When I first visited Aulani, Disney’s magical resort in Hawaii, just after it opened in 2011, I thought often to myself — as I uncovered an incredible complimentary kids’ club, multiple pools with lazy river and slides, teen spa and family spa services, and a mellow lagoon for fun ocean play — “I’ve got to bring my kids here!”
Five years later it wasn’t my kids but my grown husband who tagged along on my April research visit, courtesy of the resort — no kids in tow!
And it turns out, Aulani in Oahu has plenty to offer grown-ups as well. Here’s the scoop:
The on-site spa at Aulani remains every bit as fabulous as it was when I first reviewed it in 2011. It truly is an oasis amid what can be a very busy and bustling resort. But the spa is serene and soothing from the moment you step into its lobby and make your way to the spacious gender-specific locker rooms. It’s strictly adults only here (teens have their own Painted Sky spa next-door), and the steam room, sauna, and multiple relaxation rooms invite, well, relaxation. But my favorite area is definitely the outdoor hydrotherapy garden. This walled area is filled with lush vegetation, waterfalls, mineral pools, outdoor showers and wide, comfy lounge chairs for resting. Truly, sublime. While treatments can be pricey (as most hotel spa services are), booking a massage, facial or body scrub is worth every penny not only because the massage therapists and aestheticians are quite good, but because you can stay and enjoy the spa amenities, including the outdoor garden, for as long as you’d like. For me, on this most recent visit, that was nearly 6 hours!
Adults-only pool and spa
Just steps from the spa and outdoor hydrotherapy garden is another wonderfully quiet corner of the resort, and that’s the adults-only pool. A short fence separates it from a walkway that leads to the other all-ages pool areas, which helps it feel “separate” (i.e. families with strollers are not walking through the rows of lounge chairs). My husband arrived at the adults-only pool area at about 11am one day and had no trouble finding a pair of chairs under an umbrella. For even more peace and quiet, couples and small adults-only groups can rent a shady cabana for $325 at the adults-only pool.
Steps away, though not adjacent, are tiered hot tubs that are for guests 18 and older. These infinity tubs face the ocean, and are in a particularly good location for sunset viewing. Like the adults-only pool, we never found the two whirpools too crowded during our short stay.
The Olelo Room
My husband and I very much enjoyed drinks and appetizers at The Olelo Room on two different occasions while we were at Aulani for just four nights. Between 5 and 7pm nightly the open-air restaurant with spacious patio has discounted pricing on drinks and small plates. The $7 drinks and $5 to $9 appetizers are among the best deals at the resort; my cocktail doubled in price after 7pm. I highly recommend the Loaded Nachos on the specially priced “sunset menu” (taro chips smothered in kalua pork, fire-roasted pineapple salsa and poi sour cream) as well as the Pineapple Basil Fizz drink (vodka, pineapple juice, basil, housemade sweet-and-sour, topped off with soda water). The Olelo Room also has nightly live music. While this bar/lounge is open to children, and we saw many families here, nibbling and drinking and listening to the acoustic tunes, I still count it among my favorite spots for adults to unwind at the end of the day, for sure.
Paved oceanfront path
Aulani sits on Ko Olina Lagoon, one of four scenic, man-made lagoons in a row that are connected via a curvy, paved recreational walkway that is especially used in the morning before the heat of the day. Joggers, exercise walkers and parents pushing strollers make their way along the wide path, enjoying ocean breezes and scenes of expansive sandy beaches and turquoise water along the way. This was my favorite (okay, my only) way I enjoyed some exercise while on Oahu.
Fitness center and exercise classes
The Aulani fitness center, adjacent to the spa, has plenty of bells and whistles: dozens of treadmills, bikes, elliptical machines, plus all the strength-training equipment you’d need for a decent vacation workout. In addition, the resort offers a variety of free daily exercise classes on the beach, such as Sunrise Tai Chi and Beach Body Boot Camp. Other classes — which might be held outdoors or in the Painted Sky teen spa open area — cost $15, and include Group Spinning and Ocean Yoga. While I didn’t take advantage of any of these offerings, I saw plenty of guests jogging inside and having what looked like a bunch of fun with organized exercise on paddleboards in the lagoon.
‘AMA’AMA and next-door Off the Hook
The resort’s “fanciest” restaurant is ‘AMA’AMA, featuring “contemporary island cooking.” Named for a type of fish, this is the place to be as the sun sets, as the open-air restaurant offers fabulous westerly views from nearly any seat in the house (and it’s perfectly acceptable to get up from your table for a better view of the orange orb dipping below the horizon as this evening show from Mother Nature occurs). ‘AMA’AMA has a la carte breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus; we only ate one evening meal here, with our best item selection being the catch of the day, which happened to be savory mahi mahi. This restaurant also offers nightly live music.
Next door to ‘AMA’AMA is Off the Hook, a casual, open bar with a couple of flat-screen TVs tuned to whatever sporting event is the most important of the day (or night). This lounge with umbrella tables is poolside, and it offers the same poolside menu you’ll find throughout the resort with burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and appetizers served in bamboo baskets with disposable silverware, plus plenty of fruity drinks, wine and draft and bottled beers.
The rooms at Aulani are, predictably, extra family friendly; we found a portable crib and sink stepstool in the closet of our standard room with queen bed and garden view. Our accommodations were plenty big enough for the two of us, with a small love seat, armoire with clothing drawers, and triangle-shaped lanai with room for two chairs and footstools (or were they small tables?). We didn’t have an ocean view, and if I were on my honeymoon at Aulani (and I was told that many of the couples who visit the resort without children are indeed on their honeymoon) I’d definitely want an upgraded room, but it truly didn’t matter much to us, as our fourth-floor room was low enough for us to enjoy some of the tall tropical foliage planted around the spa (we could nearly look down into the outdoor hydrotherapy garden when we spent time on our balcony). Plus, when you’re in Hawaii, and especially at Aulani with fabulous pools and beach area to enjoy, you don’t tend to spend much time in your room anyway.
Parents who visit Aulani can certainly choose to enjoy some of these grown-up amenities without their children, as babysitting services at Aunty’s Beach House are included in the room rate. And I spotted some grandparents, traveling with multiple generations of family, at the spa and in the hot tub, enjoying some kid-free time, for sure. Same goes for adult travelers who are simply Disney fans (or Disney Vacation Club members) — though this Disney resort caters to its young visitors with magnificent services, indeed, there is also plenty for those who seek child-free activity and relaxation, as well.
Mahalo to Aulani for hosting me and my husband on a short, but lovely, visit to your resort.
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