Sure, there are other family-friendly resorts in Hawaii. And sure, there are other places around the world to experience Disney’s legendary immersive storytelling. But nowhere else in the world do these things come together like at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina on Oahu’s west side. Here are some of the resort’s most unique features:
Navigating Aulani prepares you to navigate the island.
In Hawaii, the cardinal directions of north, south, east and west take a backseat to geographic and landmark-based navigation markers: mauka (toward the mountain), makai (toward the sea), Diamond Head for east and Ewa for west when on Oahu’s south shore. Aulani prepares guests to navigate the island in a way more kamaaina (local) than any GPS could. Aulani’s lobby is at the top of the ahupuaa (traditional Hawaiian land division), step out onto the lanai (balcony) and behold Waikolohe Valley, the lush oasis stretching from mauka to makai. The two towers are named Ewa and Waianae, and these kinds of directions are used throughout the resort.
Storytelling is everywhere.
Disney is known for its immersive storytelling, and their team brought their talents to Aulani to tell the stories of Hawaii. The name Aulani means “a messenger on behalf of a higher authority” –in this case, the culture of Hawaii. Fitting with the name, the stories are everywhere.
Take the menehune. Hawaii’s legendary little mischief makers appear many times at Aulani. Keiki (children) can play the Menehune Adventure Trail, a high-tech scavenger hunt that takes players around Aulani, solving riddles and joining the menehune in helping the good people of Waikolohe Valley. The whole ohana (family) can enjoy Menehune Mischief at the Makahiki Buffet, a dinner experience where Uncle tells stories of the menehune as they scurry around the restaurant. Later in the evening, hear more stories of the menehune’s good deeds around the fire pit at the Circle of Alae Ula. And then there are the statues: small wooden or stone carvings of menehune hiding all over Aulani.
The sounds of the resort were created just for Aulani.
Disney’s Imagineers worked closely with local lyricists and musicians to craft Aulani’s soundtrack. In the lobby, you’ll hear Kealii Reichel’s voice inviting you in over a soundtrack orchestrated by Mark Mancina, who produced the music for the stage version of “The Lion King” among many others. You can also find the music available on Amazon.
In the elevators, you’ll hear familiar voices like Lehua Kalima and the Kamehameha School Children’s Chorus singing Disney classics in the Hawaiian language. And of course, there are original compositions performed live. Uncle has been known to break into song while telling stories at the Circle of Alae Ula. Auntie strolls the Makahiki restaurant with her ukulele during breakfast, and later in the day teaches the Aulani Hula at Aunty’s Beach House. There are even ukulele classes in the Pau Hana community room for guests who want to join in.
It’s not all for the keiki—Aulani has fun for adults, too.
Laniwai Spa might be Aulani’s best-kept secret. Tucked away in the Waianae Tower, Laniwai means fresh-water heaven—and a heaven it is. In addition to the usual trimmings of a top-notch spa, it features the only outdoor hydrotherapy garden on Oahu with private vitality pools, mineral baths, a reflexology path, rain showers, and more. Laniwai is the first ever Disney-created and operated spa at any of its properties.
For even more quiet time, take a dip in the adults-only Wailana Pool before heading over to Ama Ama restaurant for dinner and drinks.
While you do all this, the keiki won’t mind staying at Aunty’s Beach House, an interactive kids club for ages 3 to 12 with activities, entertainment, games and features from real auntie-and-uncle’s houses that will be familiar to kamaaina.
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, 92-1185 Aliinui Dr, Kapolei, Oahu, 96707, (866) 443-4763, disneyaulani.com.