At Disney's Aulani, families bask in an elusive blend of cultural enrichment, relaxation and all-out fun. As parents, we pride ourselves on doing a good job preparing our kids to leave the nest someday. But when they grow from sweet-cheeked babies to big kids and then pre-teens seemingly overnight, it can be hard to let them stretch their wings. My 7- and 10-year-olds aren’t ready to move out of the house anytime soon, but with their own interests blossoming, it can be hard to keep them as close as I did when they were younger.
Experience ‘Ohana at Disney's Aulani
I’m glad my husband and I instilled a love of family time in our children from a young age. For us, that means traveling together as a foursome whenever possible, gathering around the dinner table together, and piling onto the couch for weekly family movie nights. While the rotation of DVDs has changed over the years, there are a few familiar favorites they continue to enjoy, including Disney’s Lilo & Stitch. The offbeat tale of a young Hawaiian girl (Lilo) and an escaped genetic experiment turned galaxy's most wanted extraterrestrial (Stitch), illustrates what it means to believe in “‘ohana,” a word that means “family” in the Hawaiian language.
It wasn't until l I visited Disney's Aulani Resort on Oahu for the first time that I learned that ‘ohana means so much more than a love of immediate family. It's a concept that embraces extended relatives, friends, neighbors, and even visitors. ‘Ohana is an important part of everyday life, woven into the Hawaiian social fabric that joins families and celebrates the welcoming spirit of the islands.
Inspired by that notion, in addition to the natural wonders and rich cultural traditions native to Hawaii, Walt Disney Imagineers worked hand-in-hand with cultural experts, spiritual leaders and local artisans to capture the beauty of ‘ohana. They engineered it into the ultimate family getaway that is Aulani, a noble name that means “messenger of a chief.”
Here are my five favorite ways Disney's Aulani makes you feel like ‘ohana.
Aunty’s Beach House
Spirited Aunty is a lifelong resident of Oahu, and is considered by locals to be a true expert on Hawaiian history and cultural traditions. Her namesake state-of-the-art kids club, dreamed up especially for keiki (kids), invites them to become part of her extended ‘ohana. At Aunty's Beach House kids can play dress up, listen to stories and sing songs around around the enchanted fireplace, make Hawaiian arts and crafts, check out the magical portals depicting Hawaiian scenes, cozy up around rain windows in the movie room, learn to do the hula, and even play with a visiting Disney character or two.
Settle on a lauhala mat on the Halawai Lawn and prepare for a complimentary evening experience like no other. Storyteller and host, Uncle, will lead the family on an unforgettable journey into traditional Hawaiian culture and traditions. Expect enchanting hula performances, interpretive dance, plus classic and modern Hawaiian songs accompanied by torches, paddles, palm fronds, coconut shells and ukulele music. A dance party featuring a few favorite Disney characters – Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Stitch – closes out the night.
Hearing locals speak in their native Hawaiian tongue is like listening to rainbows. At this unique lounge, whose name means “word,” or “to converse,” bartenders fluent in Hawaiian will help you work on pronouncing and learning the language with help from labeled wooden carvings of common objects (look for Mickey Mouse!). Unlike most lounges, this one is truly family friendly, encouraging togetherness under the stars with a side of live Hawaiian music. What’s more, little ones can explore the grounds for secret doors and hidden menehune (mythical Hawaiian mischief makers). Parents will appreciate creative eats like loaded taro chips topped with Kalua pork, fire-roasted pineapple salsa, poi sour cream; teriyaki beef sliders on house-made Hawaiian sweet rolls; and sashimi made with fresh avocado, grapefruit, kukui nuts, and citrus ponzu.
Early Hawaiians used water and heat therapies with massage to treat illnesses and to help restore the body’s functionality, in addition to bathing in the ocean, cool streams, and mineral and sulfur baths in order to “rest” the body’s regulatory system. While a spa might not be the first experience that comes to mind when thinking family-centric activities, Laniwai, which means “freshwater heaven” is all about ‘ohana. A celebration of the Hawaiian connection to nature and spirituality, Laniwai offers treatments for the whole family that focus on joy, life, and good fortune. Herbal pools, six unique rain showers housed in Kula Wai (a 5,000-square-foot outdoor hydrotherapy garden), hot and cold whirlpools, in addition to complimentary Hawaiian body polishes mixed to order, will have the whole family feeling rested and rejuvenated. There’s even a special spa just for teens. Called Painted Sky, the hideaway for ages 13 and up boasts a yogurt bar, relaxation area, computer station, a DIY Hawaiian body polish bar and more.
Aulani Excursions for Every Interest
Aulani is situated in Ko Olina, which means “place of joy.” It was once a sacred area for Hawaiian monarchs and leaders, and it is definitely worth exploring. Aulani offers a number of guided excursions with local experts that introduce guests to everything from scenic views via helicopter to close encounters with marine life. Aulani guests can choose from a variety of excursions, including snorkeling; whale- and dolphin-watching aboard a catamaran (make sure to look for Captain Jack Sparrow's Black Pearl from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean along the coast as you set sail); horseback riding through a private nature reserve and working cattle ranch; hiking through a sacred valley in the lush Hawaiian rainforest; ghost hunting in the dark of night and more.
At Aulani you'll discover the legends of the Hawaiian islands, and a truly authentic Hawaiian experience with subtle touches of Disneyana. And you'll experience the meaning of the word ‘ohana.
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Have you ever visited Disney’s Aulani? Got any tips or questions not covered here? Let us know in the comments below!
A Note from Travel Mamas: Many thanks to Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa for inviting us to experience Hawaiian culture and hospitality firsthand. As always, opinions and experiences are my own. This post includes affiliate links, which helps keep Travel Mamas a free resource for readers like you!