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If there’s one thing you have to do in Hawaii, it’s go to a luau right? If you’re going to do a luau on Oahu, there are really only two options (I mean options worth doing, of course there are tons!): 1) the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center, and 2) the luau at Paradise Cove in Ko’olina.

On my last trip to Oahu, since I was staying out in Ko’olina at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa, I decided to do the Paradise Cove Luau. If you’re staying in Ko’olina (Aulani, the Four Seasons, or Marriott Beach Club), it’s an easy walk over to the luau grounds.

We arrived at 5 PM and we were greeted with a shell lei, a mai tai, and of course, took a photo with the greeters.

When the grounds open at 5, you’ll be ushered in and shown to your table (based on what package tier you booked) and then you’re free to move around. There were a lot of arts and crafts/cultural activities to try like lei making, getting a Polynesian tattoo, taking a picture with a parrot (extra $$$), and several stands where you can buy things. The activities are probably fun for kids, but I didn’t find anything enticing enough to stand in line. In my opinion, this was the “hokiest” part of the evening and seemed like they were just trying to sell stuff. There was a gift shop and several stands where you could buy things. We basically hung out in the shade (it was still hot and sunny at 5!), took some pictures by the ocean (this luau has the BEST views!) and listened to some of the live music.

The official luau activities started at 5:45 with a quick group hula lesson (it seemed a bit chaotic) and then the shower of flowers, which was one of my favorite parts of the luau!!

They did a hukilau next which is a ceremony where the fishnets are pulled in from the sea. This involved some audience participation by 10 or so men who had been previously chosen when they checked in. I thought it was pretty cheesy but the family members of the participants seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

RELATED: Not very familiar with Oahu? Read up on the lay of the (is)land and where to stay plus my favorite beach resorts, budget hotels, condos, honeymoon resorts, family friendly resorts, luxury resorts, and boutique hotels.

The last event was the Imu ceremony (the unearthing of the pig). They have a little amphitheater built so everyone can see and the ceremony involved the hula dancers. This part was really well done compared to other luaus I’ve been to.

Before dinner, I got a drink at the bar (when we arrived, everyone on the standard package was given a $12 gift card to either spend at the bar or in the gift shop ). So unlike other luaus I’ve been to where drinks are unlimited (although rather weak), your card will probably only get you one (maybe two if you don’t go premium) drinks.

The buffet went smoothly, and dinner was pretty good. It was what you’d expect from a mass produced event. There was pork, chicken, and fish as well as a variety of sides. They also did a little show during dinner, which was entertaining. It had quite a few pretty elaborate dance routines as well as the typical military, birthday, anniversary recognitions.

After we were finished with dinner and it had finally gotten dark, the main show began. It had several traditional hula dances, as well as a Tahitian dance, and a Samoan fire dancer. I’ve got to say…this show had the best Samoan fire dancer and Tahitian dance routine I’ve seen so far anywhere!

I didn’t time the show, and it felt a little shorter than others I’ve seen, but honestly it was long enough. I was pretty much ready to go by the time it was over.

My overall impressions: This is a really solid luau. Yes, parts of it felt a little corny to me and it’s definitely a big operation, but it’s very well organized and well ran. Once the events started at 5:45 (I personally wouldn’t arrive before 5:30), the whole evening moved along nicely and I never felt like I was sitting around waiting for the next thing (I have felt that way at other luaus). The absolute best thing about this luau is its location. It’s RIGHT on the beach and has the most gorgeous photo spots and sunset views. While I’ve yet to do the luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center (I have it planned for my next trip!), from what I’ve heard, Paradise Cove is more “fun” and that one is more “authentic.” We shall see!

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Things to Know Before You Go

  • If you’re staying in Waikiki and you don’t have a car, they will shuttle you out in buses (they also do this for cruises) for an additional cost.
  • If you’re driving out, make sure to account for delays due to traffic. Traffic leaving Waikiki headed west is pretty heavy around rush hour so it takes a lot longer than the normal driving time.
  • They tell you to check in crazy early (like 3:30-4:30 but I don’t believe the grounds actually open until 5, and like I said, the events don’t start until 5:45.
  • There are multiple tiers of ticket options. We just did the basic package. We each got a shell lei, a $12 drink voucher (which can also be spent at the gift shop), and were seated in the outer tables. I thought the view was fine for the money, but it definitely wasn’t straight on. The next level up got a flower lei, an extra drink I believe, better seating, and maybe priority entrance to the buffet. And the top tier included the very best seats and a plated dinner instead of you going though the buffet. Unless you’re just looking to spend money, I didn’t see any reason to upgrade from the most basic package.

I recommend making reservations for this luau as soon as you know your dates so you don’t miss out. You can book your tickets in advance right here.

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