I had the opportunity to visit Disney's new Hawaiian Resort & Spa, Aulani last week. It is a gorgeous resort that was much more Hawaiian than Disney, but a little Disney magic thrown in for good measure. The decor and ambience pays homage to the Hawaiian culture, without being over-the-top or kistchy. There isn't a tiki bar in sight (which is not authentically Hawaiian anyway), nor is there an anthropomorphized animal wearing a grass skirt and doing the hula at every turn. Instead, it's a restful, rejuvenating place where familes can relax and have fun, while learning a little about Hawaiian culture along the way.
The standard room with two queen-sized beds is big enough for a family of three or four to enjoy without tripping over themselves. There was a folding crib in the closet and an empty mini-fridge that you could fill up with your own snacks and drinks. Each room comes equipped with a DVD player, so you can bring along your favorite Disney movies to enjoy when you need a little down-time. It's those little touches that make this family-friendly resort even more friendly to families traveling with small kids.
The decor is fairly simple, with accents of koa wood, batik-style prints, and Hawaiian quilt patterns. The only noticeable Disney reference was a cute Mickey Mouse lamp, carved out of wood and distressed to blend in with the rest of the room's Hawaii-centric theme. It reminded me more of upscale version of the Volcano National Park Lodge than the Disneyland Hotel.
My room had a balcony with a "partial ocean view", meaning the ocean was right behind the parking lot. Luckily, the room was on a higher floor, so the view of mountains and ocean were not obstructed when I sat out on the balcony.
As if Hawaii itself were not enough, the main attraction of the resort is the incredible pool/waterpark within the resort itself. Fashioned to look like lava tube structures, the xxx square foot pool features a giant slide through the rock structures, a climbing structure and a "lazy river" where you can float around in a large innertube.
Just beyond the pool area is a quiet lagoon where you can swim, snorkel, or try stand-up paddle boarding. The resort offers a number of water activities that can be enjoyed by kids and parents alike. I didn't get to take my 11 year old son with me this time, but I found something at every turn that he would have loved. It was probably a good thing he didn't come along, because it would have been impossible to wrestle him out of the pool to go home.
I had the opportunity to check out Laniwai, a gorgeous, full-service spa with massage services, hair, nails, facials, and other amazing spa services. There are 15 treatment rooms, a hair salon, and activities for families, couples, and individuals to enjoy. I got my nails done, and it was worth every penny of the rather hefty pricetag. What's a vacation without a little indulgence?
The only thing that I hope to see improvements in at Aulani is the service at the bars and restaurants. The service was friendly, but slow, even by vacation resort standards. I'm not sure if that was because the resort just opened and the staff is still in training, or if there was something going on behind the scenes. Anyway, the food is tasty, with an emphasis on local, fresh ingredients, and the cocktails? Sublime.
I admit to being a little skeptical going to a Disney property in the middle of what has to be one of the most beautiful natural spots on earth, Hawaii. I was very happy to see that Disney took a great deal of care and effort to respect the unique beauty and culture of Hawaii.
Disclosure: Disney Parks & Resorts paid for my airfare and accommodations to attend this event. I did not receive any compensation for writing this review, or payment in exchange for posting. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of the Walt Disney Company or any of its affiliates.