Growing up my family took my brother and I to Disney World three times, once when I believed that my beloved Ariel was actually Ariel, and then twice when I was much older (though for some reason, still insisted I take a picture with The Little Mermaid). Regardless of my age when visiting, the magic that one feels at any of the Disney properties is undeniable. As a child I thought it was the princesses and castles, as a teen I believed it was the fun I couldn’t help but have with my family, and as adult, on my most recent trip, I realized that the magic is in the details of Disney. From the service to the decor, its simply the attention to detail that astonishes me each time.
As true with every aspect of Disney, behind every corner there is a story waiting to be told, and at the Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in beyond beautiful Ko Olina on the Island of Oahu, the stories are endless! Pulling up to the majestic resort and receiving your welcome lei, it becomes clear the Imagineers left no stone unturned, and in fact carved many of these stones into the little menehune – a mystical creature that comes out at night to build bridges, temples, and homes across the Hawaiian Islands. It’s this attention to detail, local stories, and culture that makes Aulani unlike any Hawaiian resort I’ve personally visited in the past.
Everything at Aulani tells the story of Hawaii. The reception area, with it’s vibrant collage of photos taken by local children, who were told to show what Hawaii looked like to them using just a single color. The tale told through the decor and murals across expansive resort itself, separated into male- and female-inspired sides and at it’s core a representation of the past, present, and future towards all that awaits you during your stay. Even the gift shop tells the story of mom and pop shops across the islands, everywhere you turn there’s a story to be told. To hear one in the native Hawaiian language, or to learn a few words yourself, stop for a Mai Tai in The ‘Ōlelo Room, a lounge inspired by the Hawaiian language, where cast members must be fluent and just about everything is labeled for you to learn! Watch as hula and fire dancers tell their own island stories at the Starlit Hui or settle around the fire-pit to hear native tales from a master storyteller as you sit under the stars.
Of all the stories I uncovered at Aulani, it is the story that is hidden away in it’s very own “fresh water heaven” that was my very favorite. Laniwai is the kind of spa that stays with you long after you’ve left, case in point: I got back a month ago and my pedicure still looks fresh! The moment you walk through the doors into Laniwai you are greeted with the fresh, invigorating scent of the Hawaiian maile flower, which instantly preps you to start your journey through the spa. The concept here was inspired by a rainbow, blending reflective light, brilliant color, and healing water to create a a fabulous story within itself, all while embracing the Hawaiians connection to and reverence for nature. After you check in you will be invited to select a stone from a basket, which will have a word like strength or dream carved into it (in both English and Hawaiian) and this will set the intention of your visit. “I wanted guests to have a journey,” explained Spa Director Lucia Rodriguez, “to be mindful.” The stones have a very Disney-appropriate “wish-element” to them, as you walk through the deep-blue lit curved hallway with your stone in hand and hear the sounds of rainwater hitting rainforest leaves above you, with ‘Ōhi’a tree sticks creating a floating path lining the ceiling, you reach to a small water fountain, and here in the center of the spa representing the arch of the rainbow, you reflect on the word etched into your stone and drop it into the water. Then you are off to change into your plush robe and await a treatment in the freshwater heaven.
Just like the resort itself, Laniwai has something for the whole family. The Ohana Means Family treatment (Lilo & Stitch, anyone?) treats families of three to four (with children 5 and older) the importance of healing as a family unit. What I love about this treatment is that the family gets to spend time together, learning something new that they can take home with them since the youngest child is gifted with a lomi lomi stick to continue the tradition long after they’ve left Aulani. The fun for kids and teens doesn’t end here, Painted Sky, the teen spa offers up cleansing facials, a DIY Blend Bar (pictured) for scrubs and face masks that they can pack up and try in the comfort of the room, plus, a frozen yogurt bar with tons of yummy toppings! Many teens end up meeting friends that they spend time with during their trip to Aulani at Painted Sky and this summer there are a few fun events already in the works. When it comes to the teen facial options Lucia and her team wanted to have products that truly delivered, since we all know with the teen and tween set, instant gratification is a must! Enter: Intraceuticals Clarity which has helped many teens who stop by Painted Sky with some angry acne flair ups who still want to look great for some fun in the sun! For those that prefer a more natural touch, Primavera all-natural facials are also offered, which the adults who visit the main spa can enjoy as well.
For us big kids who are seeking a more results-oriented approach, Laniwai offers Priori facials, like the Triathalon which seriously left my skin radiant and glowing. Not in the mood for a facial? Try one of Laniwai’s many massage and body therapies including my favorite, the Signature Laniwai Lomilomi which incorporates the lomi lomi stick on your feet and legs and hot stones on your back and neck to truly soothe and release tension across your entire body. (Which is great after an AM Paddle Fitness, Beach Yoga, or TRX class!) Whether you’re a guest of the resort, just passing through Ko Olina, or a local who lives in Oahu year-round, you simply must stop by for a treatment and spend time in Oahu’s only outdoor hydrotherapy circuit, Kula Wai. Featuring a 6 rain shower circuit, a Pulu Bar for blending custom aromatherapy scrubs for use in your treatments, a cold plunge, hot tubs, and vitality pools (for an extra fee), Kula Wai is truly the fresh water heaven the spa was named after.
Outside of Laniwai, one of my favorite aspects of the resort was that it was pleasantly accommodating for adults both with and without children. Drop the kiddies off at Aunty’s Beach House and head over for some private time at Lani Wai, for dip in the adult pool, or for dinner and drinks at Ama Ama, the resort’s beachside restaurant which offers gorgeous sunset views and some seriously delicious dining! If the mood ever strikes you to step away from the magic of Aulani for the day, schedule a visit to the North Shore for a stop at the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice and to check out Turtle Beach, where you might spot a sea turtle (or five!) lounging in the island sun!
From fitness and food to rest and the ultimate in relaxation, Aulani is a picture perfect Hawaiian getaway the entire family will enjoy!