Oahu is Hawaii’s main entry port and the island offers unparalleled activities for those traveling with families. Honolulu is one of the Pacific’s great cities and offers everything from exotic zoos, catamaran expeditions, walking tours, visits to historic Pearl Harbor, horseback rides through a dormant volcano crater and days of leisure at legendary Waikiki Beach.
But it’s Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa that will make a visit to Oahu a true family adventure. Upon arrival at Aulani, huge lobby murals depicting the history of the beautiful volcanic islands awe. According to Elliot Mills, general director, “the entire property is aimed at giving guests an exploratory experience of Hawaii.”
With 359 hotel rooms, 460 Disney vacation club villas including 21 Grand villas, 16 suites and four restaurants, the property stretches and rises on 21 acres along the ocean in the Ko Olina Resort and Community on Oahu’s western side, about 17 miles from Honolulu International Airport. Current rates range from approximately $115 pp per night, dbl for a standard view island garden room, to about $280 for a garden view room. Rates will increase slightly after late-December when an expansion will be completed.
All hotel rooms are angled to afford the best views, and all include ocean or partial ocean views. There are also a poolside garden, island garden and standard rooms in the middle of the property.
This is a resort that stuns by its size and magnificence, where everything Hawaiian is celebrated in the unique Disney style. For example, Aulani means “messenger of a chief, one who delivers messages from a higher authority” and according to Disney planners the resort “serves as a messenger of the higher authority that is Hawaii, its spirit and its culture.”
The pleasant, joyful and Hawaiian joie de vivre prevails. Its staff speaks fluent Hawaiian and routinely helps guests with pronunciation and island mores. Aulani also houses one of the largest collections of Hawaiian art and each night guests gather around a fire pit to hear elders tell ancient stories while enjoying performances from traditional island dancers.
The heart of the resort is an oasis called Waikolohe Valley, a massive water park dominated by lava formations that reveal the features of Disney creatures as the light of day changes. Beneath it, a 320,000-gallon canal lets guests enjoy riding tubes in and around caves and rock formations or walk through interactive water elements and play structures.
In addition, Aulani features a manmade reef for snorkeling, an adventure trail, a full program for children (ages 3-12) where they are introduced to Hawaiian mysteries and legends, horseback excursions to the nearby Kualoa Valley, surfing classes, kayaking and catamaran trips and many other activities to make this a unique Hawaiian-Disney experience.
The goal of the resort, says Bo Bolanos, principal concept designer for Walt Disney Imagineering, is to “create a project that honors and respects Hawaiian culture and inspires guests to see the rest of the islands. Here we are telling the story of Hawaii, from the mountains to the ocean, through the eyes of Disney.”
Kauai is the archipelago’s “Garden Island,” a tropical delight where the living is easy and where relaxation reaches new heights in a wide choice of luxury resorts for those who want to enjoy the islands being pampered in lush surroundings. The island has traditionally been a retreat for those who want to escape from the hectic lifestyle of more popular and crowded Hawaiian islands—and Poipu Beach on Kauai’s south shore exemplifies the meaning of “getting away from it all.”
The northernmost island in the chain, Kauai is a wonderland stretching from soaring cliffs at the Napali Coast to a huge canyon in Waimea. Add to that more than 50 miles of beaches and small historic towns like Koloa and Hanapepe where no building is taller than the ubiquitous palm trees and you have a potent mixture for a great vacation.
The Sheraton Kauai Resort (rates from $239-$469 pp dbl) occupies 20 acres along Poipu and recently completed a $16 million revitalization that transforms the resort into an indispensable destination for those who have marked Kauai on their travel maps.
According to Chip Bahouth, general manager, “The upgrades and enhancements provide a memorable and exciting experience for our guests, leaving everyone with something to talk about and with memories to last a lifetime.”
And the Sheraton Kauai Resort is tailored for island memories.
This 394-room wonder sparkles with a newly designed porte cochere that leads to a high vaulted lobby—all red and natural wood accents and highlighted with native Hawaiian art work—
refreshed by ocean breezes and where the faint smell of
frangipani and other tropical flowers drift from a lush garden.
The lobby in turn opens into an elegant, open-air courtyard landscaped with endemic Hawaiian plants and adorned with tiki torches. Here, six intimate seating areas with fire pits are the ideal backdrop for an evening of cocktails under the stars.
A breezeway leads to direct access to the resort’s water park where eight private cabanas with beach furniture, ceiling fans and even flat-screen TVs allow guests to relax under the sun or to join multiple activities like surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving on Poipu Beach.
There is no shortage of accommodations on Maui, one of Hawaii’s most beautiful destinations in a group of islands legendary for their beauty. Consistently lauded as one of the “best islands in the world,” Maui and sister islands Molokai and Lanai offer true island experiences for seasoned travelers as well as first-time visitors.
Sometimes it seems like all the ingredients that comprise a tropical paradise have been bestowed on Maui: world-class resorts, golf, great cuisine and stunning natural beauty.
This is where getting lost in the streets of Lahaina, discovering the native culture of Kahului, venturing into the high country, spending a day whale watching, or just spending a day on the beach at Kaanapali becomes a remarkable experience.
Some islanders claim that romance was invented on Maui and that falling in love is easier here. They just might be correct. It’s one of the world’s top honeymoon destinations and couples can kindle the spirit of love with activities like hiking to the waterfalls in East Maui, watching the stunning sunsets along the Kihei Coast or enjoying a couple’s massage in Wailea.
The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa (from about $289 to $1,000 per night dbl) on Kaanapali Beach will celebrate its 50th anniversary in January, a yearlong celebration. The property was Kaanapali’s first hotel on the island’s historic Black Rock area and the year promises memorable experiences with activities that include nightly cliff dive ceremonies and cultural activities tailored to make a stay on the island a singular experience.
Also on Kaanapali, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa (from
$499 to $1,279 per night dbl) is hosting a series of new attractions including luaus, Hawaiian-themed gatherings and exotic weddings in its newly remodeled Aloha Pavilion. The resort faces the ocean and boasts of having one of the best aquatic playgrounds in the Pacific region while building a reputation as an intimate honeymoon retreat with all the modern amenities of a world-class tropical dreamland.
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa: (714) 520-7001; resort.disney.go.com
Hawaii Tourism Authority: (800) 464-2924; gohawaii.com
Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau: (800) 464-2924; hvcb.org
The Westin Maui Resort & Spa: (866) 716-8112; westinmaui.com
Package it with GOGO
At New Jersey-based GOGO Vacations, travel agents are considered “the frontline team” of the travel industry because they sell the romance and excitement of travel every day.
Established in 1951, the company’s main focus traditionally has been on the Caribbean and Mexico, but it also has a formidable presence in Costa Rica, Belize, Canada, the U.S. and Europe—with a special emphasis on Hawaii.
Jim Tedesco, GOGO’s director of marketing, says that what “makes the destination unique is that it offers something for everyone. Each island is unique and offers adventure, beach and relaxation, history and culture, which lends an experience you can’t find in many other destinations.”
According to Tedesco, GOGO is “up double digits on almost all islands for both room nights and revenue. Some of the areas making Hawaii such a hot destination for us focus around our offers. Our Hawaiian hotel partners have been very generous in providing many exclusive offers that include such perks as value add-ons, free nights and discount rates.”
GOGO offers many appealing packages, but among the best is its Five-Star Oahu and Maui offering (from $1,569, air not included) which features three nights in Oahu at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa and four nights in Maui at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. The package is accented by its offer of exclusive room upgrades and complimentary breakfast, while children under 17 stay for free.
Hawaii: Escaping to the Islands (April 2012)
tour operator intel
Various tour operators were asked their impressions about Hawaii as a hot North American destination for 2013 and what makes their product unique in the marketplace.
All About Hawaii
According to All About Hawaii, the state has been the most solid destination for the wholesale tour operator since the company opened its doors in 1980.
“Hawaii continues to be one of the top sun destinations. In addition to the great beaches, Hawaii has continually added activities and events to keep returning guests eager to try new products such as ziplines, nature hikes and cultural activities.”
—Wil Eichorn, product manager
(800) 274-8687; allabouthawaii.com
“Hawaii is blessed with so many of nature’s gifts—beautiful beaches, crystal-clear water, gorgeous weather, welcoming people—it’s no wonder that our Hawaiian guided vacations have been amongst our most popular itineraries.
“The state has once again become the top-selling destination for U.S. and, as Europe becomes more expensive and the Eastern Mediterranean has unfortunately been dealing with their own recent issues, Americans have been staying closer to home. Hawaii is the perfect choice.”
“[My] favorite Hawaiian experience is Trafalgar’s Be My Guest farm-to-table lunch on Maui, where we meet the locals and get a more in-depth, authentic look at the area that guests would not get to experience if traveling alone or with another tour operator.”
The tour (from $2,699 pp) consists of a 10-day exploration of various islands and aims to “soak up the Hawaiian lifestyle” with trips to pineapple plantations in Oahu, dining in a private home, a guided tour of Pearl Harbor, hikes to the volcanoes on Hawaii and stops at a Kona coffee plantation.
—Paul Wiseman, president