If there’s one thing you’ve got to do in Hawaii, it’s go to a luau right? Well, I’m not sure if it’s an “absolute don’t miss” but it’s at the top of a lot of people’s bucket lists and for good reason. A luau is a great way to get a taste of (albeit a very touristy version) Hawaiian culture in a very pleasant way.
On Oahu, there are a LOT of luau options, but undoubtedly the most popular is the Paradise Cove Luau in Ko’olina. I’ve been to Paradise Cove twice as well as having been to a pretty wide range of luaus on all of the islands so I fancy myself a little bit of a “luau connoisseur.” Stick around for my thoughts and opinions on the Paradise Cove Luau:
Paradise Cove Luau Review
Location & Setting
The Paradise Cove Luau has a lot of things going for it, but the top of the list has to be the location. Located in Ko’olina, a laid back resort area on the west side of Oahu, it’s miles from Waikiki and feels a world away. While a lot of luaus are affiliated with hotels, Paradise Cove is an independent operation so the grounds are a dedicated luau facility (not something that gets set up and taken down every day). It makes a big difference in how they’re able to move people through the event. It’s also right on the water so it’s pretty picturesque.
If you’re staying in the Ko’olina area (at Disney’s Aulani, the Four Seasons, the Marriott, or any of the condos) it’s an easy walk to Paradise Cove.
If you’re driving from Waikiki, 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.
Prices & Packages
There are three different packages you can book for this luau:
Hawaiian Luau Package: $107/adult ($87/child). This is the standard package that includes a shell lei greeting, a $12/adult ($8/child) “Cove Card,” and “wing” seating (off to the side).
Orchid Luau Package: $143/adult ($109/child). Includes an upgrade to a fresh flower lei, a $16/adult ($12/child) “Cove Card,” and centered middle seating.
Deluxe Luau Package: $195/adult ($153/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.
I’ve done the Hawaiian Luau Package every time I’ve been to this luau and unless you’ve got money to burn, I don’t think the upgrades are worth it personally. I’ll get into some of the specifics in different sections of this review, but the “Cove Card” is what you use to pay for drinks besides the mai tai offered at your arrival. Honestly, the drinks are pretty dismal. You can also use the money in the gift shop. Also as far as seating, the wing seating was completely fine for the casual viewer. Unless you’re there to take professional photos you don’t really need to be up super close. However, I will say that I’m not the type of person who really likes being front row at events so maybe that sways me. But overall, I don’t think the Deluxe package is twice the experience of the Hawaiian package.
Authentic or Cheesy?
I know a lot of people want an “authentic” luau. Well, here’s your first disclaimer: any commercial luau (one that you pay to attend) is NOT going to be authentic. A luau in the Hawaiian culture is similar to a backyard BBQ. Friends and family gathering to eat a big meal, hang out and visit, play games, sing songs (whatever you do at your family get togethers) and just spend time together. Commercial luaus have combined some special elements of Hawaiian culture (including hula dancing and a feasting on certain foods among others) into an event. It’s not a bad thing, but just don’t get too hung up on it being “authentic.”
I think what most people want when they say they want “authentic” is “not cheesy.”
As far as where the Paradise Cove Luau falls on the spectrum, it’s kind of in the middle. There are definitely cheesy moments (guests from the audience being chosen to dance on stage, participate in the hukulai, taking pictures with the scantily clad performers upon arrival and a LOT of birthday, anniversary, honeymoon celebration acknowledgements), but there are also quite a few traditions and ceremonies that they perform that I don’t see too often at other luaus.
Arrival & Pre Dinner Entertainment
We arrived at 5 PM when the grounds opened and were greeted with a shell lei, a mai tai, and of course, took a photo with the greeters. Like at most luaus, I would say the complimentary welcome mai tai is almost undrinkable.
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 a lot of 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.
They tell you to check in crazy early (like 3:30-4:30) but the grounds don’t actually open until 5 (depending on time of year), and the official events don’t start until 5:45. 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). But again…I think that window from 5-5:45 is mostly about doing a lot of the extra paid activities.
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!! This is the only luau where I’ve ever seen this done (it is performed at the Polynesian Cultural Center in the villages though).
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. This is also the only luau I’ve ever attended where they reenacted a hukilau.
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.
So overall while there are a lot of “upsells” at this luau, they offer three pretty big cultural demonstrations (shower of flowers, hukilau, emu ceremony) that make it a very attractive luau option.
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Food and Drinks
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. And honestly, it wasn’t a very good drink (lava flow). So if you’re a big drinker, expect to spend some money at the bar.
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! But also I will say that I tend to think that after every luau so I think fire knife dances are just impressive in general.
I didn’t time the show, and it felt a little shorter than others I’ve seen, but honestly it was long enough (on the schedule it’s supposed to be 45 minutes). I was pretty much ready to go by the time it was over. If you arrive when the gates open at 5…that’s about 4 hours by the time it’s over and that’s a pretty long time (for me).
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The Overall Experience
Overall, it’s a really LARGE luau (I think 700+ people per night) and they do a good job of moving people throughout the venue and entertaining them pretty seamlessly.
There’s definitely more “opportunities” to spend extra money at this luau than any other luau I’ve ever been to. Like, by far. But they also offer more cultural activities and demonstrations than any other luau I’ve ever been to (a lot will have an emu ceremony and hula lessons but I’ve never been to one that did the shower of flowers or a hukilau).
Like I’ve mentioned before, it definitely has its cheesy moments but it’s still a very well done production. I think this is the best overall luau on Oahu although there are definitely some that I would recommend over this one depending on if certain things are more important to you.
You’ll love this luau if…
You’re looking for a one and done best overall luau experience.
You love being on the water at sunset.
You don’t mind the big “attraction” feel.
You’re staying out in Ko’olina.
You like a lot of “things to do.”
You might not like this luau if…
You like smaller, more intimate experience.
You’re a “foodie” or like a good drink.
You’re staying on another part of the island (not Ko’olina or Waikiki).
When to Book
Activities often book out pretty far in advance in Hawaii so I definitely wouldn’t wait until you arrive to make reservations. 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.