Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Our Tour of Aulani, Disney's New Resort on O'ahu

In just a few weeks Disney is set to open its newest resort, Aulani Resort and Spa on the island of O'ahu. This is actually Disney's third resort that is not connected to a theme park. Disney also owns resorts on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, and Vero Beach in Florida, about a two hour drive from Walt Disney World. Aulani is located at Ko'Olina on O'ahu's leeward side (west) and will have 359 resort rooms, 460 Disney Vacation Club (DVC) villas, 4 restaurants, a private snorkeling lagoon and activities galore for adults and kids. Whew! That's just the beginning!

My husband and I were recently on the island of O'ahu, and of course I HAD to see Aulani.  While the resort doesn't open until August 29th, like all good timeshares, Disney has a sales office on site.  Sales presentations are available to the public and DVC members. We are DVC members at Animal Kingdom Villas, and I called the day before to arrange the visit (technically its a "sales presentation"). 

Aulani as seen on the drive up.
The drive to Ko'Olina is about 30-45 minutes from the downtown Honolulu/Waikiki area depending on traffic.  It took us about 30 minutes during a non-rush hour time.  The building itself is massive, and you can see it from the highway from quite a distance.  According to the driver from our sunset cruise later in the week (a Hawaiian rumor mill version of a WDW bus driver), the road was recently repaved in anticipation of Aulani's opening.  As a matter of fact, shortly after the Ko'Olina exit, the lovely fresh pavement ends! Once you do take the exit, you are brought to an actual gate to the entire Ko'Olina complex.  They didn't seem to be at DEFCON 2, but they did ask where we were headed. At one time Ko'Olina was forgotten marshland, but it is now a planned complex that hosts a public beach, a golf course, condos, the Ko'Olina Beach Villas, Marriot's Ihilani Resort, and several shops and restaurants.

The sales video
While the DVC preview center is now open inside the resort itself, our tour was scheduled for the last Friday before they moved in, so our tour originated in a suite above the Hawaiian BBQ restaurant.  Our guide (Disney talk for timeshare salesperson) was Andrea, and we liked her very much.  We were offered soda or water, and led to a sales office.  While waiting for Andrea we were able to view a short video on the new resort. While I don't have access to that video, below is a neat video from You Tube that shows many of the artist renderings and a virtual fly over of the resort. I will say that the virtual images do not do the resort justice.  The pool area in person was fantastic.  You will need to pause the music from this blog at the bottom of the screen or you will be bombarded by both audios simultaneously.

After some small talk and our introductions to Andrea, we were introduced to our fabulous, high fashion, OSHA approved, construction zone attire. They had told me I would need closed toe shoes (I had thankfully brought sneakers for hiking Diamond Head), and long pants. Who brings long pants to Hawaii? Not us apparently.

Even Mickey is ready for Hawaii
Andrea took us on a quick spin in the golf cart over to the front of the resort.  Unfortunately, they requested that we not take photos of the grounds or resort other than the room.  I can tell you that it was very impressive.  As per usual Disney standards, the landscaping was lush and coming together quite well considering the resort doesn't open for another month.  There was a small water feature in front, with torches lit with Hawaiian kukui nuts.  Andrea informed us that this was a traditional use of the nuts in early villages.

The entrance to the resort and the lobby reminded me quite a lot of Peter Dominick's Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge.  The size however, was smaller than I had anticipated from the artist renderings.  It was on a scale closer to Kidani Village than Jambo House.

Lighting is one of my favorite aspects of Disney Imagineering, and Aulani did not disappoint. The interior of the lobby was illuminated with hanging lanterns designed to look like Hawaiian ipu gourds that were traditionally used to carry water. The photo below was the best I could find of something similar.

Hawaiian ipu gourds for water
We were led past the check-in desk toward a model room.  Behind the desk is an arrangement of many smaller pieces of art that were contributed by Hawaiian children specifically for the lobby of the resort. Opposite the desk is a children's waiting area with a TV that will show Disney cartoons to keep the kiddos busy while you get checked in to the resort.  Anyone want to bet on "Lilo and Stitch"?

While walking toward the room, my husband was already scoping out Hidden Mickeys. Apparently, while unannounced to me, we were having a contest as to who could spot the first one. Guess who won?  Since much of the art of Polynesia is more angular than curved, this poses more of a challenge to the Imagineers. We did find, in several locations a possible Mickey whose validity was much debated by my hubby, myself, and Andrea.  It was however, made up of three squares, rather than three circles.  All three squares were standing on their corner, but it was obviously one large square, with two proportionally smaller squares above and to the sides.  For the sake of marital harmony, we decided that it was, indeed, a Mickey.

Then, finally, THE ROOM! We were shown a 2br suite on the north side of the resort.  We were both very impressed, and felt it cozy and comfortable with many touches of Hawaii and Disney.  One word of warning, if you do not like dark rooms, such as Animal Kingdom Lodge, you may not like the lighting in these rooms either. While we really appreciate the dark comfort of those rooms, many do not. We felt the overall feel of the room reminded us quite a bit of Animal Kingdom, and given that Joe Rhodie was the Lead Imagineer of both Animal Kingdom park, and Aulani, I guess that's not too surprising.

And now, the photos!

Studio bedroom. I like the two different colored walls.  Hidden Mickey anyone?

Nifty lamp on the left portraying a surfing Mickey. This space felt crowded.
Other portion of the studio with TV console and sleeper sofa. 

Full kitchen and banquette with view into studio. Hidden Mickey anyone?

Full kitchen and tableware. Over the table lighting is of the same style as the lobby.

Flat screen TV in main living area with a view into the studio. The lanai is to the left.
The TV cabinet is actually a murphy bed in disguise! 
Master Bedroom. My husband loved the Hawaiian quilts. 
View from the master bedroom into the master bath,  leading back toward the main entrance and  kitchen.

Glassed in steamer shower with built in seat in the 1 and 2 bedroom villas. My hubby's favorite part.
Bathroom in the studio portion of the room.

View into the master bedroom from the bathroom.

 During our tour, I spoke to our guide about some of the features and amenities that will be available at Aulani.  While there will not be a Magical Express, Disney will have contracted transportation available, similar to the Disneyland Express in California.  One of the four on-site restaurants will be a family friendly buffet featuring character meals.  As is common in Hawaii, Disney will contract with local tour operators and guests will be able to sign up for many different types of excursions such as island tours, snorkeling tours and the Dole Plantation. They will also offer Adventures by Disney tours of their own, and while pricey, are unique and should be outstanding.

From the balcony of the model room, we were able to get a good look at the pool areas.  The lagoon did seem rather small to me for such a large number of rooms.  In addition to the private snorkeling lagoon was a very large pool with two volcano themed water slides, a large kids water play area, a lazy river, and a conservation pool that you can snorkel in (with reservations).  Although the lagoon was small, the overall water recreation area was quite large.

Aunty's Beach House
What impressed me most was the activities for teens, tweens, and the kids.  Named Aunty's Beach House, this supervised clubhouse for children ages 3 to 10 will be part of your resort fee!  While some extra special programs or crafts may have an additional fee, the main part of the club will not. The club will have video games, movies, dress up areas, and an outdoor play area. Tweens will have special tween only movie nights, and special activities just for their age group. Teens ages 13-17 can hang out at "Painted Sky", a teen only spa.  More than a spa, it also has video games, a juice and yogurt bar, and will host teen only events.  With all these activities for the kids, mom and dad can actually enjoy a dinner or swim to themselves.

One of my favorite little details of the resort are the menehune.  The menehune are part of Hawaiian folklore. They are magical little people who sometimes like to play tricks on you.  Think mischievous Hawaiian smurfs. Only not blue. Anyway, you get the picture.  Disney has hidden statues of these little guys throughout the resort in easy, and not so easy to find places. Hopefully you will continue to find new ones throughout your vacation and on subsequent vacations.

  What does all this cost?  You probably don't want to know.  A standard room runs in slow season from $399 and up. Yikes! But already there are specials and discounts available, but Aulani will not be for those on a tight budget.

As for DVC, Aulani is pricey in both the price of points, and the number of points needed. The base price is currently $120 per point.  There are always promotions of course. Interestingly, although they would place any points we might want to purchase on hold for us, they weren't actually selling points! Due to some small legal change in the contract, they couldn't actually sell us points that day, and Andrea did not know when exactly they would be selling again, but hopefully by official opening day. Disney Vacation Club is known to be slightly less pressure than many timeshare presentations, and although we were interested in Aulani we were upfront with Andrea that we were unlikely to purchase additional points that day.  During our tour, if you were a current DVC member and added on, the prices on a per point basis were as follows:

50 to 100 points: $116
100 to 125 points: $108
125 to 150 points: $104
150 to 250 points: $102
250 and up: $100

A studio villa with a parking lot view at the slowest time of year will run you 126 points for the week. A 1 bedroom ocean view room will cost you 322 points for the same week.  In comparison we can get a 2 bedroom view of the savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge during that same week for only 272 points, and fly all five of us to Orlando for the same price as two of us to Honolulu.

Andrea also informed us we were "pre-approved" for an add-on. Gee, thanks Mickey. But we decided we weren't up to putting down that kind of money right now, and hopefully someday we will stay here with the Disney points we already own.  While I'm already itching to stay there, I don't think we'll make it back to Hawaii for at least a few years.

 I really don't think too many people will be disappointed in their stay there.  I'll be anxious to learn more about the place after the opening, and I'll be sure to post some update information this fall, and if anyone is taking an upcoming trip I'd love to hear all about it!

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