I fell in love with the magic of Disney at an early age. It started as a young child with the sights and sounds of our annual family trips to Disneyland Resort. I loved the first sight of the entrance as we arrived at the main gate, the sounds of the turnstile whistle as we entered the park, and the smell of warm waffle cones wafting down Main Street. As an older kid, I learned to appreciate the sensory details of a Disney experience. These are the details that made our Disney vacations so magical.

They also are the details that made our recent trip to Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, on the island of Oahu, a special trip for our family. At this luxurious resort, every detail is carefully “imagineered” with Hawaii taking center stage. You will appreciate this unique “Disney” experience the moment you step foot into Aulani’s grand lobby—which looks like a (wonderfully posh) Polynesian hut.

Viewfinder Tip: “Always, as you travel, assimilate the sounds and sights of the world.” (Walt Disney said that.)

Aulani occupies 21 acres of oceanfront property in the Ko Olina resort area, a 30-minute drive from Honolulu International Airport. While I have many favorite Hawaiian resorts, I loved our time at Aulani because of the little perks that came with our stay. Some of these amenities included: live Disney entertainment and water and beach activities for the family. Here are five more ways to get the most out of your visit:

Share a two- or three-bedroom villa. Especially if you are traveling with grandparents or another family, sharing a large villa is a great way divvy up expenses. Aulani has 481 two-bedroom villas spread across two towers. Many of these villas are also designated for members of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), providing families with spacious accommodations, full kitchens, and more.

Check the kids into Aunty’s Beach House. Aunty’s Beach House is a Disney-themed kids’ club for the youngest Aulani guests and is included in your stay. During the day, kids ages 3-12 can learn hula, play games, and spend time with their favorite Disney characters. While the little ones are being entertained, the grown-ups can get some quiet time to relax and enjoy the resort.

Grab a romantic sunset dinner at ‘AMA ‘AMA. The Ko’ Olina sunsets are so much sweeter with your honey. After dropping off the kids for some evening time in Aunty’s Beach House, relax with a delicious dinner and drinks at sunset before grabbing the kids again for the evening entertainment.  

Take time out for mom at Laniwai spa. The old saying goes, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Well, Laniwai is a good place to keep mama happy. In Hawaiian, the name means, “freshwater heaven.” The spa lives up to its name. Be sure to book a spa appointment to enjoy the luxurious outdoor hydrotherapy garden—it’s the only one of its kind on the entire island of Oahu.  

Take the family out for a night swim. Savor the legendary Ko ‘Olina starry skies from the infinity pool and grotto at Ka Maka Landing, or cruise down the lazy river and enjoy a warm evening of Hawaii family fun in the water.

Perhaps our family’s biggest surprise? How much we learned about Hawaiian history and culture at Aulani. From the interactive Menehune Adventure Trail (which is a technology-enabled scavenger hunt around the property), to the storytelling, entertainment, and crafts in the kids’ club and elsewhere on property, every turn provided an opportunity to deepen our love of the Hawaiian culture. The characteristic Disney attention to detail on display at Aulani made us love Hawaii even more. I’m not sure I ever thought that was possible.

What is your favorite family activity to enjoy in Hawaii?