[B]Aulani Resort Grand Opening first impressions. (August 29, 2011).[/B]
by Jeff Da Runner on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 10:19pm
We arrived in the mid-afternoon to Aulani. We were greeted with “E Komo Mai Hale.” (Welcome Home). Everything looked and smelled new.
Today was the Grand Opening, and we were there just to visit and take it all in. Prior to this, we had visited the Disney Vacation Club model units, and had a perimeter tour while still under construction. Our first of two stays will be this upcoming month.
After taking in the main hall, we walked around the viewing deck with overlooks the outdoor dining/bar area. Further away we could see the lazy river, and volcano mountain. We went back through the lobby, and passed the concierge and front desk areas, and the children’s waiting room (TV, and a few fun activities).
There are hidden Mickey’s, and hidden menehune’s all over the place!
From there we found ourselves at the keiki pool playground. It was created with lots of imagination. My girls wanted to jump in, despite not having our swimsuits with us. Let me just say, the pools and hot tubs are EVERYWHERE you turn. Waterslides, river float, hot tubs, wading pools. And lets not forget the beach cove just a few yards away. I would guess there is an acre and a half or more of water activities. Tons of lounge chairs, and still lots of room left despite it being very crowded.
According to one of the lifeguards, wristbands are issued at check in. And that’s how they enforce hotel guests using the pools, vs. day visitors. Towels are available in several locations around the pool.
Then there is a pay to enter saltwater snorkling pool. In one area you can look through the windows and see all the tropical fish, and an occassional swimmer go by. Pretty neat. WARNING: It’s pricey either by the day, or length of stay price.
There is also a sting ray attraction that is free. But it seems like they open and close it throughout the day, to give the rays a break. Naturalists are there to give talks about the rays. Kids will love this.
There is bar to one side of the outdoor area, and guess what? Another pool!
Near this bar they have an evening hula show. We caught the very end of the act after dinner, and it was pretty good. It’s crowded, so get there early to find lawn seating.
On the other side of the vast pool area, is another bar, and Ama Ama restaurant. We were to dine there so we continued touring knowing we’d come back that way.
We ventured into the keiki’s Auntie’s Beach House. Think the Oceaner’s Club aboard any Disney Cruse ship. Lots of free, fun activities for the kids. There are several rooms within the club, with lots of space for the kids to roam. You just sign them in, and leave them as long as they want to stay. You are issued a pager to get buzzed should they want to come out, or in the event of an emergency. Very cool.
Now for you Adventurer’s Club enthusiasts. There are artifacts from the Pleasure Island Adventurer’s Club that completely decorate the movie room inside the Auntie’s Beach House. So either you have to enroll your child to go see it, or take a complimentary tour.
While walking around, we saw a LONG line for photos with Mickey, Minnie, and Stitch. It was around 6 pm outside, and I knew there was no way we were going to stand in line and still make it to dinner. My girls were fine with standing off to the side, watching everyone else battle for their turn. And of course, there’s Photopass opportunities around the resort!
Also for the family to explore, is an interactive scavenger hunt. You get a PDA device (not sure where), and you go hunting around for magical things. Very similar to Mission Kim Possible at EPCOT.
Now, back to dinner. The ambiance was great, as we were seated just before sunset. The food was very tasty, but for the prices, my appetite wanted more food. I had a “French” Maui Onion soup, seafood stew, my wife had the market priced fish, and my keiki had the ravioli and steak off the kids menu. Throw in dessert and a cocktail, and of course the check goes up. I wasn’t shocked by the sticker price, having seen the menu online in advance.
There are two other restaurants, one a buffet, and one a quick service take out menu. I think all together there are three bars. There is a shave ice stand, and a small curios store near the volcano.
Following dinner we took a final stroll near the beach cove, and there was Hawaiian music being played by a trio, and a really nice firepit (propane) to sit by.
We hit the gift shop, and left with some pretty cool grand opening day, and DVC member merchandise. Because of the crowd, most Aulani items had signs that said, 2 items per guest. Pins and vinylmation were big sellers. I didn’t see anyone leave the store without some package in hand. Pin trading takes place with any Cast Member working the cash register. They have pin books that you can look through. I already see a lot of the merchandise is already up for bid on eBay.
The craziest thing I did see was the re-fillable soda mugs. $32.99 for the length of stay. Uh, seriously? Folks, stop by the COSTCO or market in Kapolei, and pick up your groceries there. It’s 10 minutes down the road. Or, pay a little bit more than the market, and shop at the ABC store across the street in the Ko Olina shopping center.
Self parking. Free for four hours if you spend $35 on food, drink, or souvenirs. Completely FREE to DVC club members. Just show your card to the valet desk. They scan your ticket, and you put it into the electronic machine at exit to lift the gate.
Highlights, we me Imagineer Joe Rhode, and Vice President Djuan Rivers. Both took a few minutes to talk to us, and really made us feel welcomed. Both were engaging with my girls, and made the greeting very special. Photos with both of them.
One minor disappointment was there are no DVC members discounts in the stores or on dining. We were told maybe in the future, but no discounts at this time.
We didn’t check out the Spa or the teens activity lounge. We left those for next time we are there to explore even further.I hope you enjoyed this review. If there is anything else I can answer for you, just ask.
AlohaMick was with us, and several people asked to take photos with him. They all thought he was a riot. I explained how there are many traveling Mickey gnomes, and they were quite amused.
At this time there are no merchandise or dining discounts in any of the shops or restaurants. I asked several times, and kept getting the same answer “no.”
They do have discounts for the spa if you are DVC, Kamaaina (local resident), or any parks annual pass holder. Annual pass holders also get a discount on rooms, so be sure to ask, and don’t forget to bring your AP with you to show at check in.