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5 Ways Disney’s Aulani Makes You Feel Like ‘Ohana

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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.

5 Ways Disney's Aulani Makes You Feel Like 'Ohana

‘Ohana means more than just family ~ in Hawaii, it’s an entire way of life (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

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.

Hawaiian tradition meets subtle Disneyana at Aulani in Ko Olina

Hawaiian tradition meets subtle Disneyana at Aulani in Ko Olina (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

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.

Starlit Hui treats guests of Aulani to a taste of Hawaiian traditions brought to life via music, dance and storytelling

The Starlit Hui treats guests of Aulani to a taste of Hawaiian traditions brought to life via music, dance and storytelling (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Starlit Hui

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.

A prerequisite to tending bar at the Olelo Room is being completely fluent in Hawaiian

A prerequisite to tending bar at the Olelo Room is being completely fluent in Hawaiian (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Olelo Room

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.

Laniwai celebrates Hawaii's life-long connection to nature, spirituality and 'ohana

Laniwai celebrates Hawaii’s life-long connection to nature, spirituality and ‘ohana (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

Laniwai Spa

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.

Guests at Aulani can embark on once-in-a-lifetime adventures by land, sea and sky

Guests at Aulani can embark on once-in-a-lifetime adventures by land, sea and sky (Photo credit: Pilar Clark)

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.

Disney's Aulani Resort on Oahu, Hawaii

Disney Imagineers and Hawaiian cultural experts artisans and spiritual leaders worked hand-in-hand when creating Aulani

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.

Read more about Disney’s Aulani Resort on:

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!

About Pilar Clark, The Offbeat Travel Mama

Pilar Clark and travel have been besties since slap bracelets and tight-rolled jeans were a thing. Planning geek-inspired adventures around film and fiction has taken her throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Europe and the Caribbean. Her professional background - award-winning writer and surgical technologist-in-training - is just as eclectic. Pilar lives in Chicago with her husband, two children and rescue pup, Haggis. She is also the gypsetting storyteller behind Say hello to Pilar on Instagram @pilarclark #explorewanderland.

  1. Ellen Lanin says

    Nice to get a Hawaiian language lesson!

  2. I loved the scavenger hunts they have around the property, too!

  3. This place looks AWESOME! Aunty’s Beach House would be a big hit with my family. I’ve spent time on the Big Island, but haven’t made it to Oahu yet. Adding this to my list!

  4. What a beautiful resort! I can’t wait until my son is old enough to really enjoy Disney. The dance party with the characters sounds like so much fun!

  5. Amie O'Shaughnessy says

    I need to get there at some point! Lovely …

  6. Love love LOVE the spa at Aulani. Definitely my favorite spot in the resort

  7. Marcie in Mommyland says

    I’ve been wanting to check out Aulani for years! I love how they are trying so hard to incorporate Hawaiian culture into their resort. I’m curious what they’ve added now that Moana has been released.

  8. Thanks for the info! I need to take my son here one day. I’m from Oahu originally and I love Koolina but I have yet to go to Aulani. I heard it’s a lot of fun!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Mary – Oh, you must! It’s so close to you and it’s like a little slice of Disney in Hawaii!

  9. Wendy Awai-Dakroub says

    Laniwai Is where I get the best lomulomi massages and also to run away from my kids!! Staycations are the best too 🙂

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Are you in Hawaii? Lucky you! I’d love to pop on over to Aulani for a massage whenever I need some pampering!

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