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

Since 2006 Bruce Fisher has been publishing the Hawaii Vacation Blog and the Hawaii Vacation Connection Podcast which, create daily content about Hawaii Travel and Tourism. This Blog is the only online resource providing Hawaii-based information aimed at travelers seven days per week. Postings reflect the Hawaiian Islands, their culture and their lifestyle as accurately and thoroughly as possible.
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26 COMMENTS

  1. Too pricey for my taste, and sounds like there are lots of wrinkles that need smoothing.  Time will tell.  Too bad such a high cost, as I'm sure there are many Kamaaina that would love to bring  their families to Aulani for a weekend.  But at this cost, um, I don't think so.  Thanks Bruce!

  2. Bruce,

    Thanks for your constructive review. With respect to the quality and taste of the food, my family had the same sentiment — it just wasn't tasty and in Hawaii, delicious food is very important. I trust the leadership of the Aulani will make adjustments, hopefully swiftly.

  3. Excellent review of Disney Aulani, thanks Bruce. And I agree with Kalei…too pricey for me as well. It's a little disconcerting that they would make you pay for substandard food too. Most restaurants will go out of their way to make things right, or take it off your bill.

  4. Wow!  Outrageous prices, even by Disney standards. This will not go over well with the local market but then again, we probably don't matter to Disney at this point.  Thanks for the great review of Aulani!

  5. interesting.. esp about the food…. that's what a lot of people remember too… esp here in Hawaii, where it seem good food is very prevalent at all price points.   that is disappointing to hear.

  6. Bruce….so we should stay in the room at Disney Aulani our entire vacation?….hmmmm may not be a bad idea!!!!

  7. Let us not even talk about Public Beach Access.. Bruce you should try to visit the beach some Saturday about 11am and see if you can even get in… In case you have not tried don't waste your time, getting access to the public beach is near impossible.  For those that live outside Hawaii the beaches here are all public and care supposed to be accessible by the public.

  8. Thanks for the review Bruce! I spoke to Yaling about her stay and she had her views of the resort as well. This is so disappointing to hear but its Disney. I booked a staycation for me and my family in November, so hopefully by then they work all the kinks out. Excellent youtube vid by the way!

  9. You might reconsider your use of apostrophes to pluralize words.  More than one coffee is "coffees", not "coffee's". More than one combination is "combinations", not "combination's".

  10. sorry about that. hit the return butto. We are going tonight to check it out. Hopefully the food will not be as bad as was mentioned….

  11. Great review Bruce!  Love how candid you are/were. We are headed there next week to check it out. I think we'll be brining a suitcase full of snacks for the keiki :)
    Our friends are opening a restaurant in Ko'olina so hopefully they'll give another option for visitors to experience the good food that Hawaii offers!

  12. Requarding comment made by  Lering Smallwell, dude get over ur self. Sorry u have nothing better to do other then criticizing others.  That sad,  get a life…..  Thank u Bruce for ur review. I think i will wait awhile before visiting.

  13. With as expensive as this place is, I had thought it was all inclusive!  It will be a very very very long time before I take a serious look at Disney – looks like they're just trying to rip people off.

  14. Aloha Bruce,
    So glad I took your advice and waited to make our reservation's….I thought it was rather pricey as well, and I would of been really up all the extra cost's that for $400 per night, you'd think would be included….like the common sense thing's Parking should be included, a lounge chair and umbrella on the beach should be included, some thing's being extra I can understand like the spa, massages, cabanna, but snorkeling, 30 minutes on an outrigger, and acticities for children should be included….Food we can go to China Town for or Kapolei to Safeway….and come out cheaper….I think it'll take a couple 3 years for them to get it together….Again Thank You for saving us all that money…

  15. We stay next door at the Marriott Vacation Club. Although they do not have Disney characters, they have a gorgeous property, yummy food, excellent service, priced acceptably, 3 different pools for children, adults, families, lovely rooms with plenty of space and a well stocked "store". If you are a time share property owner, parking is FREE. You can rent many water toys for the lagoons, get prompt service at the pools and many locals work there. So, this is where I will continue to stay each year I vacation there!

  16. the video was ALL over the place………..maybe go a bit slower to show detail.  The dude talking could not speak fast enough.  Not an enjoyable video.

  17. I thought Disney was supposed to be a family oriented place. With prices like that only movie star and pro athlete families can afford it. EPIC FAIL!

  18. I was also a guest at Aulani this past weekend, and was sorely disappointed. The restaurant by the pool was inedible, cast members seemed curt to the point of rudeness, and the prices were above and beyond anything anyone should ever pay.

    I would like to point out 2 reasons why I will never give Aulani my business again.

    1. we were not given wrist bands for the pool upon check in. We went straight to our room to change and straight to the pool to play with my 1 year old daughter. My husband fell asleep while we played in the children’s area (which is very nice), and security literally woke him up and told him without a wristband he needed to leave the area. He was waiting for me to come back, and was approached again not even 5 minutes later and told he had to leave the pool area immediately or he would be removed. He was sitting with our stroller and all of our stuff, clearly not by himself. We were shocked at their not so disney attitude.

    2. We stayed late sunday to catch the characters to take pictures with my niece, and it is horrific how the security that “escorts” the characters treats guests. After sitting for 45 minutes through some sort of entertainment show, they finally brought out the characters (chip and dale). They played for 15 minutes with the kids (my daughter couldn’t play the game as it wasn’t suitable for a child just walking) and was therefore denied photos. There were 3 other families waiting to take photos with Chip and Dale who were also denied because their kids didn’t participate. The security “escorting” chip and dale said they were on too tight a schedule and had to be somewhere. We left before them, but realized quickly that they were right behind us from all the screams of joy and excitement by all of the kids we passed. One mother excitedly asked if they could take a quick photo with the family, and she was denied as they were “late for an appointment.” I’m sorry, but for $450 a night, plus the parking, plus the food- this is a crime and a rip off.

  19. Amazing to me in this day in age of blogs, review sites and general speed of word of mouth on the internet that any business that wants to stay in business would suck so bad as to let people write bad reviews about them. Stuff like this, I wouldn’t book a room there if it was the last resort on the island!

  20. As I sit here at Aulani, I tend to agree with your point of view; there needs to be some additional quality control on this resort. Poolside food is marginal, drinks way too pricey, and a charge for everything. Nickel and dime ya to death!

    When I checked in at 3pm, I was told my room would be ready in a few hours at least. They politely took my cell, said they’d call or text when it was ready. Said it may even take longer! So, after spending some time at the pool and exploring–it became 7pm pretty quick. I called the desk from my cell, and I explained my wait. They then informed me that it was ready at 3:30 pm! I had an elderly mother in law with us, and wanted to rest after flight and get situated! I got off my cell, stormed up to the desk to complain. The man there knew I wasn’t too thrilled and tried to pawn it off on a incorrect number. I asked what it was and it was right. So then I asked for a manager, and a lady came out not taking any responsibility for anything saying she couldn’t turn back time. I left saying I expected more from Disney. Lots of work needed here….especially with the management.

  21. Yes the costs seem high! I countered that cost with my DVC membership!! Saved me $450 a night. Which I used on food whenever I wanted. Also, parking is free for
    members. That’s another $40 a day saved. Plus you get 10% off at their store. Another DVC benefit. This benefit is extended to beach rentals. I’m not a Disney employee…just smart..anybody can do this!

  22. Just wanted to add., There’s a cool restuarant directly across the street, also a ice cream shop. And if I’m not mistaken, a few more restuarants will be there in the future. Add the ABC store to your budget or drive to Safeway store to pickup (by far less expensive) food, for breakfast and lunch, and your not going to care what you pay for dinner!….by the way, I’ve stayed at the JW Marriott as well….NOT any better when it comes to prices are concerned! Paid $100 for breakfast for family of 4…That was about 7 years ago

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