Sunday, 23 December 2012

Hawaii, The Disney Way

Completing our big Hawaii cruise-and-stay adventure with Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Holidays, we have finally arrived at Disney's Aulani Resort...

Being big Disney buffs (OK, so we live in Orlando and write guidebooks about Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris!), we were keen to see if we could wangle a stay at their new (in 2011) Aulani Resort to finish off our trip and, thanks to their Orlando-based office, we were offered a two-night stay to complete our trip.

And we're so glad we did. While Waikiki may be fun and Honolulu is a happening city, the west coast is far more relaxed and peaceful, and Disney have refined this idea to the nth degree with this latest example of their Vacation Club timeshare resort, which is also open to the general public on a straightforward hotel basis.
We'd heard that the attention to detail was extravagant and that the combination of Disney design style and Hawaiian tradition was a good match, but it was even better than that. This is a dream resort with bags of local colour and style, and with a big-resort expansiveness that is great for families and couples alike.

Checking in on our first evening, we were directed to the 12th floor and a beautiful Oceanview Parlor Suite - a full-size bedroom and bathroom with a separate living area, kitchenette and W/C. It wasn't a hotel room, it was an apartment, with space to spare on the double-width balcony looking down over the resort amenities and out to the private beach bay that the Resort shares with the Marriott next door.
We were amazed. And the quality of the fixtures and fittings was superb, too. Genuine local furniture, all with an overt Hawaiian touch and feel, but surprisingly little obvious Mickey-ness. If this is a Disney resort, then it's a Disney resort for grown-ups, with the facilities to match (marvellous Spa, choice of bars and restaurants, evening story-telling, freeform pool, lazy river feature, tropical snorkelling reef, and more).

Here was true chill-out territory, with the added bonus of all the up-tempo, upscale facilities you could possibly want, with a golf course next door, a beautiful coastal walk and plenty of beach amenities, including paddle-boarding and kayaking.
We were determined to make the most of our time here - hence we didn't go anywhere else until it was time to go back to the airport! We paddled in the pools, lazed in the double, vanishing-point hot-tubs, had lunch at Off The Hook (the open-air poolside bar and lounge), walked the beach, had cocktails in The 'Olelo Room and marvelled at the amount of clever Hawaii story-telling woven into the design and landscaping.

The Lazy River was truly gorgeous by day and, by night, the whole resort took on an extra dimension of South Seas splendour. Two days? We could easily be here for a month!
On our final night we splashed out in style with dinner at the signature 'AMA'AMA restaurant, featuring contemporary island cuisine. With its own range of cocktails and a refined, beach-side ambience, we enjoyed some fabulous appetisers (their version of corn chowder - quite heavenly - and a tasty proscuitto and olive flatbread) and then weighed in to two of the best main courses we have tried in a while - a Thai seafood curry, cooked in its own bag and served tableside, and the Fresh Sustainable Catch of the Day, a Hawaiian snapper, Opakapaka, with asparagus and peppers in a rich tomato broth.

Dinner for two with pre-dinner cocktails and wine was a princely $190 - but worth every cent. We absolutely adored the friendly-but-upscale feel, a taste of the tropics but without any formality. It seemed to sum up the lavish Aulani style perfectly. Of course, there were still typical Disney character meet-and-greets for those who wanted them, and we throughly enjoyed breakfast at The 'Olelo Room on our final morning watching the many kids (and adults!) queuing up to have their photo taken with Mickey or Minnie.
The real genius, we felt, was the clever intermix of modern design and amenity with traditional Hawaiian ethos; a perfect blend of modern sensibilities and Polynesian friendliness.

And as a final taste of the islands, it was simply off-the-charts wonderful. There was even a Christmas Hula show when we got back to the airport for our flight home (via Los Angeles), as if to remind us of what we'd be missing on departure.

But, if there is one thing that Hawaii does do, in spades, it is get under your skin and demand a repeat visit at some stage. We WILL be back...and hopefully you will, too. If nothing else, this blog series should have shown just how much you can do with this fabulous cruise-and-stay option - and just how much there is to enjoy!