Hawaii 2023 Trip Report Part 2 - Arriving at Aulani

Hawaii Trip 2023

As our Hawaiʻi trip in June 2023 gets underway, we fly to Honolulu and arrive at Aulani. And if you have not done so already, you might want to read the introduction first.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Our first flight was scheduled to leave Memphis at 8:30 AM. That meant getting to the airport at 6:30 AM. Because of the early hour, Laura and I spent the night at the Riedels’ house. That way, we could all get up and leave from their house in one car, instead of parking two cars at the airport or us Burnses leaving really, really early to go by and pick up the Riedels.

We managed to get everyone’s suitcases in the car. I had wondered if that was possible, but as it turns out, their suitcases were slightly smaller and lighter than ours. Did I overpack? Maybe. But that gave me hope for getting all of our stuff from the Honolulu airport to the hotel without having to leave anyone or any bag behind.

Heading out from their house at 5:45 AM, we were happy to see that there was not that much traffic on the roads. Why would there be any traffic at that hour? Unless everyone else had an early flight as we did? There was a bit of rain that morning, and we did see a rainbow on our way to the airport. I expected to see a rainbow or two in Hawaiʻi, but not in Memphis. An extra treat!

Our goal was to park in the Long Term Economy garage, which was $6 per day. Fortunately, Laura and I had been to the airport the previous day to drop Jaylin off for a work trip, so I had checked to see where Long Term Economy was on that trip so that I would know where to go. And also fortunately, on this day we were able to find a place to park in that garage because there were not all that many spaces available. Maybe that was one of the benefits of arriving early.

The only downside to Long Term Economy is that the “Long” in the name refers to the distance from the garage to the actual building. There were moving sidewalks, but it still seemed like a long distance. Maybe that was just because of our excitement and wanting to get there. At least all of our suitcases had wheels.

Once inside, we checked in at the ticket counter and got our bags checked. My bag and Laura’s bag were just under the weight limit, so that might cause a slight problem on the return trip, but we had a plan for that, too. And going through security was a breeze, relatively speaking. I was thankful that I had worn slip-on shoes and had put my belt in my suitcase, however.

Next up was breakfast, because we had chosen to wait to eat until after our airport arrival as a time-saver. Laura and I got breakfast bars and milk (for Laura) and orange juice (for me) from one of the shops, while the Riedels got something from Chik-Fil-A. We made our way to our gate, where we were all amazed at the remodeled building. It really looked nothing at all like it used to look. Very open and modern now. That is, until the idea of “modern” changes, but that will probably take a while.

We had some extra time because we had gotten there early. But it is much easier on my blood pressure to have some extra time to talk to friends or look at my phone instead of having to rush to get there in time. So I did not mind the wait. And with good friends, time passes quickly anyway.

Our airplane from Memphis to Denver. And some rain clouds. And some reflections in the window.
Our airplane from Memphis to Denver. And some rain clouds. And some reflections in the window.

I couldn’t get everyone’s attention for a photo because others were too busy taking their own photo.
I couldn’t get everyone’s attention for a photo because others were too busy taking their own photo.

Our first group photo of the trip. But definitely not our last.
Our first group photo of the trip. But definitely not our last.

But then, we had a bit of a wrinkle. Remember that rainbow that we had seen on our way to the airport? As it turns out, that was a precursor to heavier rain heading our way. We had actually known that from the weather report, but we were hoping that it would not be an issue. But just after they started loading our plane, the plane lady announced that they would suspend boarding due to a large storm headed our way, and it would delay our departure by about an hour. I was relieved that we had a layover of a couple of hours ahead of us in Denver, just in case our flight was running late. So we waited a bit.

Pretty soon, however, the plane lady announced that we would be boarding the plane immediately because the pilot thought he could beat the storm. I am not a gambler, but I was hoping that he was right.

We had chosen our seats when we booked our flights, so that Laura and I were sitting together, and Brant and Karen were right across the aisle from us. We each had a third person in our 3-seat rows, but that was okay. Once the plane was loaded, we taxied out and took off ahead of the storm, just as the pilot had planned. The air above the storm was a bit turbulent, however, making that one of the roughest flights we had been on. And I heard others say the same thing, too. But other than being shaken around a bit, we made it to Denver just fine, and right on time, too.

Because of the relatively long flight ahead of us and the limited food options on flights these days, we had planned to eat lunch at the Denver airport. Fortunately, we had enough time to do so. We checked out our options, and Personal Pan Pizzas from Pizza Hut won out. We found a row of four chairs near our gate, and we ate pizza as we watched people pass by. No matter where we are, I always find myself looking for people I know. I would have been quite surprised if I had seen anyone I know in the Denver airport. Sure enough, I did not. But we did see a guy come riding by on his carry-on bag that apparently also had a motor in it. Now I have seen everything!

Eating lunch in Denver, with some random people passing behind us.
Eating lunch in Denver, with some random people passing behind us.

Another airport, another plane. This was our ride from Denver to Honolulu.
Another airport, another plane. This was our ride from Denver to Honolulu.

The time had arrived for us to board our flight to Honolulu. It was a Boeing 777, and it was full. It looked like we would not be having the island all to ourselves. Guess I should have paid extra for that. Once again, we were all sitting together, and we had a center row of four seats to ourselves. It is always nice to be sitting by people you know.

Ready for takeoff!
Ready for takeoff!

While others were reading books or watching movies on their phones, I was watching our flight time, just to see how things were going. After a bit, it looked like we were going to get there early. As we went along, the flight time settled to show that we would arrive 44 minutes early, in fact. Cool! Even more time in Hawaiʻi! We did in fact arrive at that early time. And even with the extra time required from all those people in front of us getting off the plane ahead of us thanks to our seats close to the back of the plane, we still got off the plane ahead of our scheduled arrival time!

No one was waiting to give us a lei or welcome us to Fantasy Island, I mean Hawaiʻi, but that was okay. We made our way to the baggage claim area, which seemed to be a pretty good walk from where we had gotten off the plane. Part of the walk was outside, and we got our first taste of that warm Hawaiian air, which actually felt a little less warm than the humid air back home, thankfully.

There was a bit of a wait for bags from our flights to start appearing on the carousel, but they eventually started coming. And then they stopped. The baggage lady said that happens from time to time, such as when a bag gets stuck. We were hopeful it was not one of ours. Soon, the bags started moving again, and we found ours, thanks to the colorful strings that we had tied to the handles. That always makes it easier to quickly identify your bag. And all four bags looked to be in good condition, too.

The rental car area was a short walk away. We did have to ride the elevator up to the second floor because there were signs saying not to bring luggage on the escalator. That did not stop other people from doing it, but we Burnses and Riedels are rule followers, a fact we would be reminded of several times during our trip. Once we got upstairs, I checked at the counter, but the car lady said that we could go on up to the third floor to get our car since I had already checked in online. That was another elevator trip. We were then greeted by a rental car guy who got my name, looked it up, and said that we could choose any of the cars in the row starting with the Nissan Pathfinder. Take which one you want, the keys are in the car. We took a look, and decided to go with the Pathfinder, since we could use Apple CarPlay in it similar to our Nissan Rogue at home. Plus, it had a fold-down third row of seats, which meant that there was more than enough room for our four suitcases and backpacks.

We went through the drive-through check-out, and then Laura put Aulani into the map on her phone, so that the screen in the car showed the directions for us. And we were on our way! But others were in our way as we were on our way, as it turns out. It was around 3:45 PM local time, which must be the time that everyone on Oʻahu gets in their car and drives. I was glad that we could keep up with the local custom. We had to stop and start a good bit, creeping along for a while. That did give us a chance to marvel at the mountains in the distance, and the ocean not that far away when we could see it. It was very obvious that the landscape was nothing like West Tennessee. But once we got past Pearl Harbor, we started picking up speed, and we started getting more excited, too.

The Apple CarPlay map told us to exit just as I saw the sign pointing us to Ko Olina. It was a little difficult to drive at the relatively slow posted speed (25 mph) as we approached our resort. We turned in the main drive and reached our destination!

I was not quite sure what to do at first, and I saw the parking garage before I saw the drive-up canopy at the hotel entrance. So I turned the car into the garage, took a ticket, and found us a place to park. Those parking spaces seemed awfully narrow to our big Nissan Pathfinder, but I was able to maneuver it between two lines after a couple of tries. Finding a space with no one next to you is always good when you are in one of those big vehicles.

We got all our luggage out and made our way to the main entrance, which was not that far of a walk from where we parked. Karen and I had both gotten emails that we could go directly to our rooms, and we could use the Aulani app to unlock our doors, but we were not quite sure how to get there. So as we walked up to the main lobby, we stopped by the desk outside near the entrance. One of the cast member ladies made sure we were all checked in, and she gave us all buttons for being there. Once she saw where we were from, she said that she had lived in Clarksville for a while. Small world! She also set up the parking charge to be associated with our room, so that she kept the parking garage ticket I had grabbed when we got there. In hindsight, we probably could have driven up to the canopy first, but it all turned out well. The cast member lady then gave us some basic information and then directed us to our rooms. So we did not have to go to the main front desk for check-in at all. And if we had not stopped at that desk, we would not have gotten buttons. I always like the free things, after all.

Our rooms were located on the 12th floor of the Waiʻanae Tower. We walked past the Disney Vacation Club information area and found the group of 6 elevators. One of the elevators arrived quickly and whisked us up to our floor. We followed the signs, and our rooms were not all that far from the elevators, which would be convenient.

We made it to our room at Aulani in Hawaii!
We made it to our room!

We had connecting rooms as requested, so of course, we immediately opened the doors between the rooms. The message on the television in our room welcomed us by name, which was a nice touch. A Mickey Mouse surfer lamp was on the table, and a Mickey head made of towels was on the bed, but those were the only obvious Disney touches in the room. The rest of it felt very much Hawaiian, which we would notice more and more during our stay. It was a Disney resort, but it was not overly Disney. That was great for me. The rooms each had two double beds, although we each only needed one, and the rooms seemed to be a pretty good size, with a nice sized bathroom and separate toilet room, too. Definitely much larger than our cruise ship stateroom from last year!

A welcome gift art print and a Mickey Towel Head on our bed at Aulani in Hawaii.
A welcome gift art print and a Mickey Towel Head on our bed.

They know our name in our room at Aulani in Hawaii!
They know our name! It is like we are famous or something! “E komo mai” means “welcome”, by the way.

We went out on our balconies, and we had a view of a mountain across the way, and way off to the left we could see the Pacific Ocean. We could also see a small shopping area across the street, which we knew we wanted to visit soon. We got things situated in our rooms and sent a text message or two to let folks back home know that we had arrived.

Brant and Karen on the balcony at Aulani in Hawaii
Brant and Karen on the balcony

Steve and Laura on the balcony at Aulani in Hawaii
Steve and Laura on the balcony

The first thing that we wanted to take care of was eating. It had been quite a while since our Pizza Hut lunch back in Denver. And although the clocks on our phones said that it was only around 5:00 PM, our stomachs said that back home it was around 10:00 PM, so it was definitely time to eat!

After checking our options on the map that we had been given when we arrived, and checking the menus on the Aulani app, we decided to visit Off the Hook, one of the restaurants at the hotel. We went back down the elevators to the ground level, which was two levels below the lobby level, by the way. We walked out into the Waikolohe Valley, which is the courtyard between the two hotel wings, and found ourselves in the pool area. Knowing we would be spending a lot of time there in the future, we did not linger long, instead winding our way around to Off the Hook.

I had assumed that it was a counter-service restaurant, so I was slightly surprised when we were shown to a table. And we were sitting outdoors, so I was glad that I had worn my hat for a little shade. But it was not too hot out, and sitting in the sun felt good. I ordered a burger, which sounded delicious, and we all had trouble choosing, saying that we should come back later on in the trip to try something different.

We did not have to wait all that long for our food, which our stomachs appreciated. My burger was delicious, and so was the fresh pineapple that I had ordered instead of fries. We were all pleased with our meals, and it was good to eat, and just to sit for a while. We could see the resort buildings looming over us, and it was starting to sink in that we were really there. I was hopeful that we week ahead of us would be full of fun moments, and I was happy that we had arrived without any major problems. It felt as if we had accomplished something.

Because the time difference was catching up with us, we decided not to make a late night of it. But we also figured that we could handle a walk before going to bed. My watch said that sunset was around 7:15 PM, and we thought it might be good to see the sunset from the beach. So we went up to our rooms to briefly change into shoes that we could walk in, and shorts so that our long pants (to keep us warm on the usually-cold airplanes) would not get wet, and then we headed back down to the ground level.

Laura during our first evening walk at Aulani in Hawaii
Laura during our first evening walk

One of the ends of the lagoon in front of Aulani was actually named Sunset Point, as we had noticed on a map somewhere. So we walked out there to get a view of the sunset. And what a view it was! Sunsets are always interesting, but sunsets over water are extra special for some reason. Add in some gentle rolling waves, a few clouds, and some palm trees, and you have a wonderful scene. As you would expect, we were not alone in our sunset viewing, but it was not so crowded that it was unpleasant. And most people would even move out of the way after they had taken their photos so that the next person could have a turn. Isn’t it a little sad that politeness seems out of the ordinary these days?

A lovely sunset from Sunset Point near Aulani in Hawaii
A lovely sunset from Sunset Point near Aulani

We also saw a furry little animal running across the grassy area. After some discussion, we came up with the idea that it might be a mongoose. Brant did some internet sleuthing on his phone to find out that we were right. Score one for us! And thanks to Rikki-Tikki-Tavi all those years ago for letting us know what a mongoose was!

Laura and the Riedels, lit by the setting sun near Aulani in Hawaii
Laura and the Riedels, lit by the setting sun

After watching the sunset, we walked back along the lagoon, going past Aulani and on along in front of the next-door Four Seasons Resort. By the time we reached the end of the trail, we had good views of the Waiʻanae mountains off in the distance. And then on our way back, we had good views of Aulani across the lagoon (as seen in an earlier post), too. We all had the feeling that this would not be our last evening walk. And that feeling turned out to be correct, by the way.

On our way back into the hotel, we stopped by the main gift shop, Kālepa’s Store. That was partly to have a look around, and partly to find something for breakfast the next morning. It was on this occasion that I made the discovery that there were Aulani Crazy Shirts! Crazy Shirts are my shirts of choice (they do not pay me to say that, by the way). Plus, I just happened to have some gift cards to spend, so I knew that we would be back at some point during our trip. However, on this visit we only bought a small bottle of milk for Laura and orange juice for me, along with a bag of Hostess powdered Donettes. The breakfast of champions! Assuming we are champions.

Before we could go to bed, Laura and I had some laundry to do. The Riedels headed off to bed, and we headed down to the ground-floor Laundry in our wing. There was only one other couple in there doing laundry, so we did not have to fight for machines. We did have to buy tokens to use the machine, and we had to buy tokens to buy laundry detergent. I felt like I was back at Chuck E. Cheese. But we got our laundry done and headed off to bed ourselves.

It was around 9:30 PM by that time, which meant that it was around 2:30 AM back home, which meant that we had a 22-hour day. And which also meant that we did not have any trouble at all falling asleep.

Smooth travels, arriving in Hawaiʻi, a nice resort, a beautiful sunset, and good friends. It had been a great day.

Next, a day at Aulani. Check the Hawaiʻi 2023 page for more about our trip!

See more from this day in the following posts:
Aulani Across the Lagoon
Lighting Up the Night in Hawaiʻi

Hawaii Trip 2023


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About Burnsland
Burnsland is Steve Burns, with generous help from his lovely wife Laura. Steve is a husband, father, photographer, webmaster, writer, podcaster, artist, Christian. Steve enjoys sharing his photography, art, and stories through Burnsland.com, from the Burnsland World Headquarters in Tennessee.