How to Choose a Hawaiian Luau – 5 Tips We’ve Learned From Our Experiences

I think every first time Hawaii visitor should spend one evening at a luau. It’s a great way to try traditional Hawaiian foods, see graceful hula dances and hear Hawaiian music.

When you are trying to choose a luau, you may become overwhelmed with the choices. Not all luaus are created equal. So, how do you choose a luau? Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Research and book your luau before you go on vacation

If you take some time determining your options before you go, you’ll save yourself the time of having to research while you’re in Hawaii. While you’re at home, you have more time and resources for research. A luau can be an expensive evening with prices starting at well over $100 per person. So wouldn’t you want to chose the best luau possible?

Sites like TripAdvisor.com  have tons of reviews that are worth your time to read. Often you’ll learn tips and tricks of how to book, where to sit, when to arrive, etc. Your time researching reviews will not be wasted, so do invest some time at home to comparison shop and find the best luau for you.

Not only should you research your luau before you arrive, but you should also book it ahead of time. Some luaus sell out fast, particularly around holidays. So book your seats ahead of time to make sure you get to go to the luau you want.

Some luaus will seat you based on when you booked. So, the earlier you book, the better.

2. Know the seating arrangement

Choosing a luau by the seating arrangement might be the single most important selection you’ll make. One of the biggest highlights of a luau is the Polynesian dance show. You will definitely want a good view of the stage. Try to find out how tables are arranged around the stage.

See/ask if there are seating upgrades. You may have the option to pay more to get a better view and earlier seating. Sometimes these upgrades include a nicer lei, more drinks, better service, etc. If your vacation budget allows, we do recommend the upgraded packages. We’ve never regretted spending the money on a luau upgrade.

I’ve seen luau companies with tables that seat six to ten people. I’ve seen other luaus that seat 20+ people per table. The longer, bigger tables had more of a cattle-herding feeling to them rather than festive environment that you would prefer. In general, smaller tables will give you better stage viewing opportunities and a more intimate experience.

3. Know the food options

Be prepared that the food you will taste might be a bit unexpected. If you arrive with an open mind, your taste buds will experience new flavors. Most luaus will include such Hawaiian specialties as kalua shreaded pork (pork cooked in an underground oven), island fish, poke, lomilomi salmon and teriyaki chicken. For children, many luaus also offer more recognizable kid-friendly foods like chicken fingers.

Most luaus are served buffet style, so you can try as many different dishes as you like. Some of the higher-end luau options provide plated-food served directly to your table.

Of course no luau is complete without poi which is a thick sauce made from taro. Taro is a purple vegetable that is probably closest in taste to a potato. Poi is a mixture of water and taro that has been mashed until it becomes similar to a paste consistency. Most people cringe and make all kinds of ugly faces when they try poi for the first time. Hawaiians are quite proud of poi, so please be respectful when you try this Hawaiian staple.

If you see a purple dinner rolls, don’t be put off by the color. They are made with taro which gives them the purple color. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love them.

Another purple food item you might see is the Okinawa sweet potato. If you like sweet pototoes, you’ll love the Okinawa sweet potato.

4. Know the agenda for the luau

Find out when the doors open, then aim to arrive as close to that time as possible. Many luau operations offer a nice lei greeting and a welcome punch or mai tai. Another common aspect of a luau is that there will likely be craft making, Hawaiian games and cultural demonstrations before the dinner and show. If you arrive early, you can take advantage of off these amenities.

Early arrivers can take advantage of the lesser crowds and the sunset daylight for photo taking. This is a great time for family photos and selfies.

Ideally, I like to go to a luau that has a imu ceremony. This ceremony involves watching the cooked pig and vegetables being uncovered from the underground oven and carried off to the kitchen.

Luaus typically include live Hawaiian music to enjoy while you eat. After dinner, the Polynesian dancing show starts.

If possible find a show that includes Samoan fire knife dancing. That’s usually the grand finale of the evening and a complete thrill to watch.

5. Know the days the luau operates

A few luaus operate every day of the week, but the majority don’t. Make sure you choose a luau that fits with your vacation schedule.

Ideally, book your luau in the middle to later part of your vacation so that you’ll likely be less jet lagged.

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We completed a series of luau options by island. Check out those luau options as follows:

We also recommend you read our article of what to expect from your first time to a luau in Hawaii.

If you’ve been to a Hawaiian luau what methods did you use to select your luau? What worked well? What do you wish you had done differently?

4 comments
  1. What do you recommend for New Year’s Eve on Big Island? We are staying at the Kona Coast resorts and this is our first time to Hawaii – we arrive on the island only a day ahead of New Year’s so we want to make the arrangements now.

    Thank you for any input.

    (we are low key folk – something that involves buffet, a bit of music, a bit of wine and some fireworks in a semi-casual atmosphere is more important than cost)

    1. For a luau? Since you’re staying nearish to Kailua-Kona, check to see if the luau at the Courtyard King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel is running on New Years Eve. Other than that, you’d probably have to drive quite a bit further up to the Kohala Coast.

      These aren’t luaus, but they are a taster of some good New Years Eve celebrations from last year on the Big Island – https://www.govisithawaii.com/2011/12/13/special-places-to-celebrate-new-years-eve-on-hawaiis-big-island/ It should give you a good idea of what might be going on this coming NYE.

  2. Hi Sheila,
    Our family is heading out to Kona the end of August for a wedding. I want to reserve a Luau for 10 family members (ages 11-75). We have some day restrictions but I have narrowed it down to either Feast & Fire, Outrigger resort or Island Breeze Kona beach hotel. Any input?

    1. I would lean towards the Island Breeze luau at the Courtyard Marriott Kona Beach Hotel. The setting is great and they’ve been in operation for many years, whereas the Outrigger luau is relatively new since Outrigger took over from Sheraton.

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