, backpacks, camera bags, etc.) into the Pearl Harbor sites. You can carry a camera in your hand or around your neck. Put your personal items in your pockets or car trunk before departing for Pearl Harbor (don’t put things in the trunk when you get there, as theft from car trunks is a big problem in Hawaii and thieves could be watching). Alternatively, you can store things for $3 per bag at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park.
Strollers can be taken into the Visitor Center (except the theater), but all pockets and compartments must be empty. Strollers CANNOT be taken on the boat over to the USS Arizona. You are allowed to leave a stroller outside the theater in the Visitor Center while you take the boat to the Memorial, but no one will be watching it. No strollers can be taken onto the Battleship Missouri or USS Bowfin.
- If you plan to visit the Battleship Missouri, there are military and kama’aina (local resident) rates – ask at the box office and show ID.
- If you plan to visit the USS Bowfin, there are senior, military and kama’aina (local resident) rates – ask at the box office and show ID.
- If you plan to visit the Pacific Aviation Museum, click here to print a coupon for a FREE combat simulator flight, normally $10 (one coupon per group). There are also military and kama’aina (local resident) rates – ask at the box office and show ID.
- If you plan to visit everything at Pearl Harbor and do other activities on Oahu, the Go Oahu Card includes the Battleship Missouri, USS Bowfin and Pacific Aviation Museum, plus over 30 other activities and excursions.
Hawaii is a great place to do this! There is so much to see (amazing fish, rays, eels, turtles), and the water is wonderful and clear on the west side of the island, where Aulani is located. There are also interesting wrecks and caves in the area. Unfortunately the lagoons at Aulani (and throughout Ko Olina) are not good for off-the-beach scuba diving as they are too shallow, but open water dives are amazing. Hawaii Nautical is the local scuba diving company in the Ko Olina area. If you are not already a diver, there is a 3-hour “Scuba Diving for Beginners” excursion from Ko Olina Marina (very close to Aulani) where you can learn to scuba dive.
Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members qualify for some discounts on Oahu, away from Aulani. At last check there were deals for about a dozen (mostly minor) attractions, shops and restaurants, such as the Bishop Museum, Hard Rock Cafe, Hilo Hattie and Germaine’s Luau. We don’t list them all here because they are subject to frequent changes: the best way to see the current offerings is to check the DVC member website. To get the discounts you’ll need to show your blue DVC membership card.
If you plan to do much self-guided sightseeing on the island, be sure to check out the Go Oahu Card , which includes admission to over 34 attractions, including a Grand Circle Island Tour, Hanauma Bay snorkel excursion from Waikiki with equipment included, multiple activities at Kualoa Ranch, general admission to the Polynesian Cultural Center, and lots more. It allows you to skip the line at top sights and saves you up to 55% on regular admission rates.
Go Oahu Cards are available in 1- and 2-day increments, but only 3-, 5- and 7-day passes give you access to bonus attractions such as a Dolphin Encounter at Sea Life Park, Alii Luau and Dinner show at the Polynesian Cultural Center, or a semi-private surfing lesson. 1- and 2-day cards include the Polynesian Cultural Center; just not the Luau and Dinner show.
Instant delivery! You can now get your pass instantly when you download it as a mobile pass after checkout. You will also receive a link to the pass in your order confirmation email. Along with your pass, you will receive printable and mobile versions of your guidebook containing information about each attraction including location, getting-in instructions, phone number, and hours of operation. Simply choose the “Instant Delivery” option at checkout.
- Get $25 off your Go Oahu Card order of $225 or more with MouseSavers special link. Click here. No expiration date. Offer may end at any time.
- Costco.com sometimes offers a very good discount on the Go Oahu Card. You don’t have to be a Costco member to buy through their site. (Non-members pay a 5% surcharge, however.) There is a shipping charge when ordering from Costco.com. Thanks to Peter L for info.
A variety of standard excursions including snorkeling, hiking, and visits to Hawaii tourist spots like Pearl Harbor are offered by Aulani’s Tour Desk. The primary advantage of doing these excursions is that most of them depart from Aulani, so you don’t need to drive. However, you will generally pay a considerable amount more than if you did them on your own. You can certainly book Oahu excursions directly with various tour operators (Viator’s Oahu Page is a good place for learning about and booking dozens of different Oahu tours), but very few of them depart from Ko Olina; they usually have pick up available, but only from Waikiki hotels or the cruise ship terminal. There are some exceptions; there are several snorkel and dolphin-watching tours now that are run from Ko Olina Marina, which is an easy walk from Aulani, and there are a few helicopter and jeep tours that leave from Ko Olina. Many Ko Olina excursions can be booked directly through HawaiiActivities.com’s Ko Olina Page (some are also available on Viator’s Ko Olina Page). Tours that happen in and around Honolulu are probably better booked directly through Aulani in order to get the transportation.
These excursions are operated by third parties (not Disney) and are booked independently from any room or package reservations. They are payable in full at the time they are reserved. Most have a 2 or 3 day cancellation policy. Currently excursion reservations are not available online; they can be booked by phone at (800) 840-6820, added to your reservation by your travel agent, or you can book in person when you arrive.
Sample excursions from Aulani change frequently. You can see the most current list of excursions here. Prices are typically $60-$350 per person; call or ask your travel agent for pricing on specific excursions):
|Sightseeing||Majestic Circle Island Tour (bus)|
|Cultural||Polynesian Cultural Center Tour|
|Luau||Paradise Cove Luau|
|Magic of Polynesia Dinner Show|
|Boat Tour||Catamaran Experience|
|Water activity||Dolphin Encounter Program|
|Recreation||Day on the Bay (Jet Skis, Parasailing, etc.)|
|Kualoa Zip and Dip (Zip line)|
|Ohana Stand-Up Paddle Experience|
|Kualoa Horseback or ATV Ride (2 hours)|
|Kayak and Exploration Guided Tour (5 hrs)|
|Helicopter||Hidden Oahu Tour|
|Ko’olina Marina Circle Island Spectacular|
|Hiking||Huaka’i Nui – Big Adventure|
Adventures by Disney excursions are exclusive to Aulani and include experiences you can’t easily arrange on your own. Most of these excursions are offered only once a week and are subject to cancellation if not enough people reserve them. The minimum age for most is 4 years. Transportation from Aulani to the destination is included. All prices below are subject to change.
Perhaps because of the high price of the Adventures by Disney excursions, they are frequently underbooked. If they don’t get enough people, the Holo Holo desk cancels the excursion. MouseSavers.com founder Mary Waring’s Hawaiian Cooking Class excursion was cancelled with one day’s notice, and we’ve heard from numerous other Aulani guests whose excursions were cancelled at the last minute. This is another excellent reason to have a rental car — otherwise you may be stuck at Aulani on a day when you’d planned to be having fun elsewhere.
Currently excursion reservations are not available online; they can be booked by phone at (866) 814-3569, added to your reservation by your travel agent, or you can book in person when you arrive.
Catamaran Experience ($154 adult / $124 child (ages 12 and under); Mondays and Wednesdays 12:45 – 5:15 pm, including travel time) – Join an exclusive group of Aulani guests and an Adventure Guide for this 3-hour adventure on the high seas. Just a short drive from Aulani, board the 53-foot Gold Coast Catamaran and cruise out along the shoreline of Oahu’s sun-kissed leeward coast. Following a hearty lunch prepared by your crew, you will be greeted by local marine life. Playful Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins and honu (Hawaiian green sea turtle) spottings are frequent. Kohola (humpback whale) watching is also a highlight during the months of December – April. The marine life will continue to awe you as you enjoy a guided snorkeling excursion. Then, catch some rays on the deck while a local ukulele player entertains.
Kualoa Ranch Experience ($254 adult / $224 child (minimum age for horseback ride is 10); Thursdays 11:00 am – 6:30 pm, including travel time) – Join fellow Aulani guests for an exclusive, customized visit to arguably one of the most breathtakingly beautiful pieces of land and coastline on Oahu. Your adventure begins with a private beach and catamaran experience. You will then cross the ranch’s legendary Fish Pond, said to have been constructed by Menehunes, en route to a private beach where you will be treated to an exclusive beach BBQ and a sea-turtle spotting expedition on a private catamaran. Later, you will embark on a horseback ride through the ranch’s northern lush valley where you will see various movie and television locations. Here you will hear stories about Oahu’s Ahupua’a, the traditional Hawaiian land division that extends from the mountain to the shore.
Waimea Falls-North Shore Experience ($134 adult / $104 child (ages 4-12); Fridays 8:00 am – 2:00 pm, including travel time) – Join fellow Aulani guests for an exclusive excursion to a slice of tropical paradise on Oahu’s North Shore. This special site is rich with Hawaiian history and is a repository for Hawaiian spirituality and traditions. Along with local expert hosts, you will enjoy a guided walk through the botanical gardens of this vast tranquil setting. En route, children will have the opportunity to stop at various staging areas to try their hand at playing ancient Hawaiian games. Upon returning to the visitor’s center, you will be treated to lunch as well as a hands-on Hawaiian activity with a local Aunty. Waimea Valley is a living example of an ahupua’a (traditional Hawaiian land division that extends from the mountain to the shore), and here you will learn just how deeply embedded this tradition is in today’s Hawaiian culture.
Manoa Valley Rainforest & Bamboo Forest Hike ($119 adult / $104 child (ages 8-11); Fridays 8:00 am – 2:00 pm, including travel time) – Join fellow Aulani guests for an exclusive adventure in an authentic Hawaiian rainforest! Discover a special hidden Hawaiian hiking treasure on this gently-paced 3-mile hike. This is a rare opportunity to see the majestic beauty of a towering 200-foot tropical waterfall. Cross tranquil streams, walk along picturesque pools, view ancient rock terraces all the while surrounded by vast, lush tropical vegetation and ancient forest. Return along a path winding through a magical bamboo forest rich with stories of the Menehunes.