An authentic luau is a time-honored treasure in Hawaii. If you are traveling to Hawaii for the first time, or haven’t been there in a while, a luau is a great way to learn about Hawaiian history and culture while also enjoying traditional local cuisine.
Although most luaus in the Hawaiian Islands will have similarities, such as offering a meal and a historical look at the Hawaiian/Polynesia culture through dancing and music, not all luaus are created equal.
I’ve been to Hawaii 5 times and have attended 4 different luaus. While each of the luaus I experienced had food and entertainment, there was only one that really excelled at both – which was the luau at the Grand Wailea. While I won’t give a full review of the luau in this post, I can honestly say that it was the best luau I’ve ever attended and would not hesitate to recommend it if you are looking to splurge on your vacation.
I recognize that my version of great luau may not be the same as everyone’s, however, I highly suggest doing your homework in advance of booking your luau. A little research, including reading online reviews, will help to ensure that the luau will at least meet your minimum expectations and, ultimately, be worth the hefty cost.
Not sure what to look for when booking your first luau in Hawaii? Here are a few things I learned from experience.
Top 7 Features to Consider When Booking Your First Hawaiian Luau
- Location – Luaus are offered on all of the main, tourist-heavy, Hawaiian Islands. However, just because it’s an island, doesn’t mean that traveling from place to place is easy. When contemplating luaus, be sure to consider how far away it is from your hotel/rental, how easy it is to get there at the time you will be driving to/from the luau, and the parking situation. If it’s a long and/or complicated drive – and you know you/your driver will want to partake in a few Hawaiian beverages, then it may be best to find a luau that’s close by your hotel and better yet, one that is walkable.
- Cost – When I went to my first luau, I felt the cost was pretty reasonable – maybe about $100 a person all inclusive of food, drinks, etc. Now, it is very common to pay double that amount or more, depending on the package and options you choose. In my experience, the more expensive luaus are usually the ones that are offered by luxury hotels, while more cost-effective luaus are offered by smaller hotels and/or community-based organizations. As you are evaluating which luau to attend, be sure to check the costs of each and what is included in those costs (all-inclusive vs. one drink, cheap lei vs. fresh flower lei, etc) so that you can find one that aligns with your budget.
- Seating – Each luau will have its own unique seating arrangement for guests – long tables vs. small tables, private tables vs. shared tables, close to the stage vs. far from the stage – you get the idea. Some of these seating features will also come at a premium. For instance, a private table close to the entertainment, may cost $40-50 per person more than a shared table somewhere in the middle. Determine what seating is offered, what fits your expectations, group size as well as budget.
- Entertainment – Most luaus will offer some form of entertainment including traditional Hawaiian dancing, singing, music, rituals, etc. However, if there are specific things you are interested in such as Hawaiian history, fire throwing, live music, acrobatics or hula lessons – you’ll want to be sure that the luau you select reflects those interests. My first luau, although entertaining, did not include fire throwing as I had expected (I thought all luaus included fire!), which was a huge disappointment for me as I had my heart set on it.
- Food – Although most luaus will feature traditional Hawaiian foods like pork, pineapple, poke and rice, the best way to evaluate the food (other than actually eating it!) is to read online reviews. The reviews will often include photos and descriptions which can help you determine the quality of the food and how it is served – ie. Buffet vs. Family style vs. plated, and how they accommodate for allergies or dietary restrictions.
- Drinks – Although I’m not a huge fan of sugary drinks like Mai Tai’s, etc, they can be plentiful at some luaus but with varying quality. Again, online reviews can give you the inside scoop on types of drinks offered, how watery they are, how easy they are to obtain (ie. Long lines are no fun) and most importantly, how many are included in the price of the ticket. Case in point, my most recent luau only included one alcoholic beverage and all other drinks (alcoholic or non) beyond that were an extra cost – except water of course. And that was after paying $180 for the ticket!
- Atmosphere – This may seem like a no brainer, but I think atmosphere is very important when it comes to a luau. But I admit, it’s hard to assess the atmosphere without actually attending the luau. However, there are some luau venues (like those at resorts) that will give you a sneak peak of the luau grounds during off hours, or in some cases, you can easily get a glimpse of the luau in progress just by walking through the resort grounds. If you can’t get an advance look, this is where online reviews come in handy once more. Check blogs, tripadvisor and other sites for luau photos to see what types of views they have, what photo ops are available, how authentic it looks, how crowded the seating is, etc.
After these considerations, you ultimately need to decide what luau is right for you based on your tastes and expectations. But in all honesty, no matter what luau you choose, the most important things to remember are to take lots of photos, make great memories and have fun!