Do you recommend going to a luau on your Hawaii vacation?

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.

Hawaii luau show

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.

Samoan fire knife dancer at the Hilton Waikoloa Village luau

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.

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?

  1. Jamie Neely says:

    Definitely go to a luau. We went to the Feast at LeLe on both of our Maui trips and will go again

  2. Absolutely go to a luau while in Hawaii. My granddaughter told me over the weekend that the luau was her favorite part of the trip we went on 2 years ago. I have been to Hawaii several times and we have been to 5 luaus. I enjoyed them all! My favorite was Germaines on Oahu.

    1. I’ve been to a lot of luau’s on several different islands, and Germaine’s is my favorite also. I highly recommend taking the bus to and from the luau, as the entertainment starts on the way there, and doesn’t end until you get off the bus after the luau. Frankly, my teenage daughter said the bus trip out to the luau was her favorite part of the whole vacation! Really, they are THAT funny.

  3. I am going to Waikiki in June and staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.Has anyone been to their luau or does anyone know of better ones.

    1. The Waikiki Starlight Luau at the Hilton Hawaiian Village is located on the roof of one of it’s buildings. The time I went, it was held indoors in a big ballroom due to rain. If you want to attend a luau in Waikiki, I recommend going to the Royal Hawaiian Luau. Although a little more pricey, it is a much more elegant, table service luau. It is held every Monday on the lawn of the beautiful Royal Hawaiian Hotel, otherwise known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific. If you are going to the Polynesian Cultural Center, they offer a dinner/luau with a great evening show. The center is run by the Mormon church so there won’t be any alcohol or girls is skimpy skirts and coconut bras. Another luau is the Paradise Cove Luau, located on the other side of the island (leeward side) at the beautiful Ko olina Resort. This luau has the option of being buffet style or table service. They have nice activities that you can do before dinner, such as canoeing, spear throwing, quilting, etc…

  4. You know, I actually decided not to do a luau. The prices are pretty high and as a solo, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy myself. I might have been seated with some friendly, social people….or I might have spent the entire meal feeling like the oddball out with no one to talk to. So I decided not to go for it. Would love to try it at some point, but I think I’d want to pull together a small group to share the experience with.

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