Aloha at Aulani Disney Resort

IMG_0916 My eight-year-old daughter was excited to experience the new Aulani Disney Resort, however she nervous about our planned snorkeling trip. “What if a shark or puffer fish come up to me?” she cried. I reassured her that Disney would not have sharks or puffer fish in the bay.

Little did I know until touring the resort, is that Disney built a Rainbow Reef filled with hundreds of tropical fish, including manybar goatfish and colorful butterfly fish that swim in a controlled environment. The reef houses 40 different species of fish that are found only in Hawaii. For $15 for kids and $30 for adults, guests receive an all-day pass to snorkel throughout the day. Guests float on the surface of the resort’s 165,000-gallon saltwater playground. As fish swim in schools, families can seek out underwater statues and animals. “It’s great for people who’ve never snorkeled before,” said assistant curator Marjorie Awai in an interview.

Our daughter enjoyed a day of snorkeling without waves or a strong currant. The calm environment was perfect for her and other children. The fish are tame and used to people swimming around them. Guests who don’t want to enter the chilly water, can view the fish from two viewing windows. Feeding times are at 10:15 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

The Aulani Disney Resort is a fantasy playground for kids and adults. Located on the Leeward Coast of Oahu in the Ko’ Olina community. It just opened to guests in late August 2011, just 17 miles, but worlds away from bustling Honolulu and Waikiki.IMG_0992

This family-friendly resort features water play areas and two pools; spas for ‘tweens, teens and adults; Auntie’s Beach House kids’ club; Disney character experiences throughout the day and two restaurants. In the center of the resort is a seven-acre water play area called Waikolohe Valley. It’s filled with Hawaiian flora and fauna and a lava-formed mountain that erupts throughout the day.

Walking into the third floor grand Maka’ala lobby of the resort, one notices wood carving sculptures and a 360-degree mural of Hawaii. Its history begins before the arrival of Captain Cook to modern Hawaii.  Artist Martin Charlot painted a 200-foot wrap around depicting the heritage of Hawaii, the people, land and wildlife. Two streams in the lobby meet in a waterfall going down into a Koi pond.

After checking in, we walked to our room and passed the Waikolohe lazy river. Guests were floating by on tan colored inner tubes. “I want to do that,” said our Katie. We did twice a day and had a great time. Guests can take the tubes down one thrilling slide. There is another fun tunnel slide that IMG_0928spills out into the river.

Another terrific family activity is the interactive hand-held electronic touch-screen device. It’s like a mini iPad with “Auntie” as a tour guide. She guides families around the resort in search of the legendary menehune, Hawaiian “little people.” With a push of a button, guests learn about local folklore with plenty of fun to excite everyone in the family.

A local production company, Searider, helped create this self-guiding tour. There are four outside tours and one inside the magical lobby. While walking around the resort, guests learn about Hawaiian artwork, history and architecture. Push a button at a designated spot and learn about the Hawaiian sea turtle. With a command, a sea turtle will rise out of the water. Kids can build a sailing canoe with the push of a button and activate a volcano.

Our room on the 23 floor had a king size bed and pullout sofa bed. The room was spacious and had a small balcony to sit outside and take in the views.

For dining options there is a buffet-style dining with daily character breakfasts below the lobby in the Makahiki Buffet.  For lunch we liked to pick up a sandwich, sushi or salad at the Little Opihi’s beach shack and dine on chairs in the sand. For dinner we dined one night at The Olelo Room during Happy Hour. Between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. small plates and cocktails are from $5 to $7.

Another night, we walked outside of the property and across the street to the Monkeypod Restaurant. The food is island cuisine and they offer live entertainment.IMG_1040

Entertainment is constant at the resort. Children enjoy Auntie’s Beach House from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Some of the activities that children may participate in are Stitch Space Goo making, learning how to hula and Volcanic Science.

Parents are only allowed inside Auntie’s House during the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Open House times. Some of the activities and meals served are at an extra charge, however many of the activities are free.

If you get a chance to watch the Aulani Starlit Hui on the Halawai Lawn, don’t miss it. It’s a free family event where guests receive a mat to sit on and watch live Hawaiian music from local artists and dance with some of Disney’s favorite characters. Another interesting family activity is the Mo’Olelo fire pit storytelling. A warm fire overlooking the beach is turned on as “Uncle” shares age old stories and traditions that exist in Hawaii. These stories are passed down from one generation to another.

On the beach, guests can go on a sailing canoe ride, check out sand toys, snorkel in the bay or sit under an umbrella with a good book.

There is a paved walkway in Ko’ Olina that is pretty for a morning or sunset stroll. JW Marriott has a few different properties in this area. The path takes visitors all the way to the Ko’ Olina harbor. We stopped one morning at Longboards at the Marriott Beach Club for a beachfront breakfast buffet.

Walk around the JW Marriott to a beach where sea turtles and Monk seals like to call home. Be sure to wear hard sole shoes on this walk, due to sharp rocks near the water.

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.


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