Our first day didn’t really count—it was almost Day 0—cuz all we did was sit on a plane. Initially we were going to arrive in Hawaii on Saturday for our Monday vow renewal, but I realized that with the airline’s schedule and the 2-hour time difference between LA and Honolulu, we could leave Friday night and not have to take any time off work. The woman we rented points from was great about adding on an extra night, and she even took the initiative to eventually combine our two reservations when it was possible, with no prompting on my part.
We flew American, the only option for using my British Airways frequent flyer miles, and started the trip off with an absolutely terrible experience with their gate agent. (I knew it was going to be bad when she snarled, “What do you want?” as I approached the podium.) The flight was packed. We’re so used to flying Virgin America that we were scandalized to learn the plane had no seatback TVs, no electrical outlets—not even WiFi. What year is it???
Honolulu International Airport was indeed the 1960s Brutalist masterpiece we’d been warned about, all concrete and linoleum as far as the eye could see. The signage for the baggage claim was a bit confusing, but the place is so small, it’s hard to get lost. The luggage carousel started up the moment we arrived, and we had our bags and were flagging down the Alamo shuttle within minutes.
Transportation to Aulani
Despite being 20 miles from the airport, Aulani does not offer any shuttle service like WDW’s Magical Express and, to add insult to injury, they charge you $30 a day just to park the car you’re forced to rent. UNLESS you’re staying on DVC points, in which case parking is free. Another reason to rent DVC points!
Your options are to book a private shuttle service or to rent a car. I think there’s probably a bus that goes all the way out to Ko Olina, but we’re from LA. We don’t do bus. We do car. Plus, we wanted to be able to see something besides Aulani, like Pearl Harbor and Honolulu, and to drive around the island.
You can rent a car just for a day or two from the Holoholo tour desk at Aulani. The Roots were quoted about $80/day when they asked at Aulani. Our 5-day rental via www.DiscountHawaiiCarRental.com cost $180 (incl. taxes) which was at least $40 cheaper than any of the quotes I got directly from the various car rental companies’ websites. Discount Hawaii Car Rental’s site looks a little sketchy, but they were reliable and really easy to work with. When I first put in for a quote, they assigned me to Thrifty, but I’d read some bad reviews on Yelp. I just replied to the confirmation email, and they switched my reservation to Alamo.
As for shuttle service, I can recommend the one I booked for the Roots, Go 808 Express (http://go808express.com). They cost $55 one-way between the airport and Aulani, but they were very friendly on the phone, and the Roots said they were also friendly in person, even offering sightseeing tips. One thing to note is that they have a 72-hour cancellation policy, so I was charged the full amount even though the Roots cancelled their return trip when we all ended up driving back to the airport together in our rental.
All the rental car companies are offsite at HNL. Some claim to be onsite cuz they’re slightly closer, but you still need to take a shuttle, so it kinda doesn’t matter where you book (although, like I said, I decided to pass on Thrifty). The trip to Alamo takes about 5 minutes, and at 10:30pm we had zero wait for the friendly counter agent or our car.
The trip to Aulani was very easy that late at night. We kept remarking on how much it seemed like driving to from MCO to Walt Disney World because it was dark and we had absolutely no idea what we were talking about. I think it took us about half an hour, and we had no trouble finding Aulani using Google maps on my phone. The Ko Olina development feels like an office park, and Aulani is wedged in between two bland tower hotels. It’s definitely the best-looking of the bunch!
I’m going to put in some photos Patrick took a couple days later just so you can get a sense of what everything looked like (even though we never saw any of this in the daylight until the third day of our trip!)
First, here’s the shopping center across the street from Aulani. I kept reading about this thing in trip reports and imagining one of the grim, low-slung kinds of strip malls we have in Los Angeles, but it turned out to be THE best-looking strip mall I’d ever seen!
You hear a lot about this shopping center because it has an Island Country Market, where you can get food, sundries, snorkeling gear, beach accessories, and some of the same souvenirs sold at Aulani but cheaper.
There’s also Two Scoops Ice Cream Parlor (nothing to write home about—more on that later) and a restaurant called Monkeypod Kitchen that people seem to like primarily because it’s cheaper than either of Aulani’s restaurants.
And here’s Aulani!
OK, that’s enough of a peek for now! Here’s what it looked like on the actual night of our arrival:
Check-in went smoothly, but if you are booking with DVC points, just know that there are NO upgrades. It doesn’t matter if you’re celebrating your anniversary and you called a few days before to note it on your reservation and you beg and plead with the agent at the desk, whatever room type you booked on points is the only one you’re gonna get.
In addition to a nifty (faux) kukui nut lei for Patrick and a flower lei for me, they gave us a special pin as compensation for the construction going on all over the resort. Because I was very very tired, I blurted out, “That’s rich! Six weeks ago they were comping members two nights’ stay because of the construction, and all we get is a PIN?! Oh wait… did I just say that out loud?”
We also got two generic celebration pins that they customized with a Sharpie. Classy!
They had no trouble locating the two boxes I’d shipped ahead, and a bellman was called to bring them to our room.
Shipping to Aulani
Really look at how much it will cost you to ship things ahead vs. paying for extra checked luggage. Because we’d had such great luck shipping things to WDW for our wedding and honeymoon, I blithely packed up a box to send to Aulani containing Patrick’s vow renewal clothes; our snorkels, masks and fins; some breakfast bars, cereal and almond milk; and other stuff I thought we needed. But I forgot that Oahu is an ISLAND! That means no cheap FedEx Ground shipping like we use for WDW.
FedEx wanted $100 to send the box to Hawaii, and they kinda had me over a barrel because we were going straight from there to Walt Disney World. If we brought the stuff in our checked luggage instead, we’d be toting it all the way to Florida afterward—and paying three separate baggage fees. In the end, a pal reminded me that, you know, the US Postal Service also ships boxes, and I sent it that way for a mere $52. We later paid about $100 to have the Aulani concierge ship home three boxes of the same stuff, plus souvenirs and dirty laundry, to lighten our load to Orlando. Oof!
Off we went to room 457!
Originally I’d planned to book a one-bedroom villa to share with the Roots. I was looking forward to soaking in the Jacuzzi tub with a glorious Standard view of the JW Marriott’s Dumpster or whatever while Patrick cooked a four-course meal and the Roots played chess at the dining room table—you know, like in the brochures. But then I saw that—unlike the one-bedroom villas in DVC’s other new resorts, which have two bathrooms—Aulani’s only have one bathroom. And the doors on them are not solid, they’re slatted. I don’t know how four people who are not related could share a room like that and not run into some embarrassing situations. So we booked two studios instead.
We could only afford the points on a Standard View, and let me just say that after later circumnavigating the resort to inspect the views from other rooms, I believe Room 457 to have THE WORST view of any room at Aulani.
Standard View Studio #457 (Ewa tower, fourth floor, overlooking the convention center passageway roof)
At least the other low-floor rooms have views of the convention center lawn and fountain, or the pretty landscaping at the front of the resort. Which means, unless you happen to get Room 457, your view’s gonna be pretty good no matter where you are!
Here’s the view of the convention center area from the ground, looking back at our room…
We asked about switching but were told no other rooms were available in our category for the length of our stay, and that if we switched the next morning, we’d be charged a $75 cleaning fee. They offered to move us to the next view category up for 6 points more per night (we were paying $11.50/point) or to upgrade us to a one-bedroom… for 500 more points!
So we had to suck it up. Even Patrick—who’s usually happy as a clam no matter what the room is like—was bummed out by the view. Every time I looked out the window, I tried to pretend we were looking at the Peoplemover track, but my brain wasn’t buying it.
Probably because of the view, and also because it was night, and mostly because we were exhausted, the room felt very dark and cramped and not like a place you’d want to spend any time.
Things We Liked About the Room
- Everything’s new!
- Comes with bathrobes, and they’re super-soft (still don’t understand why the Grand Floridian is the only other Disney Deluxe resort that provides robes when every mid-range chain hotel does!)
- TV’s HDMI and other ports are easily accessible behind a panel in the front of the armoire
- Bed is high enough to hide suitcases under
Things We Didn’t Like
- Shallow drawers
- Tiny closet
- No coat rack? How hard is that?
- Rainfall showerhead has zero water pressure, even after you figure out how to adjust the flow between that and the handheld showerhead
Things We Didn’t Understand
- No Stitch wakeup call? In HAWAII???
- No awesome Japanese toilet, even though half the clientele appears to be Japanese
- Washers & dryers are free (and behind a locked laundry room door that keeps out non-DVCers) but still require tokens, which requires you to schlep all the way to the front desk to get them
…Which is not to say we didn’t like Aulani—we ended up loving it! But it is to say… Do not pay rack rate to stay at Aulani! These are not $400/night-quality rooms, they’re more like $250/night quality. Take advantage of one of their “Buy X Nights, Get X Free” offers or rent Disney Vacation Club points if you want to get your money’s worth.