I recently took my family to a 3-night trip (July 23, 2015 to July 26, 2015) to the Aulani resort in Oahu, Hawaii. Prior to and even during the trip, I did a lot of research online, which helped me enhance my experience significantly. I want to share a few tips from our trip here. Aulani was sold out during our stay there, so the timing mentioned here should be applicable even if the resort is sold out for your trip.
1. Poolside chairs: A number of blogs advise that you go down and claim your chairs before 8:00 am, otherwise everything will be gone. We did not find this to be the case, as we were able to land two good chairs on our first day after 9:00 am. On the other hand, by 11:00 am, pretty much all the chairs were taken. This is why Aulani has a policy that you cannot leave your chair unoccupied for more than one hour. If you do that, Aulani staff can clean the chair and let other people use it. The Aulani staff decides how long you are away by first putting folded towels on top of an unoccupied chair. If after an hour the towel is still in the same place, the staff knows no one has been to the chair and hence it can be cleaned out. My understanding is that this is not a strict policy, and that the Aulani staff would only enforce it if someone asked them to help find a chair. On our first day there, we didn’t see this enforced. On the second day, though, there was a staffer who was diligently folding towels and putting them on top of chairs, though I saw no evidence of anyone being booted for not being in their chair for over an hour.
2. Aunty’s Beach House activity sign up: I’ve read that it’s best to line up outside of Aunty’s Beach House to sign up for activities at 7:00 am to guarantee your kids a spot. I lined up at around 7:00 am and there were 7-8 people in front of me, so I had no problem getting the activities I wanted to sign up for. Based on the length of the line, I am pretty sure you should not have any problems getting the activity you want if you get there by 7:15 am. Staff will come out of the office at around 7:20 am. They may first make announcements, and then they will start taking signups. The process was quick—I was out of there by 7:30 am on both days. It was actually not a big deal for me to get up by 7:00 am as I came from California, so 7:00 am in Hawaii was equivalent to 10:00 am in California.
There is no limit on the number of activities you can sign up for. If you want to sign up for 3 or even 4 activities on that day for your kids, you can do that all at one time. The only caveat is that you can only sign up for activities on that day.
In addition to signing up on the day of, it is also possible to pre-register for the activities, which you can do on the Aulani website after you book your trip. In that case, though, there is no guarantee that you can get what you want. We signed up for three activities (the maximum allowed) and got one. I spoke to another parent who got two of the three activities she signed up for.
3. Snorkeling: My family went snorkeling at the beach, and was disappointed that there was barely any fish. We guess that’s why Aulani also has Rainbow Reef, where you are guaranteed to see lots of fish.
4. Menehune Adventure Trail Game: My kids love the Menehune Adventure Trail game. In this game, the kids were handed a small tablet, and they were to follow directions to complete quests. What’s cool is that when they got to the spot specified, a touch on the tablet screen triggers some type of activity—it could be an image showing up on a rock, music playing, or water shooting out at unsuspecting passer-bys, among others.
5. Artworks: There are lots of Hawaiian artworks in Aulani. Many are found in the lobby area (such as the one below), but you’ll also find art works on each floor, outside, and even in your own room.
6. Early nights: Many things close at 8:00 pm. Pretty much everything closes at 10:00 pm.
7. Jacuzzi: The jacuzzi is quite crowded during the day, but it gets empty after 9:00 pm. I enjoyed 15 minutes of alone time from 9:00 pm – 9:15 pm on one of the nights.
8. Resort size: Given all the activities that happen inside Aulani, it is actually a pretty small resort. It shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to go from one point to another point in the resort once you are familiar with the resort layout.
9. Food prices: Many people have complained about the food price inside Aulani. While this is true if you compare their prices to most places on the mainland, we actually found the prices to be in line with the rest of Hawaii.
10. Beach chairs: There is no 1-hour policy on the chairs at the beach. So it’s okay to grab a good spot, leave for a couple of hours, and come back. Contrast this to the poolside chairs, where you cannot leave for more than an hour.
11. Disney PhotoPass: There were very few Disney PhotoPass photographers around—during my 3-night stay there, I only saw a total of 3. Even when Disney characters were out for pictures, I did not see Disney PhotoPass photographers there. This is unlike Disneyland, where PhotoPass photographers are everywhere. So, if you want to get a lot of pictures taken by the Disney PhotoPass photographer at Aulani, you’ll likely be disappointed.