Bucket List: How Many Days Should I Visit Aulani?

by on March 2, 2017 10 Comments

Filed under: Aulani, DVC

How many days to visit Aulani

Do you have a Disney Bucket List? Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa (hereafter just called “Aulani”), is a fantastic resort and something one many people’s lists. One of three Disney resorts not attached to a theme park, it is the only one not in the continental U.S. Because there’s no theme park to visit, one question that inevitably  comes up for us is “how many days do I need to visit Aulani?”

Visiting Aulani is like cruising Disney Cruise Line. You need to make time to take everything in. So how long is that? The pithy answer is “as long as you can take.” Why is it pithy? Because there are some considerations  and outside factors that will have a huge influence on how long you can stay.

 

Aulani is the best of Disney dropped in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Photos - Laurel Stewart

Aulani is the best of Disney dropped in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Photos – Laurel Stewart

Travel time and Jet Lag

It takes a long time to get to Hawaii. Best case, you’re flying non-stop from LA, but that’s still going to take nearly 6 hours. If you’re flying from the East coast, you’re looking at more than 11 hours non-stop or one or more connections that will push your travel time into 16+ hours on planes or in airports. After you get there, you’ll be three hours earlier (West coast) or six hours earlier (East coast). That may not seem so bad now, but you’ll remember this when you’re walking around the resort at 4AM looking for food on your first day. Jet lag is a harsh mistress and it will take you at least a couple of days to get on local time. Not only do you need to allow time to arrive and adjust, but you need to leave time on the end for getting home and being ready to go back to work or school. When I stayed at Aulani, I took the long route, the Disney Wonder from Vancouver, a 10-night cruise. Sadly that cruise isn’t offered in 2017 and 2018, but I’ll tell you we were far from the only people who got off the Wonder and went straight to Aulani.

Cost

Villas at Aulani are among the nicest at Disney. But they come at a cost.

Villas at Aulani are among the nicest at Disney. But they come at a cost. Photos – Laurel Stewart

Aulani is expensive. That’s not a knock on Aulani or Disney, but visiting Hawaii in general is expensive. It costs a lot to get there. It costs a lot to stay there. And it costs a lot to eat out there.

Room cost. If you think you’ll “just rent points,” I wish you luck. As a DVC member who hasn’t been able to book at Aulani using my own points within the 7 month window, I have found booking with points difficult. If you choose to use a 3rd party to book, you’ll find there is a surcharge for Aulani (and other in-demand DVC properties) during their home resort window (7 to 11 months out). If you plan to pay in cash, be prepared to open your wallet. Aulani does offer book 4 nights, get the 5th free, and similar deals, but these are discounts on already expensive rooms. Me, I like one-bedroom villas. And a view of the ocean. The rack rate for my last trip including tax was more than $1000/night. And, by the way, that’s low season. Even if I’d been able to spend a week there after already traveling 2 and a half weeks, I don’t have $7000 to spend on a hotel room.

Food cost. The food at Aulani is great. But resort food will always be expensive. Count on spending at least $15 per person per meal if you eat at their counter service restaurants, and far more than that if you dine at the character buffet or the upscale restaurant. You can alleviate some of this by dining across the street or by picking up groceries, but food is going to be a large part of your vacation budget, which will affect the amount of time you’ll be able to stay at Aulani. My favorite treat in Hawaii is to head to the nearest Foodland, the only place I’ve ever seen a kimchee bar. Or if that’s not your thing, grab some butter mochi or just check out all the different flavors of Spam.

Disney has menus on its Aulani dining pages. Quick service dining is slightly more expensive than you’ll see at Walt Disney World. The set menu for two at ‘Ama’Ama (the resort’s premier dining location) will set you back $140 plus beverages and gratuity. On the other hand, everything does taste better in Hawaii.

How much of the rest of Oahu do you want to see?

Hawaii is a beautiful place. And it would truly be a shame to fly all the way out there and never leave your resort. Not that you couldn’t, Aulani has so much to do that it is a destination in itself. But if you’re planning your first or only trip to the 50th state, you really should get out a bit. Diamond Head, the North Shore, Waikiki … these are all on my don’t miss list for Oahu. The thing is – these will take more time that you think. Honolulu is a large employment center on an island that really only has 2 main roads – the East-West H1 and the North-South H2. There are traffic jams. Visiting Diamond Head or Waikiki will take the better part of a day. The North Shore somewhat less, but leave early to avoid at least some of the traffic – especially on weekends, when you’ll find cars at a standstill going through Haleiwa Town.

Do you want to see any other islands? Aulani and Ko’Olina are beautiful. They are great vacation destinations. They are also about as Hawaiian as the Polynesian Resort is South Seas. It is what it is, but if you really want to see Hawaii, Oahu isn’t the place to do it. Maui has some of greatest natural beauty you’ll encounter anywhere. And Hawaii (the Big Island) is where you’ll find active volcanos. Oahu is where you’ll find the Royal Hawaiian Shopping center, which if you’re into retail therapy is definitely worth a visit but is the same shopping experience you’ll get in any major city on the mainland.

Experiencing Aulani

There is a lot of sea-life to experience at the Rainbow Reef at Aulani. It's on our must-do list. Photo - Len Testa

There is a lot of sea-life to experience at the Rainbow Reef at Aulani. It’s on our must-do list. Photo – Len Testa

Once you’ve answered all these questions, there’s still the matter of just experiencing Aulani itself. And, boy, is there a lot to do there. Here are my recommendations:

Walking around and taking it all in – Even before you check in, you start to experience Aulani.  As soon as I walked into the lobby and received my lei greeting (nice touch), I was ready to check everything out. There is so much detailing to take in. Give yourself a good couple of hour to walk around when you arrive to look around, and think “yes, I’m in Hawaii.”

Beach time – Aulani has a beautiful beach on a man-made lagoon. You can rent paddle boards and all manner of beach items, snorkel in the lagoon, or just enjoy the sand. Plan this for early in the day as the winds really pick up as evening approaches. Plan to be out at least a few hours each day you’re there.

Rainbow Reef (extra fee) – Imagine the Shark Reef (RIP) at Typhoon Lagoon but better and without the feeling that you’re being herded through. This is what the Rainbow Reef is like. Allow 30 minutes one day you’re there and check the schedule ahead of time.

Pool time – Aulani’s pool are next level bananas. You say you like Stormalong Bay? HA! Try out Aulani’s pools with body and raft slides, and the lazy river, and you’ll see why this is the Disney pool complex to beat.

You want Duffy? At Aulani, you’ll be in heaven.

Menehune Adventure Trail – We loved this and were really disappointed that we didn’t try it until the last night. The Adventure Trail is like Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure but played around the resort grounds. There are multiple storylines. Allow 45 minutes per story. We found that some of the effects were extra cool after sundown, but you do need to return your device to the Community Hall by 8PM, so schedule accordingly. You can spread out your adventure over multiple days with the same account so you don’t repeat anything you’ve already done.

Laniwai Spa (extra fee) – Laniwai is worth a visit if you’re at all into spas. My recommendation is to book a treatment that includes the Vitality Baths, an outdoor soaking and shower area. Sadly the baths can’t be booked a la carte. Laniwai is nicer than the Senses spas at the Grand Floridian and Saratoga Springs, which we rate very highly. They offer services for solos, couples, and something called ‘Ohana treatments where they invite you to “unwind with loved ones.” In my case, this would be alone, but that’s just me. Here is a link to the most current price and services list at Laniwai.

Shopping – Do you like Duffy? Do you dream of the Shelly Mae backpack and still regret not buying despite knowing you’d never actually carry it (oh wait, that’s me). Give yourself an hour to check out the resort’s two gift shops for souvenirs you can only find in Aulani.

Final recommendations

You really need at least 3 nights to see Aulani itself, and 4 or 5 is optimal. Add in a day at Waikiki and another climbing Diamond Head or visiting the North Shore, and you’re looking at least 6 nights plus time to recover from jet lag. This is a splurge money-wise, and you can always split your stay between Aulani for the resort experience and Waikiki as a base to explore the rest of Oahu. I would have happily spent 5 nights there if I’d had the money and time after already cruising to get there.

So how about you? Is Aulani on your bucket list? Have you already been there? How long did you spend and did you feel like it was the right amount of time? Talk about it in the comments.

 

Posted on March 2, 2017

10 Responses to “Bucket List: How Many Days Should I Visit Aulani?”

  • We just returned from a week at Aulani and had a great time! (we were able to snag a room on points the day our 7-month window opened for President’s Day week) For us, the length was about right – although it was really too cold to swim in the ocean so we didn’t spend as much time at the resort as we thought we would. We did take two different days to drive around and enjoy the island. The people (everywhere, not just Aualni) were amazing and by far the best part of our trip.

    I wouldn’t trade the week for the first visit – but next time, I’d like to do a split stay – visit an island with a volcano, and end at Aulani for relaxing).

  • I was able to use David Vacation rentals to book for may 2017 but I booked in June 2016, I’m a few months out and I’m beyond excited to go

  • We booked two nights over Thanksgiving at Aulani by renting DVC points (we booked 11 months early) and we are so excited! It’s our first trip to Hawaii and we’re spending a week on the island outside of Aulani to really do sightseeing so when we check in at Aulani we can just relax and enjoy the resort. Thanks on the tips for what to do while there!

  • We love Aulani and Hawaii. We took our daughters there a year and a half ago, and my wife and I are going back February 2018. We always spend about 2-3 nights in Waikiki first to adjust to the time change/jet lag/etc. Usually just walk around beaches/visit aquarium/visit zoo/walk Waikiki. Then, we can fully enjoy Aulani for the balance of the trip (usually another 5 days+).

    Don’t forget to rent a Casabella and enjoy the ultimate relaxation! In February we are going crazy (and will treat it as a slightly late anniversary trip)… 4 nights in Waikiki followed by 7 night cruise (to visit other islands) followed by 7 nights at Aulani. All this followed by the overly-depressing plane ride home.

    We have been lucky to get a 1 bed villa with Ocean View at the 7-month window.

  • by Thomas Fitzgerald on March 2, 2017, at 7:10 pm EDT

    Mostly agree with your comments and suggestions except for two points. Aulani is about the most Hawaiian of all the resorts on all the islands. Joe Rohde, an Oahu native, saw to that and the resort stands as one of his best works. And you neglected to mention Kauai, the Garden Isle, and in my opinion the prettiest of them all. We’re planning another trip next year starting on the North Shore of Kauai then finishing at Aulani. For those undecided, yes it is expensive but I put the experience above a Disney Cruise and well worth the expense.

  • by Aliceinwonderla on March 2, 2017, at 10:41 pm EDT

    We are heading to Aulani in July for 6 nights, and plan to spend 2 days exploring other parts of Oahu such as Pearl Harbor, North Shore, and Kualoa. My biggest worry (other than bleeding $) is traveling around the island. Car rental and parking seems very high, and most shuttle options operate from the Waikiki area. If I had it to do over again, I would probably start out at a Waikiki resort for a couple of nights and then finish the trip at Aulani, like @Tim mentioned above.

  • We loved our 7 nights at Aulani June 2016! We were able to book an ocean view studio 7 months out (8am). We had planned to do more around the island but spent almost all of our time at the resort as there is so much to do (and not do!). We bought food at the Costco about 8 minutes away and made some meals in our room to offset the resort and island food costs. We did travel to the North Shore for the day and East Shore on the way to the airport.
    Next time, we plan to stay in Waikiki 1-3 nights at the beginning to recover from jet lag and see more of the island before heading to Aulani for a week to relax and enjoy the pools, beach, and Rainbow Reef which we used DAILY.
    We rented a car which was reasonable and DVC offers free parking at Aulani.
    We loved the Menehune game, Aunty’s Beach house programming, the Opio (teen) activities, and the family games on the beach and in the community room… the resort programming is extensive.
    I loved scrapbooking our memories with Forever Artisan after the trip to remember all the details!

  • East coast travel tip: we split the days for the flight legs on the way out. We flew into San Diego, and spent 4 nights in California first (San Diego Zoo, then Legoland, then Disneyland for 2 nights) then flew out of LAX to Hawaii. This helps a lot with adjusting to the time zones.

  • You said it! Aulani is Disney dropped in a beautiful place! Currently, it cannot be beat!! It’s super sad that it is so far away or we’d be going back more often!
    We flew to San Diego & enjoyed for the rest of the day/evening & then flew to Hawaii the next day. Still exhausting but worth not being stuck in an airport or airplane for a whole day. We did the same thing coming back.
    We did rent points for 2 nights (saved 1/2 off the room) but had to pay cash for 2 nights (~$600/n during spring break week for a standard villa/room), so we got some savings. They were even sweet to us & allowed us to stay in the same room – much to my delight. We were not in the DVC area though.
    We did sight see while there & island hop prior to staying at Aulani. This was our last family trip before the oldest left us for his future so we didn’t get to spend much time at Aulani. I recommend doing both – sightseeing & spending time at the resort to soak it all in. It is wonderful & if my kids were younger, we would have spent more time there.
    All of this being said – my recommendation is 5 nights & days to enjoy completely. We will be going back in the next 5-10 years with grandchildren!!

  • We will be heading to Aulani for our 3rd visit this fall — either by renting points or paying market rate. We spend 7 nights there, 2 nights in Waikiki. My husband says he’s “not a Disney guy” but absolutely adores Aulani and pushes to spend time there. Last time we were there, he took the tour of the resort that they offer daily and learned a ton about the resort — highly recommend it. I would suggest 4 nights minimum, but the 5 night discount often makes it a wash to stay 5 and it really is worth it.

    The most important value to Aulani that you don’t mention is the included child care at Auntie’s Beach House — my 8 and 4 year old LOVE it and it’s truly amazing. It really is added value to your stay. We often left the kids there for dinner (9 bucks a piece — best food bargain on the resort) and then had a grownup date night, either at the resort or across the street at Monkeypod which is great as well. Auntie’s is immaculate clean, very well staffed and organized.