Why a Traditional Hawaiian Luau is a Must Do and What to Expect

Taking an annual holiday or vacation is a longstanding tradition in many countries around the world and travelers are always looking for the absolute best experience, a great travel deal and an experience they will remember for a very long time, if not forever.

Hawaii is truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip for most people. It is considered one of the premier travel destinations, if not “the” premier destination for a unique holiday experience that you can’t find anywhere else.

The beaches are full of pure white sand, the landscape is breathtaking and the adventure is almost never-ending, regardless of which island you choose to spend your time on. A very distinct characteristic of a Hawaii vacation is the opportunity to enjoy its cultural influence and events.

Hawaii’s culture is rich and deep with history, tradition and lots of celebrations. One of the most well known celebrations is a luau, which is packed with amazing food, incredible dancing, and a truly unique Hawaiian experience.

What a Traditional Hawaiian Luau Includes

A traditional Hawaii luau normally charges a flat price per person or for a group of people. They typically include a huge dinner with a wide variety of dishes served buffet style and enough food to serve an army. Of course, drinks are available as well and depending on who is hosting the luau they may be included in the upfront price or alcoholic beverages might be charged separately.

Polynesian dance and music shows are a longstanding tradition of luau’s and always included as part of the festivities. They can also add-in other performances such as dancing while using flaming instruments of various and other attention-grabbing feats. Most of the time there is something for everyone, as the dancing and theatrics include routines that can be admired for their elegance and beauty as well as including exciting performances that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping. The overall schedule and duration of the event will vary depending on the venue that is holding the event, so be sure to review a detailed schedule that will show you everything that will take place and how long it will last.

Is a Traditional Luau Expensive?

The cost for an average luau typically falls in the area of around $100 for each person that attends. They will most likely offer one price for adults and another price for children that are under a certain age, usually around 13 or 14. For those that are younger than 13 or 14, the price will typically be in the $50 per child range. For infants and small children under 4 or 5 years old, they are normally admitted free of charge, as long as a “paid” adult is accompanying them.

So is a traditional luau expensive? I suppose it depends on how much you value the luau experience, but most people find it well worth splurging a few extra dollars to have a traditional Hawaiian experience that is not available anywhere else in the world.

Traditional Hawaiian Luau Schedule

Most luaus require that you register ahead of time, so upon first arriving at the event you will be checked in and each person will be matched with a name on the list of luau attendees. A formal greeting and gift is very normal and often include a Hawaiian lei made with colorful flowers or a shell lei made with seashells. Most of the time the initial greeting process and what is included is listed on the schedule of events for the luau.

Many luau's will begin with some time available for mingling a bit and having a couple of refreshments at a very relaxed pace. There are times an open bar system is already included in the flat price paid up front. Therefore, you can have as many sodas or whatever your favorite drink is without creating a huge bill. It’s no secret that drinks can be a bit pricey in Hawaii, especially at beachfront resorts.

These events are generally very relaxed and friendly, as most everyone at luaus are there for the same reason as you. Typically, they are on holiday and open to chatting a bit and striking up a friendship for a while.

There might also be a variety of artistic crafts for sale created in true traditional Hawaiian style, as well as games made available.

The Imu Ceremony

An imu ceremony is an important part of a traditional Hawaiian style luau and usually takes place after drinks, games, and crafts but before dinner. The ceremony celebrates the “imu”, an underground oven perfect for roasting a pig using hot coals. It is always fun watching the imu cooks tend to the oven pit and ultimately seeing the final result, a delicious roast pig like you have never tasted before!

Luaus typically feature large tables that seat 10, 20 or, even more, people at a time, so eating with strangers or new acquaintances is part of the overall luau experience. The food tends to be colorful and accented by lots of fresh fruit, flowers and steaming hot roasted pork, imu style. Fish and chicken dishes are usually included in the meal as well

Luau buffets will include lots of fresh vegetables, a full spectrum of sweets after the main meal is over and it is very common to have softer live music playing during meal time or even subtle dancing performances. After the meal is over, full blown and energetic Polynesian dance performances begin and keep guests entertained for an hour to two hours depending on the venue schedule.

The final performance of the night normally ends with fireknife dancing by a Samoan fireknife performer. He will offer a range of various manipulations, skills and tricks that will captivate and amaze the whole family. It is quite an amazing thing to see and everyone should have the chance to experience it at least once.

How to Schedule Your Luau

You will want to do a little research ahead of time and select a luau that is the right location for you and an event that offers any particular preferences you may have for entertainment, menu or pricing. Every luau provider structures their menu and entertainment choices a little different from the next one and the location where it will be staged can make a significant difference in the overall experience you have.

Once you have found a few top choices, make an inquiry about availability to see which events still have enough open spots to accommodate your group or family. It is best to begin doing this a month or more in advance, as traditional Hawaiian luaus tend to fill up rather quickly. Events do not have unlimited space and structure the amount of food provided to meet the needs of a specific number of guests. Once spots are filled, you will have to choose another date or another luau provider.

If you do not have a chance to schedule a luau ahead of time, then you should be able to find one once you arrive. However, you may be very limited in terms of price choices, seating preferences, and locations.

Dressing Appropriately for Your Traditional Hawaiian Luau

Hawaii tends to be a very relaxed place as much of the population from day-to-day is on holiday, the weather is warm and a large percentage of the people there are avid beach lovers, making the acceptable apparel a bit less formal than most other places. However, luaus are many night events and held at beautiful scenic locations, so it is a good idea to wear comfortable but nice clothing.

It is perfectly fine to wear shorts and sandal type shoes, but it probably is not appropriate to go with flip flops and your swimsuit. Typically a nice collared golf shirt or short sleeve button down shirt for men is acceptable and a sundress or slacks for women. As a side note, whether at a luau or another event, it is best to carry a light jacket or light sweater with you as the beach area can get a bit chilly after the sun goes down.

What is the Right Time during Your Holiday for a Luau

A luau is supposed to be a relatively lengthy event that is relaxed and in no way rushed. Therefore, you want to choose a time to schedule your traditional Hawaii luau when you will be rested and feeling good.

The day of arrival or even the next couple days are probably not preferable, as the long plane ride can take a few days for some people to fully recover from. Try to pick an evening in the middle of your holiday when you know everyone has had time to rest up and will be feeling fresh. Of course, everyone reacts differently to long trips and you should ultimately do what is best for you and those who are with you.

Traditional Hawaii Luau Tips:

Most luaus do not reserve particular seats ahead of time, only the total number of seats available. Therefore, they seat guests as they arrive at the event. The first to arrive will have the best selection of seating, and depending on the venue, this can make a big difference in comfort and overall enjoyment. It is best to plan on arriving early by fifteen or twenty minutes as this will give you a much broader choice in where you sit.

Some luaus do offer preferred seating for an additional amount when you make your original payment. It is a good idea to take a quick look at the location and decide if the preferred seating will really make a big difference. If you are taking a family to a luau and spending several hundred dollars in one evening, spending an extra $20 a person most likely won’t break the budget.

Do yourself a favor and try something to eat that you have never had before or get one of the dancers to teach you some authentic hula moves. The point is, get out of your comfort zone and do something different, as it will make a new experience a much more rich and memorable experience.

Most people are very lucky if they get a chance to visit Hawaii once in their lifetime. So realize while you are there, it might be your first and last time for everything you do there. Perhaps you have wanted to try surfing, sportfishing or learn how to cook with an imu? Whatever experience you desire, it is awaiting you in Hawaii and is sure to be a holiday that is full of vivid memories that will last a lifetime.