Today I’m continuing my mini series on Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa. The previous posts discussed the resort’s accommodations and dining, but today I’m going to go over Aulani activities.
Despite being a resort in Hawaii, the main draw at Aulani are its pools. The Waikolohe Valley is the resort’s main attraction, home to its many pools, slides, and lazy river. The “valley” is actually patterned after an Ahapua’a, or a tract of land from the mountain to the sea, with the towers being the mountains, and the pool system being the river, which eventually opens up to the sea. And if you pay attention, you’ll notice that the flora changes the closer you get to the ocean. So it’s not hard to imagine that the lazy river is the biggest piece of the pool system, running from near the Makahiki restaurant, all the way down to the “Volcano” near ‘Ama’Ama.
Once you go through the volcano, the lazy river loops back around itself. And while there are a few entry points around the lazy river, to me the best way to enter is via the Tubestone Curl waterslide.
The Tubstone Curl and the Volcanic Vertical slides both start out at the top of the volcano. To get there you take a set of stairs that go over the volcano. At the top of those stairs, however, are another set of stairs that goes to the top of the slides. The Volcanic Vertical is a really fun, if not a little scary water slide. It’s supposed to be like a lava tube, so it’s pitch black all the way down. And if you weigh enough and reduce your drag by propping yourself up on your shoulder blades and heels, you can fly down super fast. I love it! But the Tubestone Curl is great fun too, especially since you can use the tandem tubes to go down.
Of course going down in a tandem tube means you can go faster, but remember a faster ride down means a bigger splash at the bottom.
In fact, if you go down tandem, just remember this: heavier person in the front = greater risk of flipping over when you hit the bottom. I know this because my wife is a lot smaller than I am, so when I ride in the front, we’ll usually flip. But even when I ride in the back she’ll sometimes fly out when we hit the bottom too.
Opposite the lazy river, on the side of the volcano facing the ocean is the Waikolohe Pool.
This pool is the largest on the resort. It’s the site of the daily character pool party, and despite being the biggest, is also the shallowest. It’s no surprise, then, that the target audience for the Waikolohe Pool are the keiki (children).
If you’re facing the ocean, to the right of the Waikolohe Pool, fronting Ulu Cafe in the Waianae Tower is the Keiki Cove, home to the splash zone.
The area is basically a wet zone filled with water jets that shoot upwards. In this same area, but closer to the ocean, is the Ka Maka Grotto.
Why it’s called a grotto is beyond me, it’s more of an outcropping. It is, however, home to one of four whirlpool tubs and the only infinity pool on the property. Unfortunately the pool is focused on children, as it is located in Keiki Cove.
Even further to the right (facing the ocean) of Keiki Cove is the resort’s third and final pool, the Wailana Pool.
The Wailana Pool is the sole adult pool, and unfortunately, is also the most boring. There’s no view here at all while seating around the pool is very limited. It does provide a nice, quiet(er) area for those of us without kids to kind of hideaway and relax. And it’s placement here also makes sense in a way, as Laniwai’s hydrotherapy garden is located fairly close to the pool.
The other adult-only area in the resort is a little less quiet, but also offers some of the most spectacular views.
It doesn’t have a name, but tucked away along the resort’s edge and overlooking Ko Olina’s lagoon one is a set of two-tiered infinity whirlpools. The whirlpools are the perfect place to take in the spectacular sunsets of Oahu’s westside, while also enjoying a kid-free soak. Too bad they don’t allow drinks in the whirlpools ?
The two other whirlpool tubs on-property are located at the Waikolohe Pool and near the top of the Waikolohe Vally’s lazy river. Both of those, as well as the whirlpool at the Ka Maka grotto are open to everyone.
It’s important to note that while the resort does have A LOT of pool chairs, there simply aren’t enough for the volume of people looking to use them most days. As a result, Aulani has instituted a policy whereby towels left on your chair for over an hour will be folded over the backrest. If that towel isn’t moved by the guest within the next hour, the towel(s) will be returned and your belongings taken to lost and found.
So be sure to keep track of the time when you’re enjoying the pool. And if you want to get a seat near popular points along the pool, such as close to the pools themselves, it’s best to go as early as possible. In-fact, in our last few stays, it wasn’t uncommon for us to claims some chairs, get some breakfast from Ulu Cafe, and take our food back to our chairs.
An Aulani activity that I think is rather unique is Rainbow Reef. Located between the volcano and the Waianae Tower, Rainbow Reef is a saltwater pool stocked with over 2,000 tropical reef fish that you can actually swim in.
Ok, so it does cost about $20/person to swim in Rainbow Reef, while snorkeling just about anywhere on the island is free, but it is a controlled environment. And while it may not be for everyone, I think the experience is great for those that aren’t confident swimmers and/or children. The fact that you’re guaranteed to see fish, the water is always clear, and there’s absolutely no current means it’s an incredibly safe and rewarding experience. Add the fact that the snorkel gear is provided, and that they make you wear life vests, it’s a great opportunity to give snorkeling a try. The only downfall besides the cost, though, is the temperature of the water… It’s COLD!!
Ko Olina Lagoon
Aulani is located on Ko Olina Resort’s Lagoon 1. This beautiful, calm lagoon is manmade, but the areas closer to the ocean do have some fish to see. The water is calm and warm making it a perfect place for families to take a swim.
Beach gear such as standup paddle boards are available rental too. But even if you don’t go in the water, the Ko Olina Lagoons are a fantastic place to catch the gorgeous sunsets.
Mo’olelo Fire Pit
Located in front of the ‘Ama’Ama restaurant and next to the Waikolohe Pool is the Mo’olelo Fire Pit. By day the fire pit are is simply more pool seating, but in the evening the resort offers free stories told by a resident “uncle.”
Ko Olina is home to one of the more popular luaus in the state, the Paradise Cove Luau. That huge production includes food, activities and entertainment for bus loads of tourists and locals nearly every night. However, among the complimentary Aulani activities is the resort’s own version of a luau. Called the Starlit Hui, this simpler version of a luau is entertainment only, and is held on the events lawn in back of the Ewa Tower.
This lawn also plays host to Aulani’s complimentary family movie nights and is the resort’s wedding lawn.
Laniwai, a Disney Spa
So far most of the Aulani activities have been family based, which is to be expected of a Disney resort. But, adults aren’t completely ignored on this mega resort, as it is home to Disney’s first in-house spa Laniwai.
Laniwai is located on the ground floor of the Waianae Tower. You can smell it the moment you enter the vicinity of the spa, and the smell alone is quite relaxing. Once you check in for your treatment, an attendant will lead you down the “transformation corridor.”
At the end of the transformation corridor is the spa’s “piko” or center. Here you choose a stone out of the basket.
Each stone has a word on it. This word is your focus for your time at Laniwai. Once memorized, you gently toss your stone into the water. From there, the attendant will guide you to your locker room. After a quick tour, the attendant will have you select a salt scrub for you to keep and assign you your locker. After you change, you’re then invited to just chill in the relaxation room or explore the Kula Wai, Laniwai’s hydrotherapy garden.
When ready, your therapists will retrieve you from the relaxation room or Kula Wai and escort you to your treatment room.
The rooms are actually kept much dimmer than the above picture, and you’re given a choice of music and scents for your treatment. Disney Vacation Club members are allowed a complimentary upgrade to a hot stone massage, though this must be confirmed at the time of appointment.
While our spa experience is somewhat limited, Laniwai is easily the wife and I’s favorite spa. The amenities are fantastic and the service generally good. We have had therapists that we weren’t crazy about, but we’ve also had incredible ones here. It’s kind of the luck of the draw I suppose. The spa does also offer a full service salon, but we haven’t been. And while expensive, Laniwai is easily one of our favorite Aulani activities.
Aulani being a disney property means there’s got to be Aulani activities for the kids that mimic the adult ones too. To that end, adjacent to the spa is Painted Sky, the property’s teen spa.
Painted Sky actually operates as a teen spa and a teen “day care” of sorts with teen treatments like manicures, video games, and even a frozen yogurt bar. And while the rest of the Painted Sky is not available to adults, the frozen yogurt bar is.
Mikimiki Fitness Center
Also located next to Laniwai is the Mikimiki Fitness Center. The full service gym is open 24/7 and offers many machines and weights in addition to classes, seaside yoga, personal training, and more.
Aunty’s Beach House
If you have kids and need some time away from them, Aulani does offer a full-day childcare program. Located on the bottom floor of the Ewa Tower, Aunty’s Beach House offers both complimentary and premium childcare programs. This is perhaps one of the greatest amenities for parents as it allows you a little alone time. And if you think that may be mean when on a family vacation, we’ve heard that kids often like it so much that they don’t want to leave!
Menehune Adventure Trail
The Menehune Adventure Trail is a scavenger hunt across the resort. To do the trail you’ll need to head over to the Pau Hana Community Hall on the ground floor of the Ewa Tower. Here you’ll get a device to do the trail. The time we did it the device was an iPod Touch. Today I believe the resort uses iPad Minis.
The Menehune Trail isn’t a scavenger hunt in the traditional sense. Rather, the Menehune Trail takes you all over the resort and unlocks a myriad of different surprises.
Above are few of the surprises you’ll uncover on the Menehune Adventure Trail. Some are hidden, while others are hidden in plain view. Either way the Menehune Adventure Trail has some neat surprises. What happens at the end of the trail? We don’t know… We spent over 3 hours on the trail and it kept on going. So if you have little ones that need little supervision, the Menehune Adventure Trail is another great way to keep them occupied.
Aulani activities wouldn’t be complete without shopping right? Disney fans are a loyal bunch, and location based merchandise is king. Aulani doesn’t disappoint with a number of places to shop around.
I talked about Lava Shack in my Aulani Dining post, but it’s worth mentioning again. This little store tucked into the “volcano” has some treats, but is also stocked with souvenirs and beach supplies.
Aulani’s main store is Kalepa’s just to the left of the lobby when facing towards the ocean. Here you’ll find sundries, souvenirs, Disney Pins, DVC items, and the Photo Pass kiosks. The shop is very popular, and is often fairly crowded.
If Limited Edition pins are what you seek, they’ve been few and far between for Aulani. If available, though, LE Pins have usually been located in a bowl behind the register nearest the sundries.
The newest shop at Aulani is the Hale Manu.
Located near Kalepa’s, Hale Manu is now home to the resort’s more “luxury” items. Here you’ll find the resort’s exclusive Tori Richard aloha shirts, shirts by Tommy Bahama, Aulani Dooney & Bourke bags, and more. The shop is also a bit less crowded than Kalepa’s, so it’s easier to browse.
This post came out to be A LOT longer than I thought it would. But, to be fair, there are many Aulani activities to explore. Disney rightfully tried to make Aulani an attraction all its own and was a test at diversification. Given that Aulani is the first of its kind, though, means things aren’t always as they should be. Pool capacity, for example, isn’t what it should be. We often find the pool to be overcrowded and it can be impossible to get a tube. Disney thought the average guest would spend only part of their time at the pool and the rest exploring the island. This didn’t happen. Instead, guests spend almost all of their time at the pool.
What didn’t help was the fact that a large portion of guests are locals. Aulani has become an inexpensive alternative to Disneyland for many local families. What this means is that long weekends almost always see the resort at 100% capacity. In fact, ever since the third and final phase opened, the resort seems to always be at 80% capacity.
Given the popularity amongst locals, I strongly suggest staying during weekdays. Our last stay, we stayed Thursday thru Saturday. On Thursday, the resort was busy, but it wasn’t too bad. On Friday the crowd picked up noticeably, while Saturday saw the resort near capacity.
And while I’ve said this series would be a three-part series, I’m now going to extended it to four. The fourth and final installment I’ll be going over ownership value from my perspective.
Review: Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa – Ko Olina, Hawaii