We began by pulling up to the front, which had a very similar exterior to any other Disney deluxe resort. What I mean is, a plethora of parking attendants, in rows, waiting to wave your car through so you can get out and check in while they temporarily park your car. The familiarity was actually nice, and made it feel like a Disney resort. We were immediately greeted by a girl (Disney name tag in tow), who offered us a flower lei greeting and some citrus infused water. Now this was a service that I was not used to from a Disney resort. I’m used to receiving a friendly “Welcome Home!” from any DVC resort and of course always fabulous service, but there was something about that extra step of the lei and water greeting that made this place feel a little different. Some may call it Hawaiian hospitality, and I think they may be onto something
From there, that same cast member (I can’t remember her name, but it was something beautiful and Hawaiian) gave us a tour of the resort, ending at the check in desk. Kindly walking us through the entryway of Aulani, she explained the meaning behind an elaborate mural that bordered the perimeter of the room. Looking backward one will see images of old Hawaii; natives performing traditional tasks such as rowing, hunting, or storytelling. Looking forward displays modern Hawaii with images of surfers, families, and cooler tones to symbolize looking ahead to the future.
The hotel itself is separated into two towers as an homage to traditional Hawaiian meeting places that were separated in the same way. That is, one wing for women, and the other for men. Our sweet guide finally took us out onto the observation deck that overlooked Waikolohe Valley, a grotto of winding pathways, pools, and restaurants, all culminating toward the end of a small bay with Aulani’s private beach. We then checked into our room, made our way up, and proceeded to decide what to do first.
Full disclosure here, we only stayed at Aulani for one night. Josh and I had already made plans to be in another part of the island for our trip, but then decided adding a special night at Aulani wouldn’t be a bad idea. We stayed our first night in Hawaii, so we were a little bit tired and quite hungry from our travels from the mainland. With our stomachs rumbling, we knew that priority number one was to get some food!
By the time we got checked in and changed from our travel clothes, it was about 3:00 p.m., somewhat of an awkward time to eat a meal. But we were starving, so we decided to make our way to a pool bar where we could get some food relatively fast and would be able to head straight to the pools from there.
There are two outdoor pool bars at Aulani, one on either side of the grotto, and we happened to pick Off the Hook. The food was very good, especially for such an informal setting. I ordered the fish tacos and a pina colada, while Josh opted for the shrimp salad and a “lime in the coconut.” Our server was great, very helpful and was more than willing to offer Josh some gluten free options for his allergy. We happened upon this spot when it wasn’t super crowded (probably due to the weird time of day), which was quite nice, so we were really able to relax and enjoy the atmosphere and food.
Once our hunger was curbed, we decided to check out the lazy river. I was mostly excited/impressed that there even was a lazy river in the hotel! The river ride was nice, with a good paced current, but was mostly filled with little kids and parents, so it wasn’t quite the relaxing snooze we were looking for. It was also starting to get a little bit chilly (around 75 degrees), so we opted to find a hot tub next. Let me interrupt for a second to say that Aulani has 3 pools, 4 hot tubs, a water slide, the lazy river, a snorkeling lagoon, and a private beach, so we were not at a loss to find a spot that would suit our fancy.
We cruised by Waikolohe, the main pool. It was super nice, much like a themed pool at any other Disney resorts, and the Volcanic Verticle water slide was situated right in the middle of it. We kind of twisted and turned our way through on the pathways and found an amazing infiniti hot tub that overlooked the ocean. Now, this was what we had been waiting for. Seriously, this hot tub alone was worth the 9 hour flight. This particular hot tub is for adults 18+ only, which was quite nice since we were so tired by this point. The tub was a little full, but it also had its own seating area with about 8 pool chairs, which helped space people out. But, if I had to sum this up in one word it would be stunning. Stunning.
After we were fully pruned from steaming in the hot tub, we grabbed a few more drinks at Off the Hook, then mosied down to the beach. It was definitely getting dark at this point, but the sun setting on the horizon just beyond the ocean was pretty amazing to watch with a pina colada in hand. The beach was very beautiful, and I appreciated the spacing between beach chairs so folks could have a little bit of privacy. During the day, you can rent all kinds of beach equipment and toys from paddle boards to snorkel gear, and we just happened to see all the families packing up for the day. Needless to say, it was quite romantic.
Josh and I wandered a bit more here and there around the grotto and inside to see the resort shops. We did pass by the Makahiki restaurant when a live band was playing traditional and modern Hawaiian music. The mood was just perfect, the setting beautiful, and the music set the tone telling us that this is a place to really unwind. This is Hawaii.
We turned in early that night after a long travel day, and were excited to wake up refreshed for what the next day was to brings. I was particularly excited, because tomorrow meant one thing: Laniwai Spa.