Restaurants may come and go, but the luau holds forth as Hawaii’s
most famous dining experience, giving clients a taste of island
history and culture, while serving agents with a reliable source of
“Guests book our luau up to one year in advance,” said Jamie
DeBrunner, sales director for Old Lahaina Luau on Maui. “Many make
their luau reservations before booking their accommodations.” Old
Lahaina Luau has been doing steady business since 1986, as host to
400 guests per night, seven nights a week, on a two-acre oceanfront
Clients have luau options on all the major islands, with some
more elaborate than others. “A luau guest gets a sense of place,
the taste of Polynesian food and songs and dances, leading them
through the history of the islands,” said Laurence Mountcastle,
Kona Village Resort sales and marketing director. Big Island’s
longest-running luau, Kona Village’s version, started as a casual
beach gathering in 1967. Now it’s an elaborate production in an
open-air structure; it attracted nearly 16,000 people last
Most luaus are interactive, with demonstrations of Hawaiian
crafts. Guests try tropical cocktails and foods such as kalua pig
(smoked in an underground lava-rock oven), poi (pounded taro root),
laulau (pork and fish steamed in ti leaves), lomi salmon (salted
salmon, tomatoes and onion) and haupia (coconut pudding).
Entertainment usually includes songs and dances of Polynesia, but
each luau has distinctive touches. For instance, the 700-seat
oceanfront luau at Wailea Marriott Resort on Maui boasts a
performance by the reigning world-champion fire-knife dancer. The
Island Breeze Luau at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel on Big
Island re-enacts the landing of Hawaii’s first monarch and his
court in a double-hull canoe.
“If a luau is the only cultural thing visitors do while they’re
here, they can leave knowing they learned a little bit about the
place and its history,” said Delsa Moe, cultural presentations
director for Oahu’s Polynesian Cultural Center, whose luau drew
177,000 people last year. Launched in 1989, the center’s luau
recently moved to the renovated Hale Aloha Theater, featuring
tiered seating for 700.
On Kauai, Smith’s Garden Luau has been operating for 18 years
and was host to 50,000 visitors in 2002. “Ours is the only luau on
Kauai, owned and managed by a local Hawaiian family,” said Kamika
Smith. After dining in an open-air structure, guests stroll to an
adjacent theater for the show. “We’ve had visitors return again and
again, bringing friends and families with them,” Smith said. “There
are always new experiences to try in the islands, but I feel the
luau will remain the must-do dining and cultural event for
vacationers in Hawaii.”
Dozens of commissionable luau options are available in Hawaii.
Here are details on those mentioned in the story:
Island Breeze Luau, King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, Big
Island. $57 per adult, $22 for ages 6-12. 808-326-4969; www.kona
Kona Village Resort Luau, Big Island. $76 per adult, $46 for
ages 6-12, $22 for ages 2-5. 800-367-5290; www.konavillage.com.
Old Lahaina Luau & Feast at Lele, Maui. $79 per adult, $49
for ages 12 and younger. 800-248-5828; www.oldlahainaluau.com.
Polynesian Cultural Center Luau, Oahu. $75 per adult, $51 for
ages 3-11. Rates include admission to the center’s villages, tours
and IMAX movie. 800-367-7060; www.polynesia.com.
Smith’s Garden Luau, Kauai. $58 per adult, $28.50 for ages 7-13,
$18.75 for ages 3-6. 808-821-6895; www.smiths kauai.com.
Wailea’s Finest Luau, Wailea Marriott, an Outrigger Resort,
Maui. $70 per adult, $32 for ages 6-12. 808-874-7831; www.wailea