Aulani Disney’s Hawaii Resort Trip Report – Part 1

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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…)

Aulani – Disney’s Hawaii Resort Trip Report

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Our Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa Trip Report covers our first visit to this resort in Ko Olina, Oahu. The report covers our thoughts on the resort, photos from the visit, and random tidbits. For this particular visit to Aulani, we stayed 3 nights, spent a lot of time at the resort, ate at every restaurant, lazied in every river, slid in every water slide, and drank at every bar…ALL IN THE NAME OF RESEARCH! ;)

We’ve had a lot of questions about Aulani from a variety of different (for lack of better term) “demographics,” and we think this is because it’s a resort with a lot of depth thanks to the work of the Walt Disney Imagineers in creating an authentic environment that would celebrate Hawaiian culture and history, while also being a luxurious destination that would appeal to both families and more ‘typical’ tourists to Hawaii seeking a romantic getaway. All of this flowery language probably sounds like a press release, but really it’s just meant to explain why we think there’s so much interest in Aulani. In a way, it breaks the mold on the formula of the resorts on Waikiki Beach, and there’s a lot of curiosity about what Disney has done in Hawaii.

Hopefully, this report will provide some insight into the things about which you’re curious. Accompanying the rambling text that will more likely raise more questions than it answers will be hundreds of photos from Aulani, including lots of food, spa, lazy river, and other photos. Besides the typical vibrant landscape photos that are common on our blog, we will also share photos of the details that make Aulani a worthwhile place to visit in Hawaii, whether you’re a Disney fan or not!

The first installment of the Aulani Trip Report is now live! (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 4

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Alright, time for the final installment of our Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report. I wanted to start with some overall thoughts about Hong Kong Disneyland in what will otherwise be a photo-heavy installment.

Hong Kong Disneyland has been criticized by Disney fans since even before it opened, with the park justifiably–at least to a degree–having a reputation as being a cheap Disneyland clone when it opened. While Tokyo DisneySea was my holy grail even before we were able to make the trip there, for a while Hong Kong Disneyland didn’t much interest me, and this was in large part due to that reputation.

A lot of this criticism remains valid today, as there are too many cloned attractions in Hong Kong Disneyland, and a lot of the park looks very similar to Disneyland. To Hong Kong Disneyland’s detriment, it doesn’t have that same charm and character that Disneyland has attained by virtue of nearly 60 years in operation. Hong Kong Disneyland also, in some places, feels slightly hollow as compared to Disneyland. This is somewhat difficult to fully articulate, but think of modern reproductions of antiques. The reproductions often look the same, but there’s something missing–a certain je ne sais quoi. In the case of Hong Kong Disneyland, this can be things as little as marquees on Main Street that don’t have the same depth and dimensionality, or as big as a Fantasyland that simply lacking in substance and that inviting feeling.

However, a lot of that criticism is no longer valid–or never was valid. Hong Kong Disneyland’s setting, surrounded by mountains, is incredibly unique and gives the park its own personality. Its Tomorrowland is more of a sci-fi land with an eye-catching aesthetic. Adventureland there feels like an extension of the subtropical environment outside the park. As a whole, the resort was well-designed and is beautifully maintained. The fountain out front is stunning, as are the paths to the two (soon to be three) on-site hotels.

All of this is before even mentioning the three new lands, each of which bring something unique to the table, and further distance Hong Kong Disneyland from the reputation of being “Disneyland-lite.” Toy Story Land isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it fits the environment really well, and is a big draw for the bulk of guests visiting the park. Grizzly Gulch is a new twist on the Frontierland concept, with its own wrinkles and a top tier attraction in Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars. Then there’s Mystic Point and its flagship attraction, Mystic Manor.

What can I say about Mystic Manor that I haven’t already said? Not a whole lot. It is the pinnacle achievement of Walt Disney Imagineering in at least the last decade, perhaps longer. It is arguably the best modern attraction in any Disney theme park. It, alone, catapults Hong Kong Disneyland into the realm of “bucket list” places for crazed Disney fans like myself. Mystic Manor is the gamechanger that Hong Kong Disneyland needed, and with it, the remaining valid critiques of the park don’t seem so important.

To be sure, Hong Kong Disneyland still has some growing up to do… (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 3

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This trip report covers our second–and final–day in Hong Kong Disneyland from our first visit to the park. It’s been a while since the second installment of this trip report, so by way of quick recap, the previous day, we spent a lot of time riding and re-riding the amazing Mystic Manor. We also did Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars. Other stuff happened. (It’s amazing how each of these posts is like 3,000 words, but I can do a succinct <100 word recap.)

My apologies for delaying so long between installments of this trip report. Between the relative lack of interest in the first two parts of this trip report and having limited time to spend on trip reports, finishing it just sort of got lost in the shuffle. However, in a recent ‘feedback’ post, some of you indicated that more trip reports would be nice. So, for all 4 of you who have been sitting on the edges of your seats waiting for the conclusion of this trip report…here it is!

Since writing the last installment of this trip report, we’ve actually returned to Hong Kong Disneyland. We were there for halloween, which–unlike Christmas–was an incredibly cool holiday there. I won’t be writing a trip report about those days in Hong Kong Disneyland, but if you check out my posts on Haunted Halloween at Hong Kong Disneyland and the debut of the Disney Paint the Night Parade, you pretty cover the salient points of that visit.

Now let’s start the second day of our first visit to Hong Kong Disneyland… (more…)

Walt Disney World Marathon Report – Part 2

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Picking up where the Walt Disney Marathon Report – Part 1 left off, after exiting the Magic Kingdom, we still had a fun stretch of track immediately in front of us, despite not entering another park for around 5 more miles. This was especially true for me, as I was thinking the next stop was going to be Epcot in another couple of miles, and I was excited about the prospect of morning light there. I don’t know why I thought this, as I knew the event began and ended in Epcot. I guess I just wasn’t thinking; I swear I wasn’t delusional–yet.

I realized Epcot wasn’t on the agenda pretty quickly, after we exited the Magic Kingdom. In reality, the course was set to go past the Grand Floridian, Disney golf courses, and through the Richard Petty Driving Experience before heading to Animal Kingdom.

There remained a lot of things to see and do along this park-less stretch of course, and all of this made it easy to understand why people love these runDisney events so much. Even if you aren’t stopping to get photos with the characters, or pausing to enjoy the high school bands or DJs, it’s energizing just to see and hear them. They truly give a palpable sense of energy to the course. As someone who doesn’t really like to run, I can see why so many people say, “I will never run an event that isn’t runDisney.”

I think this probably describes me: I like competitive events and am pretty crazy, but I’m not crazy about running 26.2 miles just for the sake of running 26.2 miles. The “Disney crazy” bit of me helps make the running part of it happen… (more…)

Walt Disney World Marathon Report – Part 1

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As I touched upon briefly in my previous post (spoiler alert: the title of that post gives away the ending of this report), I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon over the weekend, marking my first attempt at a 26.2 mile marathon, and only the second time ever that I’ve tried to run more than 10 miles in a single outing (see our Tower of Terror 10-Miler Review for the first). This post will cover my review of Marathon Weekend, some of my feedback after participating in a second runDisney event, and photos I took along with course. (I apologize in advance for the during-race photos in this post; I shot them with my Sony RX100, and often times, they were shot while running on semi-automatic modes. Many might be blurry, poorly composed, or just plain lousy.)

As with all of my trip reports, this will start with a bloated and wholly unnecessary preface before cutting to the chase and discussing the race. To begin with, I am an expert at doing idiotic things. Most decisions I make are bad ones. It’s sort of my thing. So last spring, eons ago it seems now, when it seemed like a good idea to register for the Walt Disney World Marathon without ever having run a half marathon and not really having run in a while, it probably wasn’t.

My idea at the time was that registering for the Marathon would be motivation for getting out and starting a regular exercise program. Unfortunately, I continued not making the time for exercise in the spring and summer. As fall approached, I thought about getting more serious, but we took a slew of trips, and when I was not traveling, I was playing catch-up at the office, editing photos, and trying to get blog posts done. Then we became busy with other things and suddenly it was the holidays. I enjoy running, but the holidays are a time for merriment, and exercise just doesn’t hold a candle to a good yule log and dark stout.

Just after Christmas, I realized that the Marathon was only about two weeks away. At this point, I knew I had to buckle down and start running on a daily basis, or else risk injury or not finishing. So, I went for a 4-mile run, which ended with blisters on my feet and knee pain. I am no stranger to knee pain when running, and actually used Vibram Five Fingers shoes for a while a couple years ago to correct my running form. Once I had that “fixed”, I moved to Nike minimalist shoes (due to blisters from the Vibrams), which was what I used for that 4-mile run. I figured at this point, since I no longer had a heal-strike problem, I could safely move back to shoes with more support, but I wanted to get fitted at a reputable running store. I delayed on doing this until the day I left for Walt Disney World, which was obviously another mistake, but again, it was tough to find the time. With no run training and some poor dietary choices made in the weeks leading up to the event, I knew I was setting myself up for disaster. (more…)