The Aulaini Resort

This is the large window below the main lobby entry doors.

This is the large window below the main lobby entry doors.

I gave you a room tour, but want to show you a little more of the resort itself. The lobby is always the first impression and it is gorgeous! The arched roof lines are reminiscent of the native canoes and the lighting is a soft golden glow from gourd-like fixtures.

This was taken from the outside at night from near the Dancing Waters fountain area.

This was taken from the outside at night from near the Dancing Waters fountain area.

Standing lobby lights - a warm, welcoming glow!

Standing lobby lights – a warm, welcoming glow!

This shot shows the arch motif nicely as well as the gourd-like ceiling fixtures.

This shot shows the arch motif nicely as well as the gourd-like ceiling fixtures.

My favorite Menehune was tucked up in one of the elevators. A cast member (that's what Disney calls their employees, remember?) told me that this guy will switch elevators upon occasion!

My favorite Menehune was tucked up in one of the elevators. A cast member (that’s what Disney calls their employees, remember?) told me that this guy will switch elevators upon occasion!

Disney did a lot of research into the Hawaiian culture and, although there are the expected “Hidden Mickeys” like the other resorts, the changed it up at Aulani and had Menehune tucked everywhere! Menehune are little mischievous characters that spend their nights creating fantastic inventions and sleep during the day.  I believe there are more than 200 of the little guys all over the resort! Although there is a kind of scavenger hunt activity to try and track them(probably geared toward kids, but that doesn’t usually stop me), I chose to snap a few pictures and enjoy floating past ones placed along the Waikolohe Stream.

This Menehune is the largest one I saw.

This Menehune is the largest one I saw.

The patterns in the hallway wallpaper evoke many native themes - flowers, people, food - but do you see the hidden Mickey?

The patterns in the hallway wallpaper evoke many native themes – flowers, people, food – but do you see the hidden Mickey?

Dancing Waters fountain outside Makahiki Restaurant. Hmmm - I see Goofy and Minnie in there!

Dancing Waters fountain outside Makahiki Restaurant. Hmmm – I see Goofy and Minnie in there!

Water features are prominent throughout Aulani. The Laughing Waters fountain ends in a koi pool which is just across the path from a whirlpool next to the Waikolohe Stream. See what I mean?

The koi pond - Dancing Waters fountain in background.

The koi pond – Dancing Waters fountain in background.

Whirlpool next to Waikolohe Stream. Can you see the shark carving on the far side?

Whirlpool next to Waikolohe Stream. Can you see the shark carving on the far side?

Ama Ama had fabulous views of the lagoon!

Ama Ama had fabulous views of the lagoon!

The views are extraordinary. We enjoyed breakfasting at Ama Ama – which has a lovely view of the lagoon, or lounging near the pool to look for hidden carvings on Waikolohe Mountain (water slide). At night, looking down from an upper floor to the whole pool area is magical!

The Waikolohe Mountain (Disney always has to have a mountain!) has subtle carvings that are fun to hunt for while lounging or walking around the pool area.

The Waikolohe Mountain (Disney always has to have a mountain!) has subtle carvings that are fun to hunt for while lounging or walking around the pool area.

The Waikolohe Valley at night

The Waikolohe Valley at night

HallArtWork

One of the many paintings throughout Aulani.

On every floor, in elevator bays, along the hallways – there was beautiful artwork. The paintings looked like they were painted on sheets of plywood – there was wood grain visible through the vivid pigments used for each piece. The staircase leading up to the lobby from the entrance to the Makahiki Restaurant at pool level is a work of art in and of itself!

Carved container in a lobby display.

Carved container in a lobby display.

Beautiful stair case.

Beautiful stair case.

I’m sure I missed many aspects of the Aulani Resort – I probably should go back and take a little better notes…

Aulani: Excursions and Explores

A close-up of the bowsprit skeleton on the Queen Anne's Revenge!

A close-up of the bowsprit skeleton on the Queen Anne’s Revenge!

When you plan your vacation through Disney Vacation Club, there will often be options for excursions away from the resort. We decided to sign up (and pay for) two of them: Catamaran/Snorkeling and Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, the Pearl Harbor tour was canceled – not enough people signed up – so we chose to save that for our next visit. The catamaran tour was touted as a whale watching/harbor tour, ending with snorkeling and lunch. This tour was full! We were loaded onto a couple of vans and driven to the docks. Our driver took a slight detour to show us a ship used in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies – Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge! She allowed us to get out of the van and take a few pictures – pretty neat!

The weather was perfect: alternately overcast and brilliant sun so it didn’t get too hot. We cruised around (motor, not sail) and saw a sea turtle paddling along and then – Thar she

There's Mama and Aulani is in the background!

There’s Mama and Aulani is in the background!

blows! –we saw a humpback whale and her baby. The humpbacks use the waters around Hawaii as an obstetrics ward and nursery – so cool! We didn’t get too close and she was keeping her babe away from us. I wonder if they were the same whales we saw from our room – it was in the same area… As we headed toward the captain’s favorite snorkeling spot, we saw some spinner dolphins which looked about the size of large salmon. And we could sure tell how they got their names! They were leaping out of the water and spinning like a power drill until they dived back in. There were quite a few of them!

Look at the water color! Gorgeous! Oh - and my cutie husband, waving at me!

Look at the water color! Gorgeous! Oh – and my cutie husband, waving at me!

We anchored for snorkeling and received instructions – this was my first time and, not being much of a swimmer, I was a little nervous. It seemed pretty straight forward and I was fine until I put on my mask and stuck the snorkel in my mouth. Apparently, I’m claustrophobic. I paddled a little way from the boat and realized I was panicking. The deck hands were watching all of us and one noticed I was distressed, tossed a life ring to me, and dove in to help me get back to the boat. I knew in my head that I was perfectly safe – I had an inflated vest on, for pete’s sake, and knew it was hard to sink with flippers on, too – but my lizard brain was screaming, “YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!!!” So I got out, calmed down, dried off and took pictures. I think my husband felt bad that I couldn’t do it, but once I was out, I was just fine and

On our way back from our catamaran adventure!

On our way back from our catamaran adventure!

I got a pretty cute picture of him in the water – wouldn’t have wanted to miss that! I actually could see the schools of fish from the deck – they were much larger than I expected – and very colorful. We had lunch on board as we sailed back to our dock. Despite my panic attack, it was wonderful and I would do it again. Well, not the panic attack, but you know what I mean!

Looking down from Diamondhead - the sparkling water, the lighthouse - beautiful!

Looking down from Diamondhead – the sparkling water, the lighthouse – beautiful!

On another day, we rented a car so we could drive around on the island. We went around to Diamond Head and took the trail up – I stopped one level below the top – Don went all the way. Despite the trail – and even stairs sometimes – it was pretty steep and tough for a wimp like me. The views were incredible, but it was pretty hot, away from the breezes on the beach!

As we drove around the island, we came across Kualoa Ranch  which had been used for one of the Jurassic Park movie locations and was often the site for Hawaii 5-O scenes. We didn’t do a tour, but took a couple photos and hit the gift shop. Next time…

A fellow tourist took this shot of us near the summit.

A fellow tourist took this shot of us near the summit.

Kualoa Ranch - home for some of the Jurassic Park movie scenes

Kualoa Ranch – home for some of the Jurassic Park movie scenes

We stopped for lunch at a place called Fat Boy’s in Kailua – yum! and then continued around to the North Shore. There was a surfing competition going on at one of the beaches so we watched for a while and picked up some very tiny shells. We drove on a bit further to a beach entrance a couple we met at Aulani told us about and came upon a wedding. It was heading toward sunset – and we saw some of the best sunsets ever on this trip – so we meandered down the beach to take some sunset shots. The light was incredible! It was like we were being bathed in gold dust. As it got dark, we headed back to Aulani with sand in our shoes, seashells in our pockets and a Papa John’s Pizza in the back seat. The perfect end to a perfect day!

Waves on the north shore of Oahu, nearly at sunset.

Waves on the north shore of Oahu, nearly at sunset.

Enjoying the golden light of near sunset on the north shore.

Enjoying the golden light of near sunset on the north shore.

Walking to a good vantage point for sunset photos

Walking to a good vantage point for sunset photos

A Few Characters

I didn't have to knock over any little kids at all!

I didn’t have to knock over any little kids at all!

Aulani is a Disney resort – that’s why I’m talking about it here! But, unlike Disney World and Disneyland, there is not a theme park attached and the characters are few. There is a (very pricey!) character breakfast one can attend in one of the restaurants, but the characters will also hang out in certain areas, waiting to be noticed, posing for photos, and signing autograph books. At Aulani, there was Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy, as well as Stitch – all wearing “vacation” garb!

Now, it could have been the time of year – we were there in late January – but nobody really swarmed the characters. There was a really laid-back attitude toward them. Naturally, I decided to add to my autograph collection and get the elusive Mickey – so hard to get at the theme parks! I’m not a Stitch fan – never saw the movie – so I just went for the classics I didn’t have. Did I feel silly -as an adult – pursuing cartoon characters? No, I did not! I am Dizzy for Disney!

Donald looks pretty awesome in that hat!

Donald looks pretty awesome in that hat!

Donald was hard to get in the theme parks also, but easy-peasy in Hawaii!

Donald was hard to get in the theme parks also, but easy-peasy in Hawaii!

Me & my pal, Mickey Mouse! (Nice jams, Mick!)

Me & my pal, Mickey Mouse! (Nice jams, Mick!)

Aulani: The Room Tour

We stayed in the Deluxe Studio which was a very nice, suite-like hotel room. (On the DVC tour, we had seen the one bedroom which seemed very luxurious indeed) This room becomes a second bedroom for the two-bedroom suites. Over-all, the studio was perfectly sized for just the two of us!

The bed in the Deluxe Studio - the inset shows the under-bed storage space that worked so well for suitcases! Don't forget to look for the Hidden Mickey on the quilt!

The bed in the Deluxe Studio – the inset shows the under-bed storage space that worked so well for suitcases! Don’t forget to look for the Hidden Mickey on the quilt!

The bed was queen sized, but very comfortable, and had a lovely Hawaiian applique quilt throw at the end. I wish they sold those – I’d have grabbed that in a minute! If you look closely at the photo showing the quilt, you can find a hidden Mickey! The closet was pretty small, but, while seated on the loveseat, I noticed quite a bit of space under the bed and discovered that it had been designed to slide suitcases underneath – very clever use of space!

The "desk" with the Mickey Lamp - inset shows a closer view. We took the chairs out on the lanai for most of our stay!

The “desk” with the Mickey Lamp – inset shows a closer view. We took the chairs out on the lanai for most of our stay!

Seating area, television/dresser and looking toward kitchenette.

Seating area, television/dresser and looking toward kitchenette.

We had a small table for eating or other desk activity – although we did that on our lanai – too beautiful not too! The table had an adorable Mickey Surfer lamp – available for purchase in the gift shop – which lent more atmosphere than illumination, but still! So cute! Our seating area had a loveseat which was also a fold-out double bed, as well as a trunk holding the extra bedding. There was a lovely piece of artwork over the loveseat that almost exactly mimicked our lanai view up the coast! There was a flat-screen TV across from the bed above the dresser, but we didn’t watch too much television while there…

This shows the vanity - very pretty! and the tub/shower. You can "just" see the ceiling shower head in the top, right corner of the shot.

This shows the vanity – very pretty! and the tub/shower. You can “just” see the ceiling shower head in the top, right corner of the shot.

eleventh floor

Eleventh floor – Room 1111!

The bathroom had a tub-shower and vanity with a separate toilet area and both doors were gorgeous pocket doors. It had a good shower with two heads, which was really nice after salt or chlorine water activities, and the nifty “bowed” shower curtain rod which gives you more “elbow room” in a tub shower. The vanity area had plenty of cubbies for tucking our assorted make-up/kit/etc. bags and was really a beautiful piece of furniture.

On the left is the actual view from our window; on the right is the glorious piece of artwork on the wall of our room!

On the left is the actual view from our window; on the right is the glorious piece of artwork on the wall of our room!

We were on the 11th floor – Room 1111, to be exact! And our view consisted of a view of the ocean beyond some rooftops, the Marriott next door and the “adult” swimming pool. We saw humpback whales from our lanai, so yeah – it was amazing! I also think the view overlooking the pool area would be lovely; if you were up high enough, you could probably see the lagoon area, too.

Would we go back again? I wish I was there right now!

I learned how to tie a sarong! (Wish I was there right now!)

I learned how to tie a sarong! (Wish I was there right now!)

Lazy River Time

20120130-084504.jpg We decided to spend our weekend exploring the resort and playing in the water. I was (and still am!) enamored with the Waikolohe Stream pool, also known as the lazy river. Which explains why the Osmond Brothers are singing, “Down by the Lazy River” in my head! Curse my internal soundtrack! We started the day by having breakfast at the fancy-schmancey restaurant at the resort, ‘Ama ‘Ama. I had peanut butter and banana stuffed French toast (served with both PB and dark chocolate syrups) and hubby had a Belgian waffle with pineapple compote and coconut syrup. Both were delish and the view – over looking the lagoon – was just gorgeous!

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As we wandered around after breakfast, we found where the spa was located and also the “quiet pool” (supposedly adults only, but we see kids in it all the time). We headed back towards the elevator bank and decided to duck into the Disney Vacation Club offices and arrange a tour to see what the other room options look like (we are in a deluxe studio) and to ask questions. We met with Matt who took us to the one bedroom(with a really nifty Murphy bed under the flat panel TV which looked like part of the console!) – with a next door “lock through” converting it to a two bedroom – and the grand villa three bedroom which takes up an entire end of the floor. This option has a balcony that stretches across the entire space, over looking the ocean. Stunning! It had a master bedroom (king-sized bed) and two other bedrooms (2 queen-sized beds each), plus the living area had a hide-a-bed sofa and chair. I think it could sleep 13 or 14 people! Matt was very knowledgable and gave us great tips on how to best utilize our DVC points and save money. He also pointed us towards the ABC store – a local grocery/sundries/souvenir store – so we could get cheaper food options. No one ever has said that Disney is a cheap stay, but there are ways to cut corners and not break your personal bank! Thanks, Matt – you were great!
Now it was lazy river time! We slathered on the sunscreen and oozed into our swimsuits and headed on down! There is a cabana one goes to for towels and get “banded” for the day. You show your key card and they snap on a plastic wristband, a different color each day. You see kids running around with a whole rainbow of bands up their arms! We then staked out a couple of chairs in a semi-shady area (by chance, next to a whirlpool) and then went to the river. There was a choice of single tubes or doubles. Hubby grabbed a double to take down the water slide, while I hoisted myself into a single and let myself drift away on the current! There isn’t much control, so there are occasional bumper boat moments, but everyone realizes this and it is all in good fun! I went around three times – probably took about 15-20 minutes per circuit. I people watched, got splashed in the “grotto” area, squirted around another bend, and marveled at how warm and beautiful everything was! There were lifeguards on duty about every 20 feet and they were very diligent, watching each guest or group until they went to the next “sentry.” the water is only a little over 3 feet deep, but there are lots of little kids – both in and out of tubes – so its nice to see they don’t consider the area an “at your own risk” pool. I’ve always said that Disney does it right! More later…

Plane, Trains, and Automobiles (and a Ferry, too!)

Our epic journey began with a ferry ride, followed by a commuter train – and then light rail, followed by a plane and, finally, a taxi to the resort! Of course, somewhere in the middle we very nearly missed our flight! We had received a text from Alaska Airlines telling us our flight was as scheduled and that our gate would be D-10. For whatever reason, we believed them and settled in at that gate. After a while, we noticed that there still wasn’t a plane at the gate and it was scheduled to leave in the near future. I went over to the Departure screen and guess what? The gate we should have been at was clear at the end of Concourse C! I grabbed my husband and we started running towards C as we heard the final boarding call for our flight and our last name followed by, “Party of 2, please report to gate C-16!” As we ran, my mouth went as dry as the Sahara. When we got to the gate, they were about to give our seats to someone else! We got on the plane and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath – I needed to cough long and hard, but I couldn’t. I sat and fanned myself and tried to take even breaths without crying, throwing up, or wetting my pants. It was a struggle to even speak – very disturbing! Eventually, I was able to breath somewhat normally again, but, even as I write this, I have that little, “I need to cough” tickle in my throat. We talked about it later and wondered if it might have been an exercise induced asthma attack – which is a real thing, apparently. And, no, it doesn’t just mean I’m a fat lazy-butt, so get that right out of your mind!
Anyway!!!! We made it to Hawaii and it is warm, lush and beautiful! The Aulani Resort is lovely, the staff very attentive and our room is nicely appointed! We have a Deluxe Studio with an ocean view. In many ways similar to the Grand Californian with lots of nice woodwork and quality furnishings. I’ll do a post with pictures later on. We were greeted with leis – a tube rose one for me (very fragrant!) and one made of some sort of nut (I’ll look it up later) for my husband. I plan to borrow it to wear with one of my dresses later on!
After we unpacked, we decided to explore the resort a bit with the goal of grabbing something to eat. By this time, I was starving, having only nibbled a little trail mix during the 6 hour flight due to my distressed condition. We watched people take floats down a water slide, float along in a “river” as well as a more traditional pool. We later found a hot tub area that were “horizon” pools – very neat! We poked our heads into a couple of restaurants, but it was too early for seating. We felt like it was nearly 7 pm, but here it wasn’t yet 5 pm. We ended up eating at the “Off the Hook” poolside bar at a table with a nice umbrella. We watched people in the pool and could see the ocean just beyond a short wall. We both had the fish tacos which I thought were wonderful and my husband thought weren’t tangy enough. While we waited, a few of the clouds decided to join forces and rain for a bit. No problem! We were under an umbrella and from Seattle – let it rain! It didn’t last long and we soon were witnessing a lovely sunset.
We continued our walk, passing an elegant wedding chapel as we headed to the lagoon on the resort property. We could also see the outdoor movie area – canceled tonight because of the rain (Awww, man!) We stopped and made breakfast reservations at one of the restaurants on our way back to our room. Tomorrow, we’ll try out the pools!

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Next Stop: Aulani Resort in Hawaii!

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We finally did it – we bought into the Disney Vacation Club and booked a vacation at the Aulani Resort for late January 2012! This is a brand new resort that opened this past fall (2011) and, although it is a Disney Resort, it is not “character driven” like the theme park locations (not that there is anything wrong with that!). It looks to have a lot of water/pool features, so I bit the bullet and bought a couple of new swimsuits (and am exercising furiously, but hopefully not futilely!) before our trip.
This will be our first experience as DVC members and also our first trip to Hawaii, so there is much to be excited about! I hope to post before, during and after our trip, so stay tuned! More information about DVC can be found HERE.

Autographs

On this trip, I set about collecting autographs for the first time. Although I did not get very many, I had a great time meeting the characters who were all really wonderful! They must practice quite a bit – especially the ones with the over-sized heads on their costumes. Most of the characters that were allowed to speak (i.e. not in over-sized masks!) were surprised that I was allowing them to have an entire page for their signature. I can’t imagine making them try and scrawl on a shared page!
NOTE: I tried to align my comments with the photos, but couldn’t figure out how to do that – the extra spacing was removed upon publication! Oh well – I’m sure you can figure out what I’m talking about!

The Queen of Hearts


Pluto

I like how Pluto added a bone!

Pinocchio

Pinocchio didn’t realize he could have the full page and left room for Geppeto to sign as well.

Minnie Mouse

Minnie liked my hat – a Mickey pants ear hat with a tail sticking up out of the top. Otherwise known as a “Mickey Butt Hat” – at least by me – I doubt they were marketing it under that style name…

Mary Poppins

Mary & Bert were so fun! Mary was happy to use my red market as it was color coordinated with her Jolly Holiday dress. We agreed that color coordination was important and she said, “But there is really no excuse for Bert’s tie!”

Bert (from Mary Poppins)

Notice the chimney sweep broom!

Mad Hatter - winner of most awesome autograph!

Now how did the Mad Hatter know it was my Un-Birthday? His autograph was the most creative – and he was the most excited to have a full page!

Holiday Autograph from Goofy

Goofy added a Christmas Tree in honor of the season to his autograph – it’s the little things…

Geppeto


Evil Queen

The Evil Queen was magnificent in person! Very fun to watch with the children – who didn’t seem frightened of her at all! She was a great poser – always with mouth down-turned, feet turned out and a frown on her face.

Heading Home

carpet in our room at Disney's Grand California

Can you spot the hidden Mickey on the carpet in our room?

Our flight was not until 6 pm and, with Don once again in meetings (continuing education, actually), I was left to my own devices until 3:30ish when we’d have to catch our bus to the John Wayne International Airport. I went on the power walk through Disney California and found myself accompanied by one of Don’s colleagues at Harborview in Seattle. Teresa was on her own due to a mix up in registration (for the meeting) so I offered to leave her my Disney Guidebook so she could plan out some time at the parks. It was a chilly morning – our breath was clearly visible – but one of the women was from Ohio and in shorts. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? An interesting note about being in the park before it opens: the Grizzly Rapids Run is completely emptied of water every night. Who knew?!?
I had decided that my last breakfast would be at Catal – they had a brioche French toast that sounded delightful. It was good, but not as good as the Mickey Waffle – sad to say! After breakfast, I went back to the room to pack up before the late check out (noon). The Bell Captain kept our bags for me in their holding room until we were ready to leave – most convenient! I had used up my 3-day Park Hopper ticket (sigh), so my day would be spent Christmas shopping in Downtown Disney.
I managed (somehow…) to accumulate several purchases and still had time before I needed to meet Don back at the resort, so I approached the Disney Vacation Club booth to find out more about the program. We had looked into it a bit previously and – of all the time share possibilities out there – I was interested in learning more. I whisked away on a tram (bliss! my feet were so tired!) to the offices and chatted with Bruce who discussed scenarios, answered questions and gave me a tour of the model units from the Grand Californian. I would dearly love to someday have a family reunion or do Christmas at Disney World (specifically, Disney’s Animal Kingdom with a view of the “Savannah!”) and buying into the Vacation Club would help bring that dream to fruition. Plus, it’s Disney and I can count on them to do it right. The prices seemed reasonable to me and the program is fairly flexible regarding destinations and “point accumulation.” Perhaps, someday…
I was once again whisked away in the tram and back to the Grand Californian to collect our luggage and Don so we could hop the bus to the airport. I had just enough time to dash back into Downtown and buy some huge soft pretzels for our plane ride home before the bus was to arrive. Don returned to the resort just ahead of the Disneyland Express bus. Our airport experience was uneventful – no pat downs or body cavity searches – and our plane was fully loaded before our scheduled departure time. I believe we actually took off a few minutes early. The charming toddler behind me didn’t kick my seat the entire time, so the flight seemed quick and we were once again in rain swept Seattle. Home again, home again – jiggety-jig!

Mickey’s Fun Wheel: A Disney Sidebar

We had a fabulous viewing spot for the Wonderful World of Color show on the boardwalk of Paradise Pier, across from the giant ferris wheel. The light display on Mickey’s Fun Wheel was very nearly hypnotic as we waited for the start of the show. I took a short video clip – wish I’d recorded more! – added a couple of snapshots from the area and put it to “The Spectrum Song.” The song is from one of the old World of Disney television shows and sung by Ludvig VonDrake – remember him? Click here to view the video on YouTube.

PS Unless you open the link in a new window or tab, you will be directed away from this blog post.

Mickey's Fun Wheel at night

Mickey's Fun Wheel at night - beautiful!

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