Aulani at Thanksgiving

I’m not good at trip reports, and this could very well be a stream of conscience type of thing, but I wanted a place to capture some of my experiences for the next person planning a trip there.

We own at BLT, so we were booking at the 7 month mark. It’s hard for us to visit Hawaii and not see the ocean from our room, so that was the only room type I watched frequently. When I would occasionally look at the other room types, the cheaper views/hotel rooms were pretty consistently booked and looked like people were walking reservations. Ocean view stayed pretty open the whole way, and we used some banked points for 6 nights (x25ppn=150pts). We stayed Saturday 11/18-Friday 11/24.

[Side note we bought a 125pt resale contract in 2014. The math made financial sense for us then, I don’t know if it would be ‘worth it’ today. I made a ridiculous spreadsheet to do a bunch of analysis, so YMMV. We’re now locked into Disney trips until 2060, whereas investing the contract cost could yield funds to vacation elsewhere.]

My biggest complaint of the whole trip is the way they’ve modified Aunty’s Beach House. Now, children have to be pre-booked up to 60 days out. Only for 1.5 hours at time, and only at 8a, 10a, or noon. No spontaneous dropoffs or late night services. This fouled plans of an adults only dinner date. I missed that reservations opened at 60 days, and with the busy holiday week, most time slots were already booked when I realized at roughly the 45 day mark. There are some other activities offered at cost (~$65) for the hours.

The other family activities like drawing and ukulele lessons are also bookable via clicking around on the same site I guess this all adds too my least favorite part: pre-planning. It’s one thing to plan a WDW trip months in advance, for Hawaii, I want to be a bit more spontaneous and go with the flow. Instead, I was making a spreadsheet and blocking out when we’d have activities so I could make dinner reservations around them.

Day 1 (travel day)
LGB is our standard SoCal airport, and there are non-stop flights to HNL. With a pile of points and WN companion passes, Southwest has been our standard airline. Prices were pretty high when the calendar opened, and we sucked it up and paid those prices, but I kept watching and changing to cheaper fares as the price dropped. Eventually prices dropped to about $440 RT per person. We already had an afternoon arrival, but our flight was delayed over an hour, getting us to paradise later in the day than I’d like. We had a midsize SUV rented through Dollar via Costco (another thing I watched and rebooked with price drops). Parking is free when using points, and while we didn’t drive much, I appreciate the flexibility and freedom that comes with a rental car. The flight was smooth, no outlets on board yet, so make sure you bring your extra batteries. The snack box comes with Wheat Thins, shelf-stable, spreadable cheese, snack mix, and gummy bears. We also packed sandwiches and extra snacks in a cooler. I’ve never had issues with ice and coolers with TSA, I just make sure to drain any melted water just prior to going through.

There wasn’t any line at the dollar counter, which was a welcome surprise and we selected a Nissan Rogue, just big enough for our four suitcases and carry-ons.

We drove straight to the hotel as we figured there wasn’t anything we needed at the grocery store that day. Another complaint is the lack of welcome leis. They stopped ‘because of COVID’ but there aren’t any other COVID restrictions in place at the hotel anymore, so cost-cutting seems to be the only reason they haven’t returned (plenty of other resorts have brought them back. After dropping off our things, we went over to Mekiko for dinner. We didn’t have a reservation, but were sat right away. I thought the food was good and would go back on a future trip. The service was a bit scattered, but there was a large party next to us dominating a good part of the wait staff. Fortunately there was live music to keep us entertained

We headed back to the resort, changed into swimsuits, grabbed wristbands, and were able to make it around the lazy river twice before it shut down for the night. The tube slide closed at 6p each day, the body slide and lazy river closed at 8p. The pools closed at 10p.

Day 2
We had pre-booked reservations to hike Diamond head a few weeks in advance (opened 30 days out, but we didn’t rush this booking). We booked an 8-10a spot knowing we’d be up early with the time change. On the way, we stopped and bought a box of Leonard’s malasadas ( and breakfast burritos at Kono’s. The parking lot is tight, but we lucked into a spot and just beat a rush of folks. As we were ordering, the employee’s eyes got really wide, and we turned around to see what was an empty store moments before now had a line out the door. We dinged driving to the crater parking lot and ate there. Both things were delicious: you can’t go wrong with any of the fillings of malasadas and the Kahlua pork burrito was great.

I’m glad we booked an early hike because the sun was up and made things hot. We had a bit of shade on the trail, but a grumpy 8 year old needed lots of encouragement to keep going. The hike isn’t very strenuous, though it’s uphill all the way to the top. Strollers aren’t feasible, but I saw plenty of people carrying babies and people of all shadows and sizes completing it. Even though it isn’t a crazy hike, it’s an iconic landmark and something I’ve wanted to do for several years and kept putting it off each trip. It’s about a mile each way and took us a little over an hour including stops and lots of photos at the top.

We were going to meet a friend in Waikiki for lunch, so we killed time but visiting the Honolulu zoo for a few hours. Another thing I’ve wanted to do but hadn’t. It’s not terribly large, but we saw a lot of animals and going to zoos is something we enjoy as a family.

Lunch was Maui Brewing Co. The fish and chips were a good portion, but I’m too old to want to scan a QR code to order my food. The waitress noticed our non-GenZ frowning and brought us paper menus and took our order (on her waitress phone).

We grabbed some groceries at Foodland on the way back to the hotel. I know lots of people go to Costco for the real savings, but there wasn’t anything bulky enough we needed, and Foodland prices are at least better than resort prices.

We had ukulele lessons that afternoon and drawing later that evening. It was weird to me that they moved those activities from the community center into Aunty’s, but I guess it’s because Aunty’s isn’t open for childcare and they can run a paid activity in the community center.

Dinner was at the Island Gourmet Market. Unfortunately the hot line shut down early that night and we just missed it, so we got a few warm items from the grab-and-go area and ate them at table outside. The deli there isn’t cheap, but it sure is less expensive than the resort restaurants. It definitely fills the zone of ‘not cheap, but cheaper than on property food, and I’ve already spent so much to be here, I’m going to save an extra $30 by leaving the property and walking across the street instead of paying resort prices.’ Sundries and groceries are more expensive than Food land, (the 6 pack of Mickey bars sold in many grocery stores was $20), but most things are cheaper than at the hotel. There are more food options than on property, and lots of souvenir options. They sell cute surf board cutting boards that look like they’d be great for autographs, do much so, they sell sharpies right next to them!

Random thoughts
Since I’m doing such a horrible job adding daily doings, I’ll try to add some notes

  • Makahiki isn’t a buffet any more, and it doesn’t look like it ever will be, since there is a wall that looks pretty permanent installed in front of the former serving line. The serving line is still there, I guess it was just cheaper to build a wall than to take down the other stuff.

    Makahiki was okay for breakfast, the characters were fun, but our server was off and didn’t bring us the yogurt until the end. I guess I also want more food for $50, especially for my “adult” 11 year old.

  • this event had an upcharge ($65 maybe?) But was fully booked

  • Thanksgiving offerings for order at the market

    Compared with the on-property Turkey day offerings at Ulu

  • we thought the luau was great and didn’t mind paying the upcharge for the premium seats. We were along the aisle, third row of tables from the stage. I would’ve liked to be closer to the stage, but it was nice being on the aisle to see the dancers who performed on the island stages. The pre-show activities were fun. Food is good (better than some of the kitchy luaus like Paradise cove around the corner. Unlimited drinks are also awesome when you only have to stumble to an elevator and not drive.
    (To be continued)

More photos of the resort (with and without commentary)

We never could plan the timing right for feeding the fish, but it wasn’t too expensive to be a feeder, though if you’re snorkeling, it’s fun watching the fish go crazy.

  • I was surprised the Mickey shave ice was reasonably priced (same as Mickey bars)

  • equipment rentals by the beach

    Free sand toys to check out, and boogie boards even though they’re aren’t any waves

  • I recommend story time with Uncle by the firepit

  • there would be random dancers or musicians adding to the ambiance

  • check the schedule for characters! Some would have a bit of a line 10-15 min) but some would hardly have anyone waiting from Max and Goofy to Moana, to all the Duffy friends, and more.

  • while the Roy’s at the golf course feels a little dated inside, the food was great and a prix fixe meal was reasonable. Monkeypod is also great with a good happy hour. Both take advance reservations

Sushi at the market across the street