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Reviewed 24 September 2011

We were guests the opening week. Even Disney is going to have some opening day jitters, missteps and problems. They were minor. I think we went through four sets of card keys the first day; a cabinet door fell off a cabinet in the kitchen, and the television wasn't working quite right. Really, for no doubt the first person to stay in the room, I think acceptable hiccups.

Things that were wrong, but I'm sure fixed now --- they reserved out the main restaurant to locals the first weekend, leaving the hotel guests in the cold. Wooops. Generally they will need at least another restaurant. Only 1/3 of the resort is actually open (but you'd never know).

So, what's right? EVERYTHING ELSE! My family loved it. My wife and I discovered that at 10 and 11 our boys can now be on their own. The mouse will take care of them! Our boys were out the door before us to get to the pools, and one night came home after us. They swam, they snorkeled with fish, they learned about stingrays, they learned to paddle board, they went out on a long boat to see dolphins, they sat around the fire ring to be told stories and entertained; they were shown Hawaiian culture by their new "Auntie", they went out to study stars with an astronomer through a telescope. And they could have done much more!

We loved the character breakfast. To see my boys getting up to dance with their Hawaiian Auntie was priceless. For me, riding the lazy river with my boys, and tossing them around a pool was a memory that will not be forgotten. The price seemed reasonable. The nighttime buffet was we felt terribly overpriced, and more Japanese than Hawaiian.

Mistakes we made: we went off property for a luau. Shouldn't have. There is so much to do and see in the resort, you don't need to leave. We didn't find out until the last days that you can allow very selective charging privileges on your children's cards.

The Spa. It's amazing. Simply amazing. The treatments were great, but the facilities are second to none --- and my wife and I are spa dogs. There is an entire secluded relaxation area that was worth the visit to the spa. You can also gain entrance to this area for $40.00 if you don't want a treatment. This is nice because the supposed "quite adult pool" is not.

The staff cannot do enough for you; typical Disney. Friendly, engaging, and very proud of their new resort.

We will be back for Spring break in 2012!

So, for a few gripes. The Marriott resort next door is a poor neighbor. The quite pool is next door to the Marriott employee parking lot. Loud radios, talking, etc. Then there is the problem of how to get to Aulani. Renting a car is expensive and a waste. There is no hotel shuttles, etc. Disney needs to introduce its Florida resort "Magical Express" to Aulani. Last one, Disney think about renaming the “Teen Spa” in fact it’s a teenage hangout complete with a yoghurt stand. But until my boys found out they had every gaming system under the sun, they wanted nothing to do with a “spa.”

If you have an opportunity to go to Aulani, with or without kids, DO IT!

Room Tip: If you can afford it, o for a room with a kitchen, and stock up before you get on property. Food is expensive.
  • Stayed: September 2011, travelled with family
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14  Thank Mike90275
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 23 September 2011

We stayed here labor day weekend. The hotel and pools are beautiful - but the food quality is terrible and far from Disney standards. The character breakfast buffet was the worst! $35 a person and not even an omelet station. The food selection is very small and limited and the eggs benedict was over cooked and dry. Totally not worth it - only characters are Mickey & Minnie and goofy. If you don't want to bake in the hot sun while eating breakfast - need to request to sit inside. The dinner buffet at Makahiki was also very small and not much variety. For $40 a person I expected much more. Next time -we will walk over to Ihilani Azul for dinner and for their Breakfast buffet. It is way better there and more worth your $$.
We also ate lunch at one paddle and was also not too good. Service wasn't too good and very slow - food was over cooked and burger was dry and portions were soooo.... small!

Our room smelled like smoke - (The hotel is non smoking) - It seemed like was coming from the trash can under the kitchen sink. Wish housekeeping had changed out the bin before hand so the whole room wouldn't stink. Called the front desk to inform them because if they find any sign of smoking in your room they will charge $400 fee.

Other than that - we enjoyed our stay. Hotel is so nice and can't wait to go back!

  • Stayed: September 2011, travelled with family
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7  Thank Honolulu H
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 22 September 2011

I (along with my SO) stayed at Aulani during the labor day weekend; this was its first operational weekend since the soft opening on August 29. The resort itself requires patient exploring in order to find all of its hidden secrets (which are literally all over the place.) The Disney elements normally associated with the brand are fairly low key at the Aulani, but this shouldn't be surprising since Disney has been saying from the very beginning their approach. Please note this review while long, barely scratches the surface because this was just a brief weekend stay.

FIrst of all, there are naturally some growing pain issues to be expected which come about from any new opening of something this size. However, considering this is Disney (which is probably second to none when it comes to protecting their brand image), I was actually surprised by the number of glitches that I encountered during my short stay. Note that I didn't make a big deal out of this since I understand the logistics involved. Yet, I also have to say it was uncharacteristically un-Disney like as far as the overall experience goes.

Cast members (CM) were overall friendly though some were getting noticably frazzled on this first holiday weekend since the resort opened. The Disney level expectations run high from those who have years of actual Disney work experience which includes being able to constantly have that happy face on even though you are stressing out behind the scenes; and there were clearly a few very green cast members who probably are getting their first real taste of working for a very brand aware corporation. As others had experienced, some cast members were not well informed (or their superiors did not do a good job of communicating changes.) I managed to talk candidly with some CM's who said they underwent several weeks of intensive training including having to role play and service executives from corporate who came to the resort to act as guests. Still, nothing can replicate having actual paying customers (some of the initial ones being hardcore Disney fanatics) who have an equal high level of expectation when it comes to Disney's legendary service and attention to detail.

I'm not a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) member but I did manage to rent some points from someone I know who is a DVC member and thus was able to secure a reservation for one of the garden side villas. When me and the SO walked in, our jaws literally dropped at how gorgeous the room looked. Unfortunately, there seems to be a few workmanship issues inside the room itself as the water did not drain well in the shower (which was why there was already dark mold in some places of the grouting between the tiles.) Then the remote receiver for the LG HDTV actually fell off (must be those menehunes). It surprised me the room was turned over with the shower looking the way it did as Disney normally has a very strict room check at their resorts.

The villa itself has a washer/dryer, full sized kitchen with full size refrigerator, microwave oven, drip cofee maker, dishes, utensils. For those staying long term, they will make use of these facilities since Ko'Olina is not Waikiki in terms of plenty of eating places. Since they anticipated both larger numbers of local Hawaii residents (who are purchasing time sharing units) as well as visitors from Asia, there is a Tiger rice cooker as well as chopsticks. Complimentary coffee is from Honolulu Coffee Company (the resort sources quite a number of materials including food products from Hawaii based company's). Wifi is free. The room can actually accommodate up to 5 people. The main bedroom has a large queen size bed which can fit 3, the sofa converts into a sleeper, and there is a drop down bed hidden below the television (the bedding is hidden in the coffee table). The bed was rather high and was also really hard (I like my bed firm but this was really a bit too firm for my liking.) Finally, the ambient lighting of the room is on the dark side (even if you open the curtains.) Some folks like their rooms bright and airy but the darkness lends a certain atmosphere to the room where it didn't really bother us.

For those who aren't familiar, the resort is on the west side of the island at the foot of the Waianae Mountain range. The mountain blocks off the tradewinds so this area tends to be really hot and dry. The good thing is there usually is a mild sea breeze. Still, just standing 3 minutes outside on the lanai of the room to video and take photos of the resort was like being slow roasted in an oven. When the sea breeze is blowing though, relaxing on the chairs outside is nice.

The labor day weekend of course added to the foot traffic as there were a lot of people (not sure if they were all guests) wandering around the Waikolohe Valley. Once the entire resort opens (two more phases; the next one opens in November and the last opens sometime in 2012) and occupancy further increases, it is going to get rather crowded down there. The resort ammenities are of course reserved for those who are staying at the hotel. Access to the Mikimiki fitness center is via your keycard. But how is the entrance to the water slide, hot tubs, pools and Waikolohe Stream enforced? Well, you have to show your room keycard at a kiosk near the pool in order to get a colored wrist strap. The color changes each day so you need to repeat this procedure daily. Note that enforcement of each person in a party actually having to show their room keycard seemed to be rather lax while I was there; something which they'll need to look at in the future especially as the rest of the resort comes online when there may be more paying resort guests.

There are all sorts of activities like movies on the lawn in the evening, story telling by a firepit, scavenger hunts, trying to find all the little menehunes scattered throughout the resort (some of them are under the bridges which you'll only find if by floating through the lazy stream), the fiber optic petroglyphs on the ground, the taro patch, the sting ray pool, salt water tank, the Laniwai spa, and for the kids, Aunty's Beach House. Lighting (depending on the time of day) also changes the way the resort looks, and at night, it is even more dramatic.

As far as resort dining goes, it is no secret that you'll be spending some money (details of pricing is all on the Aulani website as menus are downloadable). So I'm going to cut to the chase regarding quality, service, and variety. One of the nice things is a relaxed dress code (casual attire is perfectly fine.) As mentioned, there are some growing pains which need to be dealt with. 'AMA'AMA and its next door quick serve take out joint, One Paddle, Two Paddle had some teething pains in terms of quality of the food (the cooks prepare the food for both sides.) Initially, the angus burgers were sort of on the small side and weren't cooked as ordered. Also, some dishes in terms of its preparation and presentation at 'AMA'AMA also weren't of the quality you would expect from what is supposed to be fine dining. Note that we went once for lunch and once for dinner on separate days. We did this knowingly taking a hit to the pocketbook just to see how things were As far as service goes, the two waiters that we had for each occasion were excellent. They were very friendly, engaging, personable and attentive. Ask for Kevin or Frank as they are both great. Some of the hostesses out front while nice seemed to be a bit too reserved and soft spoken though. The dining experience starts there and it is what makes a huge difference as far as that extra atmosphere goes; more so when you are talking about what is supposed to be the signature restaurant representing the resort. Note that 'AMA'AMA will begin serving breakfast some time in November 2011. For dessert lovers, the Hawaiian Chocolate Cake with K'au Coffee Cream is to die for but it costs $10 for a very small piece (still, the cast members said this is a popular mover.) One Paddle, Two Paddle sells a less fancy version for over half the cost.

Taking another hit to the wallet, we also tried the breakfast buffet at the Makahiki (character breakfast was unfortunately all booked) and to be honest, it didn't leave a "wow" impression on me. The food and selection were good but for the price, it also didn't blow us away. I've had some excellent tabehoudai (all you can eat buffets) in Japan for maybe half the price. One of the best brunch buffets on Oahu was the one that they used to have at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider (and for anyone who remembers, the buffet at the defunct Shogun Restaurant at the Pacific Beach Hotel used to be really good back during the heydays when the Japanese tourists were flocking to the islands before the bubble economy crashed.) The point is that we didn't find it extraordinarily special which is what surprised us.

With that said, the variety of food (reasonably priced) is glaringly lacking as Ko'Olina in general does not have the sort of density that Waikiki has (this is by design) where you have at your disposal, fine dining down to inexpensive hole in the wall sort of places with cuisine from all over the world. And that is one of the great things about Hawaii, a wide variety of ethnic cuisine. As mentioned, 'AMA'AMA and One Paddle, Two Paddle essentially share chefs and so some items served are almost identical with just a few variations (plus a lower cost for the latter) which further reduces the choices. While the PR consistently mentions how Disney did their homework with the Aulani, it clearly does not come across with regards to the food. Furthermore, the Ihilani resort next door went through the same issue when they first started and provided the template and how not to do things. IMO, Disney will need to make some changes in this area.

Fortunately, the Ihilani is a quick walk and provides alternative dining (though at similar resort prices) including a Japanese restaurant. Across the street from the Aulani is Ko'Olina Station which houses an upscale ABC convenience store called Island Country Market (there is a full service deli as well as a small selection of food which you can take back and prepare in the room.) There is also a Mexican eatery, an ice cream parlor, and a Hawaiian BBQ where you can get some reasonably priced plate lunches (two people can share one.) Kapolei is around 5-7 miles to the east and is your best bet for a larger selection of eating places as well as groceries. Obviously, having a rental car will be a must for longer term stays. The Ko'Olina resort does have a service called the Holoholo Shuttle which provides transportation to DFS Galleria in Waikiki, Ala Moana Shopping Center, and Waikele Outlet. A single day pass is $35 per person (5 day pass is $140.) So yes, factor transportation costs into your budget when staying at Aulani. FYI, hotel parking (self service or valet) for those who aren't staying at the resort is $35 a day (free 4 hour validation provided if you spend $35 on anything from food or souvenirs - very easy to do). For DVC members, parking is free.

We also hit Kalepa's Store (which is the main gift shop) and the Lava Shack which is a smaller shop that is built into the side of Pu'u Kilo (the volcanic mountain where the two waterslides start). Prices of most items are resort friendly (meaning expensive) but there's some interesting stuff there. The Lava Shack also sells some food like sandwiches and ice cream. One of the interesting items I found at Kalepa's was the Ko'a wood postcards (3 types - Mickey, Minnie, and the Aulani Resort) which looked really classy. At $5 though, I wouldn't send one of these via postal mail since they'll probably end up getting "lost". Cast members here were knowledgeable and friendly; there was always one walking around at Kalepa's with a hand basket asking if you needed one for shopping. All I can say, it is easy to rack up $100 or more buying Aulani branded merchandise.

There are quite a bit of hidden stories built into the resort which requires extensive exploring including talking to cast members (though as alluded to, it will take many of them time to gain experience in being able to really tell the stories behind the resort.) Considering there is no theme park associated with the Aulani, they did manage to find a way to keep families quite busy beyond the waterslides and pool so long as visitors ask questions of the cast members (else that aspect of the Aulani gets lost.) And unlike Disney's theme park resorts where the objective is to keep guests on the property and spending their money there, this isn't the case with Aulani where taking excursions out around the island is meant to compliment the story behind the resort.

What remains to be seen is whether the relatively high price of the resort will be able to continually bring back both the local non-DVC guests as well as visitors from around the world. Hawaii as a destination can be quite expensive and Aulani pushes the budget even further. I can see Disney fans being the primary clientele but even a good portion of that demographic will find budgeting for repeat visits an issue. For Hawaii residents, the eating places at Aulani may not offer enough of a draw for them to make the resort a common destination for that purpose (that is unless the variety and value increases.) To be honest, there are better values in Waikiki so I can see the local clientele continuing to make Waikiki establishments their primary destination for special occasions.

Overall, Disney did a fairly good job with Aulani where it doesn't look like a white elephant stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Even the Disney elements are understated where the focus is mainly on the Hawaiian culture and heritage (though it would be nice to actually have just a tad bit more Disney sprinkled throughout the resort including a few more characters) since it is something the kids really look forward to seeing. Finally, while the cast members were overall great, there were still some rough edges which need to be smoothed out, but that should naturally come with experience. The actual grand opening (with all the bigwigs and celebs) is the last week of September so the cast members will have had several weeks worth of servicing actual guests to draw upon as far as finetuning goes.

We did revisit a week later on a weekday just to see what the resort looked like on a non-weekend (that also was not a holiday) and the guest traffic was noticably lower. Some tweaks were also already being made such as reducing the refillable mug price from $32.99 to $18 and the $99 length of stay beach rentals being removed (only the hourly, half day, and full day rental charges remain.)

Overall, I rated the property as very good but that 4 circles should be more like 3.5 as it was better than average but had some un-Disney like flaws. The same applies to some of my other ratings when it came to rating a very good (as those were also more like 3.5's.) If you were to ask me today would I stay there again within the next few years, my honest answer would be no; as there really isn't anything compelling. If there was far more to do around the Ko'Olina area including a larger selecting of dining within walking distance, then that might change things. Maybe if there was a bit more Disney (and by that, I mean maybe just only a tad bit more), then that too might change things. Again, I know from the PR that this was intentional but still, we personally felt something was missing. It cold just possibly be opening issues which will get ironed out over time so I plan to read other reviews and see how things go as time passes.

  • Stayed: September 2011, travelled as a couple
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29  Thank Hakkaisan
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 20 September 2011

We enjoyed our stay at Aulani, we were one of the first families who paid to enjoy the resort and I don't regret our decision.

The resort is gorgeous, the staff is very friendly, the kids club is amazing and is included in the cost of your stay (our kids didn't want to leave). The staff of the club is friendly and they use the same tracking wristband system as the cruise.

They need more food options, the ones they have are tasty but pricey. I feel they need more characters at the character meal (only mickey minnie and goofy when we were there).
Ama Ama is a must do, go to lunch if you are looking to save $, if not go before sunset so you can enjoy the gorgeous views its breathtaking.

Try the signature parfait for breakfast, its so yummy.

Take advantage of the onsite events (dont miss the fireside story telling or the star lit Hui), there are plenty. The movies on the lawn were another favorite.

The lazy river and slides and play area close early (8 ish) but the pools by the beach stay open later.

My kids loved the shaved ice shack and we also enjoyed the spa.

Lots to do, the snorkeling at Rainbow Reef is another must.

They were still working out some of the kinks during our stay but we had a great time, the kids loved looking for Menehune.

Sure it would be better if it wasn't $400 a night for a basic room, but we will definitely be back.

Room Tip: Try to get a room with a view of the inner Valley. Our room was very convenient location wise, close to the main hall with easy access to the Spa and gym. (931)
  • Stayed: August 2011, travelled with family
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2  Thank em p
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 17 September 2011

best for kids & best for parents.Location is good if you want less crowded beach.they have Lagoon,which is best for the kids.but if you like real beach,nice restaurants,more options for young with no kids ,then waikiki hilton village is best.For Vegetarian food very less option.

Room Tip: higher is better for better view if you chosing ocean view.
  • Stayed: September 2011, travelled with family
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1  Thank Piyump
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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