I have a lot of magical memories of Hawaii vacations I’ve taken over the years, but I’ll have a hard time eclipsing the quiet bliss I found next to my 9-year-old son, Matthew, as we sat on the beach learning how to make leis. The lei-making class was one of the myriad educational activities offered at Aulani, Disney’s resort and timeshare property located in the southwest corner of Oahu, part of the 642-acre Ko Olina development.
Aulani, which recently celebrated its five-year anniversary, has undergone some small changes that have perfected this family-friendly getaway, including improvements to both the children’s waterplay area and the adult pool as well as the addition of a luau, called Ka Wa’a.
As with many Hawaiian resorts, the property centers around an open-air lobby to take advantage of the ocean views. But here, guests get that along with a valley view.
The resort was designed with two wings that angle out and extend toward the ocean on both sides of the main building, creating an enclosed area that Disney calls the Waikolohe Valley. Within Waikolohe, families have a bevy of options from which to choose: waterslides, a lazy river, restaurants, winding pathways and several pools, including the aforementioned children’s and adult areas.
The beach surrounds a man-made lagoon, which is well-suited for families. Breakwalls are situated where the lagoon meets the ocean, stopping any swells from entering the shallow bay, and the gradually sloping, sandy bottom is great for beginner swimmers. This lagoon, the westernmost of four such inlets in the Ko Olina development, is shared by Aulani and the Four Seasons next door, but it never felt even remotely crowded.
Beyond the expected
My family particularly enjoyed the Rainbow Reef, a private snorkeling lagoon that is also nestled in the valley. The reef, stocked with thousands of tropical fish, is a saltwater experience where you feel as though you’re swimming in a huge aquarium. This is one of the few areas in Aulani where there is an extra charge. You can either purchase a one-time entry or buy a pass good for the length of your stay.