Whether you're planning a trip to Aulani, the amazing Disney resort in Hawaii, or just considering taking the plunge one day, here are 10 tips I gathered on our recent family vacation there to make the most of your trip:
1. Sign up for Aunty's Beach House way before you arrive.
Aunty's Beach House is Aulani's version of a kid's club, but it's no ordinary kid's club. Seriously, this place is so amazing we literally saw kids crying when their parents came to pick them up after spending all day there. My kids begged to go back every day, multi times a day. There's an outdoor playground, crafts, Disney movies, lei making, Disney costumes, dance parties, video games, board games and so much more.
And the security system is unreal. Kids get a wristband they wear during the duration of their stay at the resort that lets Aunty's Beach House know exactly where in the Beach House they are, when they were checked in and have pictures of the parents' faces so only those with corresponding wrist bands and their picture can pick the child up.
Guests can pre-register their kids ages 3 to 12 for Aunty's Beach House (which, news flash, is included in the price of your stay!) up to 90 days in advance of their arrival. There are also special activities on each day that require advance sign up (and sometimes an additional fee) like surf camp and slime-making, and you can also sign up for those in advance online as well. Many of the most popular activities fill up way before you even set foot in Aulani, so mark those 90 days prior in your calendar!
2. Check-out free DVDs from the Pau Hana Community Hall.
The Community Hall has every Disney movie imaginable (and not just the animated kind.) So if you're looking for a mellow night in or your kids are early sleepers, order some pizza and have a pajama movie night in your room. They also have tons of board games to check out as well as special activities like t-shirt making the whole family can sign up for.
3. If you really want to experience Hawaiian culture, grab a drink at the ‘Ōlelo Room.
One of the most memorable parts of Aulani is just how deeply invested the designers were in incorporating and honoring the local Hawaiian culture. Throughout the resort, one will find traditional touches and nods to local lore everywhere, but if you really want a taste of old school Hawaii, drop the kids off at Aunty's Beach House for an hour or two and grab a delicious tropical cocktail or two while learning a little more about the islands at this gorgeous bar where all the bartenders speak fluent Hawaiian.
4. Don't miss out on the luau.
KA WA‘A, Aulani's luau, was easily one of the highlights of the trip for my kids, ages 4 and 6. The doors open about an hour before the show and they've smartly set up lots of activities like lei making, card stamping, photo ops with dancers, temporary tattoos and even taro pounding.
The buffet was delicious and there was even a kids buffet set up with your usual kid-friendly fare in case you're worried about a picky eater. But the real highlight is the show itself which, in true Disney storytelling style, immerses the audience in the story of Hawaii (with some Moana call outs) and has parts where kids can learn the hula from Mickey and Minnie and perform it themselves.
The luau does require reservations, so call ahead of time to ensure your spot.
5. Don't forget the spa.
If you can take advantage of Aunty's Beach House and squeeze in a couple hours for yourself at the gorgeous and tranquil Laniwai Spa, go for it! But if you're really looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, book the family 'Ohana massage, where kids get treated alongside the parents. They even give the kids little robes and slippers and I've never seen my 4-year-old so excited. The little ones (and adults) get to pick their signature fragrance, get massages on a massage table and then a leg treatment with traditional lomi lomi sticks. Who knew?
If you have kids obsessed with Moana, be sure to book at appointment for your little one to get a Moana or Maui makeover complete with costume, hairstyle, mani-pedi, and Moana-inspired makeup. There are also other makeover themes available like mermaid and Hawaiian.
6. Pin trading lives strong at Aulani.
If your kids are into pin trading, bring those pins! I'll admit, I never even knew this was a thing until recently, but we saw tons of people trading pins throughout the resort.
7. Take an excursion off the resort.
Yes, there are outings! They are an additional cost, but if you're looking to get off the resort and explore Hawaii a little more, we thought it was totally worth it. We only tried the catamaran outing, but it was extraordinary. We couldn't keep track of how many dolphins and sea turtles we saw and the boat stops for a while to allow passengers to go snorkeling. And for those little ones, like my own, that weren't quite ready to snorkel themselves, the hospitable guides brought ocean creatures like sea stars, urchins and even an octopus to the boat for them to pet and marvel over. Snacks and lunch were provided and it was definitely a full half day.
8. Take advantage of the jet lag.
Coming from California, we were two hours ahead of Hawaii time, which doesn't sound like a huge difference but was definitely enough for some major jet lag—and judging from the number of bleary eyed parents and wide-awake kids we saw wandering around the resort at 6 a.m., so were a lot of other families. But turn those early morning lemons into lemonade. While the pools don't open until 8 a.m., there's a strip mall a short walk across the street from the resort that has a coffee shop with my personal favorite Hawaiian coffee that also serves breakfast and opens at 7.am.
Consider jet lag too when you're making reservations for character breakfasts, and try to snag the earliest time available so your kids aren't starving like feral animals for three hours while they wait for breakfast. Note, the time change also means your kids are probably ready to pass out pretty early too, and let's be real, the parents as well.
9. Take the Menehune Adventure Trail challenge.
If you (or your kids) need a break from the pool, you can check-out a special device at the Pau Hana Community Hall and embark on a scavenger hunt adventure throughout the resort. Kids have to head to certain locations and solve riddles, search for hidden Menehune statues and discover fun surprises to complete their quest. If you have really little ones, the clues may be hard for them, but it'd be perfect for older kids/preteens.
10. Disney fans, keep an eye out for Aulani-exclusive merchandise.
If you're one of those people who collect Disney merchandise, keep an eye out throughout the resort's several stores for Aulani-exclusive merchandise. We saw tons of Moana toys and gear we've never seen elsewhere and there were even Hawaiian-themed Mickey and Minnie ears.
Honestly, there were so many activities and details that even in our four days there we didn't get to see it all. One thing you will never be while you're there is bored. The kids—and ourselves—already can't wait to go back one day and explore the rest that this magical resort has to offer.
* Our stay was hosted by Aulani, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.