IMG_0419by Mark Harbeson
So, you’d like to travel to the Aulani Resort in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu.  Maybe you love Hawaii and think it looks like a beautiful place to stay.  Or maybe you love Disney resorts, and you’ve seen pictures of place and want to experience their customer service away from the theme parks in a more relaxing setting.  Or someone mentioned a swanky resort in Hawaii and you decided, “Hey, what the heck?”  Or all of the above.  So far, so good.

But there’s a problem…or two or three.  You might have what the kids refer to these days as a “budget”.  Said budget typically doesn’t include eating out at fancy restaurants such as Outback Steakhouse, let alone Hawaiian vacations.  Or you might have a large family, and you know from experience that Disney does many things well, but one thing they struggle to do is provide reasonably-priced accommodations for families who have committed the unpardonable sin of having more than 2 kids.  And this was before looking at the average prices for gas, food, and…well, just about anything in Hawaii.  Vacationing there seems like a pipe dream.

Well, we’re here to help.  The following is a handy guide that we hope will help you make a Hawaiian vacation at the Aulani Resort a reality without forcing you to sell vital organs on the black market.

Short Version:It’s expensive.  Sorry.

Slightly Longer Version:  It’s expensive, but you can save a buck here and there.  Plan ahead.  Save dollars and make various corporate rewards programs work for you.  And become a member at Costco.

Detailed Version:  Still with us?  Ok, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

IMG_0866The first issue is staying at Aulani itself.  A standard hotel room there will generally run you in the ballpark of $400/night.  And remember, you aren’t allowed to have more than 2 kids.  If you have more than 2 kids, you will be offered one of the deluxe suites.  I’d tell you what they cost, but if you’re bothering to read this article, then you know you can’t afford it.

If you’d like to stay in a standard room, look for periodic sales promotions offered by Aulani.  Typically they’ll offer a 5th night free if you stay 4, or something along those lines.  There’s never a bad time to travel to Hawaii, so these types of deals might help you take advantage of some of their slower seasons.

If you’re a Disney Vacation Club member, you’re in luck–you can use your DVC points to stay in one of the rooms reserved for DVC owners.  It takes more points than most rooms at Disney World, but there’s still a cost savings from buying into the timeshare program.

However, if you’re like me and a) not a DVC owner, and b) have too many kids for Disney’s liking, there’s one other option: renting DVC points.  There are many options online for renting points from DVC owners, but my preferred option is to simply ask around.  Chances are you have a friend or family member who is a DVC owner and may not be planning on using all of his/her points in a particular year.  Cast a net far and wide.  A friend or family member may be willing to give you a better price on the rental.  Even if you can’t find someone within your circles, remember that you can negotiate on the rental price.  Obviously, the owner will need to recoup the costs they paid for the timeshare points, but you can bargain your way to a price that works for both of you.  It will still end up being an expensive room, but you’ll be getting better value than trying to rent a suite through Disney.

IMG_0423Here’s where long-range planning can help.  If you are a member of an airline’s frequent-flier miles program, save up those miles.  Many of them will offer a credit card that gives you miles as a reward for dollars spent.  This can help keep the account active over a long period of time as well.  It might require being patient, but it can pay off–it did for me.  I saved miles for 15 years and ended up flying 3 out of 5 members of my family to Hawaii on free tickets.

Otherwise, look for competition.  Sign up for e-mail specials from various airlines.  Hawaiian Airlines has begun flying from the mainland and has been offering competitive rates for roundtrip tickets.  It’s a well-run airline that is worth a look.

Car Rental
You don’t have to rent a car on Oahu, but Aulani is a good 30-45 minutes from the airport, and that’s on a good traffic day (which you won’t get in Honolulu).  Shuttle services and taxis are expensive, and a rental car gives you the freedom to explore Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, and other attractions around the island.  The best car rental deals I found were through Costco.  Typically rental agencies will drop prices the closer you get to your travel dates as they try to use up their inventory.  There’s usually no cancellation fee on a car rental reservation until you get within 24 hours of your travel date, so it doesn’t hurt to keep making and changing reservations as the prices drop.

IMG_0419Say you make it to Hawaii and actually get a room at Aulani.

“You make it to Hawaii and actually get a room at Aulani.”

Sorry.  Old Police Squad joke there.  Anyway, you’re still going to have to eat.  Aulani has a few restaurants on property, but remember: this place is run by Disney.  If you’ve ever bought a $4.00 bottle of water at Disney World, then you know what theme park food prices can do to your budget.  Well, restaurant prices in Hawaii (in general) and at Aulani specifically will beat the tar out of your wallet.

You have two options: make your own meals, or look for deals.  Thankfully, both options are available.  The DVC villas at Aulani have kitchens.  This is part of that “value” I was talking about.  Just a few miles down the road is the town of Kapolei, where you can find a Target and a Costco store, among other options.  Buying groceries here and transporting them to Aulani can help you save a relatively large amount on the cost of food.

If you’re still on mainland time, you can look for good deals by eating a little earlier than usual.  Beating the crowds to the restaurants can pay off through some good happy hour deals and early-bird specials.  It can help to look at a restaurant’s website to see if they have any offers or coupons.  But even if you don’t see anything advertised, ask the staff if they have any special deals that evening.  I highly recommend Monkeypod Kitchen, located right across the street within walking distance from Aulani.  The food is excellent, and they offer both half-price appetizers and $9 pizzas during happy hour, which runs from 3:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.  Other restaurants on the island have similar specials for the early crowd.

Sorry, I can’t help you here.  Whatever you would pay for a t-shirt, add Disney mark-up )+ Hawaii mark-up and then multiply by 2.  Save up that birthday money!

I hope these tips help you plan your vacation.  There’s no way around the fact that a Hawaiian vacation is expensive, especially if it includes Aulani.  But expensive doesn’t mean impossible.  If I can get there, so can you!

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