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.
The previous post in this blog was Think Outside The Parks – Part 2.
The next post in this blog is Ama Ama: Aulani's Signature Dining Experience.