Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, is located on the island of O’ahu — Photo courtesy of Disney

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, is a stunning beachfront property located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. The resort ranked among the top 10 in USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Family Resort in 2017, Best Hotel in Hawaii in 2019 and Best Hotel Pool in Hawaii 2020.

This Oahu resort was certainly a great destination for a fun family trip with kids, as we all enjoy Disney World but dread the long lines, crowds and intense planning that comes with a theme park vacation.

Thankfully, at Disney Aulani, we found a great destination that pleases everyone.

This slice of paradise gives guests the Disney service they’re used to, minus the hustle and bustle of a theme park. You’ll get to dine with Mickey and his friends, experience a luau and even drop the kids off at their own club while parents enjoy some quiet time. The whole family can immerse themselves in the Hawaiian culture by learning the language, attempting to play the ukulele and indulging in island cuisine.

Disney Aulani celebrates Hawaiian culture

Hawaiian culture is present all over the resortHawaiian culture is present all over the resort — Photo courtesy of Disney

At this tropical Disney resort, Hawaiian culture is celebrated everywhere. In true Disney fashion, storytelling is a major part of the resort, and the focus is placed on the history and heritage of the Hawaii islands and why it’s so important to preserve and respect.

“Look with your eyes wide open because there may be things you might miss the first time,” said Kanoa Kawai, the Aulani Ambassador, whose job is to interact with guests and help tell the story of the resort.

You’ll feel the aloha spirit the moment you arrive at this picturesque destination on this beautiful lagoon in Ko Olina. At first glance, the lobby looks like any other gorgeous Disney resort, but there’s actually purpose behind the design.

The lobby is designed to showcase Hawaiian cultureThe lobby is designed to showcase Hawaiian culture — Photo courtesy of Disney

One side of this lobby is calm and feminine, while the other side has dark, masculine features. It all represents balance, a key aspect in the Hawaiian culture. On display behind the reception desk are photographs taken by local schoolchildren who were asked to capture images of what Hawaiian culture means to them. This rainbow formation of beautiful photos is truly a lovely exhibit that showcases the community’s impact on this impressive resort.

During your stay, families still have the option to enjoy Disney favorites, such as breakfast with Mickey, photos with Stitch or encounters with Goofy walk around the pool deck.

A look inside the villas at Disney Aulani

Most of the guest rooms here feature a kitchen, living space and separate bedroomMost of the guest rooms here feature a kitchen, living space and separate bedroom — Photo courtesy of Disney

Most of the villas at Disney resorts include a kitchen, dining area, washer and dryer and the option for separate bedrooms. The extra amenities make a longer stay more comfortable and the option to cook your own meals enables families to save on food costs. All rooms that are one or more bedrooms (which is 75% of the rooms) come with a rice cooker, a staple in Hawaiian kitchens.

Experience an authentic Hawaiian luau

Guests experience the Hawaiian cultureGuests experience the Hawaiian culture — Photo courtesy of Disney

Guests also have a chance to experience an incredible luau on the property that features traditional hula and other Hawaiian dances that reflect the Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures.

While staying at Disney Aulani, guests also can learn how to play a ukulele and indulge in authentic Hawaiian food — from spam to poke bowls and shaved ice.

Restaurant options at Disney Aulani

The hotel's bar, Olelo, features intricate wood-carved objectsThe hotel’s bar, Olelo, features intricate wood-carved objects — Photo courtesy of Disney

The hotel offers several fantastic restaurants on the property, including the fine-dining experience at AMA AMA Restaurant with its locally sourced specialties, the family-friendly Makahiki that offers an abundance of kid-friendly options, and the resort’s buffet and casual cafe that offer something for everyone.

The hotel’s bar, Olelo, which means “to converse,” is staffed completely by cast members who speak the Hawaiian language. It is decorated with intricate wood-carved objects, such as trees, animals, numbers and more, with the Hawaiian name for each item on display.

Kid activities at Aunty’s Beach House

Aunty's Beach House is the kids' club at Aulani, a Disney Resort & SpaAunty’s Beach House is the kids’ club at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa — Photo courtesy of Disney

This resort features a dreamy poolside experience with water slides, a lazy river and plenty of places to splash around, including the lagoon with a sandy beach and many water activities for the entire family.

When my husband and I wanted some time to enjoy the adult-only infinity pool, we dropped our three little ones off at Aunty’s Beach House. This kids’ club (available for ages 3 to 12) is a more than 5,200-square-foot delightful space designed to look like, well, a beach house.

Staff entertained our children for a few hours by playing games, doing arts and crafts, and learning about Hawaiian culture. For example, they learned the name Aunty is affectionately used as a form of respect when addressing a familiar woman.

My children also learned about the Hawaiian legend of the Menehune (men-neh-HOO-na). These shy, mischievous little creatures are known to create fun surprises overnight.

As Kawai, our Disney Aulani ambassador said, remember to be observant when you’re staying at Aulani. Evidence of the Menehune’s work is all over the resort. You may even catch a glimpse of them in the most unlikely of places. You can experience this through a lighthearted scavenger hunt to enjoy while exploring.

Experience Disney magic at several locations

You have plenty of chances to meet Mickey and friends at Aulani, a Disney Resort & SpaYou have plenty of chances to meet Mickey and friends at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa — Photo courtesy of Disney

Did you know Disney has several resorts in the United States that are nowhere near a theme park? These vacation destinations include all the pixie dust the mouse house is known for, including friendly cast members, fun family activities and even Mickey Mouse waffles. In addition to Disney Aulani, the two other resorts are Disney’s Hilton Head Resort and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, which are part of the Disney Vacation Club. (There are 15 Disney Vacation Clubs, most being located at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.)

Guests who are members of the Disney Vacation Club have access to a select number of villas, and some are available at each property for non-members. (This is how my family is able to stay at these properties.)

How to get to Disney Aulani

Menehunes are hidden throughout Aulani, a Disney Resort & SpaMenehunes are hidden throughout Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa — Photo courtesy of Disney

Getting to Disney Aulani may not be easy, but it is so worth it! Visitors must fly into Honolulu International Airport, which is about 20 miles from the property. It’s also important to note that Aulani is located in Ko Olina, an area that’s about a 45-minute drive to Waikiki.

The resort does not offer a complimentary shuttle to pick up resort guests at the airport. You will either need to arrange for a transportation service or rent a car. Be aware, if you are not a DVC member, there is a daily parking fee.

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