Resort Review: Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa (Ko Olina, Hawai‘i)

by joeheg

Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa is located in Hawai’i, on Oahu. It’s a part of the Disney Vacation Club, which is the Disney Company’s version of a timeshare. Since we’re DVC members, staying at Aulani is the most economical way for us to stay when we’re on Oahu.

Located in Ko Olina, on the western side of the island, it’s about a 20-30 minute drive to the resort from the airport. This is in the opposite direction from Waikiki, so you’ll be somewhat isolated from the main tourist section, which can be a plus or minus depending on your plans.

This was our second trip to Aulani, as we visited 10 years ago on our last trip to Hawaii. While some things had changed since our last visit, many things were the same. We almost didn’t get to visit as the timeshare was booked up when I first looked for a room. It wasn’t until a month before our trip that a one-bedroom villa opened up. I had to ditch my backup plan to stay at the Westin Moana Surfrider, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to stay at Aulani again (and save the 180K Marriott Bonvoy points).

As we arrived at Aulani, it was exactly as we remembered. The view as you walk into the main building is quintessential for a Hawaii resort hotel.

a large room with a large window and a couple of people standing in the background

The rooms at Aulani are spread across two towers. As you enter the lobby, the tower to your right is Wai’anae and to your left is ‘Ewa.

Our one-bedroom villa was on the 4th floor of the Wai’anae Tower, about 1/2 way down the hallway with a view of the pool.

a sign with a diagram of an emergency call

Needless to say, the view from the balcony didn’t suck.

a pool with palm trees and a building in the background

Admittedly, we didn’t need a one-bedroom villa (which sleeps five) for just the two of us, but it was all that was available for the nights of our trip.

As you walk into the unit, you enter the kitchen.

a kitchen with wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances

We weren’t planning on cooking in the room, so the full kitchen was overkill. However, the standard-size fridge was nice and we did make coffee every morning. If you’re wondering, they only provide 1 day of coffee. After that, we bought a package of Kona coffee from the gift shop and if you ask, they’ll give you complimentary drip filters. 🙂

The kitchen area has a seating area for meals and the living room is large, with a sofa and chairs. We used the kitchen table as the YMMV office during our stay.

a room with a table and couches

a living room with a television and a chair

There’s a sleeper sofa in the living room. In addition, there’s a small bed hidden in the television cabinet, allowing the unit to sleep up to five people.

a bed with a tv on it

The master bedroom has a massive king-size bed with plenty of pillows.

a bed in a hotel room

There’s another television and a small desk. There’s also a set of doors that allows you to see into the bathroom (which is a signature of most DVC one-bedroom units). Unlike some hotel rooms, there are plenty of drawers to store your clothes.

a room with a bed and a dresser

The bathroom is divided into two sections. Connected to the bedroom is a room with a large soaking tub and a sink.

a bathroom with a bathtub and a mirror

Through another door is the toilet and the walk-in shower with an additional sink. This area also has a secondary entrance from the living room.

a bathroom with a glass shower door

For all that I’ve written about the room, we didn’t spend much time in it. I can’t help to say that I did love the view. No matter the time of day, it was exactly what you’d think Hawaii should look like.

a pool and palm trees in a resort

We did spend part of one afternoon at the resort’s pool. A welcome addition from our last stay was a large infinity hot tub.

a pool with palm trees and rocks in the background

In addition, the beach at Ko Olina is a great place to swim and there are plenty of chairs on the beach.

palm trees next to a beach

If you’re looking for a chair at the pool, beware that they fill up quickly. In addition, Disney takes the pool opening hours seriously and if you try to stake out a spot too early, they’ll remove your items. Since we don’t have kids, we slept in and didn’t get to the pool until 11 AM. By then we had a problem finding a chair to place our things. We ended up with a spot next to the toddler pond. 🙁

I’d be ignoring one of the big bonuses of staying on the western side of Oahu if I didn’t mention the sunset. We’ve watched this view several times and it never gets old.

a sunset over a body of water

I have to mention that when we’re at an adult-oriented resort, the sunset is a major event. However, at Aulani, it’s almost an afterthought. You’ll see some couples admiring the view but nothing like we’d seen at places like Key West or Santa Monica.

Since this is a resort, there are a number of families that never leave Aulani for their entire trip. If you want, there’s a nicer restaurant, an onsite luau, a breakfast/lunch place and a quick service/pizza place by the pool. For those familiar with Disney, the fast food establishment works best if you order through the app instead of ordering in person. We ate there one afternoon and got a very disappointing flatbread.

a pizza in a styrofoam container

Fortunately, Ko Olina is a resort area and within walking distance or a short drive are several restaurants and an ABC store to pick up some decently priced supplies and souvenirs. We even ate lunch from the ABC counter one afternoon and it was better and less expensive than what we got from Disney. (Yes, Sharon did get a PB&J sandwich for lunch)

a take out box with food on it

Final Thoughts

It’s hard for me to review Aulani. Since we’re DVC owners, it costs me much less to stay there than someone who’d be paying for a room. For us, it’s a great place to stay on Oahu where we don’t have to pay for parking, is a reasonable drive from the airport and tourist spots, and has a great ocean view. There are good restaurants at the nearby Four Seasons or at the Ko Olina resort area when we want to leave the hotel.

However, there are tons of kids everywhere and besides the hot tubs, there are no adult-exclusive areas. It’s not a place to relax, as we experienced at the Grand Hyatt Kauai. I’m glad we had a car as we were able to drive to Waikiki for the day to check out an off-site luau.

We’ve visited Aulani twice and I feel comfortable in saying that we’re not the target demographic. I have to admit that it’s a beautiful place and exactly what anyone should expect from a Hawaiian resort. But it’s Disney. And with that, you’re going to get exactly what they think you’ll want. Who am I to say if that’s right or wrong?

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