This weekend we had the opportunity to stay at the new Disney Aulani resort. The excitement and anticipation of Disney coming to the islands has been building for years. The company spent a lot of time and money developing the property with a sensitivity to the Hawaiian culture and community. You can feel this in the public spaces and in the storytelling behind the architecture/decor. For example, the Olelo room (lounge/bar) is surrounded by Hawaiian words and objects. Cast members are required to speak Hawaiian to work at this venue. It's fun to sit behind the bar and learn the Hawaiian culture and word meaning from the bartenders and cast members.
The property is impressive with the main attraction; a huge water park. The lazy River Waikolohe Stream is thoroughly enjoyable. It begins with a fun slide which leads you on your way to traverse a lazy river. You pass through caves and waterfalls around beautiful landscapes. Kids can have the time of their lives on the Menehune Bridge where water shoots out from almost every direction. There’s a wonderful infinity Jacuzzi that spans 2 levels. The beach (man-made lagoon) is beautiful and perfect for kids. We really appreciated the quiet pool where we spent most of our time relaxing.
The rooms at the Aulani are spacious and comfortable. The decor is exquisite with Hawaiian prints on the walls that look real. The Hawaiian decor is not overstated and blends nicely with the wood tones and red Tapa Hawaiian quilts. The bed was comfortable, firm and high up above the floor which is perfect for storing luggage underneath. Each of the rooms have a pullout sofa with an ottoman that stores extra bedding. Another nice touch was an Electric Cordless Jug Kettle in the room which is great for heating hot beverages. There is a very functional credenza with huge drawers and a computer docking station. The bathroom was beautiful with a huge soak in tub, marble vanities. However, the water pressure was low. After 30 minutes the bathtub was only about half full. Additionally, the removable shower head was a problem. It couldn't be used because there was no way to adjust the water flow to reach your body. In other words, unless you are a basketball player the water would go right over your head!! FAIL! While aesthetically pleasing, the shower and tub were not very functional.
With the exception of the free WiFi at the property almost everything you do will cost you a pretty penny. Rooms start at about 400 per night. Parking cost $127 for 3 days, The spa was 399 for a 50 min couples massage. You'll have to pay for snorkeling, kayaking, umbrella & chair rentals and more.
Disney has the reputation of setting the "bar" high. I heard this many times from the cast members at the new Disney Aulani each time I tried to bring something to their attention that was clearly "below the bar" My guess is the newness of the property made getting special services laborious because not enough people have taken advantage of them. For example, we rented a cabana ($275 a day) but nobody showed us where it was located. Once we found it, the service didn't start until a couple of hours after we arrived. The cushions were not attached to the chairs and as a result of couple of times we slid right off! We were told a private dining would be available and found out later that it was not available. At one point we were told we could stay at the cabana until 9 PM and then at 6 PM we were told we had to leave.
By far the biggest disappointment was the food, especially in the pool area. They offer a very limited menu and most of the items were either overcooked or unacceptable. The sweet potato fries were soggy. The kids chicken strips were chewy and rubber like. The cheeseburger platter was tasteless. The desert they served with the meals looked like it was chocolate icing in a bowl, melting and poorly prepared. Equally disappointing was the response we got from cast members regarding food. They made excuses, explaining that many things were tried because of the outdoor environment they settled on these few dishes. Not one cast member offered to return an item or to take the cost off of the bill. You're charged full price regardless of the quality or satisfaction, and to top it off they add 20% to of all food items for gratuity.
Sample of prices around the property seemed exorbitant:
- A croissant, bagel, 1/2 cup of cornflakes, yogurt parfait, orange juice, 2 coffee's 29.58
- A turkey BLT (not real turkey) Soup and Salad 42.00
- A Aulani Logo Magnet $9
- Valet parking $35
We have a saying here in Hawaii that we "pay a price for Paradise" well, the Disney Aulani takes this concept to a whole new level. I think that with a few adjustments and some price control this property can be everything folks expect and more. I would recommend waiting for all of the excitement to die down a bit before booking this property while Disney figures out the right combination's to make this a success. In short, the Disney Aulani is not ready for prime time and not up to the Disney “high bar” standards
September 5th, 2011