Waikolohe Valley is the pool area at Disney’s Aulani Resort in Oahu, Hawaii. This post offers tips for the various pools, lazy river, water slides, and hot tub. If you’re thinking that a post like this is pointless because the only things you really need to know are to put on your swimsuit before you get in the water and put on plenty of sunscreen, well…uhh…shut up. Actually, you are under-estimating the expansive pool area at Aulani, and its many ins and outs that can make the experience better.
The first piece of wisdom I want to impart with this post is that you should put on your swimming suit before getting in the pool. That’s definitely step 1. Some people might mistakenly think you get in the water first, but that’s a huge faux pas. Also, put on sunscreen before you head into the water, because the sun can bounce off the water and stuff, and really burn you. Seriously, these are really goods tip that will help you a lot. You’re welcome.
Kidding aside, I will share my biggest tip up front, and that’s to watch sunset from the Ka Maka Grotto (while wearing your swimsuit), and then race over to the Waikolohe Stream lazy river at dusk and enjoy that for as long as you can before it closes. For whatever reason, Aulani closes the lazy river in the early evening just after sunset. This is really unfortunate, as the lighting in the lazy river makes the water glisten and gives a nice moody glow to the foliage overhead. Floating down the lazy river at dusk is a really delightful experience, but unless you’re quick to get in the river after sunset, it’s an experience you may not be able to have. Not as good as my ‘wear a swimsuit’ tip, but hopefully still worthwhile.
Let’s move on to overviews of the different pool areas, plus some insight and advice for each…
The largest pool at Disney’s Aulani Resort at 8,200-square-foot, this is a zero-entry, “family fun” pool. Waikolohe is the pool that the Volcanic Vertical body slide dumps into, and where characters (Goofy being the most common) actually meet at the edge of the water. Due to its size, the presence of that water slide, and the fact that most lounge chairs are situated around it, this is far and away the most popular pool at Aulani.
Despite all of that, and the crowds it attracts, Waikolohe Pool isn’t too bad. Mind you, it’s not my favorite pool at Aulani, but thanks to its design, it doesn’t feel simply like a large mass of humanity. There are spots where you can enjoy some relative quiet, but there are also spots where you’re going to be surrounded by strangers.
During our visit, after photographing the sunset, I would always claim our lounge chairs by planting my emergency pirate travel flag (what, you don’t carry one?). I had read reports that the best spots are claimed early, but I guess that depends upon your definition of “early.” Most days during our visit, prime locations remained available until 10 am. Regardless, you might want to claim your spots early-on at this pool.
If you visit during a busier season, not only might prime spots be claimed early, all spots might be claimed by noon-ish. Because of this, and since guests often place items on a chair first thing in the morning to lay claim to a chair they will use later in the day, Aulani has a policy that they will fold up the towel on a chair that doesn’t appear to be in use and set it on the top of the chair. If that towel remains in place for an hour, the towel is removed to free up the chair, and any personal belongings are taken to lost and found. This policy is only enforced during busier times.
As far as the Volcanic Vertical and Tubestone Curl water slides go, they can get pretty popular. Both are fairly lengthy for pool slides and even enjoyable for adults…but they are still pool slides. Don’t expect some epic 5 minute slide. Your kids are probably going to want to do it more than once, and while the lines can be fairly lengthy during the middle of the day, lines are non-existent first thing in the morning. So race to the slide right after having a glorious breakfast of donuts and Coca-Cola at Ulu Cafe. I believe that’s exactly how Michael Phelps trains, actually.
Ka Maka Landing
Ka Maka Landing encompasses two areas: Keiki Cove Splash Zone and Ka Maka Grotto. The Grotto is a family pool with a whirlpool and an infinity edge pool that overlooks Ko Olina Beach. This pool is generally less crowded and has a bit more character than Waikolohe Pool, which is the larger, “family fun pool.”
As far as tips go, the main pool near the infinity edge is a great spot to watch the sunset if you’re enjoying Aulani as a family. For couples or parents who want to ditch the kids, there are better spots. Regardless of who you are, the whirlpool under the grotto is a great option after sunset due to its glittering lights on the ceiling of the grotto. Much like the lazy river, this whirlpool closes shortly after sunset, so make sure you don’t wait too long to head over to the whirlpool. I’d recommend enjoying it one night and the lazy river another.
Outside of the adult areas, this is my favorite pool at Aulani. It didn’t seem too crowded during our visit, and even with kids around, it was an enjoyable experience thanks to the design of the grotto and the infinity edge offering a stunning view of Ko Olina Beach.
Waikolohe Stream is the highlight of Aulani–the reason to book that trip to Hawaii in the first place! That’s right, it’s the lazy river. Everyone knows that adding a lazy river to anything makes it at least 159% better, and the percentage-better that Aulani is as a result of this lazy river is even greater than that. This lazy river is long, going around a large portion of the pool area, and features an interesting mix of environments. You could spend hours on end in the lazy river–I did.
The other water slide at Aulani, and Tubestone Curl (tube slide), dumps into this lazy river. If you are looking for some variety in your tubing experience at Aulani, starting with the “thrill” of Tubestone Curl and then riding out the experience through a loop (or 6) in the lazy river is perfection.
One thing I am not particularly fond of about this lazy river experience–and this is probably where I’ll start to sound like an old man–is the many attempts to spray or dump water on you. You might be (sarcastically) thinking, “getting wet in a…*gasp*…water filled pool? How truly awful!” Yeah, I know, right?
When I’m gettin’ my lazy on, I want an almost zen-like experience. In an ideal lazy river, I could simply stare up and the trees and clouds overhead and even fall asleep while I float around. Perhaps that’s why lazy river makers insist on spraying people with water–they don’t want people falling asleep in the river? Or perhaps they simply have twisted senses of humor. In any case, the lazy river is still a lot of fun and something I spent hours on end doing, the attempts to get you wet with cold water are just a minor annoyance.
Rainbow Reef is the 3,000 square foot saltwater snorkeling lagoon and reef at Aulani, and is home to a boatload of gorgeous tropical fish, plus Menehune and other art. Use of the reef and snorkeling equipment costs $15 per day for guests of Aulani, or $20 for length of stay (we brought our own snorkels and fins and we’re given the vests and use for free, but YMMV on this).
Rainbow Reef is pretty cool, and it has a diverse amount of really colorful, really pretty fish. I spent about 20-30 minutes in there, and I think that’s about a good amount of time to see and photograph the fish and other details of the reef. I doubt many people will want to spend much longer in Rainbow Reef than that, as it’s still relatively small, and the water is cold.
For most people who are not scuba-certified, this is going to be the best option for seeing tropical fish at or near Aulani. The ocean in the cove is rough, cold, unpredictable, and ultimately, dangerous. Unless you really know what you’re doing, trying to snorkel or even swim in the ocean is not going to be a good idea. Besides, I doubt you’re going to see as much out there, anyway.
Aulani has the difficult task of balancing two worlds: the family friendly vacation spot that exists in all things “Disney” and the romantic destination that exists in all things “Hawaii.” While self-interest makes me hope that they’d skew dramatically towards the latter, Aulani does a great job balancing these worlds. One such way is the areas exclusively for kids that keep them from peeing in the other pools.
These, specifically, include the Keiki Cove Splash Zone and the Menehune Bridge. Keiki Cove is pretty basic–it’s just a bunch of water jets that shoot out of the ground. Kids love this sort of thing, though, so that’s great…I guess. Then there’s the Menehune Bridge, which has 2 water slides, stuff to climb on around, and a ton of the Menehune.
That this is restricted to guests 48″ and under is practically criminal. It looks like an absolute blast, with a lot of interactive elements and fun areas to explore. It’s still going to appeal exclusively to small children (sorry if you’re between the ages of 5 and 18–there is nothing “exclusive” for you at Aulani), but it will do a good job of satisfying their curiosity and sense of adventure, unlike the Keiki Cove water jets, which are fairly straight-forward and one-dimensional.
There are two adults-only pool areas at Aulani, Wailana Pool near Ulu Cafe and ‘Alohi Point, which features two whirlpool spas with infinity edges, and overlooks the beach. Wailana Pool has a pool side bar and is sort of secluded from the rest of Aulani (save for the bar), whereas ‘Alohi Point is front and center with a prime view of the beach (and thus, sunset). Both of these pools are restricted solely to guests ages 18 or older.
Like most adult pools, Wailana Pool is boring. Someone, somewhere must have started with the assumption that all adults to do by the pool is lie in the sun and read or sip on cocktails, because adult pools invariably feel like an afterthought just about everywhere. They are more like an reflecting pool located next to the readin’ and drinkin’ zone rather than a pool that exists for any functional purpose. Yes, Wailana Pool is secluded and quiet as compared to the rest of the pools, but who on earth decided that those over the age of 18 lose their sense of fun and adventure? I want cool stuff–waterfalls, engaging designs, rock sculptures, heck maybe even a dragon–from my pool. Wailana Pool has none of these things.
The whirlpools at ‘Alohi Point, by contrast, are pretty awesome. No, they still don’t have that dragon, but the design is cool with its vanishing edge that, from a distance, makes it appear as if the pool extends out into the ocean. The views from here are also extraordinary, making this my favorite spot for adults. Plus, I think some doctors recommend that you spend at least 6 hours per day in a whirlpool, so hanging out in these all day is also (probably) healthy!
Notably absent from this article is any information about swimming in the ocean, and that’s because we were advised not to swim in the ocean at Aulani, so we didn’t. The current can be strong and tide is unpredictable, and although I don’t think it’s flat-out prohibited, swimming in the cove is discouraged. (However, see the first few comments below where others report it being great for swimming.)
Aside from the gorgeous sunsets that are mentioned here, there’s aquatic life you can see from time to time, plus there’s a natural tranquility to the ocean. Another thing I’d recommend is going out to the pathways that extend between Aulani and Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club and watch the rocks first thing in the morning. Not only is this a great view of sunrise (looking back at Aulani and the mountains behind it), but you can also see crabs and other sea-life come up onto those rocks. One day I saw probably 100 or so little crabs there.
The other tip concerns packing, and is advice contained in our Aulani Trip Planning Guide that is also pertinent here. For pool-time, I highly recommend quality water shoes. You’ll want the water shoes because the pavement around the pool areas at Aulani can get hot.
It might also be a good idea to pack an underwater camera. Check out our Underwater Camera Buying Guide for tips on choosing the right waterproof camera for your circumstances and budget.
Oh, and one final tip: you are only allowed to swim in the Koi Pond if you are a fish. They are really strict about enforcing this…you’d think someone would put a sign up if it’s really such a big deal for humans to take a plunge in there! 😉
So there it is…way more than you’ve ever wanted to know about the pools at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai’i. Hopefully some of the tips and info were useful here, and this wasn’t just comprised of pointless things you already knew!
If you are planning a trip to Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa in Hawaii, we highly recommend reading our Aulani — A Disney Resort & Spa Trip Planning Guide for comprehensive advice for Aulani and beyond! Also make sure to read our Aulani Resort Trip Report (sorry, I totally forgot about this until now–I will finish it soon!) for more in-depth details as to what we enjoyed–and didn’t–at Aulani.
Have any thoughts, questions, or things about Aulani that you’d like to see addressed future posts about Aulani? Please share them in the comments below!