Disney Aulani - Part I

There's a lot I have to say about the Disney Aulani and this post will focus on the water play portion of the hotel. These photos were taken on the first day of water play and I didn't bother taking anymore photos other than what I got in the first hour. I felt uncomfortable leaving my camera unattended at the pool chairs so I put my camera away after a few photos and didn't get photos of all of the water areas that Disney Aulani has to offer. This was only taken in the splash area, and it was quite limited since I had only brought one lens with me (35mm). This will likely be the last time I travel with one lens. I felt so limited and lost, and even looked up the nearest lens rental place the day we arrived in Hawaii. I also stalked other vacationers at Aulani that had the 70-200mm, wondering how much I could offer them to take a few photos with their lens. I contemplated it for about 15 minutes before I decided that people would think I was crazy. With that said, I couldn't get any closer to the action since if I took one step towards the kids, I would've gotten very wet. 

Pool Overview
Wrist bands. Each person must show a room key at one of the pool kiosks to get a wrist band, there's a new wrist band color each day. Your room card will be scanned and the person must be present to get a wristband since they put it on for you. I've seen attendants stop guests to check their room key if they were not wearing wrist bands. I suggest going first thing in the morning if you know you will be at the pool.
Life vests. Life vests are available at the kiosk free of charge, but they must be returned before the kiosk is closed or you will be charged a late fee. If you know you will be swimming late, hop over to the kiosk next to the Ka Maka Grotto as they are opened later.
Pool chairs. Pool chairs are a hot commodity at the Disney Aulani. The first day we had breakfast and then went to find a pool chair, but on the second day it was visibly more crowded, so half of us went to grab breakfast, while the other half went to get towels to claim the pool chairs. Then we were able to eat breakfast by the pool without rushing the kids. The second day that we were at the pool we were told that the 1 hour rule was in full effect. They will come by and put a folded towel up over the chair, and if you don't come back to claim your chair within an hour, your belongings will be moved and you must go to claim it. There's also food service at the pool that starts at 11AM, they serve a light lunch and a full list of cocktails.
Poolside cabanas. You can rent a pool cabana for the entire day and it costs $340, and you get a little bit of a discount if you're a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) member. The website states that it seats 6, but I think that you can fit at least 8 comfortably. It is pricey, but a nice luxury since you don't have to worry about your pool chairs being taken or needing to be back each hour to reclaim your chair. I recommend reserving these on the phone before you go, otherwise you'd have to get in line by the pool to reserve one. On a related note, beach chairs are available for rent and they run about $100.

Menehune Bridge
All of the photo above are from this area. We got pool chairs located in this area with the thought that the kids can play in this shallow water and that we'd be able to watch them from a few feet away. Of course things don't always work out as planned, and they wanted us within reach most of the time. I was really happy with this area though, there's two small slides that the kids didn't want to go on because adults were not allowed on the bridge and the kids didn't want to climb up by themselves. I know that if we had an extra day or two in the water then the kids would feel confident enough to go by themselves. I would say this area is fit for 2 year olds and up, and I was really happy that there were no overaged kids in the area that splashed water on the little ones.  Just keep an ear out for the Menehune's laugh, which triggers a canoe full of water to be dumped into the area. 

Ka Maka Grotto (infinity pool)
This was the kids' favorite area to swim in. This area has an infinity pool that overlooks the Ko'Olina Beach and is attached to a whirlpool spa. This was shallow enough to reach the bottom of the pool with my tip toes so it was a perfect place to let the kids swim without having to swim ourselves. This area is also open later than the other areas, until about an hour after sundown, but it got so cold (and windy) after the sun sets that we had to get out.

The Lazy River (officially Waikolohe Stream)
As a mom, my favorite part (by far) was the lazy river. We got a double tire ring and my first mate walked us and steered us the entire time, with Karissa sitting on my lap and Ethan hanging onto the ring. This was so relaxing, if I didn't have kids I would find a way to bring my laptop and work while floating in this amazing river. But its not entirely splash-free, there's waterfalls and other water spouts along the way that will get you wet if you don't pay attention. Each lap took us about 10 minutes, with various points along the way to exit the river. There was also a slide here, but was closed due to maintenance.

Keiki Cove Splash Zone
This area is perfect for kids 2 and under. In the Aulani website, it has photos of older kids but I imagine they would get bored fairly quickly. It's really ideal for smaller kids because there's no standing water, only water that shoots up from a spout. That way you can seat kids who are crawling or even sitters close to the water area without having to worry about them being submersed in the water. While we were there, most kids were about 1.5 and under.

We loved the overall experience at the Disney Aulani pool, and wished that we stayed a few extra days to get the kids accustomed to the water. We didn't make it to the Ko'Olina Beach this time since the kids were all beached out after Waikiki. 

Hawaii Pirate Ship Adventures

Before our trip to Waikiki I did some research on activities for kids on Oahu and heard about the Hawaii Pirate Ship Adventure through a local photographer's blog (Little Bird Photography). I knew how much Ethan would love being on the pirate ship so I couldn't pass it up. I found a deal on Groupon and it came out to about $100-115 for the 4 of us. Not a bad deal for a few hours at sea while keeping the kids entertained. 

We arrived at the ticket booth at Kewalo Harbor just a couple of minutes before boarding and we were handed a treasure map and some pirate gear for the kids. Ethan was so excited to put on his eye patch and bandana, but was disappointed that he didn't have a sword like some of the other kids who had brought theirs from home. Well, I guess the pirates thought about that too and we were able to purchase a sword for $7. We were introduced to the crew and during the entire 1.5 hour tour we were entertained by pirates who remained in character the entire cruise. First Ethan was put to work by mopping the planks, then we spotted some enemy ships (other non-pirate cruisers) and we shot some cannons at them. Then we followed our maps and found the treasure chest and even heaved it out of the ocean. Everyone got their fair share of the pirate's booty. After all that was done, each of the kids took on a pirate in a sword fight. This was by far Ethan's favorite part of the cruise as he was the only kid that was brave enough to take on two pirates, and even brought the captain to his knees.

Overall, we would definitely recommend this cruise for people with children. Ethan was 3.5 at the time and Karissa was 2. I would say this cruise is perfect for 3 year olds and up (preferably 4 years old). I think anything younger than 3 they would be entertained but won't be able to join in on the action. Also, the boat does get rocky, so if you're bringing a baby I would recommend a baby carrier as opposed to a stroller.