First, let’s talk about our love of Disney
Real talk. Everything Disney is magical if you love Disney. If it’s Disney—and we love Disney—I’ll pretty much just throw down my Signature Disney Rewards Visa Card and tell them to take my money. And we love Disney. At least, I do and my daughters do. My husband and son are just along for the ride. I was at Walt Disney World (WDW) Resort 13 times from April 2016 to April 2017, and yes, I live on the West Coast. I was only at Disneyland 3 times in that same time period.
My tween daughter had been begging to go to Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai’I for 2 years. She did a class project where she planned a vacation. She chose Hawaii and discovered Aulani. Of course, she researched the whole thing, and with her love of Disney, Aulani was naturally on her list of places to visit. We were planning a family vacation last summer and planning to visit Oahu, so we started to look into Aulani and wondering if Disney Aulani was worth the price.
Is Disney Aulani Worth the Price? What you need to know about Disney Aulani before you book
The base cost of Aulani
Now, as a family of 6, we can’t travel inexpensively. Family travel for 6 that is cheap just isn’t a thing. Even “budget” hotels are pretty unfriendly options for us when it comes to being cost effective. We can do the occasional suite for a few days, but we own a couple of timeshares because that works better for us. When we all travel together, we really need something that has a 1-or 2-bedroom option for any length of time. So while we don’t always choose 5-star resorts, we’re pretty accustomed to 4-star resorts and expensive vacations. There often isn’t a way around that. I’m not saying this to be braggy or anything; I’m simply stating the facts and setting the stage for a cost comparison when I get into why Aulani isn’t worth the money.
We chose Hawaii in the summer, which is peak tourist season because that’s what worked with our schedules. When we started researching prices at Aulani, I was a little shocked at the price. I expected spendy, but maybe not as spendy as what we paid. We opted for two standard hotels rooms, which was literally the least expensive option available for us for the size of our family.
The Aulani 2018 published rates for the week we were in Aulani were $665/night for each room, essentially $1330/night. A 1-bedroom villa (sleeps 5) was $819night and a 2-bedroom villa (sleep 9) was $1959/night. We paid the $665/night times two rooms plus taxes and feed.
The Aulani 2019 published rates for the same dates in July are $604/night for each room, essentially $1208/night. A 1-bedroom villa (sleeps 5) was $1044night and a 2-bedroom villa (sleep 9) was $1509/night. I’m shocked at how much less the rooms start for the 2019 season. If you’re coming with a large family, that 2-bedroom villa is a big savings at $400/night less than last season.
For perspective, the Hilton Grand Waikikian 2-bedroom suite that slept 6 that we stayed in was $581 for 3-nights in that same time frame through our timeshare portal or $626/night through the Hilton website—at best, about 50% less than one night, one room at Aulani for all three nights; at worst, 25% of the Aulani price. While this resort is 4-stars and not 5, it’s also about 25% of the price in the worst case scenario. Same island, similar amenities, better service, better beach access, better activities, better overall experience. As much as I love Disney and a lazy river, I need the 5-star resort experience to actually come with the sticker price I’m paying, and that was nowhere near our experience, unfortunately.
Making a reservation at Aulani
If you’ve ever booked at WDW, I feel like the online process for that is fairly simple and straightforward. Making the reservation at Aulani wasn’t nearly as self-explanatory. I ended up making multiple phone calls and ultimately booked over the phone with an agent who booked us a “package,” which included transportation back to the airport for our last day (we hadn’t decided what our plan was at the point we initially booked our Aulani portion). She assured me I could cancel that at any time if we decided we didn’t need it. My suggestion based on my experience, DO NOT BOOK until you know EXACTLY what you need.
Making changes to an Aulani reservation
When I called to make that change, it was the biggest hassle to change because apparently there was a specific date by which I needed to make that change (which was NOT articulated to me on the phone and not easily found in our paperwork—I was “changing” not “canceling” the reservation as far as I could tell but as far as their system could tell I was “canceling” the whole thing and rebooking (the only thing on the paperwork was about canceling, not changing.
Okay, so a manager, an hour, and a whole lot of credit card charges and refunds later I was all set with a “new” reservation minus the no longer needed transportation add-on, which was about $280 for 6 people one way (about $20 less than our car rental for a week on Oahu).
What’s included in the Aulani cost
Well, not much. I jest, a little.
You get your room, obviously, and allure is the use of the pool facilities and oceanfront. But pretty much everything is an extra fee. Just like being at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Totally expected.
There’s also Aunty’s Beach House Kid’s Club for ages 3 to 12, but my kids wanted to hang out with us and use the pool and swim in the ocean (after all, that is what we were paying to be there for, right?) But if you had young children the camp activities, would be a perk for sure.
If you’re playing at the oceanfront, there are chairs and umbrellas, as well as boogie boards that are all included. Keep in mind while the use of those items is included, the beach and oceanfront itself are public property.
Parking, all food, etc., is an added fee or cost.
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If you are a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) member I’m certain there are other benefits, but we are not so I can’t speak to what those benefits are. I can only speak to what the cost of staying strictly as a standard hotel guest is.
SUP Rentals at Aulani
You can rent SUP and snorkels on the beach, You can also bring your own tubes and snorkel gear if you have it. We had tubes, but we rented SUP. The cove is fairly well protected with a breakwater, which is great for learning, but it’s pretty windy even in that protected area because of its location on the island; not ideal for learning to SUP or spend much time on the SUP, but a nice opportunity if you’ve never done it an want to try.
Skip the Character Dining
…unless you have all morning to waste
If I were to do it all over, I would skip the Disney Character Dining experience at Makahiki. We made the mistake at making a reservation for 8:15 am on Saturday morning the weekend we were there. It seemed like a good idea. Nice and early, we’d have the rest of the morning and the whole day ahead of us. Um, no.
Now, having done somewhere close to the upwards of close to 100 character dining experiences over the years at all the parks, I knew you never get in at your reservation time. Never. However, I didn’t expect to be asked to show up 15 minutes early to be seated an hour past our reservation time for an early morning reservation. I get that you can’t kick people out from eating. Listen, I’ve got years of experience in bars and restaurants, including dining room management. At that hour of the day, if you’re an hour behind in seating people, that’s straight up a management issue. You either are overbooking or don’t have the place staffed appropriately or both. And given there were several families waiting like we were, not cool.
My kids were hungry. Which turned to hangry. I was hangry. At 9:30, after checking in with the hostess a couple of times, we were finally seated. Once we were seated our server was great. The manager followed up and graciously comped the little girls' meals for the snafu, but get it together Aulani.
Information and finding your way around Aulani
I have to compare this process, again, to checking in at any resort at WDW. You check in and you’re instantly handed a packet of information that has everything you need for your stay: room number, keys, maps, schedule of activities, etc. Well, we got some of that. We got keys/room number and a map. We received no information about the pools and where to get bands, so once we loaded our luggage and changed, we had to come back to the concierge and ask. And later in the day we had to ask about the luau. And the breakfast location. And. And. And.
The lack of information was night and day compared to the information/communication process at check-in compared to even a value resort at WDW or on a Disney Cruise Line, which is wildly disappointing. We realized we missed so much that first day because there were activities on a schedule we never received but didn’t know to ask about. But the second day we asked because we saw characters in the afternoon and asked the cast member about their scheduled and she said, “Oh, look on XXX.” Thanks for that information.
What is worth the price at Aulani?
What’s awesome at Aulani?
The pools at Aulani are awesome.
The lazy river is fantastic. It has one of the nest lazy rivers I’ve ever seen. Is it really worth $1330/day for a family to hang out at? Probably not. Did we enjoy it while we were there? Absolutely. My girls loved the waterslides. Even my teenage son had a nice time hanging with his sisters and playing in the waterslides and lazy river. There’s also a small, adults-only infinity pool as well as the Ka Maka Grotto family infinity pool. My youngest were too old for the Keiki Cove kids splash zone waterpark area, though, so only little kids can use that experience.
Quick Service Food at Aulani is affordable
Shockingly, the quick service and bar food at Aulani was reasonably priced. We paid notably less for food at the Off the Hook and shave ice than we did in Waikiki. I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, you pay $1 to add Mickey Ears to your shave ice, but the whole thing was still a couple of dollars less than shave ice at the Hilton Grand Waikikian in Waikiki.
The KA WA‘A – A Lū‘au
We booked the luau when we first booked rooms. We knew we wanted to do the luau as we’d heard good things. Even our friend who lives on Oahu had heard that Aulani does one of the best luaus around. He wasn’t wrong. I attended a luau on the Big Island in March (it was good but it was nothing compared to The KA WA‘A), and we watched the luau several evenings from our deck at the Hilton Grand Waikikian. The KA WA‘A – A Lū‘au was worth every penny we spent and worth the experience even if you aren’t staying at Aulani. You don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to buy tickets. I would recommend anyone go to The KA WA‘A.
Would we go back to Aulani?
Maybe. If I could go back during the off-season for one of the 30% or 40% off Visa Card specials they run in addition to the slightly lower hotel room rates during an off=peak season and I didn’t bring the whole family, I would consider it.
To pay $1330/night for the experience we had this time around? Nope. Not even close to worth the expense. I would much rather pay for a 4-star resort with better service, activities, dining, access to the beach, and location for other things to do in town that more than double the price for a 5-star resort that didn’t offer us any of the things a 5-star resort should be offering.