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Aulani: A Review

Dsauer1

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Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, in Ko Olina, Oahu, Hawaii, represents Disney's first major resort not affiliated with a theme park. (Its Disney Vacation Club has timeshare resorts in Vero Beach FL and Hilton Head SC.)

Set on a man-made lagoon about a half hour west of Honolulu, the resort is comprised of a central lobby area and two 14 and 16 floor towers featuring both Vacation Club studio, one, two, and three bedroom units and hotel rooms.

As this is written in January 2012, many rooms in the east Ewa tower are still undergoing interior construction though there appeared to be no exterior cranes or site work underway. For all practical purposes the resort is complete for the average guest.

When complete, the resort will include 360 hotel rooms and 481 Disney Vacation Club two-bedroom equivalent timeshare villas.

Our room was a deluxe studio on the third floor, the lobby level, which made access to most public areas very easy. The room had a queen bed and a sleeper sofa, flat screen TV and full bath. The WIFI was excellent both in the room and in public areas, even by the pool near the beach.

The decor aims at authentic Hawaiian style and the use of native woods, rock, and artwork throughout set this resort apart from the gleaming white (and sterile) look of the J. W. Marriott resort next door. Lush landscaping and use of water in ponds, fountains, and streams belie the fact that this resort has been open only five months.

We are DVC members and had an eight night reservation following a three day stay in Waikiki. Ko Olina is an exclusive tourist area much like Kaanapali in Maui and there is a security gate needed just to enter. A common complaint of some reviewers has been that there is not much to do here unlike busy Waikiki or a Disney theme park. We didn't find this a problem; while a concierge and tour desk can arrange trips around the island, we enjoyed lounging by the pool and making use of the resort's own amenities.

Chief among these is the Waikolohe Valley pool area. This is called a valley as it resides between the two massive resort towers, Ewa and Wai'anae, akin to a tropical space between two Hawaiian mountain ranges. Within this valley is children's water play area where staying dry would be a great challenge. Two infinity spas overlook the lagoon and there are two other spas in the valley, one almost invisible from nearby trails.

For security hotel guests are issued different colored wrist bands each day when they use the pools. This is to dissuade non-Disney folks from using the pool. And, thank goodness, there is a policy against "towel on the lounge chair" saving of pool chairs. Items are removed after an hour of non-use. The message: use the chair or use it. This will be even more important once the resort is fully finished. And with fewer nearby attractions available, there will be more people staying in the pool areas.

A lazy river, Waikolohe Stream, surrounds a huge mountain that includes both an inner tube slide and a standard water slide (though this second slide is totally dark as it winds through the mountain.) Occasionally the mountain erupts with some mild fire effects and there is a small cave where one can see some lave and fire effects close up. Like the Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom, the mountain and rock work around it feature well concealed carved sea life much of which I did not see until I had taken a few trips around the river. There is even a chicken, a reference to the wild birds that roam neighboring Kawai.

Some of these carvings include whales that "blow" occasionally as a result of guests playing the Menehune Adventure Trail, a KimPossible type activity involving a smart phone device which leads guests around the Valley to activate fires, rocks, music, and even whales carved in rocks. The host is a pleasant Hawaiian woman known only as Auntie. This is same character in Auntie's Beach House, the children's child care and activity center. Guests may use these facilities including the child care free (for children 3+ years and potty trained) just like on Disney Cruise ships.

One activity that is fun (and free) is locating the little Menehune statues throughout the resort. These mythical Hawaiian sprites can found lounging around the gardens in Waikolohe Valley, asleep atop a moulding in an elevator, or riding a decorative outrigger near the water slide. Hidden Mickey's? I haven't seen many, though the Disney characters are available for photos during the day and there is a musical revue with them and native musicians three nights a week in a lawn area near the quiet pool.

Two admission fee based activities are the Rainbow Reef and the Makai Reserve adjacent to the pool area. Rainbow reef is akin to the salt water snorkeling area of Typhoon Lagoon. For $20 guests can swim with multicolored tropical fish ($39 for a length of stay pass.) Two aquarium type windows are available for landlubbers to view the many small multicolored species that inhabit the pool. This may be to your liking if swimming in the lagoon a few hundred feet away does not appeal to you. But the lagoon is free and, while cloudy due to guest activity in the near shore, there are plenty of fish out by the rocky areas that mark the mouth of the lagoon. My advice is to walk to either side of the mouth and swim toward the middle. I saw lots of fish and even a three-legged turtle that I discovered goes by the name of Lucky. The Makai Reserve is an area where for $50 one can interact with sting rays in a pool.

On a couple of evenings each week a musical show, "Starlight Hui," is presented on a stage by a grassy area on the west side of the property. This mix of Hawaiian storytelling, hula, ukulele playing, and audience participation was a pleasant way to spend an evening. Of course, Mickey and friends came to the stage at the end of the program.

If the costs of some activities seem high, well, welcome to Hawaii. Though even for Hawaii, local prices are higher due to the fact that this area is tourist oriented and, at least for the near future, is in a place that is away from much of the commercial activity. As we were staying in a DVC unit, we had a modest kitchen area with microwave and refrigerator. About four miles away are a number of shopping sites such as Costco, Safeway, and Target as well as nationally recognized fast food places. An ABC store is across the street north of the resort. A small gift shop is near the main lobby .

The resort also features a full service spa called Laniwai (varied treatments for a fee) and an exercise area (free.) Near the spa is a pleasant teen lounge, Painted Sky, with computers, games, and a frozen yogurt bar.

This is a tactful way of saying we did not try all the restaurants at Aulani. As frequent visitors to both Maui and Disney World where prices can be high, we were taken aback by the by the food prices. We ate at Makahiki once. The Makahiki dinner buffet is $43 and the beachfront Ama AMA restaurant has entrees in the $30-80 range. The food was fair and our dinner was accompanied by several pre-schoolers intent on re-enacting the Battle of Midway. Menus can be viewed online at a number of sites. Personally, we enjoy Starwood properties that have well-maintained onsite barbecues. I was told by a DVC staffer that the resort will install electric barbecues when the Ewa Tower DVC room are completed.

If Aulani is your sole target for a Hawaiian vacation, a car is a must. Shuttles from the airport run about $70 each way. Parking at the resort is $35 per day (free for DVC members using points for their stay.) An Alamo car rental is onsite. Some people rent a car on a daily basis on the resort and avoid the parking charge. A day long shopping tour into Honolulu is a featured activity that the resort offers. The bus travels to a few big malls including the Ala Moana Mall near Waikiki; the cost is $30 per person for a day of shopping. There is a strong draw here for tourists from Japan, a demographic to which Disney is aiming a great deal of marketing. Signage around the resort is in both English and Japanese.

Staying at Aulani is not cheap. Rates for standard rooms, ocean view, is about $400 per night that adds up to about $3,500 a week with taxes. A studio like ours runs about $600 per night. We were lucky; we used points for a pool view room and, while we are on the lobby or 3rd floor, we still see the ocean as well as parts of the Waikolohe stream and children's water play area.

Having stayed at many Disney resorts in the US, Asia, and Europe, this resort ranks in the top tier. And in Aulani Disney has found a surefire ticket to providing a quality vacation experience that does not require a theme park.
 

Amy

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And, thank goodness, there is a policy against "towel on the lounge chair" saving of pool chairs. Items are removed after an hour of non-use. The message: use the chair or use it.

Thanks for the review. Did you actually observe staff enforce this rule?
 

Dsauer1

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Thanks for the review. Did you actually observe staff enforce this rule?

Yes, we saw pool staff removing unused towels on chairs that were placed there. The sign by the towel check out area also mentioned that getting to the pool area early was one way of enduring a chair. There are literally hundreds of chairs around this massive facility. What will happen when the Eastern Ewa tower of DVC rooms opens is anyone's guess. It was crowded in January when 2/3 complete; imagine Spring Break and a completed resort.
We are glad we went when we did.
 

slum808

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We recently completed a trip to Aualani and I filled out their survey form online. One of the things I mentioned were the lounge chairs. One of the problems is a lack of space to store your things. We don't use louge chairs to sit in, but we do use one to place my shirt, slippers, towel, hat, and sunglasses when we go into the pool. I hate to take up a chair for that, but there is no where else to store your things. If they had cubbie holes close by, I would use that, but they don't.
 

Dsauer1

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We recently completed a trip to Aualani and I filled out their survey form online. One of the things I mentioned were the lounge chairs. One of the problems is a lack of space to store your things. We don't use louge chairs to sit in, but we do use one to place my shirt, slippers, towel, hat, and sunglasses when we go into the pool. I hate to take up a chair for that, but there is no where else to store your things. If they had cubbie holes close by, I would use that, but they don't.

An extra chair for belongings is not the issue. I am not sure that many resorts have storage areas like you describe- Disney would love you to rent a cabana. What we observed were people laying out 4-6 towels on as many chairs, then leaving for the morning. After a couple of hours, the pool staff asked about the chairs and, when no one responded, picked up the towels. We also own at several Starwood properties in HI, Palm Springs,and Cancun and this is a problem that is being addressed by limiting the number of towels a person can get. By the way, the Aulani towels are huge- very handy when at the pool.
 

LannyPC

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I know most people on these boards adamantly preach "Buy resale and not from the developer." Might this resort be an exception to the rule?

By the way, what are MFs like at this resort?
 

heathpack

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I know most people on these boards adamantly preach "Buy resale and not from the developer." Might this resort be an exception to the rule?

By the way, what are MFs like at this resort?

Why do you feel like Aulani is a reason to buy from the developer?

I used my resale DVC points (which were an ok, but not blazing, bargain) to stay at Aulani and amortizing my purchase price over 15 years, my cost/night for an OV studio was $250- not exactly a bargain. But buying direct from Disney and amortizing over the same time, the cost would be about $350/night +/-. It will be a long time (if ever) that the savvy DVCer can not obtain a unit at Aulani, and by the time that starts happening Aulani resales will likely be available at a more attractive price. Very different than the tiny DVC at Villas at Grand Californian- it is already tricky to book this resort if you don't own there.

Aulani rocks but it's hard to make the math work on an Aulani purchase IMO.

H
 

slum808

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I too use my resale DVC points to stay at Aulani. Off season months are easy to book, but I'm starting to believe that the three summer months will be hard to get on a regular basis at the 7 month window. There's a debate about it going on right now at Mouseowners.com. I wouldn't buy direct, but when the future resale market opens up, I might consider it. As long as price stays about $60-$70/pt, I think I'll just go in none summer months. Its cheaper point wise anyway.
 

LannyPC

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Why do you feel like Aulani is a reason to buy from the developer?
H

I know there are very few cases where it makes sense to buy from the developer. I just figured that since this was DVC and Hawaii that that would make it very popular.

I also asked about the MFs to see if this resort is one of those rare TS resorts where rental prices can easily exceed the MFs. If Aulani falls into that category, then it would be a high-demand resort which, in turn, would make for high resale prices -- perhaps above what the developer is selling for? :shrug:
 

slum808

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All DVC properties rent for more than their MFs. I can easily rent my VGC points for twice my MF. Resale prices will always be lower than Developer. For one, Disney puts restrictions on the usage of resale points. Developers make sales by mostly on emotions. They sell dreams and wishes. Resales are based on actual facts and cost calculations. Resales are the true market value of a property. The only reason to buy direct is if you must own before resales hit the market.
 

heathpack

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I know there are very few cases where it makes sense to buy from the developer. I just figured that since this was DVC and Hawaii that that would make it very popular.

I also asked about the MFs to see if this resort is one of those rare TS resorts where rental prices can easily exceed the MFs. If Aulani falls into that category, then it would be a high-demand resort which, in turn, would make for high resale prices -- perhaps above what the developer is selling for? :shrug:

Food for thought:


Aulani 2BR OV summer week 595 points
Current developer price for a 595 points purchase (including incentives) $119/pt x 595 = $70,805
Lenght of contract: 50 years
Amoritized cost per year (50 years) = $1416.10

Current MF $5.96/pt x 595 pt = $3,546.20
Probable annual MF increase 3%/yr
Anticipated dues 5 yr from now ~ $4100/yr. Rent for $5500/wk to break even.
Anticipated dues 10 yr from now ~ $4800/yr. Rent for $6200/wk to break even.
Anticipated dues 15 yr from now ~ $5500/yr. Rent for $6900/wk to break even.
Anticipated dues 25 yr from now~ $7500/yr. Rent for $8900/wk to break even.
Anticipated dues 35 yr from now ~ $10,000/yr. Rent for $11400/wk to break even.
Anticipated dues at end of contract ~ $16,000/yr. Rent for $17400/wk to break even.

Value of $70,805 in 50 years at 3%/yr annual return ~$310,000

H
 
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Jay_G

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Many people made a big deal about not being able to use DVC points to book the regular hotels or cruise when you buy resale.

However when you look at the point charts it just doesn't make any sense.
Port Orleans Standard View in the lowest time of year is 18 points sun-thur and 27 points fri & Saturday. Booking on Expedia with no coupon codes or discounts it's $164 during the week and $179 on the weekend.

Yet a Studio at AKL villas using the same site is $430 a night, and only costs 11 Points Mon - Thurs & 13 Friday & Saturday.

You could easily rent your points at AKL to someone else and pay cash for Port Orleans, if you really wanted to stay there.
 

heathpack

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So is this deeded or RTU?

DVC is both. You actually own a piece of deeded real estate, your ownership is represented by a certain number of vacation points, and the deed expires after 50 years.

It is a RTU with a deed.

H
 

hypnotiq

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It will be a long time (if ever) that the savvy DVCer can not obtain a unit at Aulani, and by the time that starts happening Aulani resales will likely be available at a more attractive price.

And it looks like Aulani is on the resale market already.

http://www.dvc-resales.com/dvclisting.cfm

AR50-02-0224 Aulani Resort- Sale Pending 50 February $425.00 0 50 $6,000.00
100 points coming on 2/1/13 (50 + 50 banked points from 2012, banked points need to be used by 2/1/14) and 50 points coming on 2/1/14. Can close 7/2/12. Priced at $120 per point.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

AR150-02-0312 Aulani Resort-$100/pt. 150 February $500.00 1791 $15,000.00
300 points currently available and 150 points coming on 2/1/13. Priced at $100 per point.
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AR320-03-0113 Aulani Resort-$129/pt. 320 March $900.00 43.10 9 $41,280.00
19 points currently available (10 + 9 banked points from 2011, banked points need to be used by 3/1/13) and 320 points coming on 3/1/13. Priced at $129 per point.
 

slum808

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Unless those are the original mf contracts, those prices are completly rediculous. You'd be better off buying from the developer. Wow, how often would you hear one of us actually say that.
 

charford

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I'm an owner at Aulani and am onsite now. I bought when the points first came on the market and wish I'd bought more. I paid about $102 per point. The MF's on my contract are subsidized and are less than $5/point. I went for an owners' update today and the current price is $135/point. With incentives, I can get the price down to about $117/point. With a new contract, the MF's are close to $6.

If I booked an oceanview studio for checkin tomorrow, I would pay 28 points per night. The going rate for cash is $609 per night.

When we first arrived, we stayed in a poolside studio and we are now in an island view 1 bedroom. I much prefer the poolside category. I'm sitting out on the balcony and NOT enjoying the highway noise.

It's spring break now. The resort does not seem overly crowded. Busy yes. I can't get a reservation in Ama Ama for a time before 7:45 for the next 3 nights, but I can get a reservation a Makahiki pretty much for any time I like. I prebooked a character breakfast for tomorrow about a month ago. I wouldn't be able to get one if I booked today.

My 6 year old loves the kids club aka Aunty's Beach House, mainly for the video games. :doh: He has very much liked the "extra" activities. He did Fish are Friends yesterday which involved making fish food and feeding the fish at Rainbow Reef.

DD and I tried out our respective spas this afternoon for pedicures. Even though she booked through the teen spa, she ended up sitting next to me in the adult spa. :shrug: I'm told the pedicure area of the spa is going to be renovated soon. I think the person who designed that area had never had a pedicure. It was pretty uncomfortable.

We've been here two days and I have yet to get anyone to get in the fabulous looking pool with me. Temps are about 75 degrees. It was pretty sunny yesterday, there are some clouds today, but it's not quite hopping in the pool weather. I'm hoping to drag them to the outdoor movie tonight.

Well, I didn't intend for this to be a review of our stay thus far. It just happened. :wave: I'm still thinking about buying an add-on. I rented out some of my points for someone who is staying here in the summer. At 7 months, things booked up pretty quickly. At 11 months for New Year's, there was no availability after a week.
 

Beefnot

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hypnotiq

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At 1,288 points for a week thats $7,728 :eek: :eek:

Of course i could get away with the 2br for only 441 points or $2,646 for a week

I'm never going to be able to afford to stay in this place :bawl:

Dude, you're looking at a 3bdr Grand Villa during Spring Break/Easter/Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years.

Just don't go then. :D
 

tahoeJoe

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Marriott's Ko Olina

Have any Disney-ers been to Marriott's Ko Olina property? It's practically next door to DVC Aulani, it is way cheaper to purchase resale and the annual MFs are less. Plus, if Aulani's units are anything like Saratoga Springs units, the Marriott is nicer. Lastly, Ko Olina is a true deeded property, with no RTU expiration to worry about.

Just a thought.
 

slum808

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Have any Disney-ers been to Marriott's Ko Olina property? It's practically next door to DVC Aulani, it is way cheaper to purchase resale and the annual MFs are less. Plus, if Aulani's units are anything like Saratoga Springs units, the Marriott is nicer. Lastly, Ko Olina is a true deeded property, with no RTU expiration to worry about.

Just a thought.

I've stayed in a 1-Bedroom at Aualani, and I will be staying in a 3-bedroom at the Marriott in September. While I expect the Marriott to be very nice, Aulani is in a different class if you have small children. I have a 5 yr old who really liked Aulani, I don't expect her to have as much fun at the Marriott. My oldest who is 16, will probablly see little difference. I think the pool is a little more exciting at Aulani, but It is very expensive. If you're traveling without kids, I think the Marriott is a much better value.
 
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