The Best Luaus in Oahu (& Which Ones I Avoid)
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If there’s one question I get asked more often than most, it’s about luaus. What’s the best luau on Oahu? What’s the most authentic luau on Oahu? The cheapest one? The most kid friendly?
Well, I’ve been to a looooooot of luaus. Some good, some bad, and some just plain ugly ; )
Just kidding…but I have put together a pretty good “best luaus on Oahu” list and even a, gasp, “worst luaus on Oahu”. The drama.
Okay, let’s get right to it!
The Best Luaus on Oahu
Paradise Cove Luau
Indisputably this is considered the “best luau on Oahu” by most people. First of all, it’s huge and so many people have been to this luau that it gets talked about more than most. Also, this luau checks all the boxes that most people are looking for in a luau. It’s more than just dinner and a show, it’s an entire production bursting at the seams with entertainment from the moment you arrive.
I’ve been to this luau a few times so you can read my full review here.
Location: On the beach in Ko Olina (a resort area on the westside of Oahu). It’s not attached to a resort so the dedicated luau grounds are built to expertly move people in and out. It’s within walking distance of Disney’s Aulani Resort, the Four Seasons, and the Marriott.
Price & Packages
Hawaiian Luau Package: $125/adult ($90/child). This is the standard package that includes a shell lei greeting, a $12/adult ($8/child) “Cove Card” ($$ to be spent at the cash bar or gift shop) and “wing” seating (off to the side).
Orchid Luau Package: $150/adult ($110/child). Includes an upgrade to a fresh flower lei, a $16/adult ($12/child) “Cove Card,” and centered middle seating.
Deluxe Luau Package: $210/adult ($160/child). This package includes the fresh flower lei, a $20/adult ($16/child) “Cove Card,” front row center seating, table service (instead of the buffet), a complimentary arrival photo, and a souvenir from the gift shop.
You can add transportation from Waikiki (they pick up at quite a few hotels/locations) for $35/person.
What’s Good: For starters, they’ve got a lovely setting right on the ocean. It’s probably what you dreamed a Hawaiian luau would be like. They also have more cultural demonstrations at this luau than any other I’ve ever been to. Besides the normal hula lesson and Imu ceremony (unearthing of the pig), they also do a shower of flowers (a guy climbs to the top of a palm tree and scatters flower petals) and a hukilau (where they pull the fishnets in from the beach).
The facility is built and designed well to accommodate the number of people. Crowd patterns flow well and it’s well laid out. For example at a lot of luaus you have to jockey for a spot to see the pig being unearthed but here they have a little amphitheater built so everyone who wants to can have a prime view.
What’s Not so Good: They can accommodate 700+ people per night and that is a LOT. It’s definitely not an intimate experience. The food isn’t bad but it’s what you’d expect from such a mass produced event. There are also a lot of “opportunities” to spend extra money. Paid activities before the luau starts, a gift shop, stands with a lot of local artisans.
And if you’re staying in Waikiki, it’s about a 45 minute drive back to your hotel at the end of the night. Or pay extra for their transportation.
You can book tickets for the Paradise Cove Luau here.
Polynesian Cultural Center
This is the other contender for the “best luau on Oahu” title. It’s more than just a luau though so directly comparing it to Paradise Cove is tricky. It’s apples and oranges. BUT it’s one of Hawaii’s top tourist attractions and it’s a FULL day experience.
There are three big components to the Polynesian Cultural Center: 1) Exploring the 6 island villages during the day (it’s a bit like Disney’s Epcot). You’ll experience shows, activities, and cultural demonstrations from the islands of Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, and Aotearoa/New Zealand. 2) The traditional luau with buffet, Imu ceremony, Royal Court procession, and dinner entertainment. This is the part that’s comparable to other luau events on the island. 3) The big finale “Ha: Breath of Life” show. It’s a broadway caliber production that blows any other luau show you’ve seen out of the water. It’s 90 minutes long and performed in a separate amphitheater from where they host the luau.
You can mix and match your own ticket package to see it all (a full day) or just the parts that interest you.
Location: The Polynesian Cultural Center sits on 42 acres on Oahu’s north shore and it feels like a mini theme park.
Prices & Packages
Islands of Polynesia: $70/adult ($56/child) gets you access from 12:30-5:30 to the 6 island villages. This is somewhat comparable to visiting a theme park at your own pace. Each island village features natives from the island that perform cultural demonstrations and there are many activities to participate in.
Islands of Polynesia & Ha: Breath of Life: $120/adult ($96/child) gets you access to the 6 island villages plus general admission seating to the Ha: Breath of Life show. This package does not include any dinner options.
Gateway Buffet Package: $140/adult ($112/child) gets you access to the 6 island villages PLUS a dinner buffet with live music and general admission seating to the Ha: Breath of Life show.
Ali’i Luau Package: $185/adult ($148/child) gets you access to the 6 island villages PLUS admission to the Ali’i Luau (luau buffet and dinner entertainment) AND luau seating at the Ha: Breath of Life show.
Super Ambassador Luau Package: $243/adult ($195/child) gets you a private guided tour through the 6 island villages including a reserved canoe ride PLUS the Ali’i Luau (luau buffet and dinner entertainment) AND premium seating at the Ha: Breath of Life show.
It’s nice that there are so many options, but it’s also a little overwhelming. My recommendation is to go with the Ali’i Luau Package. It’s a FULL day (basically 9 hours) of entertainment. I don’t think the Super Ambassador package is necessary unless you just really like private tours, and if you’re going to stick around for Ha: Breath of Life (you should!) you might as well do the full luau (instead of just the Gateway buffet). And if you’re coming out to the PCC to do the villages, it just makes sense to also do their luau instead of doing a different luau.
You can also add on transportation from Waikiki for an additional fee.
What’s Good: It’s actually a pretty good value for the money considering the time. It’s almost 9 hours of entertainment if you show up when it opens (most luaus last about 4 hours). It truly is a world class operation for educating about Polynesian culture in a fun and hands-on way. If you like Disney (theming, attention to detail, family friendly, well crafted experiences), you’ll like this place. It is 100% the most authentic way that I’ve seen Polynesian culture expressed and presented in Hawaii.
What’s Not So Good: The #1 complaint about this luau is that there’s no alcohol. The PCC is owned and operated by the Mormons and they choose not to serve alcohol. That’s not a dealbreaker for me (mostly because the drinks served at most luaus truly leave a lot to be desired), but I know it is for some. It’s also a pricier option if you just want a luau and you’re not interested in experiencing the 6 island villages. Also, it’s about an hour and 15 minute drive from Waikiki to Laie and during the day it’s a SPECTACULAR drive (seriously not to be missed, one of my island must dos), but driving back in the dark after a long day is a drag.
You can book tickets for the Polynesian Cultural Center here.
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Ka Wa’a Luau at Disney’s Aulani Resort
Disney’s luau flies under the radar a bit because of its size and the fact that it mostly caters to resort guests, but if you have small children (let’s say 9 and under) it’s hard to beat. Besides being kid-centric (as you’d expect anything Disney does to be) I’d also say that it’s surprisingly the most upscale option for adults as well. Besides the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui (my ride or die), Ka Wa’a is probably my second favorite. It’s just such an overall pleasant experience.
Read my full review of the Ka Wa’a Luau here.
Location: Located on the Halawai Lawn at Disney’s Aulani Resort in Ko Olina (Oahu’s west side), Ka Wa’a is an intimate and upscale luau in a quiet setting that makes it feel more like a backyard party.
Prices & Packages
General Seating: $170/adult ($99/child). Seating is assigned in the order that you check in at the podium.
Preferred Seating: $199/adult ($119/child). You can check in at the VIP entrance earlier and enter the grounds 10 minutes earlier than the general seating. Also, your priority seating is assigned when you book (not when you check in) so if you don’t care to arrive super early, you’ll still get the good seats for booking early. Preferred seating also includes a complimentary welcome photo.
BOTH packages include alcoholic beverages and leis.
What’s Good: It has the best pre dinner entertainment (ukulele lessons, lei making, poi pounding, etc.) I’ve ever seen at a luau. It was all included (no hidden $$$) and lines were well managed. The food was hands down the best I’ve ever had at a luau (more restaurant quality) and drinks are all included (and good). Also Disney handles food allergies better than pretty much anybody. And the show was probably the best I’ve ever seen (felt more like a Broadway quality production than just some dances strung together) besides Ha: Breath of Life at the PCC. But it’s viewed from your seats here and flows well right after dinner.
What’s Not So Good: Depending on how you feel about Disney…there are a couple of Disney touches in this luau (Moana comes out to kick off the festivities, Mickey & Minnie are involved in the kid’s hula lessons, and there were Moana cupcakes at the kids buffet table) but they’re pretty subtle. It’s definitely not a “Mickey Mouse Luau” but if you can’t stand the guy, hey, this is Disney. It’s on the pricier end. While it’s very upscale and well done, I’d call it luau-lite. There’s no Imu ceremony (unearthing of the pig) and some of the other things they do at Paradise Cove just down the street. It’s also not offered every night.
You can book tickets for the Ka Wa’a Luau here.
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For a more intimate luau experience (dare I say maybe the most authentic luau?) head to the Nutridge Estate. This family-run luau was a favored retreat among celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and even Elvis Presley! Well I’m sold. I haven’t been to Nutridge yet, but it’s at the tip top of my list for my next trip to Oahu.
Location: Above the famous Tantalus Outlook above Waikiki, the Nutridge Estate is nestled in the mountains on Hawaii’s first macadamia nut plantation.
Pricing & Packages
Not a lot of complicated packages here. Here’s the price by age breakdown:
Add on about $18/person for transportation from Waikiki. 21+ includes two tickets for alcoholic beverages.
What’s Good: This is a very small luau and keeping the numbers down allows a highly interactive and hands on experience (everybody gets a front row seat!). You’ll get 4 hours of cultural activities, workshops, and games plus an opportunity to actually participate in the Imu ceremony. Dinner is local style farm to table.
What’s Not So Good: This isn’t a polished, highly commercialized luau, which is kind of the point, but if you’re looking for a big event with all the trappings, this isn’t it.
Location: Another small scale, authentic luau, Toa Luau is also the only luau on the north shore (besides the Polynesian Cultural Center which is closer to being on the windward side). Situated right across from Waimea Bay, arrive early so you can check out Waimea Falls and the botanical gardens onsite.
Prices & Packages
Silver: $115/adult ($95/child) Adults get 1 drink ticket. Includes general seating.
Gold: $145/adult ($125/child) Adults get 2 drink tickets. Includes upgraded seating.
VIP: $175/adult ($145/child) Adults get 3 drink tickets. Includes VIP front row seating.
All packages include a flower lei greeting.
What’s Good: Small scale luau and generally considered to be “authentic.” The only luau where you can also see a waterfall and botanical garden! Activities like coconut leaf weaving, poi ball dancing, and Imu demonstration before dinner.
What’s Not So Good: Only 3 days a week and schedule can vary.
Aha’aina Luau at the Royal Hawaiian
You’re probably noticed I haven’t recommended a luau in Waikiki yet. Well, I just don’t think there are any great ones, but if you want to stay close to the hotel, this is my pick.
Location: The Royal Hawaiian (aka the Pink Palace of the Pacific) is Waikiki’s most iconic hotel and it doesn’t get much better than watching a luau with Diamond Head and the ocean in the background.
Prices & Packages
Standard Dinner & Show: $225/adult (13+), $135/child (4-12), $20/child (2-4, seat only, no meal), 2 and under are free.
Premium Dinner & Show: $250/adult (13+), $135/child (4-12), $20/child (2-4, seat only, no meal), 2 and under are free. Premium includes a flower lei greeting and upgraded seating.
What’s Good: Located right in the middle of Waikiki if you’re wanting to stay close to your hotel. Just being on the lawn at the iconic Royal Hawaiian feels pretty special.
What’s Not So Good: Uh…the price. Pretty outrageous. Also, it’s really just dinner and a show and not what I would consider the full luau experience. Only offered on Mondays and Thursdays.
PRO TIP: If you want to see the show, but don’t want to commit to the $200/person price tag, head to Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian where from some seats you can watch the ENTIRE SHOW from about 20 feet away. Check the schedule depending on the time of year, but the show usually starts about 7PM (Mondays and Thursdays).
On Another Note: If you’re looking for a condo or vacation rental for your trip, I always book with Vrbo. They’ve got the largest selection of rentals you’ll find anywhere and you can easily filter to find exactly what you’re looking for. Need a specific number of bedrooms and bathrooms? Narrowed it down to a certain location? Want flexible cancellation terms? Need to stay under a fixed budget? Click here to search for Oahu vacation rentals for your trip.
The Worst Luaus on Oahu (or at Least the Ones I Avoid)
Ahhhh controversy. Hello, old friend. I don’t thrive on negative opinions (I promise) BUT I do feel kind of responsible to let you know my honest opinions. Some of the most popular luaus on Oahu (the ones you hear about the most or are most recommended on social media) are luaus that I would probably never go to.
So here’s the deal…I personally like a more upscale, less cheesy luau. I like a nice setting, a decent meal, and a great show.
Here’s what I don’t like: an MC yelling dumb jokes into a microphone. 20 minutes of birthday and anniversary and honeymoon and kindergarten graduation and chinchilla adoption celebration acknowledgements. “Entertainment” that panders to tourists. You know…Betty from Omaha up on the stage getting a hula lesson during dinner. Brad from Massachusetts standing up there all red faced while a girl in a coconut bra dances all over him and his extended family cat calls from the audience.
A LOT OF PEOPLE LOVE THAT KIND OF STUFF. I don’t. And hey, this is my list ; )
So based on ways that I don’t love to spend an evening, here are my very personal (others will 100% disagree) opinions…
Luaus on Oahu to Avoid (According to My Personal Taste)
Set in Kapolei behind an industrial area (it’s on the beach once you make your way back there), I would call this the go to budget luau. If you book in advance through their website you can get tickets for about $120/adult. Their specialty is bussing people out from Waikiki (they do a lot of cruise ship traffic) and serving up a big buffet with a hula show. There’s not much preshow entertainment, and not really any cultural activities. The gist is: low quality food and drinks, picnic tables, paper plates and plastic utensils, a decent show. And that’s about it.
For starters, it’s located in the Wet ‘n’ Wild waterpark and most people are generally unimpressed by the setting and food. What people love most about this show seems to be Chief himself. Chief Sielu, the original World Champion fire-knife dancer and famous Polynesian comedian is the producer of this show and main attraction. Here’s the deal, quite a few places have a Samoan or Tongan comedian personality (including the Polynesian Cultural Center in some of the village cultural demonstrations), and these guys are always FUNNY, but it’s just not the overall vibe that I’m looking for in a luau. This is the quintessential cheesy luau (but also VERY popular). With two packages ($165 & $207 per adult) it’s not exactly cheap either.
Located in a corner of Sea Life Park on the windward side of Oahu, everything about this setting just seems sad. The food is regularly reviewed as downright awful. The show seems to be okay and that’s about the only thing you can say. They’re usually pushing this on Groupon or the Go Oahu pass to get business.
A Luau Alternative
Contrary to popular marketing campaigns, I wouldn’t say that a luau is necessarily a MUST DO. For some people it definitely is, but if you’re questioning it because of the price or just the big time commitment, here’s another option…
In Waikiki it’s not too hard to find a free hula show and some of them are pretty good. The most popular one is at the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 6:30-7:30PM (6-7PM NOV to JAN-check the schedule before you go!!), but the Ala Moana Center, International Marketplace, and the Royal Hawaiian Center all have pretty good shows several times a week (here is a good round up of times and locations).
Then make plans for an early or later dinner at any of the restaurants that line Waikiki Beach. I guarantee you that for $100/person you can have a vastly superior meal than you will at any of these luaus. And maybe even for a lot less. Win/win.
Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about Oahu:
If you’re trying to figure out where to stay, you’re going to want to look at my favorite boutique resort in Waikiki and the lowdown on where to stay on Oahu besides Waikiki. Plus I’ve got the scoop on how to avoid illegal vacation rentals and a roundup of where to stay in Ko Olina and reviews of the Laylow and Disney’s Aulani Resort. And a LOT more on Aulani like is Aulani worth it?, tips for staying at Aulani, how many days to spend, and the best things to eat and drink at Aulani.
If you’re researching luaus on Oahu, I’ve written quite a bit. First, I’ve got a full breakdown of the best luaus (and the worst) on Oahu. Then I’ve got complete reviews of Paradise Cove, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and Aulani’s Ka Wa’a Luau. And if you’ve narrowed it down to the top two most popular on the island and still can’t decide, here’s Paradise Cove vs Polynesian Cultural Center.
If you’re trying to put together an itinerary full of the best things to do, take a look at my best 5 day itinerary, and roundups of the best things to do in Waikiki, “secret” things to do on Oahu, plus my favorite things to do in Kailua and the windward coast, in Ko Olina, and on the north shore. And if you’re looking for food recommendations, I’ve got the best restaurants in Ko Olina and where locals eat in Waikiki.
And last but not least, some of my favorite things on Oahu like Jurassic Park at Kualoa Ranch, Shangri La and the Honolulu Museum of Art, tips for visiting Pearl Harbor, easy hikes on Oahu, and the best spas on Oahu. And everything you need to know BEFORE you go to Oahu.
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