I’ve been home from Hawaii for almost three weeks now. My supply of tasty cookies from Honolulu Cookie Company and chocolate-caramel macadamia nut turtles are long gone, yet I am still suffering from a case of after vacation blues. I wish I could jump back on the plane and trade the desert heat for the tropical beaches of Hawaii this summer. If that were the case, I would happily return to the beautiful Ko Olina Resort area, located on the west shore of Oahu.
While I’ve been to Oahu a few times, I’ve always stayed in the Waikiki Beach area. It can be fun with all of the access to restaurants, shops, and nightlife, but this time I opted for a different Oahu experience. Ko Olina is located approximately 17 miles west of Honolulu and it is a welcome change of pace. Amenities include championship golf, a full-service marina, ocean lagoons, and plenty of pathways for strolling, running and biking. It is also home to Disney’s first resort in Hawaii: Aulani, JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa, Ko Olina Beach Villas Resort, Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, oceanfront wedding chapels, a popular luau show and much more.
The JW Marriott Ihilani was on the top of my “must stay” hotel list, so I was thrilled tocheck in at this beautiful resort. After all, I’ve been sending honeymoon and anniversary couples there for years. Finally, it was my turn! The hotel itself is unlike any place I’ve ever stayed in Hawaii. The rooms are all built surrounding a huge atrium, leaving a very open air feeling. Most of the rooms in the hotel have ocean or lagoon views and are decorated with an upscale island theme. The standard guest room is far larger than any standard room I’ve ever stayed in, starting at 640 square feet. The marble bathrooms are the size of some small hotel rooms alone. My favorite feature of the room was the huge lanai, complete with a table, chairs, and lounge chair. I spent a significant amount of time relaxing on the lanai, reading my book, and appreciating the incredible sunset offered free of charge every night.
This beautiful, stark white building is set among lush green foliage, colorful tropical flowers, and a pacific blue swimming pool. Just beyond the pool is the lagoon, the ideal place to paddleboard, snorkel, or just put your toes in the sand. I spent one afternoon just lounging on a day bed on the beach while the resort staff served frozen grapes and tropical drinks. It was the perfect recipe for rest and relaxation.
The Ihilani definitely ranks as one of my favorite hotels, but I could not help but notice their new next door neighbor, Disney’s Aulani. Of course, the travel agent inside me insisted on a property tour, even though I was on vacation. I immediately noticed the difference between the two resorts upon entering the property. The Ihilani is very tranquil and subdued, while the Aulani is full of Disney activity and families. Guests of the Aulani are considered explorers, not tourists and there is a common theme of Aloha that runs throughout the hotel. Disney partnered with local experts to provide entertaining excursions and cultural classes that bring the spirit of Aloha to life.
The Aulani encompasses over 21 acres and is located on a white sandy beach with tropical gardens, turquoise lagoons and stunning waterfalls. The grand lobby reflects the nature of the islands and the spirit of the people with lava rock that rises up through the floor and pools of water. The luxurious rooms include 460 Villas, 12 Grand Villas, and 359 hotel rooms. There are four restaurants, two lounges, and ten outdoor recreation facilities.
The water features are the center of the resort. There are water slides, lazy rivers, an aquarium full of fish, and some kind of pool for every age group. I had a brief encounter with Minnie Mouse, minus her signature dress and shoes. That’s right; she traded her signature polka dots for her swimsuit. After all, it would not be Disney without the cast of characters. Mickey and the gang put on their island wear and join guests at special events and meals throughout the resort. The Aulani provides activities for every member of the family. Adults will enjoy time for relaxing at the 18,000 square foot spa or golfing at the 18-hole golf course designed by Ted Robinson. Kids of every age will want to visit Aunty’s Beach House, the largest kids’ club on the island. Aunty’s features pool parties, lawn events, character dining, and more. Other recreation facilities include the Waikolohe Stream, Conservation pool, Menehune Adventure Trail, Rainbow Reef Snorkel Lagoon, and the storytelling fire pit – just to name a few. Grandparents, take note: the Aulani is definitely the perfect place for a multigenerational vacation. If you are looking at a beach vacation that will please everyone, then the Aulani will not disappoint.
It is no wonder that Ko Olina was once the place where Pele, the goddess of fire came to rejuvenate after her travels and Hawaiian royalty came to relax. While we may not be goddesses or royalty, the resorts at Ko Olina sure make you feel that way during your stay in paradise.