How My Daughter & I Got Our Groove Back At Disney Aulani in Hawaii

It’s Tuesday night. I’ve had a particularly (but not unusually) fraught bedtime ritual with my three darling children and my eldest, beautiful Beatrice (we call her BB) was leading the charge...

You see, my seven-year-old first born can be very headstrong. And wonderful, intense, bright, caring, dramatic, and loving. She has challenged me almost every day for those seven years and although I’m all the better for it, sometimes we clash on a spectacular scale. They say parenthood is ‘like holding a mirror up to yourself’ and that ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’. Gulp. We love each other fiercely but with two younger siblings constantly vying for my time, I often feel I cannot fill the well of attention that my beautiful BB needs. It just feels like it’s never ever enough…

So on this Tuesday evening, I went to bed quite soon after the children, in fact, and instead of reading I was (ahem) scrolling, and came across an article on the benefits of one parent/one child holidays. Bingo! That’s what BB and I need! Now! I had tried the one-day ‘love bombing’ and while great initially, the glow didn’t last. Then my cynic emerged and I thought, yeah right, great in theory, but who on earth can make that happen?! With jobs, family commitments, finances a one parent/one child holiday is not easy to make happen…

The very next day while at work at The Grace Tales, Georgie Abay mentioned a trip to Hawaii to visit Disney Aulani – um yes! Amazing! Sign me up! ALOHA! Georgie couldn’t go due to other commitments and we realised that we could only make it work with me plus one of my children. Boom! Georgie Abay via Disney Aulani had delivered the solution, with sunshine! And I’m eternally grateful….

Fast forward two weeks and my girl and I are packing for Hawaii. I’ve never been, she’s never been, we’ve never been ‘just the two of us’ since she was 14-months-old.

I must admit to being a new recruit to Disney…. resorts. While of course, I have a lifetime connection with the magic of Disney by way of film, my children and I have never been to a Disneyland or Disney resort. And to be perfectly honest, I expected something different. I thought it would be very overtly Disney - lots of characters everywhere, colour, animation, rides, and merchandise - kind of like a Disneyland with bedrooms. How wrong I was…. this is a luxury resort for the entire family with fabulous food, spa, and service...

It’s also a resort that very cleverly and respectfully tells the story of Hawaii – the history, the culture, nature. We definitely learned more about Hawaiian life than we did about Disney characters. The Disney integration is subtle and well thought through – there are times when you can completely immerse in Disney characters, or relax on the lawn and watch a twilight Disney film under the stars, or rent an endless supply of Disney DVDs for some quiet time in your room. The Disney characters visit the (amazing) kids club and host a wonderful breakfast at one of the restaurants, Makahiki, every morning. However, the live music, educational programs, activities, and fun are all delivered more with a Hawaiian rather than a Disney flavour. And in the spa, there is absolutely no reference to Disney at all – just the most heavenly treatments and escape time I have ever experienced. So much so that I fell asleep, twice!

Read on to discover our adventures in the Hawaiian sun at this magical resort and how we bonded. The connection between us on the return flight home compared to the flight there was so vastly different that I am now vowing to do this will all my children (and so is my husband) on whatever scale we can manage at least every couple of years. We are also planning our return to Disney Aulani as a family (and extended family – we saw so many families with grandparents too – and we know BB’s grandparents from England would love to meet us there and play golf next door!).

The complex is stunning, in a gated community at Ko Olina, on the other side of the island form Waikiki...

Nestled in a beautiful picture-postcard-perfect bay, the resort has two towers of rooms, either side of the grand lobby area created from carved wood with a very authentic Hawaiian feel, to reveal a vast landscaped area in the centre that provides endless pools, waterslides, restaurants, bars, adults-only pools and more, all the way down to the golden sandy, palm tree-lined beach. I do feel a little overwhelmed initially – it’s huge! But once given the tour, I’m relaxed and realise there is absolutely everything we need and more for a brilliant holiday. We have a busy schedule for our three-day stay, here are some of the many highlights.

Emily's travel snaps:


Aunty’s Beach House

This is without a doubt the most brilliant kids club I have ever encountered or could even conceive. And it’s included in your stay! It’s open from 8am to 9pm with a secure and easy check in/check out process.  A gorgeous, generous space, inside and out, with smiling, welcoming happy staff, it feels more like a home than an activity centre, I suppose like an actual ‘Aunty’s Beach House’. Catering for ages 3 to 12, the service is incredible, the security second to none, and my usually shy daughter begged me to keep returning, made lots of friends, and talked about it for weeks afterwards with her siblings. There’s a beautiful outdoor space under the shade of the tropical trees with lots of play equipment, a fabulous arts and crafts room, games room, movie room and daily activities like learning the Hula, creating fun scientific experiments and a surfs up dance party.

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Dolphin spotting and underwater adventures

What seven-year-old doesn’t adore dolphins? We spent a magic morning out on a 65-foot catamaran gliding past pods of dolphins so close we could almost touch them and then stopped for a snorkel in the clear blue waters of the O’ahu sun-kissed Leeward coastline. BB was new to snorkelling so didn’t venture far from the boat but I was able to immerse in magical underwater scene sea life. Definitely a memory we will both treasure. Back at Aulani in the afternoon, we snorkelled again, this time in the beautifully created freshwater ‘sea’ within the resort, the Rainbow Reef. Here you can snorkel and dive and experience all the wonders of the underwater life of Hawaii but feel a little more secure, which was particularly great for this seven-year-old. We went back again every day.

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Watersliding… for all ages

How long has it been since you’ve been on a waterslide? Well, it had been too long for me – maybe over 20 years. We zoomed down together, my daredevil daughter and I – first on the slide on tubes that you can then leisurely bob around within the Waikolohe stream. So much fun and I realised I couldn’t stop smiling. Then BB convinced me to go down the ‘volcanic vertical’ slide. She went first – a quick smile back at mama, and off she shot. My turn next, as I entered the slide it was complete darkness, for like a minute, which felt like 10 minutes, water rushing around me and I panicked. Would she have been scared? Oh my BB, I’m coming! I screamed as I shot out into the water. She was laughing her head off seeing me emerge from the dump, and after hearing me scream all the way down. ‘Come on mum, let’s go again’! And so we did, another 25 times or so!

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Spa paradise escape

The Laniwai spa is definitely the unsung heroine of this resort. I was completely blown away by the space, service, and treatments. It was a pure indulgence and with my daughter safely happily playing at Aunty’s beach house, I could really relax. There are indoor and outdoor chill areas to make the most of your spa experience, luxurious change rooms and beautiful little touches that make it incredibly special.

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Hawaiian nights

It’s so rare for my daughter and to double date in the evening so we had lots of fun getting ready to go out for dinner, drinks, and movies! The first night we dined at the beautiful Ama Ama restaurant – it was so special, watching the sunset over the bay, listening to the sounds of the local Hawaiian live music and eating delicious fresh seafood. The following evening we ate pizza at a nearby restaurant and then had dessert and cocktails/mocktails at ‘Ōlelo Room bar, listening to the live music and BB joined in dancing with other children, revelling in being out after dark with their parents. The next night we ate casually at Off The Hook and then snuggled up together on the lawn to watch Finding Dory on the giant screen under the moonlight. Our last night we were treated to tickets to our first ever Hawaiian Luau party – a brilliant experience of incredible food and entertainment learning all out the history and culture of the Hawaiian people and land.

So, what did I learn about my darling daughter at Disney Aulani?

That she is a wonderful travel companion… curious, entertaining, really funny, with a dry sense of humour, an incredible command of accents, a natural at hula dancing, that she makes friends easily, is really interested in nature, history and geography is a total waterslide daredevil and that she actually thinks Moana is real! What I also learned about family holidays is that if your kids are happy, you’re happy and you all have a holiday… when can we return?

She’s back to calling me names and testing my patience but we’ll always have Hawaii (thank you Disney Aulani!)

The Grace Tales was a guest of Disney Aulani. For more information, go to Disney Aulani