Beyond the Parks

Disney’s Aulani Resort: Small Tips to Make a Big Difference

by on September 18, 2014

Aulani back view

Photos by Sarah Graffam

One of the benefits of being a frequent Walt Disney World visitor is starting off a vacation at the World with virtually no learning curve. Knowing ahead of time exactly what plans need to be made before visiting and being able to navigate the entire resort and every park make it easy to become immediately immersed in the magic. So, although my family felt that familiar Disney welcome when we arrived at Aulani this summer, we knew ahead of time that it would take some time to get familiar with the ins and outs of the resort.

This article shares a few of these ins and outs in the hope of helping future visitors to Aulani ease into their vacation a bit faster. Because, believe me, everyone who stays at this gorgeous resort will want to enjoy every moment and relax at every opportunity.

Shopping for groceries, sundries, and souvenirs. Before settling into their room on the first day, many Aulani guests want to pick up at least a few basic grocery and sundry items. Aulani’s Kālepa Store has lots of Aulani/Disney souvenirs as well as a limited selection of groceries. Some of the grocery prices at the Kālepa Store aren’t too bad by Hawaii standards, but if you are looking for more selection or better prices, there are a couple of off-site options. These include a shopping area in Kapolei with stores such as Target and Costco about 10 minutes from Aulani. If coming from Honolulu, take H-1 West to Exit 1, or if coming from Aulani, take HI-93 East to Exit 1A.

Another option is Island Country Markets (an ABC Store) within walking distance of the resort. This small grocery store also offers souvenirs, beach items, beer and wine, and more. The prices for some items seemed good while others seemed a bit high, but (after an initial stop at Target) we made a couple of visits here during our stay and found everything we needed. Hawaii-themed baseball caps were a bargain at only $12-15, and goggles for the pool started at $3.99. In addition, the store had good-quality waterproof smartphone pouches for around $20, which allowed us to use our phones to take many fun photos as we floated along Aulani’s lazy river or cruised down the two water slides.

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Why You Should Choose the Magic Kingdom’s Keys to the Kingdom Tour

by on September 12, 2014

For those of us looking to learn more about the Disney magic, or for a whole new way to experience the parks, Disney offers a variety of tours to enjoy. For example, there’s Epcot’s Behind the Seeds Tour, Animal Kingdom’s Wild Africa Trek, and the big favorite, Backstage Magic, where you enjoy a backstage look of all four parks! However, my personal favorite tour has to be the Magic Kingdom‘s Keys to the Kingdom Tour, a five hour behind-the-scenes peek of the most magical park of them all; and for anyone looking to splurge on a tour, it’s my top pick. Why? Read on to see why you should choose the Magic Kingdom’s Keys to the Kingdom Tour.

Keys to the Kingdom Tour - A Glass Slipper Vacation

Earpiece guests use during the tour in order to hear even in crowded places

1. Utilidors

So this is one of the Keys to the Kingdom’s biggest draws, so I’m starting with it! Yes, the Keys to the Kingdom Tour allows you the opportunity to check out the legendary Utilidors, the Magic Kingdom’s tunnels that run underneath the park. Now before your imagination runs off, let me be clear. These tunnels are not something you would see in an Indiana Jones film. These tunnels are technically the first floor of the park, as the Magic Kingdom is actually built on the second level; and these tunnels are where offices and utilities are located, as well as wardrobe for Cast Members. Also, the purpose of the Utilidors is to allow Cast Members to get from one side of the park to the other without breaking theme. You see, Disney is all about the details and putting on a show, and having a Cast Member dressed in Liberty Square garb wouldn’t look right in Tomorrowland, would it? Also, you should know that you only get to see a small portion of the Utilidors during the tour; but even so, it’s still awesome! Also during the tour, you will get a chance to venture backstage to see some park attractions and buildings from behind the scenes. During my tour, my guide took our group to see the warehouse where they store the parade floats. It was just as memorable as the Utilidors!

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DisneyBounding: What is it?

by on September 11, 2014

Here is Brain DisneyBounding as Mickey Mouse.

Brian DisneyBounding as Mickey Mouse.

One of my favorite things to do as a child was to dress up and pretend to be my favorite superhero: Batman. Fighting crime and saving the world was what I did in my spare time. That is why when I go to a Disneyland and see children dressed up as their favorite Disney characters, I get a little jealous. Who doesn’t want to pretend to be someone else for an entire day? Children get to dress up as their favorite characters and take a photos with them, but how about us adults? Is there a way for fun us to join in the fun as well? Well, there is a way, and it is called DisneyBounding.

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Putt Putting Around the World (Walt Disney World, That Is!)

by on September 10, 2014

2014-05-22 15.47.28

On our last trip to Disney World we decided to utilize one of our Magic Your Way perks: the free round of miniature golf. There are two mini golf courses on Disney property: Fantasia Gardens near the Swan Resort and Winter Summerland near Blizzard Beach water park. We opted for Winter Summerland since last year we gave Fantasia Gardens a whirl.

Mini Golf at a Glance

Price: The costs for one round are $14.00 per adult and $12.00 per child (aged 3 to 9). Vouchers for play are included in some Magic Your Way vacation packages, and Annual Passholders and DVC members are eligible for discounts. There is often a discount for replaying. The price is slightly less than at Hollywood Drive-In Mini Golf at Universal Orlando’s CityWalk, but, to be fair, that course is much newer (and nicer).

Hours: 10:00 AM to 11:00 PM daily

Transportation: Free parking is available if you choose to drive yourself. For Disney transportation, take a bus to Blizzard Beach for Winter Summerland. For Fantasia Gardens, take a bus to the Walt Disney World Swan; Fantasia Gardens is located across Epcot Resorts Boulevard from the Swan, near the tennis courts shared by the Swan and Dolphin hotels. Note that Blizzard Beach closes for maintenance for most of January, February, and March, so bus service will not be available then. Ask at your hotel if there are options for arriving by Disney Transportation.

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Observations from Downtown Disney (Fit2Run, Theme Park Tagalongs, New Bridge to Saratoga Springs, Construction Walls)

by on September 9, 2014

Time to head back to Walt Disney World’s shopping and dining district, Downtown Disney (DTD). In my last several photo reports of DtD I have skipped over just how many construction walls have popped up all over the place, so today we’re going to get up close and personal with those, as well as a new bridge connecting DTD to the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. We’ll also check out the Fit2Run store on the West Side, look at some new merchandise at World of Disney, artwork at Art of Disney, collectibles at D-Sreet and give a full report on whether or not Theme Park Tagalongs actually do what they say they do (as I had my doubts when I first saw them). So sit back and get ready to take a tour through the construction capital of the world (and don’t forget that clicking on any picture will bring up the full size version). Ready? Well let’s get to it!

 

DTD_MoreWalls

All roads lead to more walls.

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Disney Dining: Bongos Cuban Cafe at Downtown Disney

by on September 8, 2014

Recently I was at Downtown Disney and had planned to go to the House of Blues to do a photo report. Unfortunately, when photographer Brandon Glover and I got to the restaurant they told us it would be a ten minute wait. This was in the middle of a weekday and the House of Blues was – at best – 30% full. There were even two parties ahead of us waiting to get a table. Acting on principal alone, the thought of waiting 10 minutes to get a table in an empty restaurant with so many other choices nearby seemed beyond ridiculous, so we left to try another venue. A couple steps down from House of Blues lies Bongos Cuban Cafe, so we decided to check it out since neither one of us had ever tried it before.

 

Bongos_outside

Bongos Cuban Cafe (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Menu Monday: Trials and Tribulations of an Amateur ‘Disney’ Chef

by on September 8, 2014

FoodandWinelogosmallAs some of you know, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival will be starting September 19 and running through November 10. In honor of this event (and the fact that I will be attending for the first time), I decided to put my culinary skills to the test.

The Challenge: Recreate three popular recipes found at Walt Disney World.

The Line Up:

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons to Check Out Disney’s Pop Century Resort

by on September 6, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons to Check Out Disney’s Pop Century Resort. One of Disney’s Value Resorts, Pop Century has a level of theming that makes it stand out compared to the other lower priced hotel offerings at the All Star resorts as well as dedicated bus transportation to the parks and Downtown Disney. The entire resort is themed around pop culture icons from the latter half of the twentieth century, with the wings of the hotel dedicated to the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Each wing has elements from their particular decade throughout the area. If it sounds cheesy, that’s because it is cheesy, but it’s a good kind of cheesy way and one that can bring back a lot of memories for every family. At the very least Pop Century is great for an afternoon of “resort hopping” to see some of the things they offer that you can’t find at any other Disney resort, starting with…

 

# 6 – The Lobby is a Wonderful Trip Back Through Time

SS_PopCentury_Lobby2

Disney’s Pop Century Resort

 

While the check-in desks inside Classic Hall are the same that you will see in many theme park hotels, the walls opposite check in are filled with shadow boxes containing items from the 1950s through the 1990s. This is a wall that will have various generations of every family seeing an item and instantly remembering where they were in life when that was popular.  Elvis, the Moon landing, Dobie Gillis (with Maynard G Krebs), the Beach Boys, Star Wars, Mork & Mindy, Jane Fonda’s workout book, Trivial Pursuit, He-Man, Go-Bots, Smurfs, and so much more are in this area.

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Cabanas, Casabellas, and More at Disney’s Aulani: When a Lazy River Is Not Lazy Enough

by on September 5, 2014

Interior of an Aulani cabana (photo by Sarah Graffam)

Interior of an Aulani cabana (photos by Sarah Graffam)

When guests of Disney’s Aulani resort in Hawaii are looking to experience even more luxury beyond the resort’s beautiful rooms and grounds, they can consider booking one of the premium seating options found in several locations among the various pools, whirlpools, winding lazy river, and play areas of Aulani’s Waikolohe Valley.

Whether renting one of these upgraded seating options is worth the price is a highly individual decision based on factors such as budget, how much time you are likely to spend enjoying the premium seating, the ages and interests of people in your party, and what other activities are planned during your stay. If you are considering splurging, read on for details about prices, what is included, locations, and views for each option.

Aulani casabellas (photo by Sarah Graffam)

Aulani casabellas

One benefit to note before looking at each option individually . . . all of them guarantee your party a home base for a day at Aulani’s extremely popular pool and beach area. The resort’s pool complex has proven to be so popular that it was expanded only two years after the resort opened, and many guests claim poolside lounge chairs early in the day. Knowing that you have a guaranteed seat will give you one more reason to savor that cup of Kona coffee on your balcony before heading to the pool.

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Hidden Details of the Disney World Resorts

by on September 4, 2014

There are many reasons why the Disney Parks stand apart from other theme parks around the world, but one of the biggest has to be Disney’s incredible attention to detail. You can see the extra mile in the form of details just about everywhere on Disney property, from attractions to parade costumes to resorts to transportation to even the bathrooms! Personally, I love the details. They are not only appealing to the eye and fun to find, but almost always meaningful to the history of an attraction or to the story the Imagineers are trying to tell. For today’s post, let’s take a look at the hidden details of the Disney World Resorts!

Deluxe Resorts

Grand Floridian Wedding Pavilion - A Glass Slipper Vacation

Grand Floridian Wedding Chapel

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa: Disney’s flagship resort is also home to Disney’s Wedding Pavilion, a fairy tale location with a view of Cinderella Castle! Even if you’re not getting married, you can still walk over to the pavilion area where the chapel and Franck’s Bridal Studio are located. Be sure to look up to notice a special detail: a heart-shaped weather vane of Mickey posing as Cupid!

Animal Kingdom Lodge: Throughout Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village you will find African quotes and proverbs on the walls and rock work; however, one of them is different from the rest in that it’s a quote from Walt Disney. You can find it around the Samawati Springs pool area!

The Contemporary: For years, guests have been reporting a small, metal Mickey perched on the edge of a rooftop at the Contemporary Resort. When riding the Express Monorail, keep your eyes open when you approach the entrance to the resort.

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