If you are going to Hawaii, the one thing you need to do in Maui is to check out a luau. You’ll hear the word everywhere since practically everyone will try to convince you to go. And for good reason. Imagine arching palms with the backdrop of splashing waves, tiki torches flickering into the orange hues of the sun setting and the sound of a ceremonial conch shell blow.
The scene feels like something right out of a movie. Sip on a cocktail, and revel in the traditional Hawaiian luau – a blend of Polynesian gastronomy, dance and exhilarating culture and one of the best experiences you need to have in Maui.
So great. You’ve decided you’ll try the quintessential Hawaiian luau experience. But then you realize there is a plethora of options in Maui–from long-running ones, to popular ones, to more traditional ones. One thing remains true however: all of them have immersive dance shows. So whichever one of these top six you choose, get ready to get hypnotized by a hula dance, enjoy roasted Kalua pig and delve deep into a spectacular unique culture.
What is a Luau?
First things first. What actually is a luau? Simply put, a luau is a traditional Hawaiian party with eating and dancing. This feast goes all the way back to the Ancient times of Polynesia. It is said that the second king of Hawaii lifted the ban on what was known as the kapu. The kapu was basically the notion of men and women eating together, or royalty dining with the rest of the non-crowned population.
So of course, to celebrate the removal of the law, the king hosted a spectacular feast that included 271 pigs, plus countless kalo plants, coconuts and salted fish. And he invited everyone to attend!
Today, luaus in Maui are a modern twist on the traditional ritual, mostly designed for visitors of Hawaii. But, they are still fun social events and celebrations that feature Hawaiian and Polynesian dancing and cultural music. Plus, there’s always lots of food! You will find things like poi (made from the stem of a taro plant), Kalua pig and haupia (a coconut milk-based dessert).
In Hawaiian, the meaning of the word luau is ‘young taro tops’, a plant that is a traditional food served at the event.
1. Old Lahaina Luau
Old Lahaina Luau is by far one of the best known luaus on the island. The mixture of cultural accuracy and how well it executes the authenticity of a luau make it a top choice for many travelers (it doesn’t hurt that you are greeted at the door with a fresh flower lei and a Mai Tai!).
Before the meal and entertainment even begins guests will learn about the Hawaiian history, and may choose to gather around the imu as the kalua pig is excavated from this traditional Hawaiian underground oven. The buffet feast then begins and is filled with traditional foods like lau lau (pork wrapped in lu’au leaf), mea’ai ola pono (taro, sweet potato & tofu patty) and of course the pig itself.
At sunset the entertainment will begin, through dance and music you will be taken through the fascinating history of the Hawaiians. Though you will see plenty of hula, take note that there is no fire-knife dancing here. This makes it even more historically accurate as there were no fire dances back then.
Details: Adults (13 and up) $120 + tax = $125.00; Children (3 – 12 years) $75 + tax = $78.12; 1251 Front Street Lahaina, Maui. Website.
2. Feast at Lele
If you’re looking for an upscale Maui luau, then the Feast at Lele is one of the best choices. For starters, you will get a mai tai in your hands and a lei of Kukui tree nuts around your neck as soon as you arrive. Plus, instead of a typical buffet, it features a five-course, sit-down dinner (this is the main reason that this luau is my favorite!). The menu that was created by Executive Chef Adrian Aina celebrates Polynesian cuisine, taking you on a journey through the island nations of Hawaii, Aotearoa, Tahiti and Samoa.
Each course is accompanied by the traditional song and dance of the region. The hula is the traditional dance of Hawaii and is an elegant motion accompanied by chant and song. The men of New Zealand traditionally dance the Haka, an ancient Maori war dance. Meanwhile the the women perform using poi, tethered balls that are rhythmically swung. Tahitian dance is a sensual swing of the hips and the traditional or’i chant. The Samoan sasa dance is a rhythmic clapping of the hands and slapping of parts of the body. It’s a bonus that there are fire-dancers!
This is the best place you would go for a more intimate dinner, ocean views and a tranquil atmosphere.
Details: Adults (13 and up) $135.42; Children (3 – 12 years) $98.96; 505 Front Street, Lahaina, Maui. Website.
3. The Grand Luau at Honua’ula
The Grand Luau at Honua’ula is located at the award-winning Grand Wailea Resort and Spa in Wailea, just steps from the sea. You’ll find everything in this four-hour event: a torch lighting, unearthing of the kalua pig, traditional buffet with regional cuisine and a show that tells the story of La’amaikahiki and Moikeha voyages, taking you back to a time when the Polynesians discovered Hawaii. There’s even a chance to check learn the hula off your bucket list!
Details: Adults starting at $130; Children (6 – 12 years) starting at $80; Grand Wailea Resort, 3850 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, Maui. Website.
4. Drums of the Pacific
Drums of the Pacific is just steps from Ka’anapali Beach at the Hyatt Regency and is the longest running Maui luau. The experience will take you on a journey throughout the islands of Polynesia, but what makes this show specifically special is the unforgettable display of Samoan fire-dancing and flame-eating.
The feast of this luau is served buffet style and features the same traditional cuisine as other luaus—things like kalua pork, huli huli chicken and lomi lomi salmon.
Details: Adults (13 & older) starting at $123; Children (6 – 12 years) starting at $76; 200 Nohea Kai Drive, Lahaina, Maui. Website.
5. Royal Lahaina Luau
If you’re looking for something a little bit (not a lot) more inexpensive and not quite as fancy as the others, then the Royal Lahaina Luau is a great choice. Even with a moderate price tag, there will still be a backdrop of the shoreline, cultural dancing and warm atmosphere that all epitomize the Hawaiian vibes. You will begin your evening in paradise after getting a friendly aloha, a shell lei and then all-you-can-eat Hawaiian buffet and cocktails.
That’s not it though. Think fire-knife dances, beautiful hula dancing and of course – the view of the sunset and the beach interchanging together.
Details: Adults (13 & older) starting at $115; Children (6 – 12 years) starting at $50; Royal Lahaina Resort
2780 Kekaa Drive, Lahaina, Maui. Website.
6. Te Au Moana
Te Au Moana translates directly to the “ocean tide”, which is fitting since the ceremony takes place right on the ocean of the Marriott Wailea. When you enter you will receive a fresh flower lei or a carved wooden fish hook necklace. Then it’s straight to the pre-show activities where you will be introduced to some of the top Polynesian rituals, like tapa making, where you will learn how to make fabric from the bark of trees. There is also storytelling, coconut husking and Polynesian crafters—enough activities to keep every member of the family entertained.
Prior to the feast itself, witness the traditional imu ceremony (the unearthing of the Kalua pig) and then indulge in the buffet extravaganza fit for a king or queen. You will be munching on Hawaiian specialties like Molokai sweet potatoes, kula greens and coconut haupia while the dancers share the stories of the people of Maui and the Pacific islands.
Details: Adults (13 & older) starting at $124; Children (6 – 12 years) starting at $79; Wailea Beach Resort Marriott, Wailea, Maui. Website.
As an avid traveler, I love indulging myself in other cultures and their rituals. It gives you a whole other perspective into a destination. Though many luaus in Maui are entertaining the tourists and not the locals, you will still get a glimpse into this tradition. If nothing else, you can revel on sipping on fruity cocktails while eating delectable pork and being entertained by talented Polynesian dancers.
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