Walt Disney World and Disneyland are filled to the brim with guests from nine weeks to nine decades old every year. But not as many consider a Disney vacation in Hawaii at Aulani: a Disney Resort & Spa. After all, it is a longer trip for many traveling families. It can also be a bit pricier than the theme parks, especially after adding airfare to the equation. But if you can make the trip out, Disney’s Aulani is truly made for young kids.
For some background, Leslie has been to Aulani three times with her kids – in March 2013, November 2017, and April 2019. Joe visited Aulani with his three children (ages 1.5, 4, and 6) in July of 2019. We co-authored this article in order to give Trips With Tykes readers a wide variety of reports and experiences from our young kids of various ages, stages, and personalities. Both of us firmly believe Disney’s Aulani is great for kids of all ages. In this article we’ll look at why that is and how to make the most out of your Disney Aulani vacation with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
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What Makes Aulani Work So Well With Young Children?
Kid-friendly activities, included childcare, everyone’s favorite characters, amazing beaches, and a bunch of pretty cool pools and water play areas, to name a few. Because the resort has a smaller footprint than a large theme park, it is all the Disney fun without the walking or even the need for a stroller. This makes Aulani much more manageable with babies and young kids.
Above all else Aulani: a Disney Resort & Spa is a place where you can relax. And that’s part of why in many respects Aulani works better for babies and young kids than the theme parks. In the theme parks, you’re walking miles a day, running from attraction to attraction, and trekking all the way back to your hotels for naps. At Aulani you can get busy relaxing. Everything is all in your hotel, which really eases the stress of travel and lets you just settle in and enjoy your vacation.
Baby needs a nap? No problem, one parent can go upstairs while the other stays with older kids at the pool. Need something to eat? Mickey shave ice is steps away.
But most importantly, Aulani: a Disney Resort & Spa is a resort you won’t want to leave. Disney took painstaking care to make a resort that is truly authentic to Hawaii yet that also contains Disney touches and the trademark quality Disney service. It’s those little touches that make Aulani stand out when it comes to young children.
Aulani with Young Kids: Trip Planning and Preparation
A successful family vacation anywhere requires planning and preparation, especially with baby or toddler travel companions. Before taking a trip to Aulani with young kids, here are the top things to keep in mind.
Flying to Aulani with Babies, Toddlers, & Preschoolers
Hawaii is a long trip for many American families, so a big part of the trip preparation for an Aulani vacation is simply planning for the “getting there.” For West Coasters like Leslie, the flight is under five hours long and not too challenging, especially in winter months when the time difference is only two hours. (Remember that Southwest Airlines now flies to Hawaii from a wide variety of California airports – that means more potential for discounts!)
If you are planning a trip with little ones from a longer distance like Joe does from the East Coast, the flight and the resulting jet lag is a bigger deal.
For the flight, pack plenty of snacks as well as entertainment and toys to keep your child busy and happy. Even if your child is still under age 2 and can fly as a lap child, consider buying a seat instead for such a long distance. (Related: Tips for flying with a lap toddler). Try also to book flights that depart and arrive at times when your child is likely to be at his or her best. Attempt 6:00 a.m. departures and redeye flights at your own risk.
Be prepared for having early bedtimes the first few nights as your kids adjust to the time change. Aulani is a place that goes to bed early and wakes up early, in part because of the time difference from the mainland.
Choosing a Hotel Room or Villa at Aulani with Young Kids
Another trip planning decision is choosing the right room. Aulani has a wide variety of room types to meet the particular needs of families with kids of all ages as well as a variety of budgets. These include regular hotel rooms as well as studios, one- and two-bedroom villas. Some of these room options are Disney Vacation Club units, but you can often rent them even if you aren’t a DVC member. Trips With Tykes recommends renting DVC points through David’s Vacation Club Rentals which can save you a bundle – often up to 50%! (Related: Find out how Leslie’s family rented DVC points at Aulani.)
Between Leslie and Joe, we have stayed at a studio, a one bedroom villa, and a two bedroom villa – almost all of the villa room types available. They all work very well with younger kids because the addition of a kitchenette or kitchen makes it easy to prepare snacks and even light meals for kids on the go. The studio is probably best suited for families of three since it is a tad tight on space and only has a kitchenette. But Leslie made it work with her family of four on her last vacation.
The one bedroom villa has a full kitchen and in-unit washer and dryer and is very spacious (but obviously more expensive). We found it ideal for families of four or five people. The one bedroom villa features a single Murphy bed perfect for a toddler sleeping place in addition to the master bedroom king bed and the pull out queen bed sofa. There is also a Pack N Play in every room for younger toddlers not yet ready for a bed.
Joe found the two bedroom villa perfect for his family of five traveling with two grandparents. There was plenty of space even with seven people. With two and a half bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a dining table, two families could probably even share a two bedroom villa without feeling too cramped.
Best Activities at Aulani with Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers
Once the planning is done and the vacation begins, families with young kids will find that age-appropriate activities abound at Aulani. Take advantage of the pools, beaches, and the many free activities at Aulani. Naturally, a few Aulani splurges may make sense as well, as some are ideal fits for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
Best Aulani Activities with Babies
Admittedly, all babies are different, but if you’re at least a little bit adventurous there’s plenty to try with your baby. Here are some of the things Joe’s 18 month old enjoyed the most at Aulani.
Waikolohe Pool (zero entry)
Joe’s daughter’s favorite activity was probably wading in the zero entry portion of the Waikolohe Pool, Aulani’s main pool and the center of its extensive pool areas. If you don’t know what zero entry means, it’s essentially a gradual incline to enter the water – no steps to worry about. That meant that his daughter could wade in up to her waist without having to worry too much (although she kept trying to go deeper!).
Like all Disney resorts, children’s life jackets are included with the price of your stay. Joe actually chose not to use it for his baby, as she’s already a daredevil and they didn’t want her to have a false sense of security.
If you’re feeling adventurous, take a float along Waikolohe Stream, Aulani’s lazy river. You can get one or two person tubes. Parents can stay on the outside or inside of the tube and wade in the water while supporting a baby sitting on the tube, or you could even wade through the stream without a tube if you wanted. This was a huge hit with the whole family and a great way to get a baby on the water.
Best Aulani Activities with Toddlers and Preschoolers
As kids get older, they can branch out to more of the activities at Aulani: a Disney Resort & Spa. A few top can’t miss activities at Aulani for the toddler and preschooler set include:
Aulani’s splash pad area is the place to be with toddlers and preschoolers. Jets and spouts of various shapes and sizes squirt water, providing plenty of chances for kids to get wet without parents having to stress as much about safety and life jackets. Babies who can walk might also enjoy the fun features of Keiki Cove.
Trips With Tykes Tip: Grab a tablet from the Pau Hana room and play the free Menehune Adventure Trail scavenger hunt game. It features lots of surprises as you explore the resort including a great one at Keiki Cove!
Have more adventurous tykes? They may want to graduate to the larger, but relatively still tame, thrills of Menehune Bridge. Menehune Bridge is a water playground with bigger jets and even a few small water slides. Leslie’s daughter adored it when she first visited Aulani as a 3.5-year-old. Her son wasn’t quite ready at age 4, but couldn’t get enough on a trip when he was 5.5. Joe’s 6 and 4 year olds both loved the whole area.
Menehune Bridge is restricted to kids under 48 inches tall, so there is no worry about tweens and teens knocking over little ones as they play.
Character Meet and Greets
Most young kids want nothing more than the chance to meet Mickey, Stitch, Moana, and Duffy on their Aulani vacation. Aulani has plenty of character meet and greet opportunities. Check the Daily I’wa, Aulani’s daily activity guide, for times and characters. Often, Photopass photographers are present at these meet and greets to capture the whole family together.
Trips With Tykes Tip: At sunset, Photopass photographers set up at the beach on the cove. It’s a great time to get family photos.
KA WA’A Luau
While undoubtedly a major Aulani splurge, the new KA W’AA luau is pretty much a can’t-miss with young children. With a dedicated kids buffet line and a captivating show featuring hula, fire dancers, and amazing music, it is an activity the entire family will enjoy. Best of all – kids under 3 are free! Just be aware that the show may run a bit past many toddler bedtimes. Plan to get in an afternoon nap so your little one can go the distance.
All of our kids were captivated with the story. Although Joe’s baby fell asleep in the stroller on his visit, we’re happy to report that even from the back, the luau is spectacular to watch.
Where to Eat at Aulani with Young Kids
All of the restaurants at Aulani are kid-friendly, so you can take your toddler or preschooler to any of them without fear. Some undoubtedly will interest the younger kid set a bit more and be a better fit for your vacation. Ones especially to add to your dining plans include:
One that is a can’t-miss with young kids is a character meal at Makahiki. At breakfast (offered daily), kids can meet with Mickey and then dine on a buffet of Disney breakfast classics like Mickey waffles. Aulani also offers a dinner character meal (Menehune Mischief) approximately three nights a week with an extensive seafood buffet. The breakfast is probably the better fit for younger kids, but the dinner is a bit more mellow, so consider your child’s preference for action and crowds when making your choice.
For busy toddlers who can’t sit still for a lengthier meal, Aulani’s quick service restaurant, Ulu Cafe is a smart choice. The restaurant has kid favorites like chicken strips and pizza as well as more exotic choices for parents like the very popular poke bowl for lunch. There isn’t a ton of seating, but you can always eat the meal poolside.
Another thing we actually recommend doing, especially if you have a dining room like in the larger villas, is getting food to go from Ulu Cafe and eating in your room. Joe’s family did this multiple times and it worked out great for his young kids.
Pāpālua Shave Ice
If your kids get hungry mid-day, Pāpālua Shave Ice is the best place to grab a snack with little ones. Aulani cast members make shave ice into the shape of Mickey ears there! And at just $4-5, it’s a cheap treat that you can share with your kids.
Finally, don’t overlook the off-property dining options within walking distance of Aulani. Just across the street is a shopping center with several restaurant choices. Pizza Corner and Just Tacos serve kid-friendly options you can grab quickly. Leslie’s family’s favorite Monkeypod offers local favorites in a seated dining atmosphere that is casual and family-friendly. You can even grab musubi to go at the ABC Store if you’re only looking for a snack!
Childcare at Aulani
While Aulani is all about family togetherness, sometimes it is nice for parents to get a break from the kids. Aulani has included childcare for potty-trained children ages 3-12 at Aunty’s Beach House.
Aunty’s is truly a kids dream come true, with separate rooms and play spaces for dress up, art projects, Disney movie watching, and more. There are even special programs (some free and some for an additional fee) where kids can make unique crafts, learn about ocean life, or try to hula for the first time. See the complete guide to Aunty’s Beach House for all the details.
For guests with kids not old enough for Aunty’s, Aulani does not have group childcare for children under the age of 3 like Disney Cruise Line does for babies and younger toddlers (Related: Disney Aulani vs. Disney Cruise Line: Which is Best for Your Family?). Luckily, Aulani’s concierge works closely with a local recommended childcare service to provide in-room babysitting at an additional fee. Or just bring grandparents to help out like Joe smartly does!
Note also that younger kids can still experience some time at Aunty’s too. Every morning for about an hour, Aunty’s opens early for an open house where kids of any age can visit with parents accompanying them.
If Aunty’s Beach House is a make-or-break feature you plan to use often, then it might make sense to wait to visit Aulani until your kids turn 3. But if you have kids of a wide variety of ages, waiting until they are all at the right age often isn’t practical or even possible.
Final Secrets & Tips for Aulani with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
Ready to pack your bags for Aulani with your kids? Here are a few final parting tips for travelers with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers:
- Leave the lifejackets at home. Aulani has free life vests of all sizes to borrow, so no need to pack your child’s water wings unless you really think they rely on a familiar device.
- No need to pack or buy sand toys. Similarly, there’s no need to waste luggage space on sand toys. The beach rentals hut, Makiki Joe’s, loans them for free to Aulani guests.
- Make dining reservations. The nicer restaurants at Aulani, particularly the character meals as well as the luau, are very popular. Make reservations well in advance of your trip to get a day and time that works for your family’s plans.
- Pre-register kids for Aunty’s. If you have kids of the right age for Aunty’s Beach House, you must pre-register them before your trip. Do this early as you can also make a reservation for the paid programs at the same time, securing your child a spot on the off-chance the facility reaches capacity.
- Strollers optional. If you have a baby, Aulani is very stroller friendly (although it does not rent them). You may find you don’t even need it. But there is always a path to where you want to go that is stroller or wheelchair friendly, so you won’t have to deal with any stroller related stress!
- Baby supplies are available. You can always buy disposable diapers at Aulani’s store, though you may want to go across the street and save a little money at the ABC Store. Aulani will also provide a diaper pail on request.
- Consider housekeeping needs. If you rented or redeemed DVC points for your stay, don’t forget that your room will only receive housekeeping once every four days. You can pay an extra charge for housekeeping if you need it. Plan accordingly!
Best Ways to Book an Aulani Vacation & Save
Aulani vacations can be expensive, but there are definitely ways to stretch your budget much farther if you plan well. There are a ton of different ways to book an Aulani vacation. Be sure to price compare because the best site for deals for some dates won’t necessarily be the best site for deals another date. Trips With Tykes recommends checking the following:
- David’s Vacation Club Rentals: Save up to 50% on DVC villas – plus get more space to spread out with family.
- Get Away Today: Get Away Today knows Disney travel and sometimes has special travel agent deals you can’t find anywhere else. Mention Trips With Tykes if you give them a call for additional discounts.
- Direct from Disney: During certain seasons, Disney has room rate discounts, occasionally as high as 30% off.
- Hotels.com: While ordinarily I don’t love using middle man online travel agencies, I have not infrequently seen rates lower than the published Disney seasonal discounts on this site, potentially saving families a couple hundred dollars on stays of several days.
About the co-author: Contributing writer Joe Cheung loves traveling with his wife and three children. He has been writing about using miles and points to reduce the cost of family travel on his blog asthejoeflies since his wife was pregnant with their first child. He loves traveling all around the world with a special place in his heart for travel to Asia and all things Disney. When he’s not writing, you can find Joe chatting about Disney World on the Disney planning podcast Disney Deciphered that he and Leslie co-host or chatting about miles and points on his other podcast the Saverocity Observation Deck.