Readers often ask for my thoughts about luaus. Are they worth the time, money and effort? Are they touristy? Are luaus authentic? Those are all great questions, but there’s probably not a one-size-fits-all answer. What’s worth it to me might not be worth it to you. In my opinion, I think going to a luau is definitely worth planning into your Hawaii vacation. For around $90, you get to sample Polynesian food and watch a colorful Polynesian dance show.
Luaus feature traditional Polynesian and Hawaiian food that you might not find on a resort menu. For example, many luaus include lau lau which is pork or fish wrapped in a taro or ti leaf and cooked in an imu (underground oven). Kalua pork is another luau staple that’s cooked in an imu. Of course no luau is complete without at least sampling a taste of poi. Luaus give you the opportunity to try all these traditional foods.
Most luaus serve a buffet dinner, though some high-end luaus will offer table service. A couple of luaus with table service are Maui’s Feast at Lele and the Big Island’s Hilton Waikoloa Village’s Legends of the Pacific.
My favorite part of a luau is the Polynesian dance show. Most luaus feature the dances and music from all the major Polynesian Islands. The colorful costumes and graceful dancers capture your attention. I’ve probably been to a dozen or so luaus throughout Hawaii and I’ve not seen a show that’s disappointed yet. Most luaus end with a Samoan fire knife dance that are absolutely thrilling to watch.
Are luaus touristy? Yes, they are definitely touristy. At just about every luau, you’ll hear cheesy jokes that will still make you laugh. You’ll also see over the top costumes. For example, you’ll usually see female dancers wearing coconut shell bras. I could do without that glitz and glamour, to be honest.
Here’s our video of Fia Fia luau at the JW Marriott Ihilani on Oahu. This video will give you a flavor of a typical luau show – there’s a taste of all the Polynesian islands mixed with a bit of entertaining humor.
(Email subscribers: click here to access the Fia Fia video.)
As for the authenticity of luaus, I can’t speak to that with authority because I am not Hawaiian. My impression is that there are aspects of luaus that are probably authentic, such as the food and the hula dancing. As a whole, luaus are set up to appeal to tourists and entertain. I guess the best analogy I can use is that if you host a Christmas dinner at your home for your family, that’s your authentic celebration. If you were to invite a large group of strangers to your Christmas dinner, you’re probably going to try to make it more appealing to the masses. In that case, you’d probably try to put on more of a show in order to entertain.
If you want to try to attend an authentic luau, I’ll share the same advice I was given — check the local papers for fundraiser luaus. Those luaus are usually put on by locals for locals.
If you’re thinking of planning a luau into your Hawaii vacation, check out this article to help you choose the luau that’s right for you – How to choose a Hawaiian luau. In addition, I’ve written a series of posts with luau reviews, costs and schedules organized by island. I do update them periodically.
- Kauai luaus – schedules, costs, reviews
- Big Island luaus – prices, reviews, schedules
- Maui luaus – prices, schedules, reviews
- Oahu luaus that I’ve reviewed are
Have you been to a luau in Hawaii? Which one did you go to? Do you think going to a luau is worth the money and time?