A Tropical Travel Blog
by Cate Lincoln

If there’s one question I get more than others, it’s which luau I recommend on each island. I’ve developed pretty good criteria (based on what I like personally), and can usually form a pretty good opinion before I’ve even been, but there’s nothing like experiencing it for yourself. So in my efforts to go to every luau in Hawaii, I visited Aha’aina Wailea (the luau at the Grand Wailea) on my last trip.

Grand Wailea Luau Review

Generally speaking, I’m not usually a fan of resort luaus as much as independent ones, but I was staying in Kihei and ALL of the luaus in the area (Wailea) are hosted at resorts. So off to the Grand Wailea we went! I went with my seven year old niece and I have to say, overall I had a lot more fun than I normally have at a luau, and I think a large part of that was going with a child.

Timeline of the Evening

Going in February, things start a little earlier than during the summer. We were told that we would be allowed into the luau grounds at 5 PM but that check in started at 4 PM. We arrived at the podium a little after 4 and were the only people there. We checked in (gave them our name and got wristbands) and they told us to come back at 5.

Since we had an hour to kill we wandered around the resort and checked out the pools (it’s now on my niece’s bucket list to stay there ; ), had a snack at the Café Kula (seven year olds are always hungry even when they’re about to feast at a luau), went in all of the shops, and oogled at the lobby. The koi ponds were also a big crowd pleaser.

We arrived back down at the luau at 5 (at the end of a pretty big line) and got inside by 5:15-5:20. We found our table and took a look around. Like many luaus, there were a few activity stations and we gravitated to one where ladies were making hakus (floral head leis) along with all of the other little girls in attendance. And of course this seemed to be the only activity with an extra fee. But, $10 well spent!

By now, it was almost time for the Imu ceremony (the unearthing of the pig) so we headed over to get a spot near the pit. I will say…I’ve been to a lot of luaus and this was the best Imu ceremony. It was a pretty small area but was surprisingly uncrowded. We were right up close and it seemed like the pig was practically under our noses. At other luaus, I’ve either been sitting farther away in a mini amphitheater like setting or fighting for a spot in a huge crowd.

After the ceremony, it was time to find our seats. The MC for the evening was up on stage and he talked a bit while we waited to be called up for our turn at the buffet. I’ll be honest…I like a buffet. One of the big reasons is because you can actually see stuff before you put it on your plate. Some luau buffets definitely do some things better than others. This one had all of the typical luau staples and overall everything was pretty good. On this particular night, the chicken didn’t look great, neither of us tried to pork, but the fish was good and the flank steak was EXCELLENT (like, we went back for seconds). There were also a few other dishes that we particularly liked. Here’s a pro tip: if you want seconds at a luau buffet, you’ve got to be QUICK. They start packing up the buffet lines almost as soon as the last tables have gone through. We were served about halfway through and when I went back it was down to one line. Dessert was typical…tiny samplings so you can try everything.

During dinner, there was a bit of a show going on the stage (including a big hula lesson), but the main show started after everyone had finished eating. It had everything you’d expect from a commercial luau show, but there were a few parts that we especially liked. 1) There was an aerial dancer. Her silks were tied up in a palm tree and her performance was especially mesmerizing. 2) There was another dance about a cloud or a cloud goddess that involved a parachute type dress. It was really simple, but very unique. We ooohed and ahhhed over that quite a bit. 3) The fire knife dance segment (the finale) was probably the best I’ve seen anywhere.

My Overall Impressions

I liked this luau a LOT more than I expected to. Like I said above, I think a lot of that had to do with going with a child. The food was decent, there was an open bar, and there were several very unique elements to the show.

There’s often a lot of “downtime” at a luau after you check in before things really start that can feel a little slow. But being at the Grand Wailea, we had plenty to keep us busy and we really enjoyed our pre-luau time.

My favorite thing about this luau was that they gave you a program when you checked in and IT WAS DETAILED. It told us exactly what time the gates would open, when the activities would be, when the Imu ceremony would be, when dinner would start, and even what all of the dances during the show would be. That might not be a big deal to some but I THRIVE on knowing what is going to happen.

What’s a review without some negatives/constructive feedback? Here’s what left me feeling a little eh…

Starting with the valet as soon as we pulled up, overall the staff and service at the Grand Wailea leave a lot to be desired. There’s definitely no “special” feeling. The luau grounds aren’t permanent…it’s just an empty lawn that they set up and tear down every day so it didn’t quite have the feel of say, the Old Lahaina Luau. Little things like having to step over power cords, or the light rigs being on stands right by the stage so your pictures won’t be quite as clear and crisp.

We didn’t do the VIP tickets so by the time we got inside, we really only had 15-20 minutes to do the activities before the Imu ceremony started. We might have had time to do more than just get the hakus, but things didn’t seem to be set up super efficiently. For example, at the ukulele lesson, uncle was giving a lesson to one person at a time instead of small groups. We didn’t have a bad time, but it definitely didn’t feel like as much of an “experience” as other luaus I’ve been to.

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Things to Know Before You Go

There is a special valet area for the luau and it’s not at the main entrance. And if you pull up to the main entrance, they’re not terribly happy at directing you there. It’s at the turn off just south of the main entrance.

Remember to take cash for tips (valet and bartender) and to buy the hakus and leis. The hakus were $10 and the leis were $15.

We did not do the VIP tickets and our seating was perfect. I think they VIPs get into the grounds early so they have extra time to do the activities.

I initially picked this luau because Costco had discounted tickets. It would’ve saved me about $30 (no child tickets available through Costco), but I decided the savings wasn’t worth booking through a third party. If the luau is cancelled due to weather, people who book directly are automatically refunded, but there were some reviews on the Costco site saying that people really struggled to get a refund through them.

If you do book with a Costco voucher, call the luau directly before you purchase to confirm that they have availability for your dates. Just because you purchase a voucher does not guarantee you a reservation. If your party has children, purchase the vouchers for the adults and then call in to make your reservation and add the children.

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