Do you have dreams of vacationing to Disney’s Aulani Resort in Oahu, Hawaii? Who doesn’t? With the promise of beautiful scenery, gorgeous accommodations, fresh foods, and fun activities for Disney adults and kids alike, Disney’s Aulani Resort can be the perfect Disney family getaway. It’s true it may seem rather impossible! From figuring out a Disney Aulani Vacation on a Budget to wondering if you should visit more of Oahu, Hawaii while you’re there, it’s a lot to figure out! Luckily, we’ve already done a ton of the groundwork for you, and you can find a bunch of information on our Disney Aulani Resort page. But what else do you need to know? Here are 8 things we wish we knew Planning a Disney Aulani Resort Vacation before our trip to help get you on the right track.
Planning a Disney Aulani Resort Vacation
Planning a Disney Aulani Resort Vacation doesn’t have to be difficult. Yes, it can seem a little more complicated than some Disney experiences, but it’s worth it. And really not all that difficult. Hopefully, these tips below will help you plan your trip with less stress.
Getting there is half the battle
Do you know how people say going to Hawaii is expensive? Or a once in a lifetime trip? They might be referring to flights. Flights to Hawaii can be pretty expensive, especially if you are traveling from the East coast or somewhere in middle America. When we took our trip to Aulani, we actually flew into Las Vegas and spent a day exploring Valley of Fire State Park. Then we drove to Los Angeles and flew from there to get to Hawaii. Most flights that go directly to Hawaii depart from the west coast. Think LA, San Francisco, Seattle, you get the point. So if you live on the other side of the country, essentially you have to take a couple of flights to get there.
Plus flights directly to Hawaii are usually pretty limited and even with Southwest Airlines adding flights to Hawaii, they’re just not that cheap. Most flights to and from the west coast are about 4-5 hours depending on the route. So basically, just be ready for the fact that it might take you a while to get there and it’s going to be a good chunk of your vacation budget. You can check out all the transportation options to Disney Aulani Resort in our Disney Aulani on a Budget post.
An Aulani Disney Resort vacation can be affordable
Take this with a grain of salt. Affordable is subjective. So it means different things to different people. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s cheap either. But, when I was talking about my trip to Hawaii with coworkers and friends, pretty much everyone guessed I paid way more than I did for our Aulani vacation. I am generally pretty thrifty in everyday life and travel is where I splurge. Even with that being said, if you have the means to budget and save for it, an Aulani vacation doesn’t have to be a pipe dream! And can probably cost less than you think. A trip to Disney Aulani is pricey but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Because creating a Disney Aulani Budget is part of Planning a Disney Aulani Resort Vacation.
When I went with my daughter, we were fortunate enough to have miles from my Venture Capital One Credit Card to pay for us to fly first class on Alaska Airlines. So that saved us a nice chunk of money, and truthfully I was very impressed with Alaska Airlines’ first class service to Hawaii and the price was actually pretty reasonable. Having a credit card that earns travel dollars isn’t for everyone; but if you can manage it, it’s a great way to save some money. You can find out all about Venture Capital One benefits here! You can also find ways of getting your room at a discount, like by using hotels.com or renting DVC points.
It’s more Hawaii, less Disney
Aulani is a Hawaiian resort. Yes, it’s also a Disney resort, but first and foremost its focus is on Hawaii. Personally, I thought the balance between Hawaii and Disney was great; but it’s important to know when you’re planning a trip there. A friend of mine visited right before I did and that was actually her biggest complaint. She didn’t think it was enough magic, she wanted Mickey to greet her at the door, and well basically I think she just wanted it to be like Walt Disney World, but in Hawaii. And it’s not. And well, I think that’s the point. There are Disney-themed restaurants, character meet and greets, Mickey-shaped food, and Disney movies that are played while there.
But does Mickey greet you upon arrival? No, he doesn’t. Instead, you are greeted by a host or hostess who gives you the most beautiful lei that just smells divine. Is every meal a character meal? Absolutely not. Actually, most of them aren’t. Is the lobby plastered with Disney decor? Nope, but you can find a lot of fun hidden mickeys and some fun Disney artwork that also celebrates Hawaii. So if you are looking for a complete Disney vacation, but based in Hawaii, that’s not what Aulani is. If you’re looking for a vacation to Hawaii, but with some Disney magic added in, well that’s what you’ll get at Aulani.
It’s on the “boring” side of Oahu
I only feel ok saying this because I have a few friends who actually live in Oahu and they both have said this to me. Aulani is located on the west side of the island. It’s pretty quiet and if nightlife is your thing, you likely won’t find that here. A few friends of mine have taken adult-only trips to Aulani and their biggest complaint was that they felt there wasn’t a lot to do when it started to get dark. I was traveling with my daughter, who is still a child. So it’s not like I had plans to go out clubbing only to find out that wasn’t an option. But if you are taking a trip without kids and want some nightlife, you’ll have to travel elsewhere on the island to find that.
Even if partying it up isn’t your thing, a lot of the big excursions and touristy type things aren’t located on the same side as Aulani; so take that into account when planning your trip. Even just really great shopping isn’t located there. We split our trip into an Aulani portion and an Oahu portion so that we could experience other parts of the island. Don’t get me wrong, we loved Aulani. But depending on what it is you want to experience while there, you might need to venture out a little to find it.
You should explore Oahu while you’re there
And since we are on the subject, you should see other parts of Oahu! Ok so this is actually a personal preference, but really you should explore the island while you’re there. I know families who have gone and only seen Aulani and they loved it. But if you’ve already spent the money and taken the very long flight to get there, you really owe it to yourself to see more than just the resort. Aulani is located in a resort area, meaning there are other resorts around it. You’ll miss out on a lot of the natural beauty and local culture if you just stay at the resort. Even if you only take a day to see the North Shore, visit Lanikai Beach on the east side of Oahu, or head to Honolulu (which is cool, but very touristy), there’s just so much to see beyond Oahu. Here’s a post sharing a few things we did while in Oahu after leaving Aulani.
The time difference is real
When Planning a Disney Aulani Resort Vacation be aware that there may be a time difference. Traveling to Hawaii and coming from the East Coast? Get ready for some jet lag. The time difference between the west coast (PST) and Hawaii is 3 hours. So take the time change between your time zone, add it to the west coast difference and that’s what the time difference for you will be. Oh and in case that wasn’t enough, Hawaii doesn’t participate in Daylight Savings time. So if you’re traveling from a state that does observe it during the time period of daylight savings time, add an hour. If math isn’t your thing, that means it’s a 6 hour time difference between Hawaii and the East Coast (EST) during daylight savings time.
Feel free to read all about how to beat jet lag, but from my experience, it’s something you just might have to deal with until you adjust. When we first arrived in Hawaii I was consistently waking up around 3 am. As someone who has been to California many times and never had an issue with the 3 hour time difference, I was surprised at just how much Hawaii’s time difference affected me. So just be ready for it!
If I had realized the time change would take me so long to get used to, I probably would have planned my trip differently. We started at Aulani and then went to the North Shore halfway thru. While we were at the North Shore, some of the things we wanted to do, like hiking, required us to get up a little earlier. And at that point, we were already used to the time change. In the future, I’d likely switch those around. That way I could sleep in at Aulani!
The Food Off-Property is Better
While this may not be true 100% of the time, definitely don’t restrict yourself to only eating at Aulani. Not only is it cheaper to eat across the street, but a lot of the food is just better. We ate at both Ama Ama and Makahiki at the resort, and they were both good, but for the price tag, I really couldn’t see us eating there more than once while on our trip. We never had bad food while at Aulani. But there are other places that have better food for better prices if you are willing to leave the resort for a little bit.
Getting around on Oahu takes time
Oahu is not that big. You can usually get from one side of the island to the other in about an hour to an hour and a half. But, that’s not always the case when there is traffic. Since Oahu is still an island, there are only so many roads to get you where you’re going. So regardless of if you’re driving or hiring a driver, make sure to allow for enough time to get from place to place. This is probably the most important to note when you’re returning to the airport for departure. Especially since a lot of departing flights from Hawaii leave later in the day. When we returned to the airport, it took us over an hour to get to the airport from Aulani which was a big difference from the initial 30 minutes it took us to get from there. Time of day will make a big difference so make sure to allow for extra travel time. This is definitely one part of Planning a Disney Aulani Resort Vacation that you don’t want to leave out.
Can you visit Disney Aulani without staying there?
Yes, you can visit if you’re not staying there! But, there are limitations to that. You can shop, eat, watch the sunset and hang out on the lagoon. However, you can’t take advantage of resort amenities like the pools or spa. We actually spent a few hours there on our last day just to relax before our flight and it was a great way to end our trip!
What airport do you fly into to get to Aulani?
HNL! The Daniel K Inouye International Airport is the airport you’ll fly into if you want to go to Aulani.
Which island is Aulani on?
Aulani is located on Oahu.
Is Disney Aulani Expensive?
It is. But we generally recommend breaking up the trip if you’re on a budget since Aulani itself doesn’t really need more than a couple of days and isn’t really located in the most convenient area of Oahu for other sightseeing opportunities.
Hopefully, this post has given you a few tips for Planning a Disney Aulani Resort Vacation. Have you been to Aulani before?
Melanie Renee is a photographer, writer, designer and mom. Visiting Disney destinations since 2010, she is also an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. When she's not creating her next coffee recipe, or designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's seeking beautiful sunsets and planning her next trip .