Aulani Announces Plan to Refine Hotel Offerings

Read the Disney travel forums and search the blogs and you will encounter numerous trip reports from Aulani that go something like this:

“The hotel is beautiful and Disney has outdone itself immersing guests in Hawaiian culture. Unfortunately the hotel is too far from anything, the dining options are unbalanced and too expensive, and it’s difficult as a guest to book some of the resort’s amenities. Other than that, I love it and you sure can’t beat the view.”

That’s damning it with faint praise. The hotel was designed to be half DVC and half regular hotel guests and it was always known that there would be a test and improve phase to see how that mix would work out. Well, now they know that changes are needed.

The announced plans include an expansion of the popular Waikolohe Valley pool area as well as the addition of two new quick-service dining options. In addition, the Starlit Hui show, a family favorite, will move to a larger venue so more guests can experience the performance.

That should help with many of the most common complaints I’ve read. There’s only so much Disney can do about Aulani’s isolation. That is also part of its selling point.

“Aulani has been exceptionally well received by our guests, and we are excited to add new amenities,” said Elliot Mills, vice president and general manager of Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa. “The resort has one of the most extensive arrays of recreational offerings in Hawaii. From its winding streams and interactive play features to its private snorkeling lagoon, our Waikolohe Valley pool area offers something to delight every member of the family, and we’re thrilled that soon there will be even more to enjoy.”

Scheduled to begin in September and conclude in mid 2013, the expansion is happening in conjunction with the final build-out of the resort. More specific details of the expansion will be shared at a later date.

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5 Responses to Aulani Announces Plan to Refine Hotel Offerings

  1. Daniel McGauley says:

    My family stayed at the Ko Olina Beach Villas Resort next door to the Aulani hotel as it was being built. This part of Oahu may be away from a lot of attractions on the island, but we loved the area. The beaches rarely had people on them, you get amazing views of the sunset since you are on the west coast, and there’s a Target a few minutes away which really cut down on trip costs. Downtown Honolulu is about a 20 minute drive and Pearl Harbor is even closer.

  2. Kirk Gray says:

    Hey John:

    I just got back from Aulani, and I can agree with most of what is written here. I noticed with the other towers not being open yet, that the pools and play areas were almost full already, so it’s good to see that they plan on expanding that option.

    The other things we noticed while there is that:
    (1) Disney really needs to work on the transportation issues, getting to and from the airport is costly – you should remind your readers that if they plan on going to Aulani that they should contact Charley’s Taxi, they have a flat rate agreement with Aulani, so that helped, but still $110.00 round trip takes a lot out of your cocktail budget.

    (2) The shops offer no discounts for DVC members, which is a real departure from the rest of the DVC properties, and rather sad since without a car there you are kind of stuck in paradise.

    (3) The tours that you can book at Aulani are run by outside vendors, but Disney CM’s book them for you at the hotel. We did an evening sunset sailing, which was great and beautiful, and the vendor was awesome, but Disney failed to tell us that we would be going to basically an industrial park to get the on the sailboat. It was just a little odd to drive up away from the resort and then to an industrial park, we expected a dock somewhere. You can easily put that aside because Capt. Jack and his team are excellent and the cruise was amazing.

    (4) Sticker shock when visiting, I had never been there before, and when the bill came for the first meal – three cocktails, calamari, sweet potato tots and sliders – you almost choke – $80.00. You have to remind yourself that everything has to be brought into the island, and that’s not cheap. Once you get past that, it’s an easier meal to swallow.

    Disney would be wise to come up with an “all inclusive” package for DVC members and hotel guests alike to help ease this pain – like $75.00 a day or something per person for food.

    All and all it’s a great place, wonderful service, it’s almost too Disney in the way they treat you. We found ourselves asking – are they this nice cause it’s new and Disney or because that’s the Hawaiian culture. A cast member actually said to me, we’ve started calling it “little d big H treatment”, a little bit of Disney and a whole lot of Hawaii.

    I think that if Adventures by Disney set up shop there and ran the excursions, so that I could get an “economical” taste of their packages they would find that not only would I continue to return to Aulani (which I plan on doing) but that also my vacation choices would expand to that family of service too. I’ve always wanted to do an Adventures by Disney, but I don’t want to commit 3,5 or 7 days or longer to a trip that is going to be “vacation boot camp”, I want to see how they run things, and I think island excursions or even island hopping would be a great introduction for me to Adventures by Disney. I think in a year or two, once everything is running smoothly and at capacity, they will have to expand the options there to include shopping day trips/shuttles and island hoping as a way to alleviate “cabin fever” and to keep guests happy and returning.

    Will I go back? YES! I can’t wait to go back, would I spend more than three days there again, probably not, especially not without renting a car so that I can explore. The luxury of Aulani – cause let’s face it, it is! – would be a great starting point and an ending point to say stay there two days, then island hope for two days and then return to the “valley” for two more days. I think that’s what we’ll do next time anyway, but it would be a lot easier if Disney were able to help coordinate out those two middle days for me.

    Just my two cents.

    Kirk

  3. mark hickson says:

    Since I live here I have a local perspective on the guest experience. My biggest gripe is that it should have been built on Maui… Thats right, Maui. Ko’Olina is part of a economic zone that gives big tax breaks because of where it is. They want to develop that part of Oahu because the west side (just north of Ko’olina) is depressed and needs jobs and the Campbell industrial park and electric plant are just south. You can see it from the south facing rooms. Aulani is a beautiful place, they just put it on the wrong spot on the wrong island.

  4. Adam says:

    Hey John, we’re DVC owners at Aulani and we’re contemplating our first trip for June 2013. Do you know if the refurbs will be finished by then, or if would we better off postponing until July? Or whether the refurbs will affect the current pool at all?

    Thanks!

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