Thursday, October 4, 2018

Disney's Aulani

We had the pleasure of Traveling to Disney's Aulani for their Mahalo Season. 
We are thankful to have teamed up with Disney once again for an amazing experience. Though this trip was a partnership, all thoughts and opinions are my own. We also added on extra days and activities at Aulani our own expense.  

Disney's Aulani is an experience that is completely set apart from any other Disney Destination. I am excited to share my family guide on what to do while staying at Aulani! We were there during Aulani's Mahalo Season which was the perfect time to get one last week of summer before coming home to fall. I am so thankful we had this experience, it came at just the right time for us.

If you're not familiar with Aulani, it is a Disney Resort on the Island of O'Ahu and is highly geared towards families and Disney Vacation Club Members. Aulani is inspired by Disney's family friendly travel ideas, but those Disney themes we are familiar with take a back seat to the Native Hawaiian themes and culture that immerse you throughout your stay - giving you the best of both worlds. The Hawaiian atmosphere and resort-style are more relaxing than any Disney destination you've ever encountered. It is definitely worth putting it on your "family travel" list, especially for those of you who think the parks look overwhelming!

I encourage you to pop over to my Instagram and view my saved stories to get a more interactive feel of Aulani and what they offer!

Why Disney in Hawaii?
Traveling to Hawaii has been a dream of mine for some time, the rich culture and the Hawaiian connection with The Land is something I have been curious about. If you have followed my blog or IG, you will know how much connecting to new places means to me. I am so grateful that my first experience with Hawaii was tandem with staying at Disney's Aulani, as it was a deeply cultural experience for our kids, giving them a taste of what Hawaii is truly about. It's an important part of travel, to share the different experiences with my children. That is one thing that constantly draws me to Disney, they trust their brand strongly enough that they aren't scared to let other themes and elements take a staring role in their travel stories.

From the moment you step out of your car you are surrounded by deep wood tones that mimic the inside of a canoe (how Hawaii was discovered) and lush gardens that immediately make you feel transported into a new place. The colorful murals in the lobby guide you straight back to the stunning open, ocean views. There is so much warmth, texture, and culture immediately engulfing you - reminding you that you are in a truly special place. There are small details of Disney intertwined, like the subtle translation of your favorite songs into an authentic Hawaiian musical experience, honestly the Disney themes were so subtly trickled in you could almost miss them entirely! I encourage you to take this tour to learn about the art on the property.

With that, it still had the family friendly atmosphere and magic that Disney is known for. Staying at a family-friendly place helps me give my kids more freedom around the resort. It is the most relaxed and at ease that I have felt when traveling. I tend to try and pack a lot of things in to our trips, it was amazing to let go of that expectation and just take time to experience Hawaii. Let's not forget those stunning sunsets! There is something truly sacred about this place - I don't know how to put it to words.

Was there enough to do?
We have never, in all of our travels, stayed in one spot for more than 4 days, and it truly was the most amazing feeling to make Aulani home for the entire week. I was worried we would get bored of being in one spot, and that feeling left me as soon as we stepped foot onto the balcony of our One Bedroom Villa and looked out at the sprawling pool and ocean views. Staying put allowed us to experience Aulani fully and to make so many great friends and memories. Knowing Disney, I was sure there was going to be enough activities on the resort that our boys would enjoy every moment. Having a full kitchen in our Villa made a huge impact as we ate breakfast in there most mornings since we were up so early due to the time change. We also utilized Aunty's Beach House, the kids club, so that Andy and I could get some alone moments - Hawaii is a ROMANTIC place!! Honestly, we had so much fun as a family that we truly spent most of our time altogether making memories and just hanging out without big plans. We were there 8 days and 7 nights, which left time for us to explore O'ahu 2 days. It was nice to see other parts of Hawaii, but it definitely made us grateful to stay at Aulani, the beach and the location were ideal. There truly wasn't much reason to leave the resort. There are also some great pathways to walk by the beach. There is a nice shopping and dining area walkable from the resort that had great gifts and food. We even walked to a beach just a few minutes away and it felt completely different from Aulani. It was nice that the resort offered so much, but the location gave you some different options if you're staying for a longer period of time!

Here are some favorite foods you should definitely try.
The Açai Bowl from Ulu's cafe was my breakfast choice - it is definitely big enough to share. Ulu's also has the refillable popcorn buckets which we love to collect.

Pāpālua Shaved Ice - the Mickey Ears are worth the added cost, it's the best perk of being on a Disney property! We also loved adding an ice cream scoop to make our shaved ice more creamy.

The coconut shrimp from Mama's Snack Shop was Rowan's favorite lunch, he asked for it every day.

I love the hand carved wood in the 'Ōlelo room - I was also told that a lot of locals stop in, you can catch them speaking in Hawaiian. It is definitely worth stopping in for the live music at night!

'AMA 'AMA had an amazing view of the Sunset! That alone made it a perfect dinner stop. I also enjoyed their Salmon and Filet. It was nice to have one formal sit-down evening at the resort. We brought the kids, but you could definitely plan things right and drop them at Aunty's Beach House if you want a romantic evening alone.

We also like walking across the street once in a while to the local market for snacks to bring to our room, and the Island Vintage Coffee shop is a great place to bring back some local gifts for friends!

Pool or Beach? What should I expect?
We split our time equally between the pool and beach. Andy and I preferred the natural beach, as the kids preferred the pools.

From the water slides, to the breathtaking infinity pool (overlooking the ocean), to the shallow-hot-tub-coves tucked away between the pools there was so much to experience for all ages. I don't blame the kids for wanting to be at the pools. They always met new friends wherever they went, and there was so much ground to cover that it felt new every day. A certain Disney pal some times visits the pools for an extra fun surprise which is super cute, too! I thought it would be crowded with it being a family friendly space, and it honestly never felt that way! There were enough chairs for everyone to find a spot and complimentary life jackets for smaller resort guests, which came in handy for Wrennyn! We never had any issues with things feeling packed in or being stuck in lines.

I personally loved the beach because of the stunning views of Ko Olina! Aulani is on the West side of the Island which is about 20 minutes from major Tourist hubs, this made it extremely relaxing and more laid back. I couldn't believe how quiet the beach was, I felt like most families chose the pools leaving the sandy beach for us to take! It also made for amazing photos since there were so many quiet moments at the beach. There is just something about those natural textures and sun-filled-skies that always gets me.  The Beach areas had complimentary sand toys and boogie boards which we were constantly putting to use! Andy and I loved to hop on the Boogie Boards and paddle our way out for even more brilliant views of the property. The beach was calm enough that we felt really confident with the boys in the water, which is rare as we don't live by the ocean and it can feel overwhelming some times. We never experienced that at Aulani! We even had a seal visit the beach and Rowan was the first one to spot him making his way ashore!

There are other activities you can do at an additional cost and one of them is renting snorkel equipment and exploring Rainbow Reef, I highly recommend this. Our kids love to tell everyone about all the fish they were able to swim with and see! It was a great way to break up being at the pool.

(the sunrise view from our Disney Vacation Club Villa balcony. 
I miss this view SO MUCH!)

A few things to consider.
Select activities that we experienced took some advance planning. Such as the Character Breakfast, Painted Sky Boutique, and the KA WA‘A Luau. These events are an additional cost, but I think they're special enough to add valuable memories. They do have limited spots, so you should seriously consider booking them in advance if you're traveling to Aulani.

The Makahiki character breakfast was one of our very few interactions with the Disney themes and characters, so it was definitely worth doing! Seeing your 5 year old crying out "Minnie Mouse!!!" and leaping from his seat to hug Minnie is something you won't forget. It is those moments that remind me of the extra magic in the world, and it's all we can do to tuck that feeling away and try to to remember our kids in that moment. They also had "Aunty" rounding the tables and singing Hawaiian songs which was really sweet, she gathered the small kids together for a dance while others finish off their meals. I would say ages 3-9 are prime years for these interactions. Wrennyn and Brinley were beaming at all the interactions. Characters aside, the food was such a good change of pace, they had some really fun Aulani themes to them along with classic Disney breakfast foods. I got to taste the selectively served Red Velvet Mickey Waffles which were even more tasty than they were photogenic! The Dolphin fruits bowls were a personal favorite. I also loved having one morning that was a little more drawn out and special. We were eating breakfast in our room quite a bit, so this was such a nice experience to sit down and change the scenery.

Unfortunately, due to weather our Luau was cancelled, but the Disney team gave us a small taste of what it was all about. I am already hoping to go back and fully experience the Luau. The food alone was amazing, and I have heard from friends that the cultural experience of the KA WA'A and the story that is shared during the Luau is worth the trip -  we are so sad we only got to experience a small piece of what it's all about, but we feel lucky to even have had a glimpse of it. I am glad we had it booked, because if the weather had worked in our favor I know it would have been something I would remember forever. Rowan being a bit older, this was something he was looking most forward to - I love that it appealed to him!

Painted Sky Boutique was something we did on the day our Luau was scheduled. It is a design studio much like Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, but it is geared towards Hawaiian Cultures and themes. The boys loved getting tattoos and color in their hair. I will admit I was scared with how light their hair was that it wouldn't wash out fully, don't you worry, it washes out without any problems - it just might take an extra shampoo or two. Wrennyn was a prime age for this, being 5 he was completely wrapped up in the transformation! He has changed in to his Hawaiian shirt and fish hook necklace every day since we got home. He loves it! Rowan, being at the older end, still loved it and I am grateful he experienced it. If it were just him alone, he may have skipped it, but since he was with his younger brothers that definitely helped bring out the magic of the experience. I know he would have regretted not doing it, and he definitely loved the tribal style tattoos!

The cost of things on the Island are a bit more expensive since they are detached from the mainland. Having a full kitchen in our Villa was so helpful. We stocked up on waters and refrigerated snacks to avoid some of those costs while we were on the resort. We often ate breakfast in the room and had lunch and dinner out. We had access to a full stove, so we definitely could have done more meals in our room, but we wanted to experience Hawaii as best we could.

Is it worth the cost?
This is a question I got multiple times. I don't think there is a way to answer this for someone else and their family. Everyone has different situations and expectations. I had been looking at Aulani for a while and dreaming of going. Though we were kindly invited for part of our stay, we also added on to the itinerary and paid all the additional costs to stay multiple extra days. It is an investment. To me the memories and location were something that meant a lot to me. It is a higher end resort, and it definitely was treated as such. We felt very taken care of, very looked after. It was very special our entire stay. There was so much to do. I loved that it wasn't part of the bigger Tourist locations on the Island. O'ahu was a place I really wanted to visit and I did feel like this was the ideal first experience for our family in Hawaii. The flight is a bit longer for us coming from Minnesota, so I knew we wanted to make this trip special without feeling like we were just at a place for kids. It lived up to everything that I hoped it would be. It was cultural, romantic, sacred, and just a touch of Disney. I talked to multiple families who had been coming for years, I felt like that says a lot. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat! Andy and I can already see the shift in Rowan as he has hit middle school and becoming more of a teenager, we know these opportunities to be together with all 5 of us in a special place won't last forever. I think exposing our children to travel and culture is worth some of the sacrifices we make back at home. Building memories, moments, and bonds is something that is really hard to put a price limit on.

As always, I am so thankful to be able to share with you guys, if you are booking a trip to Aulani or thinking about it, please reach out - I love to share our insight and tips about travel. I am open to sharing honest feedback with you personally if you prefer to email. Don't be scared to ask, there is so much to consider when traveling with your family!

Thursday, September 13, 2018


For those of you who were following along on my IG stories (@ruffledsnob) here are the links for the Tropical Destination pieces I got.
I really wanted casual items that felt very "resort wear" please message me if you would like to know any of the sizing I got. I also will tell you that even the less expensive items had a great fit and fabric!! Happy shopping xo

This blog post contains ad links, at no cost to you, but it does mean I make a small percentage if you shop using them. Trust me it isn't much - ha :)
In return I am so thankful to be able to share the things I find and love. I am happy to share about sizing or fit, so feel free to message any time. Thank you for coming to me for inspiration and more!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Disney Cruise Line | 7-days onboard the Disney Fantasy

We just got back from our 7-day Disney Cruise and I am so excited to share the experience with you guys! I get so many inquiries on our travel adventures and I hope that sharing this experience will inspire you to try new ways of adventuring with your family! I am so honored to team up with Disney Cruise Line and share about our trip!

Having experienced many different types of family travel, I will hands-down tell you, Disney always brings out the best in my family. This Disney Cruise was an exciting and different way to do Disney. You have the amazing hassle-free travel that Disney is known for, but you get the magic in a completely new way! All 3 of the boys finished our last evening on the cruise in "happy" tears for all that they got to experience - they didn't want it to end. We left this trip completely grateful for the reminder that we should embrace those childhood years and enjoy this stage with our kids.

Fun for everyone

There was something for everyone! I truly mean it! There was a newlywed couple just a few doors down from us, on their honeymoon, and we constantly ran into them at different activities and shows we were going to. We would always chat with them for a moment to ask how their Honeymoon was going, and they were loving every moment! It just proves to me that Disney Cruise Lines has done their job and created wonderful experiences for everyone to enjoy. Having 3 boys of various ages gave me a great scale of everything that the cruise had to offer. Being on the ship for a longer period of time helped us all settle in and really make it our home for the week. The ship crew is so great, they learn your names within the first day, and by the end of the week you feel like family. They really do a great job of making you feel special. Plus, who can resist the Mickey Waffles?

With Rowan being a shy, it takes him a long time to warm up to new environments. The fact that the ship has so many community spaces (the AquaDuck, Goofy's Sports Deck, Scavenger hunts inside the ship, and more!) makes it such a fun experience for kids, and this had a lot to do with Rowan making a few really close buddies on the trip! In no time at all Rowan was hanging at the basketball courts with his friends. Soon enough, all boys were planning meet ups with their pals in the Oceaneer Club or somewhere else on-board. As a mother, it is so encouraging when you see your child become confident and making friends. Wrennyn even made an older friend in the Oceaneer club and he would go over to their table at dinner to say hi to the family every night. It was the sweetest thing! 

To be honest, going in to it, we were a little unsure if being around other kids and families would get a bit overwhelming, and we absolutely felt the opposite!!! There were so many options and different itineraries to choose from that we quickly discovered it was way more fun when we hung out with other families we came across! I was constantly encouraging the boys to go and hang out with kids. We have done over 5 cruises and this was absolutely our favorite experience, Pirate Night may have helped with that, too! 

Leaving the ship really felt like when you're a kid and you have to leave camp - you made friends with so many new people and you just don't want the fun to end! With the kids having so much fun, it gave Andy and I some time to sneak away to the Adults-Only areas, and it was so nice. We have only taken 2 kid-free trips in our marriage and they were both work related, so it is clear we love to travel with our children! However, being on a vacation that offers the availability to be with our family, but also have alone time was truly special for us. Sneaking away to Palo for dinner, or to the Senses Spa for a massage, or even just to have some chill time on the ship was such a nice change of pace. You would think that not having the kids around we would have gone to the adults-only pool deck, right? Nope! We actually went on the AquaDuck and laid in the family lounge area, even without our kids in tow - the spaces are just so fun! 

Exciting Ports of Call

We had 3 ports of call and were lucky to have amazing adventures on each one!

On St. Maarten we experienced a private catamaran that took us to Long Beach which is one of the most quiet, intimate beaches I have ever been to. We had to access it by swimming in from the catamaran, and it was absolutely incredible! The boys and Andy had fun jumping in the ocean off the side of the catamaran. It was one of our favorite beach days ever. 

Before heading back to the ship we had to stop at my favorite Macaroon stand on the Island right near the port!

St Thomas has one of the most beautiful ports with a marina view. We have been there before, so we were sure to eat breakfast outside so we could take in the lovely scene as our ship arrived! We went to Abi Beach which is a charming, leafy place! The beach has a fun island vibe with a perfect little bar to top it off! The trees and landscape offer some nice shade, and the beach offers crystalline waters over a protected reef. The boys and made some friends and they all rented body boards and had a blast trying out their new skills on the beautiful shoreline! 

Add Castaway Cay to your bucket list!

I love every port we went to, but I am most obsessed with Castaway Cay. Not only is the water the most stunning shades of blue, but this place has an incredible energy to it! The way the island is laid out makes it incredibly easy for families to get around and access the landscape. They have a shuttle system available, but it is just as easy (and beautiful!) to walk the island, too! There are lush green tropical trees and plants  framing out every view to bring that vibrant beach feel to your photos! It is one of my favorite places to take photos.

We personally love heading to the second cove near Pelican Plunge for hanging out. There are plenty of beach chairs, umbrellas, and ice cream to go around! This area gives you access to most of the amenities. There are bikes to rent (with infant seats, too!), snorkeling and floatation rentals, splash areas, sports areas and pavilion (Rowan and his buddies loved this area!), water slides and more. We always love the Castaway Cay bike ride - the island is really flat and smooth so it makes it really easy for families with young children to experience the island in a unique way! Thankfully the ship is so much fun, and has so much to offer, otherwise I don't think we would ever get the boys off this island!

More days on-board means more special moments

We have taken trips from city hopping in California, to road-tripping in South Dakota, to experiencing European cultures . Every travel experience has it's place, and we usually never do the same trip twice. I would do this cruise again in a heartbeat! Our family jokes that we only know how to "travel" and we don't know how to "vacation" - meaning that we often take trips with a packed itinerary and very little down time. We are constantly trying to squeeze the most out of every opportunity and to go new places. This cruise completely changed my mind. It was the absolute best of both worlds. It mixed experiences and opportunity in with relaxation. Relaxing is a very foreign word to me when it comes to travel, and I think this is the first time I honestly enjoyed having slower moments and down time. My husband would say that I have severe Fear of Missing Out. It is true. I live for making the most of a new place and planning our every moment when traveling. Here is the thing, our 7-day itinerary had so many opportunities to experience things. Many of the shows like Aladdin or Wishes had 2+ time slots. So, when you come across a character greeting or experience that you just simply do not want to miss there is a really, really good chance it would be happening again soon! As a well-traveled-family, let me tell you, that does not happen on other vacations we have taken! The fact that I was able to move things around and be flexible has completely changed my perspective on how I want to travel going forward! There were just so many options that we all got to do the things that were important to us. 

One of our absolute favorite things was trying out the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (at an additional cost). They don't just have Princess or Mermaid makeovers, no way! They have an amazing Pirates League experience where they completely transform the boutique to eery Pirate-esque ensembles. The boys each got to completely transform into scary Pirates. I have never seen the 3 of them act so giddy, it was so much fun! We stayed up late that night and partied away, complete with a flossing pirate, glow sticks, Captain Jack Sparrow, and a firework show! 

In our home the boys don't often get in to the planning of things, but on this trip everyone was involved when deciding what we were going to experience each day. To me that meant a lot. It was really magical to see them light up with excitement when discussing the options and casting their votes. As soon as we got home Andy and I both agreed that we would love to do that trip again! It seriously felt like 3 trips in one, we got the experience of the cruise, amazing tropical destinations, and of course the unparalleled magic of Disney! With all this magic, I can only imagine what would come with the experience of Star Wars Day at Sea - I am adding that to my dream list!! BRB. Looking up travel dates!

I hope this gave you some inspiration on how to travel different. Our time with our children goes so quickly. Traveling leaves an important impact on how they see and view the world. There is no replacing these moments and memories. 
I have loved learning about how Disney has some more unique offerings than just their parks, and the Disney Cruise experience blew our expectations away! Please feel free to reach out to me for any information on learning more about their cruise experience!

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