Going on vacation in 2020 means that when you return home the big question everyone wants to know isn’t “how was the weather?” or “what did you see?” Instead, the question I got from everyone was, “how did Aulani handle keeping everyone safe during the Covid-19 pandemic?” Aulani does a great job of laying everything out on their website. However, I figured I would provide a non-biased layman’s version of how Aulani took care of their guests.
Masks, of course
They are mandatory everywhere for anyone over 2-years-old unless you are actively eating or swimming. If you are used to sunbathing maskless, that’s not something you can do at Aulani during Covid-19. Cast Members walk around the pool and nicely ask you to mask up if they don’t see you eating or returning from a swim. However, with so much ground for Cast Members to cover, it falls on the guests to follow the rules. For the most part, people were conscientious. However, there were still the rare individuals that ranted about Aulani oppressing their rights. I tried to steer clear of those individuals and was happy to see that they were few and far between.
Who’s allowed to stay at Aulani
Helpful hint: there is no quarantining for Covid-19 allowed at Aulani
I’m always surprised at just how many non-locals already know this fact, so bear with me if this is old news. From the beginning of the pandemic, Hawaii has been “locked down”. This means that if you want to visit Hawaii, you need to first spend 14 days in quarantine. This requirement ended on October 15th when Hawaii started to allow travelers to bypass quarantine, provided that they received a negative coronavirus test result less than 72 hours in advance of their arrival in Hawaii. (Click here for all the information you need regarding testing and travel to Hawaii.)
If you do not take this test, you will still need to abide by the 14-day quarantine rule. Why is this important in regards to visiting Aulani? Because in order to be a guest, you need to either produce proof of Hawaii residency or proof of your negative Covid-19 test during check-in.
The Front Desk is now equipped with plexiglass in front of each Cast Member. Additionally, social distancing lines are marked on the ground. However, as a way for Aulani to enhance safety protocols during the Covid-19 pandemic, they have moved the majority of their check-in process online. Interaction at the Front Desk is now limited to providing proof that you are not in quarantine (see the previous section), asserting that you understood the new mask rules, and receiving your room key.
Since our room wasn’t ready upon our arrival, I received a text later on with my room number. This ensured I didn’t have to return to the Front Desk a second time.
Helpful hint #1: Even with the online check-in, visit the First Desk as soon as you get there
Aulani’s website states that once you check-in online you don’t have to stop by the Front Desk until you get the text message saying your room is ready. At that point, they instruct you to return to the Lobby for your room key. However, this may create a problem if you want to use the pool while you wait for your room.
The kids and I checked in on Friday morning but my husband couldn’t join us until the evening. During our prior (pre-pandemic) visit, I checked us both in (even though my husband wasn’t with me at check-in) and received two keys. This time I only received a key for myself. I was told my husband would need to visit the Front Desk when he arrived in order to provide his own proof of residency. When the kids and I then visited the towel shack to pick up our pool wrist bands and towels, Cast Members also made sure that my husband wasn’t with our group since he hadn’t been cleared to stay at Aulani yet.
As an aside, I walked through the Lobby at 4 PM (check-in time). It was packed with new guests trying to finalize the check-in process. No thank you! At 10 AM when the kids and I checked in, there was only one group in front of us.
Helpful hint #2: you need a 4-digit-pin to pay for anything on your room card
Note that the online check-in includes setting up a 4-digit-pin. This pin is required anytime you want to use your room key to charge purchases. I stood behind someone in the very long shave ice line that wasn’t aware of this fact. He became very frustrated when he was asked for his pin number in order to purchase shave ice. He argued that he was with his wife during check-in at the Lobby and no pin was set up.
Aulani’s two main restaurants, ‘Ama ‘Ama and Makahiki (aka the character dining experience) are currently closed due to Covid-19, as is the Ka Wa’a Luau. However, if you want a sit-down dining experience, both the Olelo Room and Off the Hook are beautiful options for hotel guests.
Mama’s Snack Shop by the main pool area and Little ‘Opihi’s by the beach are also closed for the time being. However, while the Aulani website states that the Wailana Coffee Bar is also closed, it actually is open and offering up delicious caffeinated delights!
With two little kids in tow, most of our dining needs were met by visiting Ulu Cafe (a grab-and-go cafe) near the pool for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We also hit up many of the restaurants around Kapolei for take-out. Note: a car was necessary as many of the restaurants within the Ko Olina complex remained closed.
Say goodbye to some of your favorite snack options
Almost too upsetting for me to speak out loud, but Mickey musubis are no longer being sold at Ulu Cafe. Neither are the refillable mugs (my best tip of what buy for cost-saving purposes). Because of the latter, my new best tip is to bring a lot of water with you along with a hydro flask to keep yourself hydrated during your stay. You can ask Cast Members for water free of charge at the pool. However, during the midday rush, it may take a while for you to get your cup.
On the plus side, you know what is an option from Ulu cafe? Dole whip!!!
Aunty’s Beach House (the hotel’s kids club) is closed
This was a hard one for all of us. Em was really looking forward to it. I was definitely looking forward to it because it would be a good place for Em to hang out when we had to put Baby L down for the night (earlier than Em’s bedtime). However, this decision clearly makes sense. Nationwide, as every parent knows, it’s been hard enough to get our schools opened safely during Covid-19. I personally don’t have any ideas as to how Aunty’s Beach House would be able to operate safely.
No more adults-only pool
Sorry, kid-free adults! With more social distancing needed at the pools, the Waikolohe pool has been opened to kids as well. In the past, this pool has typically been for adult use only. Ironically, the last time we were at Aulani, both the main pool and the Menehune Bridge were under renovation so they had opened Waikolohe pool to kids at that time as well. I think my kids might be sad when everything returns to normal and they will no longer be able to play in the Waikolohe pool.
Note that there is one jacuzzi on-site that is still adults-only. However, if you are looking for more separation from the under 5-foot crowd (no-judgment, that was how I felt pre-kids), you may want to hold off on Aulani until after Covid-19 is no longer a threat.
Cleaning at Aulani during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Cleaning before your stay
The last time we visited Aulani, the reservation process included an option to request an early check-in. I marked “yes”, figuring “why not”? Sure enough, when we arrived at 10 AM, our room was waiting for us. This time, the option was not there. Despite arriving at 10 AM this time as well, we received our room number right at 4 PM (the official check-in time). I talked to multiple people that also stated that they didn’t get access to their room until 4 PM. I am assuming the reason was deep cleaning.
Prior to your arrival, your hotel room gets a thorough cleaning. Items like television remotes are sealed after being cleaned. All additional items you might need, such as a pack and play and additional pillows, towels, and blankets all are zip-tied shut in a bag. This way, the hotel knows when you have used one of these extra items.
A family that was staying in a deluxe studio villa (a room that typically always comes with a pack and play) stated that for the first time ever, there wasn’t one readily available in their room. They have one child who is 6-years-old. As for ourselves, we were happy to see a zip-tied pack and play waiting for us. Therefore, I am assuming Disney now only provides these items to families with babies (although I’m sure you could probably still request one if you needed it).
Cleaning during your stay
Once you are checked in, you will only get a light cleaning every other day. This includes the removal of trash and used towels as well as the replenishment of towels and amenities. The cleaning staff will not make your bed. You are welcome to decline this service if you prefer no one enter your room at all. Between the trash getting picked up every other day and most of our breakfasts and dinners taking place in our room, one of the best things I packed turned out to be garbage bags. Aulani has the cleanest trash and recycling room on each floor. It was so easy to just remove the food (and dirty diapers) whenever we filled up a bag.
Characters from Afar
As with the parks, Aulani obviously had to do away with their character meet and greets. The solution they came up with was just soooo Disney: a.k.a. thinking outside the box purely in order to make some magic.
Throughout the day, Disney characters stood on the balconies of rooms facing the pool and waved at the guests. Silly? Possibly. But so thoughtful as it made the kids squeal with happiness. And with Aulani’s massive pool layout constantly demanding my kids’ attention, standing in line for a photo op wasn’t missed.
“Please Wait Here” markings are provided at all lines for the first 6 groups in line or so. This includes lines for the Front Desk, getting towels, waiting in line at quick-service food spots, and to enter the stores.
Rules posted near the elevators stated that each car should include either just your household or 4 individuals. However, it seemed the unspoken rule between hotel guests was that you would ride in an elevator car with your group only.
With all these changes, is it even worth it to visit Aulani during the Covid-19 Pandemic?
Yes, yes and yes.
Em exclaimed throughout our week at Aulani that this was her favorite trip ever. I’m still shaking my head at that comment, considering how long I typically take to plan a family vacation (we are talking months and the planning starts at least 1 year out). To plan this trip I went to my husband one day and said “Aulani reopened and they have some pretty good discounts. I made reservations because their cancellation policy is amazing right now. Let me know what you think.”
Coincidentally, a friend of mine was enjoying a relaxing girls/adults-only weekend staycation at Aulani the same time I was there with my family. I reached out to ask her how it was to stay at Aulani given all the changes. To me, it seemed that kid-free groups might have it worse off than families due to the decreased “nicer” dining options and childless pool space. She responded that she had a good time but might have preferred a hotel like the Four Seasons instead, had the latter actually been open.
In summary, is Aulani still good for a family vacation? Absolutely! For an adults-only getaway? It depends on what other options you have.