Aulani, the brand-new Disney Resort & Spa on Oahu, is not a cheap place to go for a family vacation. Disney spared little expense in creating an incredible destination resort for families, with its outstanding pools and water play area, Laniwai Spa, oceanfront location, magical kids’ club and plethora of family-friendly events and activities. The Walt Disney Company is in the business of creating outstanding family-vacation experiences; consumers have come to equate Disney resorts with top-notch facilities and excellent customer service. But to provide that, it takes money; room rates, menu prices and activity fees are set accordingly.
That said, if you have your heart set on bringing your family to Aulani, there are ways to trim a few costs from your vacation expenditures. Consider these tips for making it a little bit more palatable on the pocketbook:
Forego the ocean view: A recent online check revealed that a standard room with a view of the Aulani parking garage starts at $399/night for a weeknight stay in January; with tax it’s $455/night. Indeed, this is not inexpensive, yet if you upgrade for a view of the mountains, pool or ocean (even partial views) the room rate escalates. You’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to enjoy the pool (and see the birds-eye view of it from huge windows in the hallways in the room towers) and take in the beautiful blue ocean; no need to pay extra to see it from your balcony.
During my recent press visit to Aulani, in which I traveled solo, I stayed in a standard double-bedded room (#743) with a lanai facing the parking garage and the mountains – though I could also see the ocean in the distance — and it would have been plenty spacious for my family of four (and my kids are 9 and 11). Disney cleverly built beds high off the ground with a roomy area underneath for stowing suitcases (sort of like the smart storage found in Disney Dream staterooms). Take the standard room with the okay view; you won’t be in your room but to sleep and shower, anyway!
Don’t eat all your meals on property: My friend and Hawaii expert Sheila Beal of Go Visit Hawaii says that prices at Aulani’s restaurants for food and drink are on par with or even less expensive than other Hawaii resorts. Still, it’s Hawaii – a cheeseburger and fries at the casual poolside restaurant is $14, a glass of wine starts at $10 and the breakfast buffet is $27 for adults ($14 for kids 9 and under; it costs a bit more if you’re attending a character breakfast).
You can avoid these resort prices by walking across the street to Ko Olina Center, where you’ll find a Mexican grill, a BBQ joint and an ice cream shop. Your best bet is the Island Deli inside the Island Country Market, which sells fresh sandwiches and salads. For my final meal at Aulani I spent $8.79 on some yummy macadamia nut pesto pasta salad and a turkey and cheese croissant (contrast that with the grilled veggie wrap and field greens I bought poolside at Aulani for $12.56). The deli, which opens at 6:30 a.m., also offers breakfast items: hotcake sandwich for $3.25, baked ham croissant sandwich for $4.99, create your own omelet for $7.99.
The off-property market sells all sorts of fresh fruit, sushi and packaged snacks, plus milk, juice, beer and wine. Because all of the rooms at Aulani have a small refrigerator, you can stock up here and store fixings for breakfast and lunch in your room. Better yet, if you have a rental car, drive to Costco, Target or ask the concierge for other grocery-store options to purchase food items to keep in your room.
Buy Hawaiian souvenirs off property: Unless you need a Mickey Mouse key chain or a (darling) Disney Dooney & Bourke designer clutch, scoot across the street to the aforementioned Island Country Market, also an ABC Store. Towels, flip flops, T-shirts, plumeria body lotion and more!
Order a lot of shave ice: When your kids need a snack to tide them over until dinner, send them to the Papalua Shave Ice shack. It’s the best deal at Aulani: a generous portion of that quintessential icy treat costs only $3.75. Yeah, I know it’s a lot for colored, frozen sugar water, but it’s an overall inexpensive way to make the kiddos happy.
Buy the refillable, insulated souvenir mug: If you and your family are big soda drinkers, and you’re at Aulani for a week, it’ll be worth the cost to pay $18.99 for a Disney travel mug, which you can use to refill with lemonade, iced tea and soda at self-serve stations around the property. Though I didn’t try this, I’m guessing you could fill up the mug and then take it to the on-site restaurants so you wouldn’t have to pay for individual sodas with each meal.
Do all the included activities: So many amenities and activities are included in the rate of your stay, that you could easily fill your day without charging anything to your room. Here’s a sampling:
- Ride the water slides, play in the water-spray area or float down the lazy river in Wakolohe Valley
- Snap photos with Mickey, Goofy or Stitch at scheduled character meet-and-greets.
- Explore the interactive Menehune Trail with a cool Wi-Fi driven handheld device to experience all sorts of mischievous surprises in the pool area. (A must-do!)
- Listen to talented storytellers, make a fresh flower lei or watch a Disney movie with your kids.
- Send your teens to their own hangout space, Painted Sky, for free karaoke, ukulele lessons or Hawaiian bracelet making.
- Play in the calm lagoon; swim to the floating foam “docks” to do cartwheels into the ocean or push each other off!
- Attend the fabulous evening show with music, dancing, storytelling and ukuleles offered twice weekly.
- Work off vacation meals with included fitness classes, including interval training in the lagoon, Beach Body Boot Camp or sunrise yoga.
Decide before you go which “premium experiences” you’ll pay for: Some of the more outstanding activities and services will cost extra. Here are some examples:
- Snorkeling in the man-made saltwater lagoon ($20/adults; $15/children for the day). I heartily recommend this activity, as you can also use the snorkel, mask and flotation device in the ocean lagoon during your daily rental (you can also rent equipment for the week for a moderately higher price). Plus, it’s a wonderfully safe and calm environment for young children to learn how to snorkel.
- Stand-up paddleboard lesson ($39)
- Kayak rental ($20/hour)
- Interactive stingray experience, where you learn about stingrays and other marine life from a trained naturalist, and then pet and feed the stingrays ($50/adults and $45/children for 45 minutes; a portion of the fee does go to local wildlife nonprofits)
- Beach umbrella rental ($20 for the day)
- Double chaise lounge on the beach ($40 for the day)
- Excursions, such as surfing lessons with Hawaiian Fire ($154/adults, $184/kids ages 5 to 10; highly recommend!) or a rainforest hike ($119/adults, $104/kids); excursions do include transportation, gratuities, water and snacks and you’re accompanied by a Disney guide.
Note that except for the off-property excursions, you will not find pricing on the resort website for “premium experiences” — which also include more intricate craft lessons, temporary tattoos, Chip n’ Dale dinner and games in the kids’ club or make-your-own body polish in the teen spa. If you have any questions about what will cost extra once you arrive at the resort, ask detailed questions of a concierge on the property. Reach the hotel operator here: (808) 674-6200.
Enroll the kiddos in Aunty’s Beach House: This kids’ club is totally complimentary for potty-trained children ages 3 to 12 and it’s housed in a wonderful cottage-like environment, chock full of included activities for young guests. “Aunty’s side” of the cottage is geared toward ages 3 to 5, with a plethora of Disney dress-up clothes, interactive game tables, board games and crafts. “Uncle’s side” has interactive game tables and board games for older children, plus crafts geared to their age level. An outdoor area has a huge yard with playsets and hula hoops.
Different special activities are scheduled throughout the day at Aunty’s Beach House, such as storytelling with Aunty, making Stitch’s Space Goo, learning to hula or a volcanic island science experiment. Trained youth counselors are prevalent, and many have recreation or teaching backgrounds. I was impressed that all kids and adult guests are asked to wash their hands with soap before entering the facility.
Snacks and drinks are served regularly, but if you would like to have your children eat lunch or dinner while they’re there, you’ll need to order off of a menu for them and pay extra for that. Aunty’s Beach House hours vary daily: some days it’s 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., other days its 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. — either way, there’s plenty of time for Mom and Dad to enjoy a kid-free, guilt-free excursion or meal by themselves!
Stay at Aulani for two nights, not ten nights: One surefire way to lessen the cost of your vacation would be to book a room at Aulani for a limited amount of time. There are surely less expensive condominiums and hotels on Oahu (Outrigger and Aqua Resorts properties come to mind). Frankly, I’d love to bring my entire family to Aulani for a week, but I don’t see that happening unless a windfall descends from the sky. For our next Hawaii trip, I’m thinking I’ll book two nights in a standard room at Aulani, and enjoy all of the wonderful service and amenities this luxury resort has to offer, and then figure out a condominium situation elsewhere on the island. With the ability to cook meals in a full kitchen, a vacation rental is often the way to save money on meals.
All Hawaii vacations are expensive vacations, with airfare to Hawaii from the continental U.S. or Canada, not to mention the cost of a rental car if you’d like to explore islands on your own. It might be worth it to shave a few dollars off the price of your Aulani vacation (following the tips above) if you are on a vacation budget and would like to experience this special Disney resort sooner than later. However, you might also consider waiting to book your Aulani trip until you’ve saved up a few more dollars so you don’t have to worry so much about spending the cash on additional Disney excursions, on-property restaurant meals, special experiences or an ocean view.
No matter how you do it, I do hope you and your family can visit Aulani soon. It’s truly a magical place!
Mahalo to Aulani for hosting my stay!