5 Ways Disney made our Munchkins EXCELLENT Travelers

I get it… Disney… really?  It’s funny how people love or hate the mouse and with equal enthusiasm especially in the travel industry!

As lame as you may think the mouse is I am going to make the argument that Disney is great stomping grounds for bringing up well rounded little travelers-

Here are 5 Ways Disney made my Munchkins EXCELLENT Travelers:

1)  The munchkins are great on airplanes

We walk on a plane with 4 kids and a baby and I swear all you can hear are sighs.  Plus, all the talk under peoples breath, the eye rolls and the avoidance.  It is hilarious!!!

I smile and laugh in my head bc our kids have flown 3-4 times a year from the time they were infants.  Every few months they are on a plane ride.  Initially, it was either to Maui to visit their Papa or to Florida to go to Disneyworld bc with the Vacation Club it was just SO affrordable!

All those miles up in the sky have made my kids EXCELLENT flyers.  Its a routine for them and we keep it consistent every time.  Hint- Kids LOVE routine!!!  My kids love the special treats they know I’ve packed them.  They know activities that will keep them occupied and they know that sleeping helps pass the time.  You know the saying “Practice makes Perfect!”

My favorite part about flying honestly is all the compliments we receive once we’ve landed.  People cannot believe how well behaved our kids were.  Its one of those mama moments that I just soak up– proof that I am doing a good job at this while child rearing thing 😉

Truth is it is not as much about my parenting though as it is about practice and routine.  And, that moment is thanks to all those trips.  The munchkins know hopping on a plane = fun.  They know if they misbehave they will miss out on part of the fun.  So, with that mindset our flights are easy peasy.

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2)  They understand and appreciate culture

Epcot is a fantastic way to introduce kids to culture and language.  The park represents 11 countries and Disney hires people from each specific area so kids are able to ask questions and learn about another country from its own residents without any language barrier.

My kids especially love making the cultural kidcot masks.  They get to visit a special kidcot area in each country where the cast member stamps the country and writes the child’s  name in their native language on the back of their mask.

EVERY. TIME. we go the munchkins HAVE to make a mask.  They never get tired of it.

It’s more than the mask though.  I appreciate that they are able to chat with the employees about their homelands and learn a bit of the language.  It sparks their curiosity and helps engage us in conversations about the world and where they might want to travel in the future.

It also helps in reverse when you are in the actual country and you can remind them of things they learned or saw in the parks.  It helps familiarize them to the area so they don’t feel so out of sorts.  Like when we traveled to Ethiopia and we were able to talk about the cast members we met, the pictures of the traditional African houses we had seen at the hotel, the Coke signs in the Africa area of Epcot and the drums the kids were able to play with.  My son was proud when he could show the Ethiopians that he knew a thing or two about their instruments 😉

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3)  The munchkins are patient

Disney parks are known for their long waits and while we do utilize fast pass and baby swap when we can… my munchkins still end up waiting in their fair share of lines.  This has been very useful bc trips always require you to wait in lines whether its at the airport, waiting to see the Eiffel Tower or to see an exhibit in a museum- lines are just part of traveling.

Having had so much practice at how to wait nicely, knowing fun little games they can play like “I spy” etc… really has been helpful.  The more routine the activity is… the better equipped your kids will be to handle themselves in a mature, respectful manner.

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4)  They love trying different foods

Disney has done a great job with all the different cultural restaurants they have now.  We have enjoyed African/ Indian inspired dishes at Boma and Jiko while staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The munchkins have eaten Moroccan, French, English, Chinese, Norwegian, German and Japanese food at Epcot and many more.  Food is such an important part of a culture and getting small tastes of it here and there has helped them appreciate trying new things.  I recommend if you visit the parks to not give your kids the kids meals with traditional mac and cheese and chicken nuggets.  Instead have them split adult entrees or order several appetizers to share.

They may turn up their noses the first few times but once they give it a go I guarantee they will find exotic foods to be quite fun!!  Mine have even made lists of all the different foods they have tried like escargot, injera and sushi.

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5)  The munchkins have learned how to have their own fun amongst the chaos.

Traveling is exhausting and chaotic.  Crowded tourist attractions, busy train and subway stations and the airport are all places that get NUTS!!  Guess where you can get that same type of vibe… that’s right Disney Parks.  Crowds, Chaos and Disney go hand in hand.

My kids are literally immune to the crowds.  They know how to stay close, they know what to do if they get lost… all of these details we have worked out previously through our many trips to Disney.  This helps give me more peace of mind bc I know my kids won’t be overwhelmed.  By ensuring the are not overwhelmed I also know I am avoiding potential meltdowns.

We also have a worked out a great flow.  We know our kids need to have a break to rest & eat every 2-3 hours when we are out.  We know what kind of snacks to have on hand and we can tell when one of the kids is losing their cool.  I am glad we practiced all of these things at Disneyworld where if I didn’t pack enough snacks or diapers there was a very easy fix at the next gift shop maybe 10 feet away.  Trust me Disney has you set.

I am glad to have had the practice as making a mistake while hiking in Costa Rica, driving across the countryside in Ethiopia or in the middle of the sand dunes in Dubai would NOT be as easy to fix.

So, if you are nervous about travel but would love to be a traveling family I think Disneyworld is a great starting off point.  It’s convenience can’t be beat and helps ease you into experiences so that you can get some under your belt.

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5 Ways to Beat the Crowds at Disneyland

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Spring break is upon us and I know I am not the only one scrambling trying to figure out how to keep my munchkins busy 😉

Disneyland is a fantastic option, but I know many parents who avoid it completely during busy times of the year.  Truth is Disney’s crowds are largely SoCal residents, meaning even during off peak seasons the park is still pretty packed.  So, instead of trying to avoid the crowds I have come up with 5 easy ways to work the crowds instead.

Here are 5 ways we beat the crowds and enjoy Disneyland even during the busiest of times.

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1.  Get There Early

Plan to be at the gates about 30 minutes prior to the park opening.  Remember to account for the time it takes to park and catch a tram (about 30 minutes).   You will get to catch the Park Opening Show with the characters which is always fun.  Plus, the park will be much less crowded for the first 1-2 hours so you can jam through some the lines for the big attractions.  *Always, start at Disneyland first if you have the hopper pass as CA Adventure is the slower of the two parks.

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2.  Start at the Back of the Park

Most visitors will rush to the most popular ride they see first.  Be smart and work backwards through the park and you will be ahead of the game.  Whatever you do AVOID heading over to Space Mountain because hotel guests receive early entry into the park (*1 hour early) and the only areas that are open to them are Tomorrowland and Fantasyland so those two areas will be busy early.  Instead head towards Frontier and Adventureland where the lines will be much less crowded.

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Bonus Tip- Our route is typically having the hubby head to Space Mountain to grab fast-passes for later then meeting up with the rest of the crew at Splash Mountain.  Then we hit up Pirates and Thunder next!

Another way to avoid the crowds are to ride the main attractions during the parade and firework times!

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3.  Download the MouseWait App

Another way to avoid the crowds is to download the MouseWait App and check the wait times throughout the day.  This app is updated by park guests not Disneyland… but they have tons of users and we have found their estimates to be pretty spot on most of the time.  This allows you to take advantage of attractions that are having a random slower wait times.

The app features most attractions and show times… plus it helps you find restrooms near you to which is very convenient when traveling with littler munchkins.

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4.  Dine Early… plus more Dining Tips

A great way avoid munchkin meltdowns is to make sure everyone is well fed and hydrated throughout the day.  Disney is one of the best theme parks in regards to allowing guests to bring snacks.  So, I always pack granola bars, pretzels, goldfish etc…  Make sure whenever you do plan on dining at one of the restaurants in the parks that you try to schedule it at off times.  i.e.) Lunch at 11:30am or dinner at 5pm

Bonus Tip- All dining locations that have fountain sodas offer free cups of ice water.  We stop by every couple hours to hydrate plus bring a refillable water bottle to keep on hand.

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Bonus Tip- If you are going to catch a parade I suggest finding one the coincides with dinner time.  We like to bring a blanket lay it out around 45 minutes before parade time, then we send one of us to pick up a whole pizza from Pizza Port and basically have a picnic before the parade.  Its good times!

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5.  Escape the Heat with these off the Beaten Path Attractions

Yes, the thrills of Indiana Jones, Space Mountain and the like are a super fun way to spend your day.  But, the problem is there are only a few of them.  It always seems like we’ve conquered most of the big rides by mid day and our energy levels are pretty burnt.  So, what we do is head to some of the less popular attractions.

Single Park Ticket:  Some of our favorite escapes from the crowds and heat are: hitting up one of the shows like Mickey’s Magical Map, hopping on the Disneyland Railroad, enjoying the air conditioning at the Enchanted Tiki Room or Innoventions.  Or if you are near the back of the park the Winne the Pooh ride often has little to no wait.

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Park Hopper- I suggest you stroll over to California Adventure at that midday time.  This park is always much less crowded than Disneyland.  You can grab an iced latte at Starbucks as you enter the park then head on over to the Animation Academy.  Inside that air conditioned building your munchkins can talk to Crush or find out what character they are most alike.  If you have preschool aged children you could cruise over to the Playhouse Disney show…  Our littlest munchkin has the best time watching her favorite characters on stage!!!   Then, you can head over to Ariel’s Undersea Adventure as there is hardly ever a wait there.  Same with most rides in Bugs Land… and the Bug’s Show is also indoors and a great way to keep cool and rest.

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And, don’t forget to combine the above with Disney’s Methods too:

Fast Pass-

You can scan your ticket at a Fast Pass booth for the larger attractions in the park.  It will give you a ticket (aka Fast Pass) to come back at a designated time.  This way you don’t have to stand in the full wait time line.  This can cut your wait time down significantly.

Single Rider-

If you are traveling with older children single rider may be a viable option for you.  It is a separate faster moving/ shorter line where they use you to fill in the extra seats.  If you don’t mind being split up this is another way to move through the park faster.

Child Swap-

The child swap has worked great for us.  Basically, one parent and the group of kids waits in the line while the other parents waits with the baby or younger child off the ride.  After the first parent and children ride they come out and hand the second parent a child swap pass.  The second parent and usually 1-2 of the kids can then go straight through the exit to the front of the attraction to ride without having to wait in the line again.

So, now that you are equipped with fantastic methods to work the crowds you can confidently move on to planning your trip to Disneyland this Spring Break!!!              IMG_1990

*Don’t forget to check out Smart Card for discounted Disneyland tickets.  You have to pay a $30 member fee but they have fantastic savings to all the SoCal Theme Parks plus movie theater discounts too!

5 Things I learned on my First Disney Cruise

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1.  Your Kids are Going to Love the Kids Club-

Okay… I know some people may think this is obvious (duh… thanks for the tip).  However, I have spoken to fellow parents who were also taken a back by their kids willingness to be dropped off at the Kids Club (free day care people!!!  FREE DAYCARE!  Well… maybe not free but no additional fees- ha!).  For a young couple this was very welcomed news.  Let’s face it vacations can be exhausting between all the planning, packing and taking care of everyone.  I had read reviews that talked about the kids club but I assumed our kids would gasp over the idea of being left at a daycare on vacation.  Boy was I wrong.  We practically had to beg them to leave each time we went to pick them up.  They could have stayed in there A.L.L. day if we let them.  They loved it SO much that the kids club actually turned into a bargaining tool, “Want to go to Goofy’s Pajama Party tonight… okay well everyone needs to be on their best behavior today then.”  How great is that??

Should you feel bad about dropping off your kids?  Heck NO!  With all we do for the munchkins we deserve a break.  This is our vacation too.  So, don’t be shy.  Sign up your kids pronto.  Don’t delay.  Take them the first night to the open house where you can explore the areas together.  They will likely meet friends and be begging you to be dropped off in no time.

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2. You Need a Whole Day in Castaway

We LOVE Castaway Cay… in fact whenever we see the cruise that plans on stopping in Castaway Cay twice my hubby knows he can talk me into it.  But, on our first cruise I think we foolishly waited to get off the boat bc it didn’t seem that intriguing.  Don’t make that mistake.  Get up and get off the boat early.

Why??  As soon as you hop off the boat there are strollers you can borrow, towels and jugs of water.  You can walk or take the tram over to the beach areas where you are greeted with characters and white sands.  The water is crystal clear, warm and gorgeous.  There are slides and activities for the kids in and out of the water.  *The kids club actually moves off the boat and there is an adult beach… although we’ve never tried it.

There are also excursions you can book.  We enjoyed the bike rentals equipped with helmets, training wheels and baby seats.  There were very easy, flat routes around the island which I highly recommend.  The bike package also came with tube rentals and snorkels which were perfect for cooling off after the bike ride.  Another cool experience that our boys LOVED was the manta ray feeding.

Plus, there is SO much going on… character dances, crab races and plenty of food and drinks.

It’s just so nice to be off the boat with all the amenities of being on it.  Don’t get me wrong we love to explore different cultures with the kids.  However, when we travel with Disney we expect to relax, have fun and bond as a family.  Some of our other travels… as amazing and educational as they may be- tend to exhaust me.  So… get excited about going to Castaway!!

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3. Dinners can still be long

Dinners are L.O.N.G. no matter what on a cruise with all of the scrumptious courses they serve.  Disney does a great job of training their servers to really engage the kids with coloring pages and magic tricks.  However, plan on your kiddos still ending up bored.  Especially, if they are 5 and under.  Luckily, Disney does offer Kids Club pick up at dinner when you have the late seating.   They served the kids very quickly and they took their time on the adult courses.  We enjoyed the time with the kids.  And, then just as they were winding down the Kids Club staff was there to whisk them away.  Then me and the hubs could enjoy the rest of our dinner sans munchkins.  It was blissful!!

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4. They are SERIOUS about Pirate Night

You could spot us newbies from afar.  I thought I was prepared.  I bought a few novelty items for the kids to dress up plus on pirate night Disney leaves some goodies in your room to help you get into the pirate spirit.  What I didn’t realize was that MOST of the cruisers go ALL OUT!!  They are in full costume… parents, grandparents… babies… I mean everyone!  I actually felt foolish having not participated.  Crazy!  But, for whatever reason it works on that boat.

I can’t believe I am saying this… but I actually recommend you packing pirate themed apparel and not just for the kids.  And, probably more than you think you need.

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5. Character’s are EVERYWHERE!!!

Make sure you have an autograph book because there are characters EVERYWHERE on board the boat.  It was like a dream to our munchkins… they were so proud of the number of autographs they got on that first cruise.  The characters are very interactive and really took their time with the kids.  Something that they can’t always do at the parks.  The kids really got a kick of finding the characters just walking around the ship.  That was something we hadn’t expected, but were pleasantly surprised by.  The munchkins conversations on whether Hook shared a room with Peter Pan or Chip & Dale cracked me up.

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What to do in Oahu

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If you have been following my blog you will remember that one of our favorite resorts is Disney’s Aulani- see here.  We have already visited that resort 5 times in the short amount of time it has been opened.  So, we have rounded up some of our favorite activities OFF property just for you:

1) Waimea Valley-

We love Waimea Valley for several reasons.  1) The path is paved so strollers are welcome, 2) There is a waterfall at the end complete with complimentary life vests and lifeguards and 3) It is absolutely GORGEOUS!!!

You can read more about it on Yelp here.  Note there is an entry fee for this hike.  Below are some pictures of us at Waimea this past November.

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See the gorgeous Peacock behind the kids… I missed getting him when he opened that gorgeous tail up.  I think I was drawn in by the beauty of those feathers.

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Tiny lizard… love the kids getting to see all the wildlife up close.  There were also a ton of beautiful butterflies.

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Above is the waterfalls at the end of the walk.

*Tip- bring a few dollars for the guards working so hard to keep everyone safe.  They have a tip jar up there.

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Do bring your brother to entertain your children… definitely!

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Don’t take a picture next to said brother who happens to be 4 years younger yet towers over you.

I often forget how short I am until I see myself standing next to other adults ;)

2) Turtle Beach (really Laniakea Beach)

This adorable little strip of beach is super cool.  If you go mid day you are likely to see sea turtles either swimming in the waves close to shore… or climbing out to beach on the sand.  There are amazing volunteers who watch over them and keep records on each turtle.  These volunteers are amazing people and they have always been super informative.  This is a great hands on educational experience.  Just be very cautious when parking, crossing the busy street and climbing down to the sand.  For directions and more info view it on Yelp here.  Here are some pics:

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Dad was pointing out the sea turtles bobbing in the waves.

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3) North Shore-

As long as the weather permits you should be able to hang out and watch some amazing surfers doing what they do best.  My boys could sit and watch those surfers for hours.  Just make sure to grab some Matsumoto Shaved Ice before you hit the beach.  View on Yelp here

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Yum!

4) Food Trucks by North Shore

Great food… try the infamous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.  Read what others say about Giovanni’s here on Yelp.  But, be warned there are wild chickens running around and a fair amount of flies- yuck!

5) Manoa Falls

This hike is a little more work and not for those with super little munchkins as the path is muddy, slippery and not fit for strollers.  But, if you are a more adventurous family this is a fun (super muddy and messy) gorgeous hike.  I would recommend old sneakers and a change of clothes and shoes for when you are done.

See more on Yelp here

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*I do NOT recomend not listening to the warning sign by the waterfall.  As you see I am NOT on the other side of this.  I am the spazz yelling at them and taking their picture 😉

6) Waikiki Beach

Great food, history and a beach… ‘nough said!

7) Ala’ Moana Mall

Gorgeous mall with everything from high end boutique shops, name brands and little mom and pop shops.  You can walk the mall and several blocks around it.  Don’t forget to stop by the Hawaiian Cookie Store for some free samples 😉  My only complaint is that they recently shut down our favorite open air International Market right there next to the mall.  Heart breaking really.  So many memories from my own childhood there (sniff!)  See more on Ala Moana here

8) Dole Pineapple Plantation

This one is a love/ hate thing.  It is fun to go here once I think.  The kids get a kick out of seeing how pineapples grow, riding the train, eating the soft serve Pineapple treat etc…  However, it is a complete tourist trap with ridiculous prices, pushy sales people and cheap trinkets.  But, if you know it going in at least you will know what you are walking into.

* I also would recomend Pearl Harbor.  We unfortunately have not had the chance to take the kids.  However, I have heard it is a MUST do.  So, it is on our list.  You can read what other people are saying about Pear Harbor here on Yelp.

What do you do with your family when you visit Oahu?  I would love to hear from those of you who have a favorite zip line or horse back adventure that you would recommend as those are also on our list for next time 😉

Disneyworld… a schedule that works!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooks like we got brave and traveled with just our immediate family back in 2005.  And, we liked it SO much we went TWICE to Disneyworld in one summer.  Or maybe we are just crazy?

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Our kiddos were 2  & 4 and we were starting to realize we liked when they said “Welcome Home” what an affordable trip Disneyworld was when we booked the hotel with our Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points.  We actually liked it SO much we purchased more points that summer.

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I know people often think we are just insane to take the kids all the way to Disneyworld and multiple times.  But, look with Disney we knew we were guaranteed a good time.  We knew that everything was going to be clean (A type- yup that’s me), kids would be happy, grown ups would have good food & drinks etc… (and, yes you read that right… there are delicious grown up bevys served in the parks)  Plus, we just knew how to do it!

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When you travel to Disneyworld with munchkins (or any theme park) there are a few things you can do to ensure you have a great trip:

  • Keep visits in the park to 4 hours MAX
  • Go SLOW
  • Keep expectations low
  • Don’t let rides be the main focus
  • Pack snacks and bubbles- just TRUST me 😉

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  • Our schedule is usually to wake up early, eat a quick breakfast in the room and then go to which ever park has extra magic hours that day (don’t know what that means?- click here).
  •   We then go back to our hotel for lunch and to swim in the pools (depending on the weather and time of year).
  • The kids are usually pooped after that so we go back to the room to nap and relax.  Then we clean up, head out to dinner and a different park. *We don’t like extra magic evenings bc they get SUPER packed!

This schedule makes your days last SO long in the best way.  It makes sure everyone is fed, on a schedule (which munchkins thrive on) and well rested = less meltdowns.  YAY!!!!!

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My Aulani Review… Recently Rated #1 Family Beach Hotel

Initially I intended to handle this blog chronologically… but I just don’t seem to have the patience- ha!  Story of my life.

I ran across this article from Travel & Leisure and just had to weigh in on why WE LOVE AULANI!!!

1) FREE ChildcareYes I said it.  Just like the cruise… kids 3-12 can be checked in to Auntie’s Beach House for free play or some of the scheduled activities like Building a Volcano, Stitch’s Space Goo and a Hula with the characters.  This allows mom and dad to sneak next door to Ama’ Ama’ for a delicious cocktail and some yummy fish tacos.

2) Hawaii- I mean obviously. The scenery is unbeatable.  It takes my breath away EVERY time and we have already visited 5 times and plan to go back this year again.  Plus, Oahu has SO much to offer between the shops and history of Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Ala Moana, Dole’s Pineapple Plantation, Turtle Beach, North Shore and that is just to name a few that popped into my head.

3) The Cast Members– Seriously… Disney has this ability to find the most amazing employees.  We were lucky enough to meet Alyssa on our first trip and over the years have stayed in touch with her… now I would consider her a very dear family friend.  On one of our more recent trips she invited us into her home and served us tons of traditional food.  Absolutely an amazing experience.  And, well you can not expect that amazing service from every cast members you CAN bet on fantastic service.  In fact this alone has made Aulani or resort of choice trumping our old fav- Grand Wailea.  They definitely need to work on their customer service skills.

4) Kids Activities– Besides Auntie’s Beach House there are a ton of activities on property that will keep your munchkins entertained.  Snorkeling in the private lagoon, riding down the body or tube slides, floating around the lazy river, attending the family challenge (although if we are there we will beat you-ha!), getting wet in the menehune splash park, attending one of the free craft activities, watching one of the free movies on the lawn, attending the complimentary Starlit Hui, Fire Pit Stories, Star Gazing… geesh!  I feel like I could go on forever.  To be honest we haven’t even covered it all in our 5 trips!!!

5) The Villas– Okay… maybe I am biased but I have not been able to find nicer rooms that Disney’s Vacation Club Villas.  They are PERFECT!!!  And, we have stayed in some of the World’s Nicest Hotels people, so I feel justified making such a BOLD statement!  Disney knows what they are doing.  We love the 2 bedroom villas.  They have a washer and dryer so we are able to pack light, two bathrooms, two full bedrooms, couch bed in the living room and a full kitchen (you can even ask for a blender and rice cooker) *Costco is one exit down the highway 😉  Thank me later!  So, yes perfect set up, immaculately clean and the views are out of this world!!

Don’t believe me… I added some pics for proof.  Just GO!  Like book it now… I promise you will not regret it.  This and the Disney Cruise are the ONLY 2 vacations where I feel I actually fully unwind and relax.  Not that I don’t love Dubai, Ethiopia and Costa Rica… but those I call adventures.  Aulani is a true VACATION for EVERYONE- INCLUDING MOM!!!!

Snorkeling in the Private Lagoon

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One of the Pool Parties with Characters

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Family Challenge- we ROCK’d it!!

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Character Breakfast- I highly recommend it!

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Jumping in the pool over looking the beach

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Visiting our Family Friend (cast member) Alyssa for some Traditional Hawaiian Food- YUM!

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Tube Slides

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Just bc these two are cute!!

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On your 5th visit… make sure you bring as many extended family members as you can

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Seriously… the cuteness… I just can’t stop!!

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Memories like these are worth it… Go… Book it!!

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Thank you Aulani!