Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, was the last Disney property in the world to shut its doors way back in late March of 2020. After over 7 months of closure, Aulani is back! The hotel, located on the island of O’ahu in Hawaii, just reopened to the public on November 1, 2020.
Like Walt Disney World and other Disney properties around the world that have reopened, Disney’s Aulani will be operating very differently for the remainder of 2020 and well into 2021.
What will be different at Aulani for the foreseeable future? And with the modifications necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, will a vacation at Aulani still be worth the cost? Here’s everything you need to know about Aulani’s reopening changes.
9 Reopening Changes at Disney’s Aulani
The most important change to Aulani vacations this year has nothing to do with Aulani’s rules and operations at all. This requirement comes by way of the state of Hawaii. The bottom line? The vast majority of visitors to Aulani will need to take a COVID-19 test before they head there.
So how did this come to be? The state of Hawaii has had a number of false starts in its efforts to reopen its borders to tourism this summer and fall. For many months, Hawaii required anyone who flew in to quarantine for 14 days. At long last, the islands began accepting some visitors with an alternative to quarantine.
As of October 15, 2020, visitors from the US mainland coming to Hawaii can avoid quarantine if they present a valid negative COVID-19 test (this option has also been extended to visitors from Japan starting on November 6). This test must be taken from one of the partner labs designated by the state. Visitors must take their tests no more than 72 hours before their final flight’s departure time to Hawaii. The testing requirement applies only to visitors ages 5 and up.
The precise procedures for taking a test and presenting the results upon landing in Hawaii are set forth on the state’s website. Roughly speaking, you’ll create an account and register with the Safe Travels Hawaii program, get tested at an approved lab, and upload the negative test results to the site. A QR code is then emailed to present upon arrival in a Hawaiian airport. Because this is rapidly evolving by the day, check official sites for the exact procedures. The travel blog Beat of Hawaii is another great resource to follow for details, as it has covered the testing news daily.
Sounds simple enough, right? Maybe, but maybe not. At least for now, the testing process in the early weeks has been fraught with challenges and potential pitfalls. There are a limited number of lab partners, several of which simply don’t have the availability to meet demand. Some of the testing partners are very expensive – as much as $250 per person, for example, for the lab used by United Airlines at San Francisco International (SFO). Then there is the problem that some labs won’t guarantee results in the 3 day time frame, meaning travelers may have to fly to Hawaii with a pending result and wait in quarantine until those results come back. Tread carefully because overcoming this hurdle to get to Aulani is not necessarily a given.
New Aulani Mobile App
Disney has made major use of mobile apps at Walt Disney World and Disneyland for many years. But until now, Aulani never had an app all of its own. Instead Aulani relied on its old fashioned newspaper style Daily ‘Iwa to inform guests of what was happening around the resort.
Just before the reopening, Aulani decided to get with the times and unveil its own app to improve contactless options at the resort. Guests can log into the app with their Disney account (the same one you’d use for My Disney Experience).
As of right now, the app isn’t as full-featured as the ones at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. There is no mobile ordering functionality which is a huge convenience at Disney parks when trying to grab food. But the app does allow guests to manage their reservations, start the check-in process online, view a complete map of the property, and scope out activity times and offerings.
MagicBands Are Coming!
Although the Aulani app is already here, there are more tech upgrades coming very soon to Disney’s Aulani – namely, Disney MagicBands! These bands have already been in use extensively at Walt Disney World since 2013.
The primary use of MagicBands at Aulani will be for their functionality as a room key. It will be so much easier for travelers to no longer have to keep track of a keycard that can easily be lost in the sand or in the depths of a beach bag. Disney has been relatively mum so far about what else the MagicBands might be used for. Presumably, they could also be used to make room charges in a contactless fashion.
There is no word yet on whether Disney will charge for MagicBands at Aulani, as it will begin doing in 2021 at Walt Disney World. And there’s no date yet for when MagicBands will start being supported at Aulani, but watch this space for details!
No Aunty’s Beach House
For families, one of the major benefits of a vacation at Aulani is its amazing kids club, Aunty’s Beach House. My kids begged to be dropped off multiple times a day so they could see friends and participate in some of the amazing activities.
My husband and I loved having the opportunity for date nights and spa appointments while the kids were entertained and happy. And we especially loved that Aunty’s was included in the cost of an Aulani vacation. Unless we signed them up for one of the couple of paid speciality programs offered a few times a week, Aunty’s Beach House was totally free childcare.
Of course, with new COVID restrictions, Aunty’s Beach House just can’t operate safely right now. And that removes a valuable Aulani benefit for families that would-be travelers need to consider.
Aulani is opening with a limited number of restaurants available for 2020. The restaurants that will be available initially are all more casual restaurants where any available seating would be entirely outdoors. These include:
- Ulu Cafe
- Off The Hook
- Poolside Service
- Wailana Pool Bar
- Pāpālua Shave Ice
- The ‘Ōlelo Room
Notably missing from this list are the fine dining restaurant, ‘AMA ‘AMA, and the restaurant that is home to both of Aulani’s character meals, Makahiki. When ‘AMA ‘AMA and Makahiki do reopen, their availability will limited only to Aulani resort guests who pre-book reservations.
Also missing from the current dining lineup are:
- KA WA‘A Lū‘au
- Mama’s Snack Stop
- Little ‘Opihi’s
- Private Dining
- Wailana Coffee Bar
Restaurants near Aulani that guests are used to visiting may be closed as well. At the shops that are directly across the street from Aulani, one of our family’s favorites, Monkeypod, is currently closed. Roy’s a bit farther down the street is, however, open at limited capacity.
Limited Entertainment, Activities, and Characters
Disney’s Aulani is known for its robust activity and entertainment options in normal times. Many of these offerings, from the fitness center to the spa to the luau, will remain closed in 2020 and into 2021.
So what will be open? Most activities will be centered around the pools and beaches. Available offerings include:
- All pools and hot tubs (note that the adult pool will be open to all ages for now)
- Waikolohe Stream lazy river
- Both water slides (Tubestone Curl and Volcanic Vertical)
- Menehune Bridge (a favorite of my kids as toddlers/preschoolers – see my guide to Aulani with babies, toddlers & preschoolers)
- Keiki Cove splash zone
- Rainbow Reef (one of my family’s most recommended Aulani splurges)
- Menehune Adventure Trail
- Make Your Own Mickey Ears
- Kapala Ki`i (T-shirt stamping)
Disney has been fairly silent about the availability of characters at Aulani during this modified reopening period. Of course, the normal up close meet and greets aren’t possible for now, but Disney has found other ways to make characters visible from afar in its theme parks. In the parks, Disney has staged character cavalcades that work as mini-parades and also has characters visible from a distance at several character meals.
Thus far, Aulani has only made a few characters available. These characters have walked on the lanais of some of the rooms overlooking the pool areas of the resort and waved to guests below. The frequency of these appearances is pretty sparse so far. There is definitely room for improvement compared to what the parks are doing.
Masks & Face Coverings Required
Just like at Walt Disney World, Disney requires face coverings at Aulani for all guests ages 2 and up. The only places face coverings can be removed are while swimming or while stationary and eating or drinking.
This means that masks will be required even while just relaxing by the pool or walking around around in outdoor areas on property. Note that this is a bit more strict than the practices at Walt Disney World pools, where guests are usually more free to leave the masks behind once they enter the gated pool area. The more open layout of Aulani’s pools mixed in with restaurants and stores likely requires more mask vigilance.
Gaiters, bandanas, and valved masks are not allowed at Aulani. The requirements for face coverings are as follows:
- Be two or more layers
- Fully cover the nose and mouth and secure under the chin
- Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- Be secured with ties or ear loops and allow guests to remain hands-free
The state of Hawaii also has a mask law that will apply when Aulani guests are on the beach in front of the resort, which is not Aulani property. The state mask law requires that face coverings be worn in all public areas. Early reports are that Hawaii has ticketed some people without masks on at other beaches like Waikiki, so be prepared to mask up on Aulani’s beach unless you are in the water.
Modified Cleaning & Safety Procedures
In addition to masks, Aulani has implemented a number of new safety and cleaning protocols to keep things safe around the resort. Based upon Disney’s published information as well as guest reports from the first few days the resort has been open, expect at least the following:
- Hand sanitizer stations strategically placed in common areas of the resort.
- Temperature checks entering restaurants.
- Light housekeeping of all hotel rooms only every other day (can be declined if desired and remember that DVC rentals have an even less frequent cleaning schedule).
- Reduced contact menus (signs at quick service restaurants and QR codes at table service restaurants).
- No refillable mugs or self-service beverages.
- No valet parking available.
More Generous Cancellation Policies
Last but certainly not least is Aulani’s cancellation policy. Recognizing that all of these modifications may change guest feelings about taking a vacation and acknowledging that the situation can rapidly change, Aulani is now allowing guests to cancel bookings up to 24 hrs before a trip with no penalty whatsoever. This is a substantial change from the previous policy of 5 days for room-only reservations and 30 days for vacation packages. This flexibility is key and will last at least until May 20, 2021.
If you are going to book an Aulani vacation, the best place to do it is with Trips With Tykes partner Get Away Today. You’ll get the same generous cancellation policies plus the expertise of an experienced travel agency that knows Aulani. Get Away Today is committed to keeping up with the news and updating guests as things change. And, they also offer a price guarantee that automatically secures you better pricing when new discounts are released that apply to your reservation! Fill out this form for a quote request from Get Away Today (and if you prefer to talk to them on the phone, tell them Leslie at Trips With Tykes sent you).
The Bottom Line
So with all of these changes, is Aulani worth it right now for a vacation? For my family, it probably isn’t just yet. This is mainly because of how much we usually make use of the amenities at the resort that are currently unavailable, from Aunty’s Beach House to the amazing luau to the character meet and greets. Navigating the hassles and potential cost of securing a negative COVID test for a family of 4 is also a major deterrent. As testing gets more routine and is more available, we’d certainly reconsider. In fact, I might be eyeing making a tentative spring reservation right now.
That said, I can see the current state of Aulani being worth it for certain types of travelers. For singles and couples who wouldn’t miss the kids club, the quieter pace of the resort could be a welcome change from its usual bustle, although missing out on the spa and fine dining shouldn’t be overlooked in the decision-making process. For Hawaii locals, this is certainly a great opportunity to visit and take advantage of local Kamaʻaina discounts at Aulani. If I lived on the islands, I’d be there in a minute.
Want more information about Aulani generally and the details of its reopening?
- My friend Dusty at MiceChat has a Facebook video tour of the property taken on November 2, 2020.
- A Comprehensive Review of Disney’s Aulani Resort
- 9 Aulani Splurges Worth Your Money
- Disney Cruise Line vs. Aulani: Which is Best for Your Family
- How to Rent DVC Points at Aulani to Save Money