For many Visitors to Hawaii visiting a Luau is one of the top activities they wish to experience while on the Islands. The Traditional Hawaiian Feast and After Dinner show is steeped in Hawaiian Tradition. While these shows have taken on a much more “Cliched” and touristy feel they are still right up on most people’s lists. We still always attend a Luau during any visit. It’s just not Hawaii unless you experience a Luau. Like anything popular, there are always a large number of options as competition grows. Not All Luaus in Oahu are Equal so we endeavor to show you the Best Luaus in Oahu in our complete guide.
With so many on offer, they all try and have their own unique selling point so they stand out from the crowd so the best Luau on Oahu for one may not be for another so we do our best to point out the pros and cons of each.
What exactly is a Luau? What to Expect.
A luau is a Hawaiian Party really but the tourist industry has spawned a more specific expectation of what a Commercial Luau should be. It often has little to no connection with how Hawaiians would celebrate. However, it is still steeped in tradition and filled with many traditional foods and activities.
A Typical Luau will start with you registering and being presented with a lei. Some offer flower leis others only a Shell Lei. Almost all VIP options have Flower Leis. Then you are often offered a welcome drink. Typically a Mai Tai. You are then free to explore the Luau Grounds. There are many different activities going on all traditional Hawaiian or Polynesian in nature such as Lei Making or Poi Pounding. There is no need to get involved but it helps get you in the spirit. There may also be Hawaiian Games to play to keep you and the kids entertained. Some even go as far as Net Fishing demonstrations and traditional canoeing.
At some point, you will be invited to share the Imu Ceremony. All will be explained but you are watching your dinner being unearthed. An IMU is a large underground oven and inside for most of the day, there has been a whole pig slowly roasting. The IMU Ceremony is where the Staff unearth it ready for its final prep to be served. It’s a very important part of the feast and a must-attend. Don’t be too off-put, it doesn’t always look that appetizing on unearthing but we can assure you the finished kalua pork is delightful.
You will then take your seats for the feast. Where tables will take it in turns to visit the buffet and help themselves to the fare. This is a great way of doing it as you can try small amounts of as much as you like to sample. Remember you can always go back for more once everyone has had a turn.
Then near the end of the feast or just after the Show will start. This is a mix of hula and traditional dance that will tell the story of Hawaiian isle’s how they were populated and the myths and legends the ancient Hawaiian people believed, a story of gods, demigods, and royalty. Expect loud vibrant dancing and music. Finally, near the end you are often invited/coerced to get up and dance yourselves, before the end of the evening where you head off hopefully a little tipsy…or maybe that’s just us.
If that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing…maybe think twice about spending 1-200 per person attending one? We think a lot of negative reviews of Luaus come from people not really knowing what to expect. Remember your entry fee is for the whole event, show, wait staff, performers, and the meal, etc… If you expect a $1-200 Meal you will be disappointed. If you embrace the whole event for what it is and take in the locale and the ambiance as well as the food, drink and how we think they (or some) are quite good value.
Most Luau’s offer a very similar Menu with varying degrees of quality. The food is intended to be traditional Hawaiin Luau Feast fare but it also caters to a more American palate, offering the chance to taste traditional food but often not requiring it to fill you up. We would always suggest sampling as much of the traditional fare as possible but understand some people can be fussy eaters, but they shouldn’t go hungry. Traditional food items include the following and are available at nearly every Luau:
Kalua pig (Kālua pork)
Cooked underground in an IMU the Kalua Pig is a traditional Hawaiian staple available all over the island. However, it is rarely cooked inside and IMU except for at Luaus. Reminiscent of Pulled Pork but saltier and less sweet. The underground cooking method adds a light smoke rather than the heavy smokehouse taste. Every Luau must have Kalua pig…It’s not a Luau without.
With the look and texture of Wallpaper paste, only purple. It tastes worse than it looks. But you just must try it. Why? we had too and we want you to feel our pain. Apparently, it’s some god awful root mashed up. Pounding it in the arts and crafts displays beforehand is fun for old hands as you can take some of the hate out on it!
Even better than Kalua pork is Poke. Marinated, cured seafood, preferably Tuna (Ahi) it’s like sushi but with bags of taste. It’s becoming more available outside Hawaii now. But it’s not the same without an untouched tub of poi next to it.
Meat, Often Chicken or beef but traditionally pork Steamed in leaves. It’s not always the tastiest dish but is a nice safe option for most. As really it’s just steamed meat!
Hawaiian sweet potato
Like regular Sweet potatoes only Purple. Because Like Hawaii Purple is just better.
A delicious Salted Salmon and tomato salad. It’s as fun to say as it is to eat!
Being in a tropical paradise you have to expect a pretty impressive tropical fruit platter for dessert, Most Luaus come up with the goods.
Is the VIP Experience worth it?
As with any is it worth it questions it’s always hard to answer. Typically an Upgraded experience offers a few different features. You may get extra drinks included. Better seating, Upgraded leis, and first attack at the buffet.
Rarely is it worth it JUST to get extra drinks as the prices range from $20-80 that’s an expensive 1-2 drinks! The buffets are plentiful so you don’t need to be first. Online reviews often complain of Food running out but this is rare. As if it does happen people rush to bad mouth the company whereas happy full customers don’t bother. The Seating can be great as these are not HUGE elaborate shows like Cirque de Soliel. They are much more intimate affairs so getting close is a good advantage. Most people want a flower lei so this may even swing it. It can be an expensive way to get a few flowers though.
Overall If only one or two of the benefits are worth it for you the basic experience is probably fine. If you 3, 4 or more are important it may well be worth the cash? But it’s up to you. We tend to think if you are reading about what you get and are already feeling disappointed with the basic, Upgrade. It’s an expensive Evening try and makes the best of it!
Just about every Luau offers an Upgraded experience and often a super upgrade. They come up with all types of crazy names so when we list prices we stick with VIP and Super VIP. It will be very obvious when booking which is which.
Who to Book With?
There are two way’s Book your Luau, Either Directly with the Luau Company or using a booking company that specializes in tours and activities in Hawaii. The Direct option is fine but you will pay full price, tour booking companies can provide discounts and get you into the Luau for less. There are many companies on the Islands and most claim to be the best ad the cheapest. We trust Tom Barefoot’s Tours the most. They almost always have the best pricing and have been going for decades. We Provide links to Tom Barefoot’s Tours for all the Luau’s on our list so you can get the Cheapest Price. We also offer certain Club Prices, For certain Luau’s and Other Activities Toms Barefoot has given us a Club Price, these Prices are even cheaper than the regular discounted price. But they are ONLY available through our links!
We do receive a small commission if you book through these links but that’s how we fund the page and keep everything up to date for you. We Also provide a Direct link for you if you just want to go direct.
Viator is a TripAdvisor company and a reseller of trips. We quite like Viator in some instances but using it for Luau’s most seemed more expensive than booking direct and not something we recommend in this instance. Got Direct or With Tom Barefoot’s.
There are two main locations for luaus on Oahu. Honolulu and Kapolei. These are the two main Tourist locations so it’s unsurprising the competition is fierce. On top of these, there are three outliers, which we will deal with first. The Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie, the Ka Moana Luau at the Sea Life Park, and the new Toa Luau at Waimea Valley.
Most of the Luau’s in Kapolei offers transportation from most Waikiki locations so you can easily utilize this if your intention is to fully appreciate the Mai Tais’ and cocktails. For anyone who likes a drink, it’s highly recommended. Prices are quite reasonable at around $16-20 round trip, they will pick you up and bus you out and then bring you home. If you are staying in Kapolei We recommend just attending a Luau around your area as the Waikiki luaus are not as accommodating (they don’t need the numbers).
Visitors staying at the Turtle Bay Resort are advised to Visit the Luau at the Polynesian Centre as its really quite close and the hotel will lay on transportation for you, but also the Family themed Toa Luau is right on your doorstep too.
Map Of Oahu Luau’s
Enough talk, let’s get on to the individual Luau’s themselves.
Outliers – Luaus outside of the tourist areas
- Cost – $122.95 Adults – $98.36 Children (4-11) VIP + $25
- Drinks – Not Included
- Perfect for – Experiencing Hawaiian Culture
- Rating – 9/10
The Polynesian Cultural Center offers probably the best Luau Show on the Island. The HA – Breath of Life Show is far more than the regular Hulu shows most Luau’s offer. This combined with a very high-quality Feast, Served Buffet Style and includes entry to the Centre itself. Simply visiting the Centre is an Oahu Must do and a full days activity, to combine it with a great feast and incredible show makes the cost of this luau far more reasonable than it first appears. The one thing that may put you off slightly is the fact no alcohol is served or may be consumed on the grounds.
The Other thing going against the Breath of Life Luau is the Location. While for Guests of the Turtle Bay resort it’s very convenient, for everyone else it’s a bit of a trek. This is a good choice for those with a cat though as the lack of alcohol averts the problem of needing a designated driver. The Centre does provide transport at a cost of $25 per person, with limited hotel pickup options from the tourist areas (or a more expensive Kerbside Pickup option). While that does add to the costs, it does solve the problem of getting there and back if you don’t have a car. And still, when you consider what is included in your ticket it’s still good value.
Alcoholic drinks are not allowed but a large selection of Non-alcoholic drinks are available and included. Overall we think this is the Best Luau on the Island, in terms of spectacle, grandness and added extra’s it really does shine. The Show is phenominal, the feast grand and authentic and the cultural center and ground an absolute must-see. If you can get there and get over the fact you cannot drink it is a fantastic Event!
Go Oahu Card
The Go Oahu Card includes Entry to the Polynesian Cultural Centres Luau as one of its Premium Attractions and can help save quite a bit of cash! Check out our full review to see if you could save money on your Ohau trip?
Ka Moana Luau – Sea Life Park Hawaii
- Cost – $99 Adults – $87 Youths(13-17) – $74 Children(4-13) – VIP +$25 – Super VIP + $60
- Drinks – 1 Included
- Free Entry to Sea Life Park
- Perfect for – Great Family Luau
- Rating – 7.5/10
The Ka Moana Lua is from the Same people that brought you the regular Diamond head Luau. This is a high-end Luau Experience with good food and a great show with excellent performers. It’s in the high-end price-wise (but not with our TBT Club Price, See Below) but far from expensive given the experience. Entry into Sea Life Park Hawaii is included in the price. This can make for a very entertaining day out visiting the park before spending an evening at the Luau. As the Park is located a fair way from Waikiki it can make getting their challenging. The chance to enjoy a couple (or more) Mai Tai’s is part of the joy of a Luau so Driving should be avoided unless you are not drinking. for $16 per person, Transportation is provided from Waikiki so everyone can enjoy the Drinks.
The Sea Life Park Entry can either be enjoyed on the day or p to seven days after so you can choose between a full day out or two great trips here one evening of fun and another exploring the fantastic park.