Travel Tradition: The Luau

Monday, February 2, 2009

Travel Traditions

Not many things stir up images of Hawaii better than a luau. And while some are more authentic than others, as a malihini (visitor) a luau is just another great way to celebrate an evening on the islands with about 100 new friends. That’s why we always reserve at least one evening for a lovely dinner and show at a luau each trip.

Luau in Full SwingOur First Luau
Our first trip to Hawaii was actually in May ’04 on our honeymoon, and we were very unprepared. Visiting Oahu and Kauai that trip, we took a pass on a luau on either island, and later heard stories of what we were missing.
It wasn’t until our first visit to Maui that we knew better. Our first luau was the Royal Lahaina Luau, which I guess you could say is a nice beginner luau for us. That might not sound like a glowing recommendation, but while it was a really great show, it didn’t seem to have the right feel I was expecting.
The Royal Lahaina Luau is one of those big productions that you see advertised a lot in magazines and other promotional swag when you’re on the island. And when I say big production, I mean there could have easily been 500 people there. For our taste, that’s a lot. Now, with such a large crowd, you’d expect a big show and in that regard, you will leave very happy. The MC, the music, the performers, everything was wonderful. The part I didn’t really like was that everyone was sitting at, of all things, picnic tables. And rather crammed together, at that.
Our Current Favorite
Luau DancerFortunately, we didn’t let that experience be our last. The following year, we decided to look for a smaller luau, and discovered there was one right on the grounds of the Sheraton Maui Resort. It’s called the Ka’anapali Sunset Luau, and since we were staying at the Sheraton (and I hadn’t seen any picnic tables there before), we decided to give it a shot. Now that turned out to be a luau to remember.
The luau is held on the Ocean Lawn at the Sheraton, which is just about the right size for such an event. I counted about 10-12 round tables, each setting at most 10 people per table. The round tables had much more of a family feel to it, making it so much easier to talk with your new ohana for the evening. And the best part about being held on the Ocean Lawn at the Sheraton is that everyone there has a perfect view of the sunset at Black Rock. The timing is perfect, too, with the sunset taking place just after dinner and right before the show starts.
The Show
The luau at the Sheraton on our upcoming trip will be the third year we’ve chosen the Ka’anapali Sunset Luau. To be honest, the actual show itself isn’t as spectacular as the one we saw at the Royal Lahaina. The Sheraton luau, however, has a nice little interactive session before the actual dinner starts. They have demonstrations and even a few games you can participate in. For the one below, I came across some beginners luck, as you can see for yourself.
As I mentioned, the view of the sunset is absolutely a perfect component to this luau that very few others can match. That, plus the fact that it’s right at our resort and we have the option of an evening stroll along Ka’anapali Beach literally steps away make this our favorite luau. Just a few notes, though. The luau is only held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, mainly because the Ocean Lawn is also frequently used for group dinners, wedding receptions, etc.  Also, they do have a Premium Seating option, which of course costs more. If you want to get up close to the show and get the best photos (which I always like to do), you should consider the upgrade.
Other Luaus
Just about every major resort on Maui has their own luau, so be sure to check around to find what’s available to you in you’re not staying near, or willing to drive to, the Sheraton. Two other popular luaus that we’ve been planning to scope up on future visits are the Drums of the Pacific at the Hyatt and the Old Lahaina Luau (links below).  We’ve walked down to the Hyatt numerous times along the Ka’anapali beachwalk, and have scoped out the setup they have for their luau. It is a permanent stage and dining area, and looks like it would be a really great show.
The Old Lahaina Luau is another one of the better known luaus, and is also promoted heavily in travel guides and magazines. It’s located closer to Lahaina town, and is billed as the most authentic luau experience. Sounds like it’s worth checking out someday, so it’s just a matter of making time for it.
Finally, Sheila from Go Visit Hawaii has an excellent post at her blog covering Maui Luaus. It features details, prices, schedules (which are always subject to change), reviews and links to some of the better known luaus on Maui. Even if you already have a favorite like us, it’s still worth a look.
Talk Story
No matter what your tastes, a luau is certainly a fun and entertaining way to take in an evening when visiting Hawaii. A luau is one big celebration, and on any given evening, there will be people celebrating their honeymoon, anniversary, engagement, birthday, or anything else you can imagine. Tell us about your favorite luaus and some of the memories you have from those celebrations.
Additional Resources

The Travel Traditions Series here at
the blog features our habits and rituals that we have for various aspects of our frequent trips to the island of Maui. Getting to know the island so well after all these years, having a few traditions adds a little continuity to our visits, while still giving us so much flexibility to enjoy many new things each trip.

To follow along with future editions of our Travel Traditions Series, be sure to subscribe to our blog feed to get the latest posts and updates.

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About Kris

Kris and his wife Cindy are avid Maui fans, and have visited the island half a dozen times since '06. Over the years, they have made many friends living on Maui or through social media, which keeps them in touch with the island until they can return again.

View all posts by Kris