Thursday, February 16, 2023

Disney Aulani Resort and Spa, Ko Olina, and a Meh Luau January 28-Feb 4, 2023

If there is any time in your life that you have the opportunity and the means to stay at Aulani Disney Resort and Spa, I recommend that you take advantage.  This resort is a true treat and worth the price, if you can get a discount.  We had a free week at the end of January, during which we decided to visit the island of Oahu.  We had never taken our kids to Oahu (actually the last time I went was when I was about 5) so we decided to see what it was all about.  We booked our trip through Disney Vacation Club members who had more points than they could use.  These members were friends of ours and booked us the one bedroom villa for about 50% of the rack rate.  There is a considerable internet market for resale of "extra" DVC points, and I would recommend this route.  The offerings on other timeshare rental sites such as did not seem to be much better than the rack rates.  We have not attempted to look into buying a DVC membership so I cannot relate how much money this would entail, but your membership would allow you to stay at Aulani for a considerable discount.  We stayed in a one bedroom villa with a garden view (which quite frankly is delightful as your balcony faces the sunrise every morning).  The rack rate on this room is 959$ per night.  Like, are you kidding me??  Who on God's green earth has that kind of money?  Even with our substantial discount through our friends and DVC members, this was the most we had EVER spent on a hotel room, and we have done a lot of travelling.  A studio/standard room, which also sleeps 4 is available (rack rate about $600) but lacks the amenities and the space, and was not going to work for us.  Was it worth it?  You bet.  I would lay out the dough for that room again in a heartbeat should the opportunity ever arise again.

The 1 bedroom villa room itself is over 750 square feet.  It has two televisions, a king size bed and a queen size sleeper sofa, two sliding glass doors to a balcony, a full kitchen, a shower with a bench, a rain head and detachable shower wand, and a washer and dryer.  Now ya have to look at the fine print, because I am fairly sure that the 1 bedroom suite occupied by non DVC members may not have a washer and dryer or a full kitchen.  I gotta say that would be a deal breaker for us.  

The hotel is situated beachfront on the northernmost of the four Ko Olina man made lagoons.  There are no waves at all in the lagoons and they are lifeguarded.  Beverage service comes along occasionally, but can take a while, and the pool bar is just steps away.  The beach is set up with lounge chairs and umbrellas, which are available first come first served, and we never had any trouble getting four together.  Boogie boards, sand toys and life jackets are available free of charge.  Snorkeling equipment, beach chairs and stand up paddle boards are available for a fee, but I can't think of any reason why anyone would use them in a waveless, fishless lagoon.

Hanging out on the Aulani Beach

Apparently there are 6 pools, including an adults only pool, though we never set foot in any of them.  Much appreciated was the adults only infinity hot tub, with its gorgeous view of the beach.  The pool area has two slides which originate from a man made volcano, one a tube slide and one a body slide.  The tube slide connects to the lazy river, which really is quite lazy, so after coming down the slide, which we did every day, the next logical thing was our 15 minute float around the pool grounds.  There is a snorkeling reef there too for an extra charge of 25$.  You can actually look through the glass at the fish and snorkelers with their life vests.  No thank you-I'll stick to the real thing.  The lazy river and slide close at 6pm.  Sunset is at 6:20pm or so.  After that it is mass exodus from the pool.  Honestly, in January, it's just too cold to be out there once the sun goes down.

There are lots of activities that guests can enjoy while visiting Aulani.  These range from making your own Aloha themed Mickey ears, to Stargazing, to Storytime, to fitness classes, hair braiding, SNUBA,   Hula Lessons, and character greetings.  Some of these are included but you can bet that if you are walking away with something, like a head full of beautiful braids, there is an additional charge.  Disney is very stingy with info letting guests know via the Aulani app how much their "Premium Experiences" cost.  I did figure out that making your own Mickey Ears costs somewhere between 26 and 35 dollars.  We did not participate in any of these activities.  Thank you very much but we were out actually SEEING Oahu.

There are several restaurants on the Aulani Resort grounds. The fanciest is Ama'ama.  We did make a reservation and eat here as our "fancy night".  The service is impeccable.  Every morsel on your plate is painstakingly described by attentive servers as it arrives at your table.  The servers are unrushed and will stop by to make sure all is okay with your meal and inquire as to your day's activities. The setting is beachfront (or at least 'covefront') and is peaceful and calm.  Live music plays at just the right volume. The menu is prix fixe and includes an appetizer, a starter, an entree and a dessert.  The drinks are about 15$ and are excellent, though there is a wine pairing available for about 44 extra dollars per person.  The final amount: don't ask.  The bill was the highest we had ever paid in a restaurant with our family, and that was down one person.  The fixed price is 125$ per person.  You do the math.  It was good though, and kind of our special night.  Dinner only.

My starter salad and my gin drink

My yummy lamb chop entree

Makahiki serves the obligatory character breakfast from 7-11am each morning, and regular dinner in the evening.  I think this used to be a buffet, but now it is a fixed three course menu for both breakfast and dinner.  But once again, good luck trying to get a price online.  We did make a reservation to come here for breakfast, but a severe thunderstorm prevented this from happening, so I can't speak to how it was, but I think it was going to be about $50 per person.

There is a walk in cafe called "Off the Hook" and another cafe/convenience store called the Ulu Cafe.  We saw lots of people coming out of here with pizza.  

There is a luau at Aulani, Ka Wa'a.  Wanting to get out of the resort we chose another luau, but more on that later.  Ka Wa'a is $199 for adults and $104 for children through the age of 9. All beverages are included.  Well that's pretty expensive, so I sure hope it was good.  Oh, and by the way, the prices are going up on May 1, 2023.

Now how about the Disney bit??  One thing is for sure.  Aulani is more Hawaii than Disney.  I found the Disney touches to be subtle.  Now we were here in January, and I imagine July might be different, but this place was no Typhoon Lagoon overrun with small brats.  This was a classy place with classy people, some taking the trip of a lifetime.  There were lots of retired people too, some with kids, some without-most just knowing how to take advantage of a beautiful opportunity.\

Sunset from the beach path

Sunrise from the lobby

Looking back on the resort at almost sunset

Sunset from the cove

KO OLINA in general:

Ko Olina is a master plan community consisting of four man made beach lagoons (all of which are public access, as per Hawaiian law), some residences, four large resort hotels, a golf course, a marina, and a small shopping complex, the Ko Olina Center. The one problem with staying at Aulani, or at Ko Olina in general, is that you are on average 45 minutes from any of the major attractions on the island including Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, Kualoa Ranch, the airport, and Waikiki Beach.  A rental car is an absolute necessity-unless you just want to sit there in the resort--in which case I say, 'why go to Hawaii at all?'  This was not a problem for us, we just expected we were going to need to drive.  

The eating and shopping options are minimal.  There is NO grocery store, unless you count the ABC.  The nearest is about 10 minutes away in Kapolei.  The shopping is also limited and rather high end. There is one restaurant at the Ko Olina center, the overpriced Monkeypod, though a brewpub seems to be under development.

Summary:  if you stay in Ko Olina and don't have a car, be ready to stay in your resort or spend a whole bunch in transportation fees. Also, even with a car, you need a kitchen.


Well, I already mentioned that we wanted to get off the property to experience a luau, which seems to be ubiquitous when coming to Hawaii.  The luau on Oahu that seems to get the most consistent glowing reviews is the Ali'i Luau, followed by the Ha: Breath of Life show at the Polynesian Cultural Center.  We considered this luau but then made another decision for the following reasons: 1)  the PCC is about a one hour drive from Ko Olina, so at the end of the night you still need to drive one hour to get back to your hotel, and 2)  though the PCC Luau includes admission to the PCC and all its exhibits, the price is  more than the local luau ($190), and NO ALCOHOL IS SERVED.  The entire locale is run by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, so alcohol is absent.  Big time deal breaker.  To me nothing says luau like a mai tai in your hand.  

So anyway, we chose the Paradise Cove Luau because of its decent reviews and walking distance from the Aulani. The Paradise Cove has three "luau packages" you can choose from; the Deluxe, which costs $230 and includes front seating (in relation to the stage), a souvenir photo and a 'souvenir gift' (?), and table service which I guess means you don't have to get up to go the bar which has no view of the stage; the Orchid which is $165 an includes 'middle seating' and a fresh orchid lei, or the Hawaiian which includes a shell lei and wing seating for $140.  Each package also comes with a 'cove card,' loaded with either 20, 16, or 12 dollars, which can be spent on drinks or souvenirs.  Only one mai tai is included.  Drinks at the bar were about 8$ so you can do the math and see that our cards with our Orchid level package allowed us to buy about two extra drinks.

What happened to luau and why are they now so expensive?  This was the most we had ever spent on a luau.  The last time we went on Maui was less than two years ago and it was considerably less.  Anyway, I digress..

I do have to give Paradise Cove a few kudos for their included pre-dinner activities.  Few a few dollars of "Aloha" you can get temporary tattoos, take a short canoe ride, compete in spear throwing with other guests, or have you name translated into Hawaiian.  There is a good sized amphitheater for watching the imu ceremony with its short hula show.  I was appreciative of the blessing that was supposed to be said before dinner was served, but this was literally at the same time as the sunset, so whatever they said, I didn't hear it.

Ready for our pre-dinner canoe ride

Sitting in the tattoo parlor!

Showing off our fierce tattoos!

But kiddos, that is it.  Beyond that it was plastic chairs, a dirt floor, plastic utensils, semi-friendly bartenders serving wimpy drinks in plastic cups, and sitting shoulder to shoulder with strangers.  The food was good, though without a whole lot of variety.  The desserts, on the other hand, were garbage.  I didn't even have any--you got that?--I didn't have dessert.

The show had a lounge lizard, who was a middle aged female.  Most of the songs were sung in English about "hula silhouettes" and sunset darlings.  I literally was waiting to here Tiny Bubbles or Little Grass Shack any minute.  There was a lot of hype about the fire dancers who got called out on stage for an encore, as if that is the only reason you come to a luau. Then of course there was the obligatory call out to all the 'lovers' in the audience, who are invited to get up and dance to a cheesy love song.  Ugh. 

It was fine.  It just wasn't good.  For $165, it needed to be good.

The best luau on the islands hands down is the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui.  It is possible that I will never attend another luau aside from this one.  This luau is complete class....but I hear it costs $230 per person. Suck it up and spend it--its not worth wasting the money on a substandard affair.  No fooling.

Well, that's that!  Actually, I have a lot more to write about our trip to Oahu.  Hopefully I can crank it out!  No travel for a while, so lots of time to write!  Thank you for reading this post.  Here are some more pictures!

Arrival at the Paradise Cove Luau

Ready to party!

Oh the beautiful sunset!!

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