During any resort family vacation, dining is a huge factor…both on the budget and in terms of enjoyment. While at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, I made it a point to try every dining option at least once in order to get the skinny (oh, don’t I wish!) on taste, value, and ambiance, both for kids and adults. Because Aulani is not an all-inclusive resort, families will be making choices during their Hawaiian vacation. Here’s what you need to know to make the best dining decisions for your family:
Dining options on the Aulani property can be classified into three categories: fine dining, buffet dining, and quick service dining. Unfortunately, a Disney dining plan is not yet available at Aulani, though for the convenience of families (if not for possible savings), it is my hope that one is offered soon.
The fine dining option is AMA’AMA, located idyllically lagoonside, where families will enjoy their meal alfresco in the open air dining room or out on the patio. The selections are delicious, but pricy at $31-market price per entree for adult meals, $13 for children’s meals (see ‘ways to save’ below). Also included (by me) in the fine dining category is room service dining, also spendy, but oh-so relaxing and convenient after a full day’s activities. Families can ask their server to set up their meal on their private patio or balcony, or inside the room, where kids can fall asleep into their plates in private.
Buffet dining at Aulani includes the Makahiki Buffet, located beside the Olelo Room bar and opening up onto the Waikolohe Valley. Prices are $27 for adults and $14 for kids at breakfast, and $43 for adults, $21 for kids at dinner for an all-you-can-eat dinner meal. If you have kids who’d like some extra time with the characters, this is the place to be on Wednesday or Saturday mornings, when the breakfast buffet upgrades to a character breakfast. In addition to one-on-one character time, kids participate in parades with Mickey, Minnie, friends and Aunty herself, hear stories, and sing songs. The buffet is varied and includes special attention to international flavors and dietary needs (think Boma in Hawaii), and is certainly worth the breakfast price. Tip: If you don’t want a full buffet, but are not eating in your room, a continental breakfast is served daily at the Olelo Room.
Quick service dining at Aulani includes One Paddle, Two Paddle and the Lava Shack, as well as a limited menu at the beach side Off the Hook lounge. The meals offered at both One Paddle, Two Paddle and Off the Hook overlap, with a few exceptions (for instance, the fish tacos are available from both locations, but the veggie wrap is only available at Off the Hook). I appreciated the vegetarian quick service options, and the comfortable poolside seating serving both restaurants, where we could watch guests braving the Volcanic Vertical tunnel slide for entertainment while we ate. The fun (and yummy) Papalua Shaved Ice stand makes for a great afternoon snack option, with generous servings priced at $3.75.And easily forgotten, Rip Curl is tucked away in Painted SKy (the teen-space), offering a frozen yorgurt station open to all. (It was by far my favorite, due to the pineapple soft serve. Anyone who’s had a Dole Float knows what I’m talking about!)
Generally speaking, families can expect all food at Aulani to be ‘resort-priced’, and though freshly prepared, sustainable, and somewhat more adventurous than the typical fare, the food wasn’t the highlight of my stay. Come ready to spend, and focus your attention on the wonderful ambiance!
Ways to save:
Eat a few meals off-site. It’s important to know that while Aulani can feel like a world apart, families are not limited to dining on-site. Directly across the street from Aulani (a two minute walk), an entire shopping center awaits, offering a quick service taco shop, sandwiches, and an ABC Store stocked with groceries.
Eat breakfast in your room. Thanks to the inclusion of mini-fridges in Aulani rooms and the nearby ABC store, it’s easy to make and eat simple breakfasts even in standard rooms (though for a major grocery shop, families will want to stop at the more affordable Costco or Target en route from the airport). I’d also buy and store snacks and bottles of water.
Buy refillable mugs. It’s easy to get dehydrated in Hawaii, and the cost of iced tea, lemonade, and soda (if you allow it) can really add up fast. Aulani’s refillable mugs are $18.99, which seems steep until you realize how often per day your family will fill them up. Refillable drink stations are located throughout the resort (most conveniently at the Lava Shack and One Paddle, Two Paddle). Oh, and coffee is included!
Splurge on lunch instead of dinner. The food at AMA’AMA, Aulani’s fine dining restaurant, is just as tasty at lunch as it is at dinner, and the prices are far lower. Consider the plate lunch (ask your server for the day’s choice) or try the fish tacos…they were fabulous! Sit outside on the patio with your family and watch the paddleboarders and snorkelers in the lagoon while you eat, then plan out your afternoon while enjoying the breeze.
Treat the adults, not the kids. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But if you have kids (like mine) who don’t appreciate a fine dining meal (or sitting in a restaurant for the time required to enjoy it), drop them off at Aunty’s Beach House (for $12, they have dinner delivered to them there) while you enjoy a beautiful meal at AMA’AMA with your spouse. Trust me, everyone will be happier!
For the adults, a note on Aulani’s cocktails and drinks: For those (like myself) who like to enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine, the options at Aulani are many. As anyone would expect, cocktails at both Off the Hook and the Olelo Room are somewhat overpriced, but adventurous and good. An extensive wine list is on offer at AMA’AMA. Spirits and liquors are for sale in the main gift shop by the Aulani lobby, but if you need to stock up, you’re far better off walking across the street, where you’ll find a wide selection at the ABC Store. Enjoy!