We just returned from a week in Hawaii at Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, and I thought I’d write a quick post while everything is still fresh in my mind. We really, really tried to do this trip on the cheap because after our debacle of a vacation in December, we were kind of behind the 8 ball after paying off the hospital bills. Originally we thought we weren’t even going to do the trip – we had the room booked but the flights were an astronomical 11K for the 6 of us.
Our first money saver was booking our room on our DVC points, which we bought last year. We used just over a year’s worth of points, and were still able to stay in a one-bedroom with a standard view because Amelia is still under 3 and sleeps in a pack and play. The one bedrooms at Aulani sleep 5 plus a baby – a king bed in the bedroom, a pullout double couch and a twin murphy bed in the living room. We learned last year that Aulani’s beds are pretty noisy, so we put Amelia’s pack and play in the closed-off bathtub area of the room with a white noise machine and she slept soundly. The older girls were great at putting away the bed every morning so we had the living room back during the day, which made the room feel much bigger. I realize that Disney Vacation Club is not for everyone, last year we rented someone else’s points and we were able to stay for about half the price of Disney’s advertised room rates. There are several companies that rent points, we used David’s with great success. We had to try a few different dates and room categories before we found availability though. Last year we had an incredible ocean view room and this year our standard view overlooked the back of the island, but it was still amazing to sit out there and see palm trees and drink our morning coffee.
Secondly, the flights were still not going down in price, so we started looking at connections and different options. Still nothing that was going to work cost-wise for us, so we decided to cancel the trip, and even told the kids we were no longer going. (We booked the room 11 months in advance because Aulani is our DVC “home resort”) While I was lying in bed with the flu at Walt Disney World, I happened to check our credit card points one more time – and all of a sudden the flights were available to book and we had enough points for all of us to travel direct! We use our points credit card for almost every purchase so we can usually use the points for one family vacation every year. It’s worth the fee of the card time 10.
Speaking of credit cards, ours also comes with lounge passes that we usually never use. I had six passes that were expiring, so off we went to eat and drink for free before our flight! We were able to save money at the airport, and on the plane. Win-win!
Our room had a full kitchen, so we ended up bringing a suitcase (free bags with our airline credit card, lol) full of food. I researched ahead of time and found that most non-perishables are fine to bring, so we packed peanut butter, mayo, mustard, coffee, cereal, granola bars, cookies, etc. It was so great to have food already available to the kids the morning after a long day of travel. DVC also has grocery delivery that will be ready in your room on arrival – we did that in December when we stayed at Old Key West. It was convenient but not really inexpensive.
We made the plan to try not to eat at the resort restaurants too much. I love them but once the six of us eat, and Josh and I have drinks – it ends up being around $250 USD, which is about $330 CAD. For a week that ends up being $2300 – for one restaurant meal a day for our family of six. So we cut it down to one character breakfast, and a couple of dinners across the street at Monkeypod, a restaurant we absolutely love and is very kid-friendly. We ate breakfast mostly in the room, lunches were quick service or sandwiches and we had pizza for dinner twice, and bought pasta and sauce from the ABC store across the street. We also didn’t use drink service at the beach this time, we brought a soft-sided cooler and got cans of beer at ABC and it was perfect! Although I couldn’t resist having a Dole Whip with rum – YUM!
The ABC store across the street from the resort is a godsend when it comes to saving money. The prices are still high there, but not nearly as bad as at the resort itself. We stocked up on bread, POG juice, champagne for mimosas, souvenirs, ice cream, etc and it helped so much with overall costs. It’s a fun time too – just very, very busy from about 6-8pm.
The resort has so many free activities, we didn’t spend a dime on entertainment! The beach is so calm and beautiful, Amelia and Max were happy to play for hours. Makiki Joe’s down by the beach rents out big bags of sand toys for absolutely free – no need to bring or buy shovels, buckets, etc. The older girls rented boogie boards every day (also free) and loved riding the waves or paddling out and floating. There are pool parties, tons of characters to meet, movie nights, fish watching, two different amazing iPad scavenger hunts, waterslides, infinity pools, a kid’s waterpark and toddler splash area. It’s almost impossible to be bored at Aulani. We also got a tip from our driver, and walked down at high tide to Secret Lagoon just past the Four Seasons. Sea Turtles come out here, and while we didn’t see any – we did see the most spectacular sunset of the trip, on a beautiful, quiet and peaceful beach. It was a 10 minute walk from the resort, and next time we go we are going to bring a pizza and have dinner in the sand watching the sunset.
When we went to Aulani last year, we hired a professional photographer to take our family photos and they are absolutely stunning. I am still so in love with them. Sadly, she moved back to the mainland so in the interest of saving money – we went down to the beach one night at sunset. They have free Disney PhotoPass photographers stationed there to take photos and while they aren’t necessarily my usual style, they are fun mementos. We ended up buying the disc of all our PhotoPass images from the week for $100, which ended up less than a dollar an image. There’s nothing incredible there, but I love having photos from all the character meet and greets, and family images of us from all over the resort – even the pool! If you want to save even more money, the photographers will use your camera to take photos if you ask.
At the end of the trip, we ended up spending about $2500 for our family of six to spend a week at Aulani in Hawaii. I realize this isn’t necessarily typical, not everyone has DVC membership or point credit cards, but I realized quickly that getting as creative as possible about saving money works well and can even be a little fun.