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At a luau in Hawaii, you can string leis, play games, talk story with locals and witness a traditional imu (underground oven) ceremony.
You can drink mai tais or local beer, eat Hawaii-grown foods, watch a live Polynesian show and maybe even get up on stage to try a few hula moves.
Hula dancers greet guests at Polynesian Cultural Center's Alii Luau, one of Hawaii’s great luaus. // © 2013 Polynesian Cultural Center
A fire-knife dancer thrills audiences at Hyatt Maui's Drums of the Pacific Luau. // © 2013 Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa
Sheraton Kona's Haleo Voice of Life Luau honors its surroundings with song, dance and storytelling. // © 2013 Island Breeze Productions
Luau Kalamaku at Kilohana Plantation boasts a cast of 50 talented performers. // © 2013 Luau Kalamaku
Island-style food, drinks and aloha spirit satisfy guests at Smith Family Garden Luau on Kauai. // © 2013 Smith's Tropical Paradise
In short, the luau shares genuine island hospitality like nothing else.
The festive evening party introduces visitors to favorite luau dishes like kalua pig from the imu, poi (mashed taro) and haupia (coconut custard). At the same time, it engages guests in the history and culture of Hawaii and Polynesia.
While there are many luaus in Hawaii, these five come highly recommended for their food, entertainment and spirit of aloha.
Alii Luau, Polynesian Cultural Center (Oahu)This longtime attraction has injected its dinner menu with a mix of luau standbys and modern farm-to-table offerings. Its 550-seat theater wows audiences with waterfalls, dramatic lighting and sound, and a lagoon by which the alii (royalty) arrives. Unlike many other luaus, it highlights only the Hawaiian culture in its live show, with chants, music and dance spanning the centuries.www.polynesia.com
Drums of the Pacific Luau, Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa (Maui)In an oceanfront garden at sunset, guests savor tasty luau fare like poke (marinated fish), lomilomi salmon, hulihuli chicken and fresh catch. The meal is enhanced by a colorful Polynesian revue with swirling dances and lilting melodies. The show, which emphasizes the island of Maui, tells stories about the history of the resort grounds and generations of island culture.www.maui.hyatt.com
Haleo the Voice of Life, Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay (Hawaii Island)This luau celebrates both the history and legends of its surroundings. The experience feels highly personal, from entertainers welcoming guests and sharing Polynesian crafts and hula, to sunset dining on the lawn. The Keauhou theme continues during the live show, which spins such musical stories as the historic birth of a future Hawaiian king and the joys of a local surf spot.www.haleoluau.com
Luau Kalamaku, Kilohana Plantation (Kauai)At this former sugar plantation, the evening starts with Hawaiian crafts and games and then proceeds to dinner while dancers and musicians entertain. The best part is Hawaii’s only in-the-round luau show, with great views from every seat. A high-tech media system adds drama to the talents of 50 musicians and performers, including an award-winning fire-knife dancer.www.luaukalamaku.com
Smith Family Garden Luau (Kauai)Generations of Smiths chip in to make this luau da kine (the real deal). With a garden setting and all-Kauai cast, it offers the expected imu ceremony, dinner and live show. But the bottom line is its emphasis on family, from Mokihana taking tickets and Analani teaching hula to emcees Kamika and Kahanu dedicating songs. The feel-good ambience makes this one of the best luaus in Hawaii.www.smithskauai.com