Parents’ guide to Aulani on a budget

Let’s not beat around the bush. Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa on Oahu, isn’t cheap. Rooms start over $400, parking is $35 a day, and the food prices are what you expect at any resort- mostly overpriced for what you get.

However, the reason you have come is because you wanted to give your kids a fabulous vacation where their peers surround them, they have access to a kids club to play in while you run off and do grown-up things, and the kids can swim until they are all pruny. You may get some quiet time at night, while the kids are at Auntie’s Beach House or in the spa, but let’s be honest; this trip is for your kids.

Keeping your travels on budget can get tough when there are so many fabulous extras to take advantage of inside the resort. If you plan on seeing the island, you can expect to pay a little more for excursions, a rental car and gas money. To help you stay on budget, why not take advantage of what is offered in your room rate, and grab a few other budget saving tips that can have you heading down to the island and making family memories your kids will be talking about for years.

My friend Kim-Marie (The Luxury Travel Mom) plays in the sand with TY.
My friend Kim-Marie (The Luxury Travel Mom) plays in the sand with TY.

Table of Contents

Take advantage of free activities

  • ‘Ohana Disney Movie Nights. Sit down with the whole family on a straw mat to watch the Little Mermaid and other Disney classics under the stars in the resort’s outdoor theater.
  • Starlit Hui. If you don’t think your babies and toddlers will want to boogie down at a luau, think again. I couldn’t stop my one year old from dancing, or trying to run up to join the dancers and storytellers in this beautiful show. It only runs for about a half hour and will keep even the squirmiest of kids entertained.
  • Fireside Mo’olelo. Join “uncle” by the fire pit several times a day to hear old Hawaiian tales. Head over as the sun sets or right before bedtime so your kids can unwind and relax before they are tucked into bed and off to dream land.
  • Pool party. Make sure you review your daily schedule and are in the right pool when Mickey and his friends show up for an afternoon pool party filled with music, laughter and dancing.
  • Beach toys. Grab a bag of sand toys from Makiki Joe’s. They are free to borrow each day, making that one less thing you have to pack!
  • Beach activities. Want to set up an epic volleyball tournament or foosball championship? Let the resort staff help you get it set up and organized for fun with your family and new friends.

Buy the cup

If you love soda, tea, hot cocoa and coffee then you need to grab yourself a refillable mug. For $18.99 you can drink until you’re bursting during your entire stay. If you are happy with water, know that water is free and available throughout the resort.

Grab groceries

If you rent a car you can stop at Safeway or a number of other grocery stores on your way to the resort. If you don’t have a car, you can walk across the street to Island Country Market. The selection isn’t large and prices are inflated, but you can still save a bundle on meals. Pasta noodles and sauce are your cheapest bet for feeding your family. Don’t be embarrassed to bring your own food down to the pool either. Plenty of families do it.

Family Meals*

The Aulani now offers family meals starting at $75 for a family of four. The Baked Pasta Dinner includes:

  • Baby Romaine Caesar Salad
  • Baked Pasta with Meat Sauce and Mushrooms
  • Grilled Assorted Vegetables Drizzled with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
  • Garlic Bread
  • Blueberry Cheesecake

There is also a Roasted Rosemary Chicken Dinner ($80), Meatloaf Dinner ($80) and Baked Salmon dinner ($90). If you or a family member has food allergies you can chat with the dining team to make substitutions. Disney takes food allergies very seriously. *Note: Family Meals are only available to Disney Vacation Club members at this time.

Two Scoops

Keiki Meals

In general, Keiki meals are cheaper and smaller than adult meals, but they can also come with extras your meal may not.  I got two slices of French toast, bacon, a slice of pineapple and a carton of milk for my boys for $7 at Ulu Cafe. I could have gotten an adult portion of French toast and bacon for $9, but no milk. This was a nice poolside supplement to the cereal we had in our room earlier in the morning.

This is also true at Ko Olina Center across the street. When I walked into Two Scoops I was going to get one scoop of ice cream for my son. It was listed as being almost $4. The counter assistant asked if it was a child cone, and I said yes. Suddenly my son’s treat was $2.15. Child cones were not listed on the menu, so always ask!

Yogurt and shaved ice over novelty ice cream

You can score a cup of frozen yogurt for $4 at the Lava Shack or you can get a Tollhouse cookie sandwich, Dibs or a Mickey ice cream sandwich for over $5. Shaved ice is also a bargain at Pāpālua Shave Ice. It can be cheaper than fresh fruit!

Ko Olina Station and Center

The food at the resort restaurants is not exactly awe-inspiring. You are there for the pools, kids club, spa and family fun. When you are craving some variety in your meals head across the street for sushi, Mexican and Hawaiian BBQ. The BBQ will be your cheapest meal.


Play even if you are not a guest

Many families opt to stay at hotels near Aulani, but they still want to enjoy a little of the magic the resort has to offer. Although you can’t take part in all of the amenities that come with the cost of your room, you can indulge in a few of the popular, and in my opinion, best parts of the resort.

Laniwai Spa. Parents everywhere should flock to Laniwai Spa when they are on the island. It was my happy place at the resort. Treatments were not cheap, but they weren’t outrageous either. If you factor in all of the extras you get with the spa garden, quiet rooms, steam room and sauna, it is worth the price. Reservations are a must. Book spa treatment by calling (866) 44-DISNEY. You must have a treatment in order to indulge in the spa facility. No day passes are available.

Aunty’s Breakfast Celebration Buffett with Disney Characters at Makahiki Restaurant. Many parents and their kids dream about getting up close with the Disney characters. Although characters are walking around the resort, the character breakfast is the best place to meet them and make sure you get your photos and autograph book signed. The buffet breakfast is plentiful with more than enough options to satisfy the whole family. Aunty’s performance with her character friends will keep your little ones entertained so you can enjoy one more cup of coffee with your pile of bacon and Mickey waffles (personally I’d go for the French toast though!).

Many thanks to Aulani, a Disney Resort, for hosting me during our stay. My airfare, room and a resort credit were provided. I paid for my children to attend with me. As always my opinions are my own; when they aren’t you will be the first to know. 


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