The Beauty of Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa
One thing that struck me about Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa on our recent visit was the sheer beauty and detail of the resort. Part of this was to be expected–Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World is striking–but Aulani takes this to the next level. Overall, Aulani exceeded our expectations with its amazing collection of art (one of the largest private collections of Hawaiian art in the world), its “Disney Details,” and its incredibly engaging design.
As I was organizing and editing Aulani photos this morning, the beauty of the resort continued to strike me again and again. While Aulani certainly has its fans, I think it’s relatively unknown to a lot of Disney fans beyond the basic look of the buildings. This is understandable, as a trip to Hawaii is very expensive, and tough to justify solely for a Disney resort.
Still, I thought it would be fun to share some photos from Aulani to showcase the beauty of Disney’s new resort on Oahu in Hawaii. This article is sort of a change of pace from the norm here, as it really doesn’t offer and tips, commentary, attempts at humor (that’s probably a good thing!), or really anything useful. It’s just some photos that illustrate why we loved Aulani so much.
Let’s take a look at the beauty of Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa…
This tree, which I’m going to dub “The Dreaming Tree” after being able to find out zero information about it online, is my favorite detail of Aulani. It’s actually a bit unfortunate that this tree is out at the street, where Aulani guests are least likely to see it.
These characters, the Menehune are prevalent at Aulani, and are even incorporated into a scavenger hunt-esque game for kids. Aulani seems to characterize them as mysterious mischief makers, although it seems Hawaiian culture skews more towards them being skilled builders with supernatural strength.
My favorite thing to do at Aulani was float around the lazy river. This isn’t a lazy river akin to the one in Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Beach Club or Yacht Club, this is more like what you’d find at Typhoon Lagoon. Lush and filled with cool details, caverns, waterfalls, and more, this is the epitome of relaxation.
What I love about Aulani is the sheer amount of totally unnecessary detail. This is Disney at its finest. Many places would look perfectly fine (or great) without the extra little touches, but those extra touches are there anyway.
All of Hawaii is beautiful at sunset and sunrise. I enjoyed getting up early and watching the dawn sky change color as the sun moved up the horizon.
The new adult pool is gorgeous, especially this little grotto where the hot tub is found. At night, the grotto glows with the twinkle of lights embedded in the rockwork.
Besides being found in The Dreaming Tree, these lanterns hang throughout Aulani. They really enhance the mood, and I’m sure are culturally significant somehow. I just don’t know how, and The Google was no help on that one.
Here’s one of those cool details in the lazy river. Everyone knows that the best lazy rivers have certain soak points that–if you’re being too lazy and they catch you off guard-can quickly wake you back up.
Outside of the main lobby on the lower level and just across from the lazy river is a large area of water that has a lot of detail and gradiation. One of the details is koi that swim in a portion of the water.
Here’s another look at that water-area. This is not a pool for guests, but it does add a lot of kinetic energy to the open air dining area on the other side. Sitting there, listening to traditional live Hawaiian music is another incredibly relaxing experience.
This bridge crosses over the lazy river. There are a lot of little islands and spots to explore in the Waikolohe Valley pool area. This is part of what I think makes it so interesting. Nothing is plain, nothing is simple.
Here’s another Menehune on the Menehune Bridge water play area for kids. These guys are hidden all over Aulani, and finding them is sort of like Aulani’s version of Hidden Mickey hunting.
Here’s the rear of the lobby at dusk. Arches are a common part of Aulani’s design, with ‘canoe house’ inspiration being common. This is one of many ways that Aulani fuses traditional and contemporary Hawaiian styles for something unique, yet authentic.
Here’s another piece of art just for the sake of art. These can be found around walkways at Aulani. I love how the sun lit them up in the early morning and late afternoon. Almost as if they were natural light fixtures during daylight hours.
Here’s another look at the lazy river with a tower of the hotel behind it. I just love the leapfrogging water fountains.
Here’s an unconventional view of the Maka‘ala lobby. Again, you can see the strong canoe house influence. This photo isn’t really representative of what you’d see with the naked eye when walking into the lobby, but I thought it was useful for showing the level of detail and texture in this lobby. It’s really quite stunning.
I have a ton more Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa photos to edit and share, but I think that’s enough for now.
I’ve asked this in the past, but what other types of Aulani posts interest you? I’m considering a few topics (Pool Info & Tips, AMA AMA Review, Laniwai Info & Review, and Hawaii Off-Site Activities), but would like feedback on what would be most helpful/interesting to you. Thanks!
Trying to figure out if Aulani — A Disney Resort & Spa is right for you and your party in the first place? Already planning a visit and need to know more? To get a better idea of whether it’s for you and how to prepare for a visit to Aulani (and what to do once you’re there), we recommend reading our Aulani — A Disney Resort & Spa Trip Planning Guide.
To see more of my photos from Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii, please visit my Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa Photo Gallery.
Have you visited Aulani? Did you find the resort to be as stunning as we did? What were your favorite details? Anything else to add? Any questions about Aulani? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!
We were fortunate to go there this January. Really wish I could go back sooner. Really far from us. I was looking up the aulani tree lights for my backyard and found your website. Would you have any idea what they are called ??
I’m headed there at the end of my Hawaii trip over Chinese New Year (I live in Shanghai) and these pictures are making me all the more excited!!! You’re a very talented photographer, Tom.
WOW! Your pics are Amazing! I can’t wait to go. We are going in Oct for 11 days.
Hi Tom, I have a technical photo op question for you: I will be traveling to Aulani next week. I have a mermaid tail and would like to have my friend take some nice photographs of me posing in it. Where do you think are the best picturesque natural spots around Aulani for picture taking?
Is there a way of going out in the ocean at the beach in front of Aulani on those rock formations at low tide and doing a descent mermaid photo op?
The rock formations on low tide is exactly where I’d suggest.
My daughter has one too!! Our shots are amazing just out in the cove!! I can’t post here but check them out on my husbands instagram.
Btw your shots are AMAZING as well!!
Greata pic’s and love reading your Aulani posts. We’re going to Aulani for the first time in Feb. 2015. Would love to see a review of Ama Ama as well as of any off site dining close by.
Trying to having some fun today deciding between a Cruise or Aulani family vacation. Which would you choose??
Your awesome photos are getting us excited for our 30th anniversary trip to Aulani next month! Would love to see some restaurants reviews for Aulani as Oahu in general.
You really nailed it!
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Aulani twice, and it’s my favorite spot on the Planet.
You’re comment on it having details that weren’t necessary, but amazing nonetheless, was right on.
Disney could’ve done this resort without all those little bonuses, and it still would’ve be great. But they instead invested the time and money to add them in every nook & cranny of the resort, making Aulani unbelievably awesome.
The lazy river is beyond explanation.
It is certainly expensive to visit Hawaii, but if you’re a “Disney Details” fanatic, this is Nirvana.
Since it’s a Disney Vacation Club resort, I think it was a wise move to add all of the superfluous details to encourage repeat visits. Before going, I wasn’t sure if it was a place to which we’d ever return, but after being blown away by the whole complex, I know we will definitely return someday. I’d imagine others feel the same way, and that’s probably in part thanks to those “unnecessary” details! 🙂
Our second time as well and the details are what makes it for us. Those mid century lamps are my favorite!!
Looks amazing! Sort of a cross between the Polynesian and Animal Kingdom Lodge. I’ll put this one on the Disney bucket list for sure 🙂
Great post, Tom. I would like to know what a non-guest is able to do at Aulani. I will be visiting for the day in late September and have so far only made reservations for the character breakfast. Is there a lot to do to fill in a day for a non-guest?
The lagoons at Ko’Olina are absolutely beautiful to enjoy on their own. However, your best option is to arrive at Ko’Olina bright and early because the parking locations fill up VERY quickly and eating at one of the restaurants at Aulani only validates parking in their garage for 3-4 hours which means you would have to pay $10 per hour after that to hang around. Most of the activities (such as Auntie’s Beach House, the pools, the pool jungle gym thing, the Starlit Hui, etc.) are only reserved for guests of the resort. So besides the lagoons, restaurants, and shops there isn’t much left for non-guests to do. I tend to go once a week (sometimes more if I’m babysitting for a client) but can’t seem to spend more than a few hours there when I’m not a guest.
I’m not entirely sure of how much beyond dining and wandering around the resort a non-guest can do. I suspect you would not be able to spend a full day at Aulani, even if you were willing to pay for parking.
Great post, Tom. I’d like detail on what a non-guest can do for a day at Aulani. I will be visiting for the day in late September. I’ve made reservations for the character breakfast, but that’s all I have planned. Is there a lot a nom-guest can do in a day?
The little “pebble” looking things on sticks are actually suppose to resemble kukui nuts. Tiki torches are not native Hawaiian. The Hawaiians use to put kukui nuts on sticks and the oil from the nuts was lit on fire. 🙂 My favorite resort…mainly because it’s 2 minutes from my house.
Thanks for the heads up…I would not have known that otherwise.
Any clue about the lanterns in the trees, or that tree I’ve dubbed The Dreaming Tree?
I’m not too sure about the tree but I’ll ask about it on Friday when I make a trip to the resort for some Aulani pins. 🙂
When you ask, you should say: “what’s the significance of ‘The Dreaming Tree’ out front?” That way, if it doesn’t already have a name, maybe The Dreaming Tree will catch on! 😉
I’m obcessed woth the hanging lamps an the string lights at the spa. Desperately trying to find them for my house!!
I love this post! I hope you do more pictures of the resort like this post! I would love to know more about the pools and also off-site things to do around Hawaii. Another poster said something about a “perfect Hawaiian vacation” and that sounds like a good post idea to me as well.
As always, I loved your post!
Thank you for showing such gorgeous photos. You really are talented. Before seeing these I had assumed Aulani was just another resort, but these show it to be incredibly lovely. Should have realized Disney does nothing half way.
I think a big part of the reason why Aulani is much more than just another resort is because there are no theme parks for guests to go visit. They’re much more likely to spend a lot of time at Aulani than they would be at any of the Walt Disney World hotels.
Great pictures ! I guess what is like to know is what there is to do specifically in aulani but also the area. Is it really a good use of dvc points compared to cheaper hotels on the island? What is the beach there like?
Excellent ideas–I’ll try to incorporate a couple of these into an article or two. Thanks!
We were there in Jan. and loved it. Would love to go back someday. We had an 8 yr old boy and a 20 yr old niece staying with us and they both found plenty to do. We loved the spa. Great pictures!
We really want to visit Aulani someday, but I’m sure there are many other things to do nearby as well. Maybe you could do a “Perfect Hawaiian Vacation” post that includes about 4 days at Aulani and a week or so in other places. You could guide us into how to break up the rest of the time and what should be priorities for first-time visitors.
The “Perfect Hawaiian Vacation” post is a good idea. Unfortunately, until we take another trip, I think that would be premature. There are still several things we want to do on Oahu, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing such a comprehensive post until I had personal knowledge of those things. Definitely something to keep in mind for the future, though. Thanks!
Great pics. It looks like AKL on steroids. I’d say more about the pool area, and more off-site activities info. The lazy river looks awesome at night!
AKL on steroids + an authentic Polynesian + Beach Club is about how I’d describe Aulani. The bad thing about the lazy river at night…it’s not open! It closes before dark. Didn’t quite understand that one, given the beautiful lighting.
I was at Aulani before the new adult pool opened. Agreed on the ‘Lazy River’. Its a shame it closes at night when it seems like the perfect time to enjoy the warm weather and beautiful lights.
The Spa at Aulani is one of my favorites as well. I’d love to see a post detailing all the amazing features they have. I could spend all day in the Hydrotherapy Garden!
Depending upon the time of year, you can get a little lazy river in at night. I spent about 30 minutes per night in there before it closed, and it was spectacular. There has to be some liability reason or something of the sort that explains why it closes so early. Really a shame.
If I remember correctly what I was told, the designer of Aulani also designed AKL, thus part of the reason for the similarities.