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Disney Aulani Splurges: 9 Extras Totally Worth Your Money

A vacation at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, in Hawaii is a bucket list trip for many family travelers. The magic of Disney plus the aloha spirit of Hawaii make for a luxurious and fun-filled travel combination. Of course, Hawaiian vacations are also pretty pricey. It is vital to spend your money wisely — to know what is really worthy of a splurge and what to skip.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Disney Aulani Landscape at Rainbow Reef

Luckily, Aulani has a huge number of totally free activities included in a regular stay. There are definitely ways to experience a lot of action at Aulani without spending much additional cash once you get there.

For most people, however, a trip to Hawaii and to Aulani is a truly special vacation experience. Many want to splurge on some special “above and beyond” experiences. Disney has a lot of those as well. The key is knowing what extras are right for your family’s interests, the ages and stages of your kids, and your budget.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Aulani at Night

My family recently had the opportunity to return to Aulani with both of our kids, ages 8 and 4, as guests of Disney. A lot has changed since our first trip in spring 2013 was when I was pregnant with my now 4 year old son. The resort is larger and has many more activity and dining choices. We were able to experience a lot of the Aulani extra activities, meals, and events this trip. Some of these were as guests of Disney but we also put our money where our mouth is and spent our own cash too! It’s all in the name of research and blog content. 😉

Planning an Aulani vacation and need guidance as to what things to do? Here are some of the extras and splurges that we found truly worthwhile you may want to consider too.

VIDEO OVERVIEW OF OUR FAVORITE AULANI SPLURGES:

Disney Aulani Splurges Worth Your While

1. Snorkeling at Rainbow Reef

Rainbow Reef is a man-made saltwater lagoon at Aulani stocked with ocean life, set among the pools. Guests can rent snorkel equipment and dive in with the fish.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Rainbow Reef

Snorkeling at Rainbow Reef.

For family travelers with kids ready to snorkel and who can handle the colder water, this extra activity is simply a must-do. Look out for hidden Mickeys and menehune in the depths during your adventure.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Rainbow Reef Underwater

Underwater life at Rainbow Reef.

Admission is $20 per adult ages 10 & up and $15 for children ages 9 and under for single day access. The price includes all day access to the snorkel equipment. Length of stay access is $39 for adults and $29 for children.

Best For: Kids ages 5-6+, Parents

2. Character Meal at Makahiki

For many Disney travelers, a vacation is not complete without a character meal. Luckily, there are now two options for character dining at Aulani at the Makahiki restaurant.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Makahiki Character Breakfast Mickey

Meeting Mickey at the Aulani Makahiki Character Breakfast.

We tried both character dining experiences at Makahiki: the breakfast hosted by Mickey Mouse and Aunty (offered daily) as well as the newer Menehune Mischief dinner experience (offered approximately 3x a week).

Breakfast is a standard breakfast buffet with choices like Mickey waffles and an omelet station. There is some Pacific cuisine like fried rice in the mix. At breakfast, you’ll likely see Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy along with Aunty leading a musical parade.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Makahiki Character Breakfast Goofy

Getting goofy with Goofy at Makahiki.

At dinner, Donald Duck, Chip & Dale, and Stitch are regulars with Uncle leading the show. Dinner is a buffet filled with seafood, Asian-inspired dishes, kids options, and plenty of decadent desserts. From an extensive sushi bar to giant crab legs, it definitely is a sight to behold.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Meeting Chip at Menehune Mischief Makahiki Dinner

Makahiki’s character dinner, Menehune Mischief, features Chip & Dale.

So which meal option is best? You can never go wrong with Mickey waffles, so breakfast is always a good choice. For kids who are foodies or a bit older, however, the dinner is probably a better option. It is lower key and less crowded than the breakfast where everyone is racing to the buffet to get to the pools and activities for the day. You can really get more value from the magnificent buffet with more adventurous eaters as well. But we are happy we did both!

Best For: Families with kids from babies to tweens.

3. KA WA’A Luau

Many major Hawaii resorts have luaus, but they are not all created equal. I’ve been to quite a few of them in my day. Aulani’s new luau, unveiled in fall 2016, was the best I have experienced. So many luaus have long lines and jam-packed conditions. Aulani’s felt spacious and relaxed. We especially enjoyed the numerous free pre-dinner activities for children like Hawaiian tattoos, paper art, and lei-making.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Kawaa Luau Tattoo

Hawaiian tattoos and other activities in the pre-dinner hour at the KAWA’A luau.

The storytelling within the show was powerful and more authentically focused on Hawaii, as opposed to many luaus which are more of a pan-Polynesia combination show. And of course, the food was plentiful and delicious, from the roasted pig to fresh fish to the extensive kid’s buffet options.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Kawaa Luau

To be sure, all this quality comes at a price, making the KA WA’A luau a major splurge for families. General admission seating is $129 Adults/$79 children (ages 3 through 9). Children under 3 are free. VIP seating with early check-in, priority seating, included drinks, and an enhanced welcome lei is $169 Adults/$109 Keiki (ages 3 through 9).

Best For: Families of all ages, especially multi-gen groups.

4. Laniwai Spa

On my first trip to Aulani, I don’t think I even realized it had a spa. Luckily, I didn’t make the same mistake the second trip.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Laniwai Spa Entrance

Entrance to Laniwai Spa at Aulani.

So many luxury spas are so fancy that they almost make me feel uncomfortable. Disney’s Laniwai Spa at Aulani somehow manages to have all of that same luxury while still feeling welcoming, unpretentious, and even a little whimsical. The highlight is the outdoor hydrotherapy garden Kula Wai where visitors can jump in pools of different temperatures and stand under a variety of rain-style outdoor showers.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Laniwai Spa Hydrotherapy garden

Hydrotherapy garden at Aulani’s Laniwai Spa.

It is pricey, but still fairly in line with what luxury spas in Hawaii charge. With 20% tip, a 50 minute massage will run just over $200. Of course, since Aunty’s Beach House at Aulani offers free included childcare for kids ages 3-12, there is not an additional babysitting cost for parents getting a break from the kiddos.

Best for: Parents who deserve a break, kids looking for a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique style experience.

5. Paddleboard Rental

Disney Aulani Splurges - Paddleboard Rental

Father daughter time on a paddleboard at Aulani.

On both of our vacations, we have rented a paddleboard, which has always been worth it for our active family. The calm lagoon water is simply perfect for beginners or for the more experienced who want to paddle around with their kids. My husband took my daughter out on the board with him and then we switched off during our hour so I could try as well. An hour was more than enough time for several family members to give the activity a try. Rentals are available at the beach activities hut, Makiki Joe’s, for $39 an hour.

Best for: Families with kids ages 3-4+ (kids can ride with an adult)

6. Catamaran Excursion

Disney Aulani Splurges - Catamaran Excursion

The open sea calls!

While we never left the resort the first time we visited Aulani, it is nice to get out and explore other parts of O’ahu. On our recent trip, we went on one of the off-site catamaran excursions that Disney offers. We left from a marina about 15 minutes from the resort and cruised for a half day to see dolphins and snorkel off the shore of one of O’ahu’s most famous and remote beaches.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Catamaran Snorkeling

Snorkeling on our Aulani Disney-guided catamaran excursion.

These excursions are almost like miniature Adventures by Disney day trips because of the presence of an experienced Disney guide making everything run smoothly. Our guide was exceedingly knowledgeable and turned our day of sailing into a full fledged educational experience. He shared Hawaiian history and culture during our bus transports. During our snorkeling adventure, he even grabbed an octopus from the ocean depths and brought it to the surface for kids to view.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Catamaran Snorkeling with Octopus

Our Disney guide dove down to find an octopus to show the kids!

Like the luau, the excursions Disney offers are a major splurge – about $150 per person for the catamaran tour. But the full service experience from Disney is like no other and all the logistics from transportation to food are covered. (Other excursions, like ziplining, horseback riding, etc. are available from the activities desk as well).

Best for: Families with kids ages 6-7+ ready to snorkel in the ocean.

7. Refillable Mug

Disney Aulani Splurges - Refillable Mug

Beverage stations to refill coffee and sodas at Aulani.

Many Disney destinations over the years have offered an all-you-can-drink refillable mug option. There’s one at Aulani too! For just $18 plus tax, you can purchase a mug that can be used for soda, coffee, tea, and hot cocoa for the entirety of your stay. Given the cost of beverages a la carte, this is hardly a splurge in the end. In fact, it may well offer you a value – it pays for itself after about 4 drinks.

Best for: Parents who need caffeine, even in paradise.

8. Villa Upgrade

Disney Aulani Splurges - One Bedroom Villa

King bed in a one bedroom villa at Aulani.

You can’t go wrong with any of the accommodations at Aulani. The larger villa accommodations at Aulani, however, offer a lot of amenities above and beyond regular rooms that may well be worth the upgrade.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Villa Living Room and Kitchen

Living area, kitchen, and dining area in an Aulani one bedroom villa.

My family was able to stay in a one bedroom villa on our most recent visit. I think we may never book anything else after the experience (our first trip was in a studio villa when we had only one child). Our one bedroom villa had a full kitchen, stackable washer and dryer, separate sleeping area for the kids, an enormous bathroom with two sink areas and a separate shower and tub, and more.

VIDEO TOUR OF A ONE BEDROOM AULANI VILLA:

 

Of course, the price for this upgrade can be substantial. One bedroom villas regularly rent for $700+ a night or more while a regular room is more like $500. But you can often save big bucks by taking advantage of seasonal sales or renting villa accommodations for less by renting DVC points from a company like David’s Vacation Club Rentals.

Best for: Families with 2-3 kids, families with babies or toddlers who need a separate sleeping space to get rest.

9. Photopass

Disney Aulani Splurges - PhotoPass Lazy River Father Daughter

Photopass photographers are even in the lazy river!

Last but certainly not least, I always highly recommend Photopass to all Aulani visitors staying more than a night or two. Too many guests don’t realize Photopass is available just like at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. They discover it too late to take full advantage!

There are photographers all over Aulani (often at character meet and greets and even in the pools!) who will take shots of your family. They will give you a little card with a barcode to track your photos later. You can then purchase all the photos from your entire vacation for just $99.

How can you maximize PhotoPass even more? Sunset beach photos. I highly recommend going down to the beach in the hour before sunset. Two or three Photopass photographers are usually camped out there to take family portraits for no additional fee. We managed to get a shot for our family Christmas card this way!

Best for: Everyone!

Disney Aulani Splurges - Photopass Family Sunset Photos on Beach

Family photos at sunset with Aulani’s Photopass photographers.

Honorable Mention: Aunty’s Beach House Premium Experiences

Our schedule didn’t work out to take advantage of the premium experiences at Aunty’s Beach House (Aulani’s “kids club”), but it’s worth mentioning for many Aulani visitors. Aunty’s Beach House offers two additional activities for a fee on top of the regular programming that is included in the cost of your Aulani stay.

Disney Aulani Splurges - Auntys Beach House Siblings Photopass

Siblings playing together at Aunty’s Beach House at Aulani (photo captured by Photopass photographers!)

I’ll have a full guide to everything Aunty’s Beach House coming soon, but here is why I think these premium experiences may be very valuable. If you are traveling to Aulani during a peak time when there is a risk that Aunty’s may occasionally reach capacity, booking a premium experience guarantees your child a spot in Aunty’s for the special programming and beyond that day. Since you can reserve these experiences in advance of your vacation, there’s no need to stand in lines the day-of, as other Aunty’s activities or meal reservations sometimes require.

Traveling to Disney's Aulani Resort in Hawaii? While many activities are included, there are a few splurges worth saving money for too! The top things to do, from the Ka Wa'a Luau to character meals to the Laniwai Spa and much more. #Aulani #Disney

Disclosure: Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, provided my family with complimentary accommodations, travel, and some activities and meals during our Aulani vacation. We incurred additional activity, dining, and other costs during our trip. As always, all opinions are my own. 

Read more about Aulani:

Headed to the Disney Aulani Resort in O'ahu Hawaii? What splurge activities, things to do, and meals are worth your money, even on a budget. A look at the luau, character dining, room upgrades, Laniwai spa, excursions, and more. #Aulani #DisneyAulani #Hawaii #Oahu #Disney

 

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Natalie

Tuesday 16th of April 2019

Great article. I appreciate all the tips, especially the tip on photo pass and the rooms. I look forward to eventually making out to Aulani with my family. I book guests there and since I do not have personal experience with the property yet I appreciate finding good tips!

Ash

Friday 16th of November 2018

Hi, are the tattoos at the luau free to guests or an extra expense?

Stephen Shih

Friday 28th of September 2018

I think the upgrade is worth it. You get into the activities area before it gets super busy and you get much better seats. Also, the adults can make up a bit for the price difference with alcohol :p

Nikki

Friday 6th of April 2018

For the luau, is it worth the extra charge to upgrade to the VIP? We're going for the first time later this year and I was wondering. Thanks for the great article!

wendy

Saturday 10th of March 2018

great article. i'm heading to Aulani in May and can't wait