A Hawaiian fantasyland on Oahu’s more remote leeward coast, about 40 minutes from Waikiki, Aulani is so seductive—for all ages—that many guests are loath to leave the property at all. And who can blame them? The beach is an idyllic cove (albeit a man-made one) stocked with kayaks, boogie boards, and everything else little beach bums could want. Then there are the four pools, including one for adults only and one filled with tropical fish for snorkelers-in-training, two impressive waterslides, and the biggest crowd-pleaser of them all, a 900-foot-long lazy river where guests, big and small, splash around on inner tubes as they meander around a faux-rock grotto. Goofy, Minnie, Mickey, and the rest—all in their vacation outfits—make occasional cameos at the breakfast buffet or by (sometimes, in) the pool. But while Aulani is most assuredly every kid’s dream, it is not every parent’s nightmare. The resort decor is more traditionally Hawaiian than obnoxiously Magic Kingdom; the lobby is built to recall an old canoe house, on a grand scale, and is covered in murals, painted by local artists, depicting island life. Hawaiian storytellers gather around a fire pit at night, and rooms have lovely, locally-made quilts and warm woods, with a single subtle reference to the Mouse King—a wooden carving of Mickey with a surfboard and ukulele that doubles as a desk lamp. Perhaps best of all, the Aulani has an outstanding, supervised kids’ club that’s free to guests ages 3 to 12. Babysitters, though pricey, are available for kids as young as six weeks old.
Have you been here? Share a tip or a photo with fellow travelers.
The Aulani is one of just two resorts in West Oahu’s pristine Ko Olina development, a relatively new planned community with four man-made lagoons and a prized golf course. Just across the street from the hotel is an outpost of Monkeypod, an always-buzzing cocktail bar and restaurant from local star chef Peter Merriman.
Need to Know
Rooms: 351 rooms and 481 timeshare units. From $303. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: 11 a.m. Dining options: Six restaurants are here, as well as a few snack bars and one extremely popular shave ice stand. The beachfront ‘Ama’Ama is the most grown-up option (other than the cocktail lounge), and though open for all three meals, it’s especially good for date night; the kitchen turns out a mix of Hawaiian-inspired dishes—seafood boils with Portuguese sausage, for example—as well as mainland favorites such as Colorado rack of lamb and New York strip. The food throughout the resort is done awfully well; even the poolside grill serves burgers and sandwiches on fluffy taro buns (although packets of ketchup and mustard are an inelegant touch, but perhaps more kid-friendly). Spa and gym details:The teen-only spa (for ages 13 to 17) offers the usual assortment of massages and facials, but also makeup consultations and (temporary) tattoo applications. Kids 12 and under can get manis, pedis, and shimmer makeup. The adult spa is an amusement park in itself, with 150-plus treatments and a massive walled hydrotherapy garden. Fitness fanatics are spoiled for choice, between the well-equipped gym and a long list of compelling alfresco classes—beach body boot camp, for one.
Who's it for: Families with young children and teens; Disney fanboys and fangirls of all ages. Our favorite rooms: For those visitors who bring the entire clan and might prefer a few home-cooked meals, consider booking one of Aulani’s 400 Disney vacation villas; otherwise, rooms with ocean or partial ocean views are the ticket. Good to know: Beware the “standard view” rooms, which overlook the parking lot or conference center.