Richard Bunting Discovers the Magic of a Disney-Branded Adventure in Hawaii
When you become a parent, the so-called magical world of Disney is suddenly thrust back into your life. So, when my wife and I were planning our Hawaiian holiday – an adventure we wanted our 15-month-old daughter to enjoy as much as we would – Aulani came to the front of mind.
A Disney resort and spa, Aulani is located on the west coast of Oahu, an easy 40-minute transfer from Honolulu’s international airport. We arrive ready to relax, but also braced for an onslaught of life-sized Disney characters, such is the compromise of parenthood. Thankfully, the reality of Aulani is much different. The resort is thoughtfully designed with Hawaiian culture in mind and the Disney characters – an important inclusion, to be sure – are gently woven into the experience.
The foyer is grand and plush-costume free, providing a sophisticated welcome, and the intricate frescos are a nod of recognition to some significant players in Hawaiian history.
From Disney history, it is Mickey’s lovable pup, Pluto, we spot first. He is wandering below our balcony, which we have made a bee-line for in an effort to get a lay of the land. The balcony is a highlight of our huge one-bedroom villa, which also boasts a large living/dining area, a massive bedroom and an impressive bathroom, spread out over two rooms. A one-bedroom suite can sometimes close in on you when there’s a child in tow, but that certainly isn’t the case at Aulani. Decor is fresh and light with splashes of Hawaiian print driving home the holiday vibe.
Our belongings unloaded, we head downstairs to see if we can track down Pluto and friends. We are hoping to catch a glimpse of Goofy, Stitch and, of course, Minnie and Mickey, but instead discover a network of pools, waterslides built into manmade mountains, and a mesmerising lagoon that I am certain is calling my name.
The lagoon is lined with activity huts and sun beds so we quickly find our spot and hit the water. The perfect temperature! The lagoon is an ideal place to spend the day swimming, sun-baking and building sandcastles. All around us families are enjoying themselves one way or another – not hard when paddleboards, splash zones, tubing adventures and whirlpool spas all included in the vast offering.
There is also an opportunity to snorkel or swim Rainbow Reef. The 353-square-metre purpose-built reef is teeming with vibrant marine life and guests are invited to take the plunge for a closer look. Not a water babe? No worries. The view is just as colourful through the viewing window.
Before we know it, it is late afternoon and time to head back for a drink and dinner. The resort has nine cafés, bars and restaurants, all with something unique to offer, but it’s hard for us to go past Makahiki, a buffet-style restaurant with fresh local produce and international dishes.
The next morning, we are back at Makahiki for a breakfast with a difference. Emma is going to meet Mickey and Minnie over bacon and eggs! This is a must-do for any family staying at the resort. Emma’s face lights up when she meets these two iconic mice and, as parents, we can’t help but be caught in the moment. The breakfast itself becomes almost irrelevant as we are intermittently interrupted by not only Mickey and Minnie, but also their good friends Pluto and Goofy, who pop by for a chat and a cuddle.
For those lucky enough to bag a kid-free evening, The ‘Ōlelo Room offers delicious cocktails with a side serve of live Hawaiian music while the Wailana Pool Bar is also a chic place to unwind. For us though, it is back to the lagoon. Ahhh, the Magical World of Disney!