Author: Jill Weinlein
Date of Trip: March 2016
After watching Disney’s newest movie Finding Dory, I was inspired to plan a family trip to the Aulani Disney Resort on the island of Oahu. My family and I were in search to see how many Dory’s and Nemo’s we could find.
Ellen DeGeneres is the forgetful Blue Tang tropical fish who travels the big Pacific Ocean in search of her long-lost parents. She has the help of two orange and white, ocellaris clownfish named Marlin and Nemo.
One of our first activities would be to visit Disney’s man-made Rainbow Reef filled with hundreds of tropical fish. The reef houses 40 different species of fish that are found only in Hawaii. Guests float and snorkel on the surface of the resort’s 165,000-gallon saltwater playground. “It’s great for people who’ve never snorkeled before,” explained assistant curator Marjorie Awai. The fish are tame and used to swimmers. Guests who don’t want to enter the chilly water can watch the fish from two viewing windows. There are two feeding times at 10:15 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
The Aulani Disney Resort is a fantasy playground both for kids and adults. Located on the Leeward Coast of Oahu in the Ko’ Olina community, the resort opened to guests in late August 2011 and is about 17 miles from bustling Honolulu and Waikiki.
When we arrived, we checked in on the third floor grand Maka’ala lobby area with a variety of carved wood sculptures, and a 360-degree mural of the Hawaiian Islands. The colorful artwork depicts the history of the island starting before the arrival of Captain Cook. Artist Martin Charlot painted a 200-foot wrap-around pictorial depicting the heritage of Hawaii, the native people, and the land and wildlife. There are also two streams in the lobby. They meet together to create a gentle waterfall that spills into a colorful Koi fish pond.
After checking in, we walked past the Waikolohe lazy river and noticed guests floating on colored inner tubes. Guests can also take an inner tube down one thrilling slide and into a tunnel slide that splashes back into the river.
There are a variety of room starting with a standard room up to one to three bedroom suites and villas. Our room on the 23rd floor had a king size bed and pullout sofa bed. The room was spacious and had a balcony for sitting outside and taking in the views.
There are multiple dining options from buffet-style dining with daily character breakfasts; sandwiches, sushi or salads at the Little Opihi’s beach shack; contemporary Island cooking at Ama’Ama; creative cocktails and bar bites Olelo Room during Happy Hour; a shaved ice shack and lava shack serving soft serve ice cream and snacks.
Here’s what we did besides snorkel with Dory and Nemo daily. We splashed in the resort features water play areas and swam in a variety of pools. There are spas for ‘tweens, teens and adults. The Waikolohe Valley is filled with Hawaiian flowers and trees, along with a lava-formed mountain that magically erupts throughout the day.
Kids enjoy spending time in the complimentary Auntie’s Beach House kids’ club. It’s ideal for all ages with creative play, crafts, computers, music and a lot of fun. Auntie’s Beach House is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Children can participate in Stitch Space Goo making, learn how to hula and explore Volcanic Science. Parents are allowed inside Auntie’s Beach House during the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Most of the activities are free, however there are some activities and meals that have an additional charge.
Another fun family activity we enjoyed was the interactive hand-held electronic touch-screen device. It’s like a mini iPad with “Auntie” as the tour guide. Auntie guides families around the resort on a trail in search of the legendary menehune, the Hawaiian “little people.” A local production company, Searider, helped create this self-guided tour. With a push of a button, guests take four tours outside and one inside the magical lobby. It’s a fun way to learn about local folklore, Hawaiian artwork, history and architecture. Push a button at a designated spot and you’ll learn about the Hawaiian sea turtle. With another command, an animated sea turtle rises out of the water. Build a sailing canoe with the push of a button and activate a volcano.
Throughout the day, Disney characters appear around the resort and in the restaurants. On the beach, families can go on a sailing canoe ride, check out sand toys, or snorkel in the bay. You can also relax under an umbrella with a good read.
In the evening, don’t miss watching the Aulani Starlit Hui on the Halawai Lawn. It’s a free family event where guests receive a mat to sit on and watch live Hawaiian music from local artists. The kids can dance with some of Disney’s favorite characters.
Another interesting family activity is the Mo’Olelo fire pit storytelling. Guests sit around a warm fire overlooking the beach, while “Uncle” shares age-old stories and traditions from Hawaiian elders. These stories are passed down from one generation to another.
At the end of our stay at the Aulani Disney Resort, we had a new appreciation for the history, people and culture of the Hawaiian Islands.