I had never looked forward to a vacation more in my life. 2017 was a rough year so the anticipation for this trip was palpable. To get me through the wait, I turned to planning and researching this family vacation, in earnest.
As new DVC members, our home resort is at Aulani, Disney Vacation Club Villas. So we can book vacations up to 11 months out. This is an advantage because the room you want can book up, fast.
Note: inventory for DVC members is separate from the inventory for those booking without DVC points.
We reserved the room in August almost immediately after finalizing our membership but only 7 months out from our trip. This is significant because 7 months out is also when all other DVC members who do not have Aulani as their home resort can book at this time.
The least expensive hotel costs at Aulani are during “Adventure Season”. Which includes (as of 4/27/2018):
- Most of January and February
- October (1st half)
- November (2nd half)
- December (1st half)
The least expensive flights to Honolulu through Hawaiian Airlines are:
- August (last half of month)
- February (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday)
May, June and July have the highest rates. We selected mid-February because:
- This time period worked well for our family’s availability.
- February was during the less expensive Adventure season for the resort.
- The temperatures (low to mid 70s) are milder and we were hopeful to avoid the higher precipitation in March.
- Flights are around average of the lower rates, available.
- We have a toddler who has not started school, yet. So we wanted to take full advantage while we still could.
Booking the room
We booked online on the Disney Vacation Club website. But there are a few other different methods for booking a room (to name a few):
- Renting points through a reputable DVC rental website
- Directly through the Aulani website
- Through a travel agency
- Standard hotel room ($)
- Sleeps up to 4
- Coffee maker, tea kettle
- Small refrigerator
- Deluxe studio villa ($$)
- Sleeps up to 4
- Kitchenette with microwave
- 1 bedroom villa ($$$)
- Sleeps up to 5
- Full kitchen
- 2 bedroom villa ($$$$)
- Sleeps up to 9
- Full kitchen
- 3 bedroom grand villa ($$$$$)
- Sleeps up to 12
- Full kitchen
- Standard ($)
- Island/Garden ($$)
- Poolside garden ($$$)
- Ocean ($$$$)
We originally wanted to book a deluxe studio ($$) with a standard view for 7 nights. But because we booked a little later, there were none available.
Our next option was a deluxe studio with an ocean view ($$$$) for 6 nights. We took it because it was that or nothing.
A couple of months later, we were still a little bummed we were staying for 6 nights instead of 7. So we decided to see what other rooms were available the day before or day after our already booked trip. We booked the least expensive room available in that time frame. It was the day before in a 1 bedroom ($$$) with an island garden view ($$).
This was more than we wanted to spend and it was our opportunity to see if the pricier options were worth it for us.
(Spoiler Alert: We have booked our next trip for February again in a 1 bedroom villa with an island view for 7 nights. Although I would have been perfectly okay with a 1 bedroom and a standard view. A deluxe studio with a standard view would have been acceptable, as well for 7 nights. Any longer and I would strongly prefer a 1 bedroom because of the kitchen.)
Aulani is on the island of Oahu and you fly into Honolulu International Airport (HNL). As mentioned above, we booked our flight through Hawaiian Airlines. Costs were similar through Alaskan Airlines but we like flying Hawaiian when going to Hawaii because of the island vibes to get a head start on our vacation. They usually serve some sort of island inspired meal and offer a complimentary island-ish cocktail.
We booked a direct flight and paid extra for the Extra Comfort seats, since it is a relatively log domestic flight. These are typically closer to the front, are wider and have more leg room. You also get priority security and boarding, power outlet and you can watch select tv shows.
So here is where we made a mistake. Honolulu airport is about 30 miles out and unlike flying into Orlando as a resort guest, there is no magical express to whisk away to your hotel at no additional cost.
You have three main options:
- Rent a Car
- Book a shuttle
- Request a Rideshare Service (Lyft, Uber)
If going with options 1 or 2 you will want to reserve these in advance. Renting a car means you will have the additional cost per day to self park, unless you are a DVC member.
A shuttle costs per passenger and typically takes a while because, according to the support desk at the airport, Aulani is often the last drop-off. I did not experience this firsthand but this is what I heard.
But while planning, I did not book anything. So we had to scramble a little when we got there. In the end, we went with a rideshare service. The total shuttle cost for all three of us was almost the same price as the rideshare. (the ride back was even cheaper because it was non-peak hours)
One perk to renting a car is you could stop by Costco or Target on the way to Aulani to stock your fridge, to save some money on eating out or purchasing food at the nearby markets. It might even be worth it to rent-a-car for just that first day, if you do not plan on leaving Aulani and exploring the rest of the island.
‘AMA ‘AMA and Makahiki are the two table service restaurants at the resort. These book up fast so it is a good idea to make reservations as soon as possible.
I recommend at least booking a breakfast at Makahiki to get the full Disney vibes with their character breakfast. The restaurant is inside the hotel just below the lobby.
I think that ‘AMA ‘AMA is just okay. The view is pretty killer, though. ‘AMA ‘AMA is located poolside and overlooking the ocean. The food is extremely pricey, fancy but mediocre, and the service did not have the Disney charm. It was not bad just not anything to write home about. I do not regret going but do not need to go again now that we have “experienced” it. I think the perfect time to book is close to sunset.
I booked ‘AMA ‘AMA around an hour before sunset. It was perfect because the sun began to set right after our dessert came out. It was magical.
If I had to choose between the two, I would pick Makahiki. But would recommend ‘AMA ‘AMA as a one-time experience that is ideal if you book it around sunset. Every table in the restaurant has a view of the sunset. (If you can afford it.)
Online check in
Disney gives you the option to check in online, similar to checking in for your flight except you can check in earlier. I am still not sure if there is a difference between checking in far in advance or right before. But it was definitely worth checking in online, because you get to skip the front desk. Other than neglecting to book a shuttle in advance, we felt well-prepared for our trip.