We’ll start with how to save money at Aulani Resort in Hawaii. This section was originally titled “Aulani on a Dime,” but we decided against that, simply because you can’t do Aulani on a tight budget. While you can save money (potentially thousands of dollars) on your trip to Aulani, it’s still varying degrees of expensive.
The room prices alone guarantee this, with a rack rate of over $400/night on the cheapest room during the lowest season. That doesn’t even factor in airfare, which for anyone living outside of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and a few select other cities can cost as much as some international flights.
So, it’s important to go in with the mindset that you are going to spend a lot of money on a trip to Aulani. This is just the nature of the beast, and if you’re on a tight budget or are gasping at the bill each time you do one activity or another, it’s going to put a damper on your trip. If you are traveling on a budget, you also should build in a bit of a cushion, because we found ourselves with more unexpected minor expenses in Hawaii than many other locations we’ve visited.
Now, just because Aulani will cost a lot doesn’t mean you can’t save money on the trip. Aside from splitting your stay between Aulani and another resort as mentioned above, the biggest thing you can do to save money at Aulani is renting Disney Vacation Club points versus paying rack rates for rooms at Aulani. Of course, renting Disney Vacation Club points won’t always be an option if availability isn’t there, so your mileage may vary on this one.
The single biggest tip that everyone can put to use is to walk across the street to the grocery store, Island Country Markets by ABC Stores. It’s about a 5 minute front door to front door walk (so if you thought you’d need a rental car for groceries, think again!), and the store has great selection. It’s pricey, but not nearly as pricey as eating at Aulani’s restaurants, or (worse yet) ordering Aulani’s booze. This shopping center also has a lot of restaurants that are more affordable (and better) than Aulani.
We don’t recommend eating every single meal and making every single drink in your room, but you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars by making some meals and drinks in your room, depending on your party size. This can make a huge difference.
Finally, don’t book your excursions through Aulani. It might be appealing to have an Adventures by Disney guide or have “free” transportation (hint: it’s not free if it’s built into an inflated cost) from the hotel, but if you’re looking to save money and be in control of your own destiny, rent a car and book the same experiences directly with the service provider.
In some cases, the experience is something like hiking, and the “service provider” is nature. You can save a lot of money on these premium excursions by just doing them yourself. Hawaii is not some exotic, foreign country–it’s the United States–you can do all of these things without Disney and a guide there to hold your hand!
What to Pack
There are two things you should strongly consider packing for your trip to Hawaii that you might not otherwise consider: quality water shoes and waterproof hiking shoes. You’ll want the water shoes because the pavement around the pool areas at Aulani can get hot. You’ll want the hiking shoes if you plan on doing any hiking in Hawaii without ruining your normal shoes, because it’s a tropical/rain forest environment, which can tend to have mud and other things that can ruin tennis shoes. I use these Tevas–they look totally dorky, but they are comfortable and keep the water out.
It might also be wise to pack an underwater camera. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be spending ~50% of your time in one of the various pools, so check out our Underwater Camera Buying Guide for tips on choosing the right waterproof camera for your circumstances and budget.
Aside from the obvious stuff like swimsuits and sunscreen, we’d also recommend packing Hawaiian shirts or floral dresses. Now, these probably aren’t items in your regular wardrobe (unless you’re a big fat party animal ;)) so you might want to buy them before you leave. Aulani sells some nice island-wear, but it was priced around $60-100+ per article of clothing. If you have time, the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet is a much better place to find inexpensive Hawaiian items. We recommend getting in the spirit and wearing Hawaiian attire to meals and the nightly activities!
Additionally, the items on our Unique Disney Packing List will be helpful in any of the Disney theme parks. Since the weather can be really hot, things like Frogg Togg Chilly Pads will come in handy!
Otherwise, you can purchase pretty much everything you need from the grocery store across the street from Aulani, so don’t worry if you forget something!
Dining at Aulani
One thing that concerned us prior to visiting Aulani was its reputation with regard to dining. Essentially, the reputation is that its restaurants are universally overpriced and not very good. Still, we decided to try every restaurant and see for ourselves, and we’re glad we did. We will have detailed reviews of each Aulani restaurant and bar in the near future, but for now, here’s our general thoughts with regard to Aulani’s restaurants.
The dining at Aulani is expensive, and it’s probably not the best food you’re going to find on Oahu. Most of what we had was good to very good, but a lot of the food was an Americanized take on Hawaiian foods, and I’m sure we could have found better, more authentic foods had we ventured off-site for our meals. For us, it was worth it to trade convenience for a marginal (possible) improvement in the food.
Since we were very pleased with all of our meals at Aulani, we feel this was the right decision for us. Had we stayed at Aulani for a full week, we definitely would have ventured off-site for meals. ‘AMA‘AMA (click here to read our ‘AMA ‘AMA Review) and Makahiki — The Bounty of the Islands (click here to read our Makahiki Character Breakfast Review) were both very good, but not places we would feel the need to repeat on a single trip.
We actually would give higher marks in terms of value to some of the bar food and quick service. During our stay, ‘Ōlelo Room was doing a $5-7 happy hour special on appetizers and drinks, and there were some very good values in this mix. We’re not sure if this is exclusively an off-season thing, but definitely see if it’s available during your visit to Aulani!
Some of this could be further fleshed out with details about specific entertainment and options at Aulani plus more info about the rooms, but we think it’s probably best to save that information for separate posts based on questions you have.
If you are thinking of staying at Aulani – A Disney Resort & Spa, we recommend that you request a quote from a fee-free Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. They can find you all of the current discounts, and help you plan the details of your trip!
What other questions do you have about Aulani – A Disney Resort & Spa? Have you stayed at Disney’s resort in Ko Olina? Interested in attending the Ka Wa’a Luau? What additional feedback and tips of your own do you have? If you have additional questions, please leave them in the comments.