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What To Look For In A Great Hawaii Luau Experience

elements of a great luau

Hey, congrats! You’ve finally taken that Hawaii vacation that you had to put off because of Covid. You’re in Waikiki soaking up the sun and just thankful that the quarantine days are over. Yes, there’s a lot to see and do while you’re here, but one MUST-DO activity that should be on your list is an evening at a luau.

What’s a luau, you may ask? Simply put, a luau is Hawaii’s version of a party or feast. Food, drink and entertainment are always present and it’s most often held at night.

But not all luaus are the same. Just because a luau is expensive doesn’t mean that it’s the best, and just because they have the best buffet dinner doesn’t mean that you’re getting a really good experience. Neither does getting extra drink tickets. There are a lot of things that make a luau a good experience, and we’ve poured our collective local expertise in showing you what to look for.

luau locationLocation, location, location

We’re borrowing from real estate parlance here, but location is important. Location dictates the scenery, and scenery influences a guest’s first impressions for the evening. Typically, luaus are held on the beach or close to one, but there are great luaus that are held indoors and other outdoor venues, too. The main point is that the scenery should match the experience. You want to be wowed by the setting sun or the majestic mountain view, or at the very least, feel warmly welcomed, which leads us to our next point…


Aside from the food, entertainment is a major component of any luau. It’s also the most experiential as it immerses you into the Hawaiian culture and involves everything from the moment your host greets you a warm ‘Aloha’ to the time you head back home for the night. A good luau entertainment program will include at least the following:

  • Pre-dinner demonstrations
    • Traditional Hawaiian games
    • Lei making
    • Hula and ukulele lessons
    • Fire-making demonstrations
    • Kalua pig presentation
  • Dinner entertainment
    • Traditional dances from various Polynesian cultures
    • Fire-knife exhibitions
    • Live Hawaiian music
  • On-stage guest participation

luau dancers


A luau isn’t a proper luau unless there’s food, and all luaus will feature traditional Hawaiian cuisine mixed in with a little Asian flair (think noodles and teriyaki chicken). Food is usually served buffet style and a good luau will have a decent selection of menu items to fit almost anyone’s dietary needs.

kalua pig presentationDrink and beverage selection will also be about the same at every luau, so your favorite alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage will likely be available usually from a no-host bar service.

And speaking of beverages, luau venues will usually issue drink tickets as well as a complimentary welcome drink. These will depend on the package option you select when reserving, so pay close attention to the luau venue’s package option inclusions. A good luau venue will include at least one drink ticket with your reservation package; more if you choose packages with more value-added inclusions. This brings us to…

Package options, inclusions and transportation

Just like flights have first-class, business and economy seating, luaus have different options that offer various inclusions that range from how you’re greeted when you arrive to where you sit in relation to the entertainment stage. Drink tickets, buffet line priority and extra souvenirs will also be optional inclusions that have varying degrees of value in relation to the packages being offered. Naturally, the more expensive the package, the more the amenities and the inclusions.

However, while not all packages are created equal, the experience should be almost the same in terms of entertainment value and food. A good luau should offer the following differences when it comes to its package options:

luau drinks

  • Complimentary items such as leis, souvenir photos and welcome drinks
  • Varying number of drink tickets that are commensurate with package price
  • Seating area distance from the main entertainment stage

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is how valuable or important some of these inclusions are to you as a guest, especially when considered as the sum of several different items. For example, a few more drink tickets and a lei greeting wouldn’t be worth the upgrade price, but if it’s combined with other extras, then it may just be worth it to upgrade.

And speaking of options, skip driving to the venue and take the transportation option. It’s always better to leave the driving to someone else after a luau, especially if the venue is at least 30 minutes away from your hotel. A good luau will include transportation to their venue as part of any package, while some will give you the choice of opting for transportation for an extra fee.

Final words

The good thing about choosing a luau on Oahu is that almost all of them are great luaus, and it’s very likely that you’ll have a great time. There are some standouts of course, such as Ka Moana Luau, primarily because they chose a great location as their venue. Their food and entertainment are also first-rate, and they offer admission to Sea Life Park as part of their luau experiences.