Escape to Aulani

The view from the author's room in the Waianae Tower

The view from the author’s room in the Waianae Tower

One morning not long ago, I woke up to an email inviting me for a weekend stay at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa at Ko Olina. It was part of the hotel’s fifth anniversary celebration, the message explained, and I somehow had lucked out.

That weekend finally came this past Saturday and, guys, it was amazing — a three-day whirlwind that stirred all sorts of nostalgia.

You should remember that Aulani clearly was designed with families in mind. Aunty’s Beach House, for example, serves as a fun space for children to hang out in all day if they please. There’s also a Keiki Cove Splash Zone, where water shoots out from the ground, and a Menehune Bridge jungle gym with more water features.

That being said, as an almost 28-year-old with no children, I never at any point felt as though I were missing out on something. It was just as fun to watch children race and scream through water as it was to be able to sit back with a cocktail (or a few).

By the time I left, I found myself as excited about a character sighting as the toddlers lined up waiting to hug and high-five Goofy, Pluto, Donald and many others. I felt pleasantly full of the magic promised to guests — that and a very strong urge to head over to Disneyland.

Here are some highlights if you decide to visit Aulani for your own staycation.


Never have I been to a hotel crafted so thoughtfully with respect to place and culture. Yes, it is a Disney resort and full of homages to that, but Aulani also is very aware of where it is located. Murals painted in the ceiling of the lobby tell the story of Hawaii, with other relevant sculptures, photos and artwork scattered throughout the resort.

As mundane as it may sound, invest some time in taking the guided walking tour. Seeing how Disney “imagineers” incorporated Hawaii into everything was fascinating.


Don’t roll your eyes when I tell you that Kalepa’s Store essentially is the resort’s gift shop. While it does offer trinkets and Disney merchandise (I gave in to some Minnie ears), it also is another nod to local culture.

Aside from design features that harken back to old-school Hawaii, there are photographs of existing local mom-and-pop shop owners in front of their stores that line the walls inside. It was a nice detail to include, especially for locals who will recognize longtime favorites.

Menehune Bridge

Menehune Bridge


While Aulani does have quite a number of activities to keep keiki entertained, the resort thankfully didn’t forget about adults. If the high-energy atmosphere of family-friendly pools is too much, guests ages 18 and older have a couple of spaces to retreat to.

The first is an adults-only, two-level infinity whirlpool that overlooks the beach below.

In another corner of Aulani is Wailana Pool, also open only to those 18 and older. It’s a pretty expansive 1,500-square-foot pool, canopied with trees, quiet and located steps away from a bar.

You know, my kind of place.


I am truly awful at swimming. As in, I can barely swim. But if you are more skilled or simply are comfortable relying on an inflated vest, then there is a lot to see at Rainbow Reef. Aulani heralds it as the only private snorkeling lagoon on Oahu, and it is pretty amazing.

Guests who simply want to look at the fish or would rather watch on the sidelines also can see into the lagoon right around the corner of its entrance.


By far my favorite thing to do all weekend was laze around Waikolohe Stream. All I had to do was grab a float tube and let the water move me.

The lazy river probably was one of the most popular water activities in the resort, with a steady stream of people floating around with the current. Various entry points allow people join in anywhere, and there’s also a water slide that shoots you out into Waikolohe Stream.

But more importantly, it combined everything I wanted: water, sun and relaxation.


If and when I ever return to Aulani, I plan on dedicating an entire day to Laniwai Spa. Even though massages and other treatments typically run 50-80 minutes, trust me, there is an endless amount of pampering available here.

Aside from a female-only area that includes showers, a locker room, sauna and steam room (all of which also is available to men), there’s Kula Wai. Let me tell you, this expansive co-ed outdoor hydrotherapy garden is a dream.

There are reclined, cushy seats, where resort noise somehow doesn’t reach.

Soaking pools in varying temperatures help to further relax, and six rain-style showers are simply fun to try out.

Then, of course, there’s the attentive staff that regularly stops by with cold, fruit-infused water and the spa treatments themselves. (I got to experience a 50-minute Signature Laniwai Lomi Lomi.)

Let’s just say that at some point, I think I fell asleep, and the next time, I’ll be going for the full 80 minutes.

Waikolohe Pool

Waikolohe Pool


When you take a ride in an elevator or hear some background music playing elsewhere, take a moment to listen to the tune. Playing overhead will be a classic Disney song sung with Hawaiian lyrics instead.

It’s really quite fun to listen to, though it’s a shame elevator rides couldn’t be longer. The resort doesn’t sell the music either, so soak it in while you can.


Seriously, seeing Disney characters pop up around the resort was so fun. Just like at Disneyland, guests can stand in line to get their photos taken. Lines tend to get long pretty quickly, especially for characters like Stitch and Mickey.

I don’t care how old I am or the fact that I know it’s just some costumed adult. It seriously was the best.

P.S. You didn’t think I forgot about the food, did you? Check out Gastronome here:

Waikolohe Pool Menehune Bridge