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August 3, 2012

Dining in Paradise at Disney's Aulani Resort

Andrew Rossi

I recently had the tremendous opportunity to stay at Disney's Aulani resort in Ko Olina, Hawaii. This was my first ever trip out to our fiftieth state and I could not have asked for a better introduction than staying at here for a few nights. Aulani is everything you would expect from a Disney resort in terms of quality, theming, and detail and all this is added to the fact that you are in such a breathtaking setting.


I have had the opportunity to stay at many of the resorts in Walt Disney World and I would not hesitate to say that Aulani trumps them all in terms of sheer beauty and grandeur.


Of course, no trip to Aulani would be complete without sampling some of the resort's cuisine. Here I will offer an overview of the various dining options available at Aulani.

Aulani is a resort that is meant to celebrate Hawaiian culture, history, and traditions. This is evident from the moment you enter the resort's lobby. As soon as I entered the resort I was struck with the same sense of grandeur that I get when stepping into the lobbies of Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney World.


With its high ceilings and beautifully intricate artwork, the Aulani's lobby helps set the tone for the rest of the resort. It is a resort that is built to showcase its location. Indeed, it seems as though no matter where you walk in the resort you are treated to breathtaking views of the ocean or other forms of natural beauty.



Enhancing this natural beauty is the artwork found throughout the resort that goes a long way in immersing you into Hawaiian traditions and culture.


Another way to be immersed into Hawaiian culture while staying at Aulani is dining at one of the resort's restaurants. Aulani's restaurants present traditional Hawaiian cuisine and, just as with the rest of the resort, do so in beautiful settings that honor Hawaii's natural beauty and its people's artistry. Here are the various dining options available at Aulani:



Makahiki is named for the annual Hawaiian harvest festival held in Oʻahu to celebrate the season of bounty and peace. The story of the Makahiki festival is brought to life in the restaurant's dining room with a series of elegantly composed, jeweled murals which depict scenes of feasting, games, and celebration.


The dining room also has large windows that allow in plenty of light and bring in some of the natural beauty from outdoors.


There is also a very unique lighting fixture where the lights look like fruit growing along the branch of a tree.


The restaurant offers a buffet breakfast served from 7:00am-11:00am, an a la carte lunch from 12:30pm-3:00pm, and dinner from 5:00pm-9:30pm that offers the option of either buffet or a la carte. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday breakfast at Makahiki is transformed to "Aunty's Breakfast Celebration" and features some of your favorite Disney characters. Cost of the breakfast buffet is $27 for adults and $14 for children nine and under. However, on the days with characters the cost of breakfast increases to $32 for adults and $18 for children nine and under. The dinner buffet is $43 for adults and $21 for children nine and under.

The buffet is divided into different sections to highlight the various components of Hawaiian cuisine. At breakfast this includes a Continental section of fruits, yogurt, pastries, and bread pudding; the Western section features scrambled eggs, vegetable frittata, both pork and Portuguese sausage, corned beef hash, baked ham, pancakes, waffles and French toast; the Chinese/Japanese section contains grilled and seared island fish, noodle salad, miso soup, and fried rice; and there is also a Live Action Station where they prepare made-to-order omelets.

At dinner the buffet features a wide variety of offerings. The Starters section includes field green salad, Asian noodle salad, sushi, and soup of the day; there is a section of Seasonal Seafood on Ice that has shrimp, marinated squid, and oysters on the half shell; the Entrée section is comprised of huli huli style chicken and guava barbeque ribs; the Asian section features Chinese pork buns, fried noodles, wok-fried vegetables, and assorted tempura; the Grill section includes kalbi short ribs, soy steaks, and lamb osso bucco; the Seasonal Vegetable section is comprised of island sweet potatoes with macadamia nut butter, and sautéed bok choy; and the Dessert section features mango cheesecake, apple cobbler, bread pudding, molten chocolate cake, and cream puffs.

When it comes to the a la carte menu, lunch offers a lighter fare comprised primarily of sandwiches, salads, and pizzas including an interesting create your own section:


For dinner the a la carte menu features appetizer offerings such as Shrimp Cocktail ($12.00), a Blue Crab Cake ($13.00), and Caesar Salad ($7.00). Entrees include Grilled Teryaki Salmon Filet ($27.00) served with Japanese noodles and stir-fried vegetables, a Pan Roasted Ahi Tuna Steak ($28.00) with peppercorn sauce, wasabi mashed potatoes, and tempura asparagus, and Fafalle Bow Tie Pasta ($21.00) with seasonal vegetables and a creamy basil pesto. The dessert offerings are comprised of a New York Style Cheesecake ($7.00), Chocolate Cake ($10.00), and Apple Pie ($7.00).

The Olelo Room:


Located adjacent to Makahiki is a lounge known as The Olelo Room. Olelo is the name of the Hawaiian language and the lounge's unique décor features wooden representations of common objects and labels that convey their Hawaiian names.




The lounge is open from 6:00am-10:00am for a Continental breakfast featuring house-made pastries, fresh fruit, breakfast sandwiches, and specialty coffee drinks. The lounge then opens again from 5:00pm-11:00pm and features live nightly entertainment and an assortment of dinner appetizers.

The Olelo Room's appetizer offerings are a great option if you are looking for a lighter and more relaxed and casual dinner. Some of the offerings include Oyster Shooters ($16.00), Kobe Beef Sliders ($15.00), Kalua Pork Nachos with Pineapple Salsa ($14.00), Sweet-and-Spicy Guava Barbecued Chicken Wings ($14.00), and Crispy Calamari ($15.00)with spicy Luau and sweet Chili Dipping Sauces. The ʻŌlelo Room is also a great place to stop by for a drink before or after a meal offering tropical cocktails, mai tais, mojitos, margaritas, new twists on classic cocktails, fruit-infused sangria, Hawaiian beers, and wines.

Mama's Snack Stop:
If you are just looking for a quick bite to eat there are actually not too many options at Aulani. One such option is Mama's Snack Stop located right in the middle of the resort's main pool area. The brightly colored stand is certainly hard to miss and its location makes it very convenient for grabbing a quick snack while lounging by the pool.


The menu includes a variety of "dogs" that come on your choice of either a soft roll or crusty bread. There is the Local Red Frank ($5.75), a hickory-smoked all beef hot dog, Portuguese Sausage ($5.75), an All-Beef Hot Dog ($5.75), and a Buffalo-Ranch Fried Chicken Tender "Dog," basically a fried chicken sandwich ($6.75). The menu also features Fried Chicken Tenders ($9.95) served with French fries. The dogs do not come with fries, but a side of fries or Maui chips can be purchased for $2.95. For something sweet there is a Macadamia Nut Pineapple Cupcake ($4.50). Mama's Snack Stop is open from 10:00am to 7:00pm.

Papalua Shaved Ice:


Right next to Mama's Snack Stop is another of the resort's snack options. Shaved ice is a very popular local favorite and a very refreshing treat while sitting in the sun by the pool or on the beach. For $3.75 this is a great value if you are looking for a quick snack. The shaved ice comes in a wide variety of flavors including watermelon, mango, grape, strawberry, green tea, pineapple, orange, lemon-lime, cherry, guava, banana, root beer, and vanilla. This definitely seems to be the resort's most popular snack options and I witnessed many people around the pool area enjoying one of these frozen treats.

One Paddle, Two Paddle:


Tucked in an out-of-the way corner of the main pool area is another of the resort's counter service dining options. If you are not specifically looking for One Paddle, Two Paddle it is very easy to miss and one of the odd things is that it is only open from 5:00pm to 8:00pm. The menu features an assortment of sandwiches, wraps, and salads that make it a good option if you are looking for a lighter meal:


Off The Hook:


Aulani's main poolside bar is Off The Hook, featuring an open-air bar area with big screen televisions and ample seating to enjoy a tropical drink or a bite to eat.



Designed to resemble a fisherman's seaside shack, including decorations such as cowry-shell lures, shark-tooth knives, and fishhooks, the bar offers great views of both the main pool as well as the beach.


If you are looking for a refreshing drink to cool off while sitting beside the pool, the bar features mai tais, piña coladas, Blue Hawaiʻi, Long Island Ice Tea, signature cocktails, wine, sangria, margaritas and Hawaiian beers.

For lunch, from 11:00am to 5:00pm, Off The Hook serves the same menu featured at One Paddle, Two Paddle. The menu changes at dinner time to an assortment of appetizers that make it a great option if you are looking for a lighter meal while enjoying the Hawaiian sunset or while sitting under the stars. One of the appetizer highlights is the build your own seafood platter. This offers a choice of Oysters, Prawns, Alaskan Crab Legs, and Sustainable Catch Ceviche served with chili pepper water and cocktail sauce. It is priced per piece with Oysters $1.50 each, Prawns $3.50, each the Sustainable Catch Ceviche $7.00, and two once Alaskan Crab Legs $11.00 each. Other appetizers include Spicy Korean Fried Chicken Wings ($12.00), Kobe Beef Sliders ($15.00), and Hoisin Barbecue Pork Riblets ($14.00. If you are in the mood for something sweet there is the Miniature Dessert Sampler ($13.00) that includes Chocolate Mousse with Toasted Brownie, Coconut Panna Cotta with Braised Pineapple, and Macadamia Nut Cheesecake with Guava Pate de Fruit.

Wailana Pool Bar:


Located next to the resort's quieter secondary pool, the Wailana Pool Bar offers the same selection of drinks found at Off The Hook in addition to serving the same menu as One Paddle, Two Paddle from 11:00am-5:00pm. The nice thing about this pool bar is that its more out-of-the-way location makes it less crowded than Off The Hook. It is also a great place to grab a cocktail before enjoying Aulani's Starlit Hui, which is held on the lawn adjacent to the bar.


'Ama 'Ama:


Aulani's signature dining experience is Ama Ama. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if you are staying at Aulani this is definitely a restaurant you do not want to miss. The highlight of the restaurant is its open-air dining room that offers amazing views of the ocean. The chefs here use fresh local ingredients and island flavors to create distinctive Hawaiian dishes that combine traditional with contemporary.


Breakfast is served here from 7:00am to 10:30am, lunch from 11:30am to 3:00pm, and dinner from 5:30pm to 10:00pm. I had the good fortune of dining here for dinner during my stay which I will go over in greater detail in my next review. Here though is a look at the restaurant's breakfast and lunch offerings.

Breakfast features many traditional items, but with a Hawaiian flair. There is the Three Egg Omelet ($14.00) served with Aulani Potatoes, Sweet Potato and Portuguese Sausage Hash ($15.00) accompanied by poached eggs and marinated hearts of palm, Poached Eggs with an Island Crab Cake ($17.00) topped with a soy-wasabi hollandaise, a Belgian Waffle ($13.00) with grilled island pineapple and salted caramel sauce, Chocolate Milk-Dipped Haupia Bread French Toast ($15.00) stuffed with bananas and peanut butter 15.00, and Whole Wheat Pancakes ($13.00) served with island papaya and coconut syrup. The menu also features two Bakery Baskets: the Classic Flavors, featuring a Cinnamon Roll, Croissant, Almond Bear Claw, and an Apple Fiber Multigrain Muffin ($8.00) and the Hawaiian Flavors, which includes Guava Fan, Coconut Cream Pocket, Croissant, and an Orange-Macadamia Nut Muffin ($8.00).

Lunch features appetizers such as Hearts of Palm and Grilled Jumbo Shrimp ($16.00), Ahi Tuna Tempura ($13.00) with mustard and pickled vegetables, Crispy Curried Chicken Firecracker ($13.00) with mango, and a Kahuku Corn Chowder ($9.00) with taro and salmon. The menu's sandwiches are all served with a choice of sweet potato fries or an island field greens and include a Kalua-Roasted Pulled Pork Sandwich ($14.00), Crab and Lobster Roll ($24.00) with wasabi mayo and cucumber, Roasted Chicken Salad on Ciabatta ($14.00), Char-grilled Vegetable Sandwich on Foccacia ($12.00), and an Angus Chuck Burger ($18.00) with caramelized balsamic onions and Vermont white cheddar. If you are looking for something a little more than just a sandwich the menu also includes Today's Hawaiian Sustainable Catch (Market Price), Grilled Sirloin Steak ($24.00) with sautéed mushrooms and sweet potato fries, and Goat Cheese Ravioli ($23.00) with local baby vegetable stew.

Disney's Aulani Resort is pure paradise. It has all the little magical touches that you would expect of a Disney resort added to its absolutely stunning location. If you are looking for a relaxing and care-free vacation, look no further than Aulani; the toughest decision you will have to make during your stay here will be whether to sit by the pool or on the beach. The resort's various dining offerings match perfectly with the overall feel of the resort, presenting an array of both classic and contemporary Hawaiian cuisine.

My only complaint about the resort are that the dining options are somewhat limited. The resort could definitely benefit from the addition of a food court, another counter service restaurant, and maybe a more casual and economical sit-down restaurant. As luck would have it, the Disney Parks Blog just recently announced the addition of two new quick service dining locations at Aulani with construction set to begin in September. Aulani is still in its infancy and I expect the resort will continue to grow, develop, and add new experiences through the years, which will help make an already great resort even better.

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

August 5, 2012

Think Outside The Parks – Part 1


There are plenty of things to do at Walt Disney World without going to a theme park!

A couple of years ago, while we were heading home from Florida's Gulf Coast in our motor home, we stopped for a four-day stay at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Our Annual Passes had expired; we each had a One-Day Base Pass. We decided that we would not renew our AP's; we would use the One-Day Base tickets to spend a day at EPCOT and enjoy the Flower & Garden Festival. The rest of the time was "park-free" and we kept very busy. In fact we were so busy with non-park activities that we added two extra days to our vacation!

It is truly amazing the wide variety of things you can do at Walt Disney World outside the parks. Carol and I are just like most Disney guests, we often get so focussed on the theme parks that we miss out on many other exciting opportunities for fun. Some of them are even free!

Let's take a few minutes to look at what you can do when you "Think outside the parks"

Let's start with Downtown Disney. This is where Carol likes to shop, shop, shop. But of course there's plenty to do without shopping. Take a free boat ride along the Sassagoula River to the Port Orleans resorts, Old Key West or Saratoga Springs. You pass some breathtaking scenery along the way. Check out all the giant Lego figures outside the Lego Store.

Lego Figures

Watch a movie at the AMC Theatre; there are 24 screens! How about bowling? Splitsville will be opening at Downtown Disney in the fall of 2012. There are always children's entertainers, shows, choirs and bands performing at the Waterside Stage near the World of Disney Store. Sit for a while at the open air amphitheatre and enjoy the show while you relax and wait for those die-hard shoppers!

Downtown Disney Waterside Stage

Disney Quest offers five floors of video games and virtual reality fun. Don't forget Cirque du Soleil . . . Carol and I have seen close to a dozen different Cirque shows and La Nouba is at the top of our list of favourites!

After you've had your fun at Downtown Disney you might want to play a round or two of mini-golf. There are two great courses, Fantasia Gardens located near the Swan Resort's Convention Centre on EPCOT Resorts Boulevard and Winter Summerland near the entrance to Blizzard Beach. Fantasia Gardens features pirouetting gators, tutu-clad hippos and dancing water fountains. Putt your way through five musical sequences from Fantasia.

Fantasia Hole

Fantasia Hole

Winter Summerland is themed as Santa's permanent off-season retreat. The elf-sized course is divided into two 18-hole experiences. One course carries the snow-clad Florida look reminiscent of Blizzard Beach, and the other has a more tropical holiday theme, with Christmas ornaments hanging from palm trees.

WinterSummerland Entrance

WinterSummerland Hole

Whichever course you choose you are sure to have a good time!

If you're a real golfer and you'd prefer a full-sized golf experience you are in luck! Walt Disney World is home to four beautiful 18-hole golf courses; the Palm, Magnolia, Osprey Ridge and Lake Buena Vista courses as well as a 9-hole course, Oak Trail. Didn't bring your clubs? Not to worry, they have plenty of rentals!

Magnolia course

Osprey Ridge course

If your interests lean more toward water sports you won't be disappointed. There are two great water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Blizzard Beach is themed as a ski resort which has had a "meltdown". Slalom courses, bobsled and toboggan runs are now downhill waterslides. The creek of melted snow that formed at the base of the mountain is a relaxing "lazy river" tube ride. The chairlift now carries swimmers instead of skiers and the former ski jump is the tallest and fastest water slide in the world.

Blizzard Beach

Blizzard Beach Lazy River

Blizzard Beach Pool

Blizzard Beach Toboggan Racers

The second water park, Typhoon Lagoon, is a lush tropical paradise. There are water slides galore, a lazy river and the wave pool is truly awesome. You can take a surfing lesson in the wave pool! Looking for more adventure? Try swimming with the sharks or take a plunge down Crushin' Gusher - a wild and crazy water roller coaster!

Typhoon Lagoon Wave Pool

Typhoon Lagoon Wave Pool

Typhoon Lagoon Surfing

Would you like to take a boat ride on your own? Many Disney resorts have marinas where you can rent a Sea Raycer personal watercraft or rent a pontoon boat for a family outing. The Disney property has plenty of lakes and rivers to explore! And fishing is allowed, catch and release only!

Sea Raycer

Pontoon Boat

If you like to live on the edge, how about Para-sailing? Head to the Contemporary Resort. At the marina you'll find Sammy Duvall's Watersports Centre where you can book your aerial adventure!


Attention NASCAR Fans: Next to the Ticket & Transportation Centre is Walt Disney World Speedway, home of The Richard Petty Driving Experience. Here's your chance to drive or ride in cars that were used in past Indianapolis 500 events. Or you can hop behind the wheel of a supercar by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, or Porsche and take a few laps. What are you thrill-seekers waiting for?

Richard Petty Track Ferrari

Take advantage of Disney's terrific transportation system to do a bit of resort hopping. All the resorts feature amazing themeing and some wonderful pools, most with afternoon activities for children. Enjoy a movie on the beach at the Polynesian Resort some evening, then watch Wishes from the beach. So romantic!

At Port Orleans Riverside visit the River Roost Lounge where Yee Haw Bob performs Wednesday through Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to midnight. This free show is a foot-stompin' sing-along. You and your children will love it.

Port Orleans Riverside Yee Haw Bob

Just down the road, at Port Orleans French Quarter, Elliot Dyson performs Wednesday to Saturday, 8:30 p.m. to midnight at Scat Cat's Club. Elliot plays a mean saxophone, a bluesy guitar and sometimes adds some steel drums to the mix. You'll be singing along at Scat Cat's too!

Port Orleans French Quarter Elliot Dyson

While you're at Port Orleans take a horse-drawn carriage ride along the beautiful Sassagoula River. It's a very romantic way to wrap up a day at Disney with the special person in your life!

See the Electric Water Pageant as it passes by the Magic Kingdom area resorts. This amazing (and free) show has been running every night since October 26, 1971. It will pass by the resorts the same time every evening. Polynesian Resort - 9 p.m., Grand Floridian - 9:15 p.m., Wilderness Lodge - 9:35 p.m., Fort Wilderness - 9:45 p.m., Contemporary Resort - 10:05 p.m., Magic Kingdom - 10:20 p.m. (only when the park is open past 10:00 p.m.)

Electric Water Pageant

If you are at the Polynesian Resort at 6:00 p.m. watch the Torch Lighting Ceremony just outside the main lobby door. The short show features an authentic Polynesian dancer who does a traditional fire-knife dance, and lights the torches leading into the Great Ceremonial House. Another Polynesian entertainer completes the scene with chants and authentic drumming. The ceremony is presented each evening, Tuesday through Saturday, at 6 p.m.

Polynesian Torch Lighting

The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort is a real treat. The cast of Polynesian singers and dancers will capture your attention as they tell the story of their culture with humour, song and dance. The grand finale, the fire dance, will leave you speechless.

Spirit of Aloha

Enjoy a walking tour of Wilderness Lodge with a Ranger. The "Wonders of the Lodge" tour is offered at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The tour focuses on the resort's architecture and how the Lodge was built. The ranger takes you outside, talks about landscaping, and then goes back inside and talks about the artwork, the metal work, the Totem Poles and the paintings.

Wilderness Lodge Lobby

Check out Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Lobby

After you have admired the amazing African artefacts in the lobby walk out the doors opposite the main entrance and you will find the Arusha Rock Savannah. There are over 100 animals grazing on three different savannahs. You can see Ankole Cattle, Bongo, Blesbok, Eland, Grant's Zebra, Greater Kudu, Impala, Reticulated Giraffe, Thomson's Gazelle, Waterbuck, Red River Hogs, White-Bearded Wildebeest, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Blue Crane, East African Crowned Crane, Greater Flamingo, Marabou Stork, Ostrich, Pink-Backed Pelican, and Ruppel's Griffon Vulture.

Arusha Rock

If you visit the Arusha Rock Savannah after dark you might enjoy a special treat. The African guides on duty often have night-vision glasses which you can use to spot the animals in the dark.

Arusha Savannah

Just before you return to the lobby you will see a huge fire-pit surrounded by wooden chairs. Guides light up the fire and tell African folk tales here every night at Arusha Firepit.

Arusha Firepit

You can feed flamingos at the Flamingo Pond, play wildlife games in the Sunset Lounge, decorate cookies at Boma . . . there are almost limitless things to do at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Ask at the front desk for a list of activities and times.

At the EPCOT Resort Area you can tour around Disney's Boardwalk and check out the many restaurants and shops. Stop into Beaches and Cream - even if you don't have the appetite for a Kitchen Sink Sundae you can still enjoy watching someone else eat one!

Kitchen Sink Sundae

Rent a surrey bike and tour the area.

Boardwalk surrey bikes

Watch street performers who appear throughout the day. Tour the adjacent Yacht Club, Beach Club and Swan & Dolphin Resorts. Check out the Stormalong Bay Swimming Pool shared by the Yacht & Beach Clubs. Wow!

Are you convinced yet? Walt Disney World offers just so many things to do without going to a theme park. The things I have mentioned so far just scratch the surface. There are so many more activities . . .

I have visited Walt Disney World more than thirty times and there are plenty of things I haven't gotten to yet! It's a challenge and I'm working at it!

I know, I know, you're probably thinking . . . "But Gary, you haven't mentioned Fort Wilderness!" Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a hidden gem. If you have not visited the campground you don't know what you're missing. As a matter of fact there is so much to do at the campground that it will be a chapter of its own.

I will cover "The Fort" in Part 2 of this blog. Stay tuned!

P.S. - I'm always looking for new subjects to blog about. Is there anything you would like to see me cover in a future blog?

August 12, 2012

Think Outside The Parks – Part 2


I ended Part 1 of this blog by saying that Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a hidden gem. If you have not visited the campground you don't know what you're missing.

Many people think "I'm not a camper so Fort Wilderness has nothing to offer me or my family." How wrong they are! There are plenty of families who are not campers but just love to vacation in Fort Wilderness Cabins. You can read all about those luxurious cabins here and there are pictures of the cabins here.

But there is an almost endless list of activities to enjoy at Fort Wilderness even if you're not staying in a cabin or campsite there!

Take a trip over to "The Fort" and have a look. You can get to the campground on a Disney bus or you can board a boat at Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort or Wilderness Lodge.

Fort Wilderness Sign

What can you do there? It's a long list. A very long list!

How about an Archery Lesson? Go to the Bike Barn, near the Meadows Trading Post and enjoy a lesson with an experienced archery coach. The 90-minute experience costs $25 (plus tax) per person, includes equipment and instruction and can be booked up to 90 days in advance.

Archery bows

Archery target

Mount a horse and take a 45 minute Trail Ride - These guided horseback rides are offered 5 times daily (8:30, 10, 11:30 a.m., 1, and 2:30 p.m.) at the Tri-Circle D Livery at Fort Wilderness. The cost is $46 per person.

Trail Ride

Trail Ride

Rent a bike at The Bike Barn and explore Fort Wilderness ($9 plus tax/hour, $18 plus tax/day). Tour around the loops of campsites or follow a nice paved trail to Wilderness Lodge. A side trail skirts along the shore of Bay Lake for part of the ride. Keep your eyes open - there are plenty of deer and waterfowl to see along the route.

Bike Barn

Bike riders

The campground is laced with rivers and canals. Rent a canoe, kayak or paddle boat at the Bike Barn ($6.50 plus tax/1/2 hour; $11 plus tax/hour) and get back to nature.



If you enjoy tennis, there are two lighted tennis courts beside the Meadows Swimming Pool and complimentary tennis equipment is available for resort guests at the Bike Barn.

Join Chip & Dale for a campfire, sing-a-long and a movie.

Chip and Dale Sign

The campfire program is free and is open to all WDW resort guests. It generally begins around 7 p.m. during the fall/winter season and 8 p.m. after the time changes in April through the summer. It is held near the Meadow Trading Post in the campfire area. The program begins with a sing-a-long led by a Disney Cast Member and then a marshmallow-roast around two campfire rings.

Chip and Dale Singalong

Chip and Dale Campfire

You can bring your own marshmallows or buy them at the Chuck Wagon. They even sell kits so you can make s'mores! Chip & Dale make an appearance to visit with guests and sign autographs. The sing-a-long lasts about 40 minutes. Then a Disney animated features or two is shown on a large outdoor screen. Seating is available in bleachers or on benches.

Visit Tri-Circle-D Ranch at The Settlement, near the dock and marina. All those horses you see working at the Magic Kingdom are stabled at Tri-Circle-D Ranch and you can visit them in their home.

Tri Circle D Ranch

Tri Circle D Ranch.jpg

You may see a blacksmith shoeing Cinderella's Ponies or the horses seen on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. There is a nice visual tribute to horses from Disney movies and an amazing steam calliope is on display. Children 2 to 8 years old, weighing no more than 80 pounds, can ride a pony - Cost $5.

Pony ride

Go fishing, catch and release fishing is permitted in canals and lakes. Do not fish from the bridges; that's a no-no. Forgot your fishing tackle? No problem, you can rent tackle and purchase bait at the Bike Barn.


If you prefer fishing on the lake or just want to tour Bay Lake head to the Fort Wilderness Marina (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily). You can book a chartered largemouth bass fishing excursion on Bay Lake, which includes a professional guide, refreshments (soft drinks, coffee, hot chocolate & water), fishing gear and a dozen shiners. For more details look here. If you want to tour Bay Lake you can rent a 21' Suntracker Pontoon Boat ($34.74/half hr) or try one of the Mercury Water Mice ($21.59/half hour; $27.23/45 minutes; $30.05/hour).

Pontoon boats

Sea Raycers

The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is the most popular and longest-running dinner show at Walt Disney World. It has been running for almost 40 years! The show is held at 4:00, 6:15 and 8:30 p.m. nightly at Pioneer Hall.

Pioneer Hall

Reservations are a must and can be made up to 180 days in advance. Your dinner will include fresh baked bread, tossed green salad with vinaigrette dressing, country fried chicken, smoked BBQ pork ribs, mashed potatoes, baked beans, strawberry shortcake, coffee, soft drinks, hot and iced tea, unlimited beer and wine. While you enjoy your all you can eat dinner, you are entertained by good old fashion country & western singers, dancers and comedians. Be prepared for slapstick comedy, corny jokes and lots of singing and dancing - it's a rootin' tootin' good time! There are several seating and pricing options.

Hoop Dee Doo Revue

There's another dinner show too! Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show is an all-you-can-eat Disney Character dance party with Mickey, Minnie and friends. This kid-friendly family dinner is held from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. each Thursday and Saturday in the middle of a covered, open-air Pavilion at Fort Wilderness directly behind Pioneer Hall.

Backyard BBQ Pavilion

The buffet includes smoked BBQ chicken, BBQ pork ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, cowboy beans, macaroni and cheese and corn on the cob along with salads, breads and desserts. There is live music from a country-western band, line dancing, rope tricks and plenty of fun for kids of all ages. Reservations are required.

Backyard BBQ Pavilion

 Backyard BBQ Roping

Try your hand at horseshoes, shuffleboard, tetherball, basketball and beach volleyball near the Meadows Trading Post. Let your children climb, slide and play at outdoor activity areas located at Pioneer Hall, the Meadows Recreation area, Creekside Meadow and the Marina/Beach area.

Take the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure Segway Tour. You can join a group of up to 10 people and take a Segway X2 Personal Transporter to view the scenery of Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and Wilderness Lodge. The two-hour tour costs $85.00 and some discounts may be available. Details are here.

Segway X2 Personal Transporter

If you are at Walt Disney World in October or December you are in for a treat. Set aside an evening and head to Fort Wilderness. Take a walking tour, rent a golf cart or book one of the special seasonal wagon or carriage rides. Whatever way you choose to travel you will be amazed. Many of the campers decorate their campsites for Halloween and Christmas and most of the displays are lavish! It's an easy walk from the marina to the camping loops where you will see the décor. Words don't really describe it but these few pictures and a video will.

Halloween Sites 1

Halloween Sites 2

Halloween Sites 3

Christmas Sites 1

Christmas Sites 2

Christmas Sites 3

Christmas Sites 4

Here's a 5 minute video showing the amazing display a camper created for his campsite! Click on the arrow and watch it to the end!

I'll wrap up this blog with suggestions for two wonderful ways to end your day at Walt Disney World.

1. Take a horse-drawn wagon ride. Board an old-fashioned, horse-drawn wagon in front of Pioneer Hall for a 45-minute scenic tour around Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Wagons hold up to 35 guests and rides depart at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. nightly ($8.00 Adult; $5.00 Child (ages 3-9) Children under 3 are complimentary). For a more romantic experience with your "special someone" try a relaxing 25-minute horse-drawn carriage ride through Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The small carriages hold 2 adults and 1 small child while larger carriages hold 4 adults or 2 adults and 3 small children. The first ride leaves at 6 p.m. and the last ride departs 9:30 p.m. The 25-minute ride costs $45. See more details here.

Carriage Ride

2. Watch Wishes from the beach. Stop by Crockett's Tavern and pick up your preferred adult beverage then head to the beach area beside the marina dock. Find a table and chairs on the deck or stretch out on the lounge chairs along the beach. Soon you will hear Jiminy Cricket narrate the show; the sound track to Wishes is piped in for your enjoyment. You won't see the low fireworks on Cinderella Castle but the higher altitude effect are reflected off Bay Lake and it's an awesome display. Don't rush off, at 9:45 the Electric Water Pageant sails past with the nightly show. WOW!

Electric Water Pageant

No matter what Disney resort you are calling home during your vacation you must visit Fort Wilderness. It is so much more than a campground . . . and you have to see it to believe it!

Walt Disney closed his remarks at the opening of Disneyland by saying, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." The promise Walt made over 57 years ago has certainly come true and I hope the same imaginative growth continues at Disney resorts around the world. This commitment to continuous growth and change in the parks ensures that there will always be new and exciting things to do "outside the parks" as well.

So that's a snapshot, a mere sampling, of some of the things you can do at Walt Disney World when you "think outside the parks". As I said before, there are many more activities I haven't mentioned. I'm not sure Carol and I will ever be able to get them all done, but we will sure have fun trying!

What "outside the park" things do you enjoy most?

P.S. - I'm always looking for new subjects to blog about. Is there anything you would like to see me cover in a future blog?

August 14, 2012

Fun and (Mostly) Frugal Excursions from Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa


AUTHOR'S NOTE: The Miller Family recently returned from a special stay in a Disney Vacation Club villa at Disney's Aulani Resort and Spa on Oahu with our two teenagers and my husband's parents to celebrate some "big" anniversaries happening this year (20 years for my husband and me and 50 for my in-laws). We were looking forward to all of the fun and activities offered at the resort (thank you AllEars.Net for the great reviews!), but we also rented a mini-van so that we could explore more of what the island has to offer. Since all of us had visited Oahu at least once before, my job was to find activities that would please everyone, that none of us had done on previous visits, and that wouldn't break the bank. Here are the highlights. (Please note that travel times from Aulani can vary greatly, depending on the traffic, which can be very heavy at just about any time of day. From what I can tell "rush hour" is any hour in Honolulu.)

Dine and Dance at the Paradise Cove Luau

Distance from Aulani: 0.25 miles, a 10-minute walk
Cost: $86 to $149 for adults, $76 to $133 for youths (13-20 years old) and $66 to $121 for kids under 12, depending on the package you choose. DVC members can get a discount to Germaine's Luau, another local luau, but we opted for Paradise Cove, since it was within walking distance of Aulani. We chose the basic luau package in order to keep costs down.

The basic price includes first-come-first-served seating, pre-luau Hawaiian games, music, dancing, a hukilau (fishing) ceremony, the procession of the Royal Court, and the Imu (roasted pig) ceremony, followed by a luau buffet and Hawaiian music and dance Revue. Upgraded packages include souvenir photos and various levels of reserved seating. We really enjoyed the experience. The food was good (although the buffet line was long) and the entertainment top-notch.




Play a Round of (Windy) Golf at the Ko 'Olina Golf Course

Distance from Aulani: 0.25 miles; a not very long walk before 18 holes of golf, a really long walk after 18 holes (hint: you may want to drive over).
Cost for resort guests: $169 before 1:00 p.m., $129 after 1:00 p.m. DVC members receive additional discounted rates before 1:00 p.m. and kids play free with a paying adult (including free rental clubs) after 3:00 p.m. We played after 1:00 to keep the cost down, but did not wait until after 3:00, when the kids would have been free, because my husband and father-in-law wanted to make sure that they got in 18 holes before it got dark.

Ko 'Olina is a beautiful, challenging course, but is suitable and welcoming to players of all ages and abilities. The windy conditions made the round even more challenging for the novice golfers in our group, but it certainly kept things interesting. Keep an eye out for the course's famous black swans, and take your plastic souvenir cup upstairs in the club house to Roy's Ko 'Olina for a discounted beer after your round.




Hike to the Summit of Diamond Head Crater

Distance from Aulani: 29 miles, 45 minutes to 1.5 hours
Cost: $5 per car or $1 per person for pedestrians

The hike to the top of Diamond Head was relatively strenuous, and took us about an hour and 15 minutes round trip, including rest stops and stopping to take pictures at the top. This activity is fine for active kids and adults, as long as you take along plenty of water, stop to rest often, and wear proper footwear (unlike the lady we saw doing the hike in her 3-inch heels!), but beware that while short, it is steep, and has a number of stairs to be climbed near the summit. We had a great time, and the views from the top were well worth the effort it took to get to see them.




Get Wet at the Waikiki Aquarium

Distance from Aulani: 29 miles, 45 minutes to 1.5 hours
Cost: $9 for adults, $6 for active duty military, students and seniors, $4 for youths age 13 to 17, $2 for kids ages 5-12 and free for kids 4 and under.

We really enjoyed the hour and a half that we spent in this small, but very nice aquarium. Highlights included the jellyfish and seals.



Surf it Up on Waikiki Beach
Distance from Aulani: 28 miles, 45 minutes to 1.5 hours
Cost: varies by provider, but expect to pay $75 to over $100 per person for a one to two hour lesson. There are many surf schools located up and down Waikiki beach.

My husband and I and our kids had taken surfing lessons at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on a previous trip, and I was not really up to it this time, but my husband and kids were eager to hit the waves again. We moved down the beach to a location just in front of the "Duke" Kahanamoku statue (near the Hyatt Regency), and procured one-hour semi-private lessons and an additional hour of surfboard rental for the surfers, and umbrellas and beach chairs for the non-surfers in the group. This location was great, as the waves were breaking closer to the beach here than they were near the Hilton Hawaiian Village, requiring less paddling. All of the surfers "got up" multiple times, and all of us enjoyed the scenery and sheer fun of Waikiki.




Swim with the Fishes at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Distance from Aulani: 35 miles, 45 minutes to 1.5 hours
Cost: $7.50 for adults and free for kids 12 and younger, parking is $1. There is a tram that will take you down to the beach (for $1) and back up (for $1.50), but the walk, while steep, is manageable.

Plan to arrive at the park early! The parking lot often fills early and you will be turned away if it is full (which we were). Once we resolved the parking issue (my husband dropped us off, parked somewhere he probably shouldn't have, and walked up the highway to meet us, don't ask) and actually got everyone into the park it was great. We had to wait about half an hour for our scheduled entry time, and after watching a short video presentation on protecting the assets of the park, we walked down the (steep) hill to the beach. The snorkeling here was absolutely amazing, and the setting gorgeous. I was glad that we snorkeled here rather than paying Disney prices at Aulani's Rainbow Reef.



Learn and Play at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Distance from Aulani: 47 miles, 1.5 to 2 hours
Cost: Basic admission is $49.95 for adults and $35.95 for kids ages 5-11 (younger free), but there are many different admission packages to choose from that include the nighttime show, "Ha: Breath of Life," and three separate dining package choices. We chose the basic afternoon admission (noon to 5:00 p.m.), since I thought it might be too long a drive at night after the evening show ended back to Aulani.

We spent a great afternoon touring the six Polynesian villages, watching the shows, and participating in the games and activities. This "outdoor museum" run by the local branch of Brigham Young University, and staffed mostly by its students, was well-executed and a lot of fun. One of my teenage daughters proclaimed it one of the best museums she had ever been to, because of the level of interactivity with the visitors.

Hint: Drive back to Aulani via the North Shore on the Kamehameha Highway, and stop for dinner either at one of the many shrimp trucks in and around Kahuku, or at a restaurant in the lovely town of Haleiwa (we had great Mexican at Cholo's).



About the Author: Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world.

August 26, 2012

Ama Ama: Aulani's Signature Dining Experience

Andrew Rossi

In my last entry I talked about the various dining options available at Disney's Aulani resort in Ko Olina, Hawaii. Of all the restaurants at the resort, however, there is one that stands above the rest. If you were to only dine at one restaurant at Aulani, Ama Ama would be the one not to miss. The restaurant is to Aulani what California Grill is to the Contemporary or Yachtsman Steakhouse is to the Yacht Club resort, a fine dining experience that offers unparalleled service, atmosphere, and cuisine. At Aulani, Ama Ama provides a dining experience unlike any other and one that is truly unforgettable.


One of the greatest attributes of Aulani is its breathtaking location. Sitting right on the beach and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the resort highlights the natural beauty of its surroundings.


Aulani is also a resort meant to celebrate Hawaiian culture, history, and traditions. Ama Ama does both of these, showcasing the island's natural beauty and its unique culture. While Hawaiian heritage plays an important role in the restaurant's theming, it does so in more subtle ways. This starts with the restaurant's name as the ʻamaʻama is a tasty local fish immortalized in popular Hawaiian songs. Ama Ama celebrates not only the fish, but also the fishing settlements along the coast dating back to the 12th century. A very distinctive cuisine also plays an important role in Hawaiian culture and at Ama Ama the gourmet chefs use fresh local ingredients and island flavors to create dishes that combine both traditional and contemporary elements. What truly makes this restaurant special, however, is its location which helps make it a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience.

Location, location, location. At Ama Ama this is what takes precedence above all else. Situated right on the beach, the restaurant is designed to highlight the beautiful view.



What makes the dining room so unique is that it is open-air, which maximizes the views of the nearby ocean and allows you to enjoy the practically perfect Hawaiian weather.





Every table in the restaurant is positioned in a way to offer diners an optimal view. It is said a picture is worth a thousand words, and these pictures of Ama Ama do not even do it justice.




With an atmosphere that relies primarily on its tremendous views and location, there are few decorative elements and details inside. However, although very minimalist in style, the restaurant is not without a backstory. According to legend Auntie and Uncle (who are the fictional family incorporated in much of Aulani's lore) have a beach house with roots which go back to the 1800s. The original house was part of a fishing village and was added to over time as the family grew. Thus, each room represents a different generation and has a slightly different feel, going from the traditional to the more modern.

Throughout the restaurant there is subtle theming that pays homage to Hawaii's fishing heritage. For example, in one part of the dining room you can notice fishing nets draped from the ceiling rafters.


The restaurant also has a degree of refinement. In fact, just like when dining at a Signature restaurant in Disney World, there is a dress code. Men are asked to wear khakis, slacks, dress shorts, and collared shirts; for ladies capri pants, skirts, dresses, and dress shorts are acceptable. Those clothing items not permitted in the restaurant include tank tops, swimwear, men's hats, cut-off pants, and torn clothing.

This more refined feel is set as soon as you set foot inside Ama Ama. Diners enter the restaurant through a glass-enclosed entryway with a modern-looking light fixture.



The first element of the dining room that greets you is a beautiful fountain and reflecting pool.



There is even live entertainment for guests to enjoy during the course of their meal.


The dining room's overall upscale feel makes it geared more toward adults rather than families with small children. The restaurant's low lighting makes for a more romantic dining experience. Still, I found the overall atmosphere to be very calm and relaxing. Whether enjoying a beautiful Hawaiian sunset or dining under the stars, Ama Ama's atmosphere is absolutely awe inspiring; simply put, it is paradise.

The Menu:
Matching the restaurant's refined and upscale atmosphere is a gourmet menu that highlights traditional Hawaiian flavors and ingredients with a contemporary flare. While the menu rotates to highlight seasonal ingredients, the dinner menu focuses primarily on sustainable seafood as well as steak and pasta dishes.

For starters there is a Big Eye Tuna and Sea Asparagus Poke Martini ($18.00) that is finished tableside. Other appetizers offerings include the Hamakua Mushroom Tart ($16.00), the Ama Ama Seafood Platter ($26.00) featuring sustainable catch ceviche, crab legs, jumbo shrimp, and Goose Point oysters, the Ama Ama Chopped Salad ($18.00) with crispy wanton strips, bacon, avocado, and a house-made ranch dressing, Island Field Greens ($12.00) with a paypaya vinaigrette, Kahuku Corn Chowder ($12.00), and Maui Onion Soup Au Gratin ($12.00).

For entrees the menu is very diverse. For those in the mood for seafood there is the Hawaiian Sustainable Catch (market price) prepared either pan seared or grilled, topped with your choice of lemon-caper brown butter or tomato-ogo, and served with island vegetables and potato puree. There is also a Seafood Paella ($37.00).

For steaks the menu features a Grilled New York Strip Loin ($41.00) topped with a shallot-red wine sauce and served with potato puree and farmer's market vegetables and a Grilled Angus Filet of Beef ($49.00) creamed swiss chard and soufflé potatoes.

There is also a Cider-Maple Roasted Chicken Breast ($33.00) accompanied by gnocchi, maitake mushrooms, broccoli florrets, and baby carrots, Rack of Lamb ($46.00) served with roasted root vegetables, potato gratin and topped with a garlic-lemon thyme jus, and for vegetarians a Local Spring Vegetable Pasta ($27.00) with a basil pesto and toasted garlic bread crumbs.

If you want additional side items there are also a variety of options including Asparagus Gratin ($8.00), Hamakua Mushrooms ($9.00), Sauteed Broccoli ($7.00), Souffle Potatoes ($8.00), Potato Puree ($8.00), and Brown Rice ($4.00).

You might also want to save room for dessert as there are some delectable choices such as the Coconut Panna Cotta with chilled passion fruit broth, Liliko`i Meringue Mousse with caramelized bananas, Hawaiian Chocolate Cake with Ka'u coffee cream and caramel, Floating Island with guava, strawberry, and lychee sorbet, and Pineapple Tarte Tatin with caramel cream. All desserts are $10.00.

When we sat at our table we were first brought some fresh multi-grain rolls. This was a great way to start the meal as the rolls were served warm, crusty on the outside, and soft on the inside. Along with the bread was brought butter and two different types of Hawaiian salt to help add a little extra flavor.


For an appetizer our sever strongly recommended the Maui Onion Soup Au Gratin ($12.00). I was a little hesitant about spending that much for soup, but decided to give it a try. The size of the soup itself made it worth the price as it was more than enough to split with another member of my party. In taste, the soup was very similar to a standard French Onion Soup. One thing that I did notice about the soup, and it might have to do with using Maui onions, was that it had a slightly sweeter flavor than a regular French Onion soup. The soup also came topped with a generous amount of cheese and I would not hesitate to say that this was one of the best onion soups I have had anywhere.


For an entrée I decided on the Rack of Lamb ($46.00) served with roasted root vegetables, potato gratin and topped with a garlic-lemon thyme jus. The lamb itself was so tender with just a little bit of fat that added a little extra flavor. It was grilled perfectly so that it was slightly charred on the outside but once you cut into it, it was still juicy and moist. The garlic-lemon thyme jus that topped the lamb really complimented it very well. I actually found the sauce to be fairly mild and light in flavor so as to enhance the taste of the lamb without being too overpowering .


I was a little disappointed with the root vegetables. To start, they were not cooked very well so they were on the crisp side. Also, some of the vegetables also had very strong, distinctive flavors. I was not exactly sure what types of vegetables they were, I definitely noticed some onion and squash, but in appearance it looked kind of like a ratatouille. The real star of the meal was the potato gratin. Not only were the potatoes cheesy and creamy in flavor, but they came wrapped in a flaky pastry crust.

Overall, this was a very high-quality meal. The dishes featured a great combination of a variety of flavors and utilized fresh, native ingredients. In addition, the presentation was exquisite. In sum, the meal was everything you would expect from a Signature Disney restaurant.

One thing that was very impressive about Ama Ama was the number of servers the restaurant had. The sever-to-guest ratio was such that each server only had a couple of tables to wait on at a time. This meant that the servers could be very attentive to their guests. Indeed, throughout the course of the meal my server was continually checking in on our table to make sure we were enjoying everything; he was able to take his time with us rather than having to rush around from table to table.

Not only was my server was also extremely helpful and informative when it came to the menu, but he was also a great source of knowledge about the resort and the surrounding area. With dishes using so many local Hawaiian ingredients, he took time to explain the various dishes and offer recommendations. He also asked us about our plans and what we were going to see and do on the island, giving us some local insider tips and advice. Overall, the meal progressed at a very relaxed pace that really allowed you to fully enjoy your food as well as the beautiful setting in which you were dining.

Dining on a Budget:
Ama Ama is not the type of restaurant that you can really dine on a budget, but if you are staying at Aulani it is definitely worth the splurge. How many times are you going to have the opportunity to dine in a restaurant like this? One possible way to save a little money is the Ama Ama Menu for Two. For $115 this includes an Appetizer Sampler, a Bone-In Rib Eye Steak For Two served with potato puree, hamakua mushrooms, and broccoli with you choice of shallot-red wine or béarnaise sauce, and Hawaiian Chocolate Cake for dessert.

Ama Ama is also open for breakfast and lunch, which allows you to experience the same beautiful atmosphere and breathtaking views as dinner but with a menu that is slightly less expensive.

The Overall Experience:
I really do not think that my words can truly do justice to Ama Ama. Like the rest of Aulani, this restaurant takes advantage of the natural beauty of the resort's location. Aulani has everything you would want from a Hawaiian vacation; it is quiet, relaxing, visually stunning, and completely immerses you into the culture, history, and traditions of the Hawaiian Islands. Ama Ama does all of these things as well. While its location is the true highlight of the dining experience, the subtle details of the restaurant's décor and its locally-inspired menu of both traditional and contemporary Hawaiian cuisine should not be overlooked. Dining here is an experience unlike any other I have had at any restaurant Disney or otherwise. To sum it all up, at Ama Ama you truly feel as though you are dining in paradise.

See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.

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About August 2012

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in August 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2012 is the previous archive.

September 2012 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.