Disney is like a drug. With all drugs, it always starts out innocently (well, relatively speaking) enough. In the case of that innocent start with Disney, it’s usually opting to purchase an Annual Pass instead of a 7-day ticket and then scheduling your annual trips to fall within 11 months of one another rather than a full year apart. That’s the gateway drug, so to speak, and 12 months later you have a moment of clarity where you look back and find you took 4 trips that you justified with that Annual Pass. The good thing, in the case of Disney, is that while this drug costs money like all the rest, that’s the only adverse effect to the ‘happiness high.’ (Well, unless you are addicted to Disney Turkey Legs, in which case there are other negative side effects, but still, Disney is a good drug as compared to the rest.)
Like with any addicts, we always find an innocent excuse to take our Disney addiction further. (I should be abundantly clear–this is all metaphor, we aren’t addicted to any other drugs besides Disney.) In this case, that excuse was that one of our friends told us that he was taking his grandpa to Aulani to celebrate his birthday, and offered us a stay in his room. With this on the table, we fell over ourselves finding ways to justify the exorbitant costs of airfare, food, rental cars, etc. For us, it quickly became a case of “we can’t afford not to do this!” Whether you’re in as deep as a pin collector who easily justifies buying that 1,453rd pin or simply someone who justifies buying a cupcake despite being full because it’s brand new and you have to try it, I’m sure fellow Disney fans understand what I’m saying.
I’ll be blunt: before our visit here, Aulani didn’t have much appeal for me. I’ve been to Hawaii before, and while I wanted to go back, I figured Disney wouldn’t compete with the myriad of real-world resort brands on Oahu. I know this seems harsh given that Disney does some amazing things with the parks, but I think when it comes to the resort hotels, Disney has fallen behind the pack of the world-class brands. At Walt Disney World, Disney has the advantage of location, so there’s really not such a “need” to keep up with the competition. In Hawaii, where most of the top tier hospitality chains have a flagship location, Disney wouldn’t have that proximity to theme parks as an advantage, and would have to run with the big dogs.
I figured we would make a trip to Aulani eventually, but probably as a day-visit while staying elsewhere on Oahu just to check out the resort. After hearing fairly mixed reviews about Aulani and many complaints about pricing and food quality, and how the Disney Vacation Club side of the resort had seriously botched the annual dues, I thought that Aulani was going to have serious issues. (Spoiler alert: all of my preconceptions were totally wrong.)
Even prior to committing to this trip, I did a lot of research about saving money at Aulani, and discovered that there were other restaurants nearby and a grocery store within walking distance of the resort. Although we wouldn’t have to pay for the room, we wanted to keep the costs of the trip down, especially if the food at Aulani would be an overpriced disappointment. We also found really good deals for airfare out of Indianapolis, so it seemed like–as far as trips to Hawaii go–this wouldn’t be too much of a financial stretch.
So, we agreed to go… (more…)