O’ahu (at Disney’s Aulani)

a long hall with a gothic looking peaked roof

This is the second time I have been there since getting sick four and a half years ago. First time here. It was amazing both times, though on a personal note much more so this time because my health has noticeably improved since I went four years ago. They have done so much to honor and share the culture of the islands- working with local artists and performers, craftspeople and storytellers to make it a magical, but truly Hawaiian place.

Disney is really great at accessibility. I cannot speak to situations for people who cannot transfer or walk short distances personally, but I could see how much effort they put into it.

Every pool and hot tub has a device for lifting someone who cannot transfer from their chair into the pool or hot tub.

a white lifting chair in front of a pool designed to lower wheelchair users into the pool

There is a beach wheelchair you can check out from the beach rentals hut for free.

a woman in a black hat sitting in a beach wheelchair with balloon like wheels on the beach
a swarm of fish right at the edge of a pool

I was able to snorkel in their pool sized fish tank and see tropical fish in an environment that was safe for me with a flotation cushion (I would not be safe in the open ocean). We did the fish feeding there (show up at 7AM or slightly earlier the day of to line up for a spot) and that was a great experience too. Last time we had an accessible room, but for me the larger tub option (not the smaller kind with grab bars) is actually better, so we got a two room suite for our family and it actually had enough room for the wheelchair to navigate smoothly despite not being an ADA room (which they do have).

FYI on the pool chairs– if you want to get a chair for the morning to midday put your stuff out on a chair just after 8AM. Put it out before 8AM and they will collect it and put it in lost and found, and even though you know they have it it can be hard to retrieve for a couple days (it goes from daily collection to a warehouse even if you mention a specific item to the front desk and ask for it back immediately). Pool chairs start to open up again around 2-3.

Corey in a tropical print dress with flowered Disney ears on which she made through the Aulani Community Center

Aulani is easy and restful. If you have kids over 8 or so you can let them roam free in the pool area knowing there are a battalion of lifeguards everywhere. For us this was made easier by my daughter having an Apple watch so we could contact her and vice versa and we had her location at all times. The sound of fountains is everywhere. There is a lazy river, two waterslides, a spa, a beach… just very nice. If you have kids, or are just young at heart, I recommend the ears-making (sign up at the community center). You buy a kit for either light up ears or regular ears and get various things to decorate with (you can add more for a few dollars more). I got the light up ears with extra flowers and made a spiderweb out of hot glue.

The Menehune Adventure Trail is also great. There are reactive displays all over the grounds that respond to a story on the tablet you can pick up at the community center (best at night or dusk). You can even break up your adventure into shorter episodes if you like. There are a ton of actives available at the community center, including ukulele lessons.

a flame behind a hole in rock shaped like a shark. This is part of the Menehune trail.
view from the Makahiki and Olelo room (fish swimming in a pond)

Food Nearby The main restaurant (Makahiki) is on a reservation system (reserve asap) and has a character breakfast most days (check which days when you go) and live music at night. The sushi bar at the ‘Ōlelo Room is first come first served. If you show up at 5PM for an early dinner you get seated fairly quickly. Ami Ami (fanciest of them, with an ocean view requiring reservations) was closed due to covid.

Monkeypod across the street is very good, but get reservations ahead. Mekiko Cantina is a decent Mexican restaurant (speaking as a Californian), also probably needs reservations. There is an ice cream shop, cafe, and a couple other restaurants. There is also a general store (Island Country Markets) with groceries, staples, clothing, souvenirs, etc.

Characters

The characters we saw this time were Minnie and Mickey, Stitch and Angel (the girl Stitch), Moana, Goofy and his nephew Gilbert (the last two were at the character dining breakfast). Because of covid they were all at a distance except for photos during the character dining at the main restaurant breakfast. On our last visit we saw Donald and Daisy.

a Hawaiian dancer in a tan colored grass skirt dancing

/ at Aulani is really an impressive performance that I highly recommend. It is a large (very much so) meal with drinks included and an amazing show highlighting the History of the Island. Get reservations as far ahead as possible.

a number of Hawaiian dancers on stage with tan colored grass skirts and headdresses dancing

Across the street from Aulani are two restaurants, Monkeypod and Mekiko Cantina. Monkeypod is excellent Hawaii fare and Mekiko is pretty good Mexican food (you need reservations ahead for both). Also in that center is a general store with everything from pharmacy items and groceries to souvenirs and a retail store. Aulani also has various snack shops, poolside service, dole whip, coffee bar, etc.

This trip we went to Waimea Valley for the waterfall and cultural center. It is on the north side of the island and you pass right by the Dole plantation if that is something you want to visit. The path to the waterfall is all paved and wheelchair accessible, though there are points with inclines which could be problematic for some chairs if wet. They have botanical gardens, a reconstruction of a village and a restored temple site by the parking lot. People do swim at the waterfall (not accessible), but should be warned that there is a dangerous parasite that could potentially infect them (warnings are posted by the falls). We opted not. There is onsite ticket availability but especially during covid they can hit capacity so getting tickets ahead is recommended.

We tried to go to Hanauma Bay preserve, but failed. For the Bay, you need to get online at exactly 7AM 48 hours before each day you want to go and attempt to register with lighting speed for a time slot. It goes in minutes. The 7AM and noon slots go first. We should have tried for it each day we were there but sadly only tried two days and failed. I was told they have beach wheelchairs there with a place to store your chair and they rent snorkel equipment.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is really a great day out, and you can do a package that included a Luau. They have micro-villages for many different Polynesian islands where they display the dance, storytelling, artifacts, crafts, cooking, games, etc. of each set of islands in an interactive way for guests. Everything is paved and wheelchair accessible. There is accessible parking or you can be dropped at the entrance. However if you need to take their shuttle for any reason you need to call them in advance to let them know about the wheelchair. With covid they are limiting tickets, and this time we didn’t call in time to reserve so we didn’t make it back. Next time!

In short, Aulani and O’ahu are a lovely place to be and a safe space for wheelchair users. When you cannot do much physical activity, gorgeous surrounding add quite a lot. I plan to return.

an image of Aulani at night from the hotel room. A manmade volcano structure with palm trees to the right and the hotel buildings to the left.

Published by Mary Corey March

I am a contemporary artist living and working in San Francisco. The root of my work is exploring both the individual person and humanity through identity, relationships, diversity, and commonality. How do we define ourselves and each other? Where do we draw the lines and what happens _on_ those lines? How to we frame our experiences? How much of our humanity can come through in a data format? Through our symbolic images? Our words? Our definitions? Our bodies? These are the questions I delve into again and again. In May of 2017 I became disabled with ME/CFS. I have since continued my artwork with the help of assistants. I am in a wheelchair outside of the home.

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