The Lure Of the Luau

For clients craving Hawaii’s traditional feast, here are four great options

By: By Christina Kim

Guests are greeted with leis at the Alii Luau. // (C) 2010 Alii Luau

Guests are greeted with leis at the Alii Luau. // (c) 2010 Alii Luau

The luau — Hawaii’s famous celebration of music, dance and food — is a unique island tradition, and clients who attend one can get actively involved in the cultural experience. The modern-day version of this age-old gathering invites guests to sample staples of the traditional Hawaiian diet such as kalua pig (pork cooked underground), laulau (meat or fish wrapped in taro leaves), lomi salmon (fresh tomato and salmon salad) and poi (pounded taro root) while accommodating them with more recognizable fare including chicken, sweet potatoes, rice, tropical fruit and mai tais.

While there are many great luaus around the islands, the following four offerings were the top choices selected by our readers in an online poll.

Alii Luau (Oahu)
Polynesian Cultural Center marketing coordinator Seth Casey said the Alii (royal) Luau “treats guests like kings and queens.” Known for helping to preserve Hawaiian culture, the luau provides all-Hawaiian entertainment, compared to others that include various Polynesian cultures. Highlights include the new evening show, “Ha: Breath of Life,” which features more than 100 performers in the 2,675-seat Pacific Theater.

The luau’s emcee, Uncle Benny, explains the food dishes to guests and gives tips on how to eat them. Along with the standard luau fare, Casey recommends that clients try the poke (raw fish) and pipikaula (seasoned beef jerky). Children and adults perform dances, and a world-renowned steel guitarist is featured. Guests have the opportunity to learn the hula, and clients celebrating a wedding anniversary are invited on stage to dance to the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”

Kona Village Luau (Big Island)
Many travelers call this Big Island luau the most authentic one in Hawaii. Kona Village general manager Ulrich Krauer chalks that up in part to its personal approach of a narrator, rather than a recording, who provides story backgrounds. The dramatic setting, with a lagoon, palm trees and outside stage, sets the mood, and the food is a real plus. Unlike most luaus, the Kona Village Luau serves opihi, a tiny shellfish considered a local delicacy. During pre-show activities, guests can make coconut milk and learn about poi.

The Kona Village Luau has two different shows per week. On Wednesdays, it takes more of a Hawaiian approach, while Fridays are more Polynesian. With live music and an ensemble of drummers in traditional costumes as well as Polynesian dancers and a fire dancer, the varied entertainment adds to the overall luau experience.

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui)
Through narration, songs, chants and dances, the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui takes clients on a historic journey of Hawaii, said spokesperson Julie Yoneyama. The outdoor setting reflects the local culture, as do hosts who dress in wraparound pareu (sarongs). Recently added interactive stations allow guests to learn about different aspects of old Hawaii lifestyle.

For dinner, clients can either sit at tables or on traditional mats with cushions. As they make their way through the buffet line, they find Hawaiian foods with local ingredients. Yoneyama encouraged clients to be open-minded and try traditional fare like poi.

Since poi is a starch staple, Yoneyama suggested that guests “eat it with something else to add flavor, like with pork or raw fish.”

Culminating this experience is the show, which takes guests through the history of hula by starting with the migration of the Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands, followed by the kahiko hula.

Smith’s Family Garden Luau (Kauai)
For decades, multiple generations of the Smith family have run this Kauai luau with a spirit of aloha. General manager Kamika Smith said his family wants to give clients an opportunity to learn about the local culture through food and performances in a fun and festive atmosphere. Activities let guests connect to the people of the island, something that visitors sometimes miss during their travels.

Before the luau begins, clients can take a narrated tram tour or self-guided stroll around the gardens. They can watch the roasted pig ceremony and learn more about the significance of the taro plant.

During dinner, musicians perform Hawaiian music while Smith family members “talk story” with guests. The luau show itself features dances and music from across Polynesia as well as from China, Japan and the Philippines.

Alii Luau

Kona Village Luau

Old Lahaina Luau

Smith’s Family Luau