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 your options 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 luaus 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 about $100 and many of them costing quite a bit more. So wouldn’t you want to chose the best luau possible?
Sites like TripAdvisor.com and Yelp.com have 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. Ask if there are seating upgrades. You may have the option to pay another $7 to $25 to get a better view and earlier seating. I’ve seen luaus with tables that seat six to ten people. I’ve seen other luaus that seat 50 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.
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 (pig cooked in an underground oven), island fish, poke (marinated raw ahi tuna), lomilomi salmon and pipi kaula (seasoned beef). 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.
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 mixed and 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.
4. Know the agenda for the evening.
Find out when the doors open, then aim to arrive as close to that time as possible. Many luaus offer a nice lei greeting and a free bar, so if you arrive early, you can grab a drink, walk around the grounds and take photos. Usually crafts and games are available to try if you like.
I like to go to a luau that has a imu ceremony. (The photo on the left is of an imu ceremony.) This ceremony involves watching the cooked pig being uncovered from the underground oven and lifted 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.
I’ll be beginning a series of luaus by island beginning next week. So stay tuned for more information to help you choose your luau for the island you’ll be visiting.
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?