The Best Luaus on Oahu – for You

What are the best luaus on Oahu?  My answer to this question is always, “that depends.” It’s just not an easy question to answer without knowing more about you and what you’re looking for in a luau. There just aren’t any one-size-fits-all options that will be the “best luaus” for everyone. Sure, everyone wants to have a great time at an authentic luau and end the night feeling like their time and money was well spent. However, what it takes to achieve that “best luau” feeling is going to be a different story for everyone.

There are a lot of commercial luaus in Hawaii. If you spend any amount of time looking through past guest reviews, you’ll find that almost all of them are equally loved by most guests (and passionately hated by a select few).  They’re all great in their own ways, but none of them are perfect. So, instead of searching for the “best luaus”, let’s reframe that to “what are the best luaus for me?” Now, how do you figure that out?   

My advice is to first narrow down your choices by what’s logistically possible given your schedule and budget.

Use the process of elimination, simplify, then research. Nothing is worse than finding a luau you love only to discover that they’re sold out, closed, or just won’t fit into your itinerary no matter how hard you try. Once you’ve narrowed down your list of options significantly, then it’s time to weigh the pros and cons of the luaus that are actually doable and choose the best luaus for you. (Unless you want to read the reviews of every luau in Hawaii, of course.)   

What to Consider First:

Availability.  Most venues only operate a few nights a week and the most popular luaus can sell out far in advance, especially during the busier travel periods (holidays, spring break, summer peak). If your trip is last-minute (or you’re just a procrastinator), this is going to limit your choices. Don’t wait too long to book, or you’ll have to settle for whatever is available and you may not be satisfied with the outcome.

Timing.  Some luaus are short and sweet, (three hours max) and some can take up to an entire day once you factor in travel time. A shorter luau will be easier to coordinate with your daytime activities and allow you to maximize your time. However, longer luaus can give you the opportunity to explore different parts of the island and they usually have a much stronger emphasis on cultural activities and education. It just depends on what you want to see and experience, overall, and how much time you have available. 

Location.  Choosing a luau that is within walking distance of your hotel will certainly save you time and travel expenses. That said, choosing a luau venue that is further away from Waikiki also has its advantages. You are more likely to find venues that are smaller, cheaper, have a prettier view, and may feel a bit more authentic. Luaus located in the tourist centers tend to feel more touristy, but they also tend to be more consistent, better organized, and the shows are bigger, flashier, and designed to keep audiences entertained.   

Transportation.  There are a few walkable luaus in Waikiki and downtown Honolulu and most venues that are in other areas provide their own ground transportation for an additional fee. The shuttles are convenient, reliable, and usually run about $20-$40 per person, depending on the distance. Taxis and rideshares are plentiful, but they can be costly, and you may find yourself stuck without a ride home after your luau if you’re traveling outside of the city center.  Public transportation on Oahu is fantastic and affordable, but it’s not recommended if you’re traveling anywhere outside the Honolulu/Waikiki metro area. If you have a rental car, you can drive yourself to any location, but be sure to factor in extra costs like parking fees and gas, allow for extra travel time in case you experience delays, and be sure to have a designated driver.

Setting.  If you’re dreaming of a beachside luau, then you are not alone. Unfortunately, you won’t find one – it’s just not practical (logistically speaking) or ethical (environmentally speaking). However, you will find luaus in almost every other type of setting you can imagine – waterfront resorts, amusement parks, high rises, shopping malls, cruise ships, plantations, botanical gardens, and even a state park. Many are outdoors, with or without protection from the elements, and some offer stunning views. While a postcard-worthy view and perfect weather can greatly enhance your experience, bad weather and cancellations do happen. Some venues, like those that are held indoors or under tents or pavilions are more cancel-proof than others. You’ll have to decide for yourself if a beautiful view is worth the risk but do keep in mind that the rainy season in Hawaii runs from November through March.

Size.  The seating capacity at luau venues can range from under 30 guests to theaters that can seat over 750 people. Some venues can accommodate a large crowd comfortably, such as the Rock-a-hula show with its mezzanine-style theater and Vegas-caliber stage production that allows everyone to see and hear the performers clearly. Most luaus, though, are set on a flat grassy area where tables surround a slightly elevated stage. As a result, the size of the gathering and where you are seated can have a huge impact on your overall experience. Larger crowds also mean longer lines for the buffet, bar, bathrooms, etc. Fortunately, many luaus do offer tiered seating packages. Premier seating usually includes seats closest to the stage and being allowed to check-in and eat first. There may be additional perks to an upgraded package too, such as additional drink tickets, free souvenir photos, or a better-quality lei. Though larger venues can offer a lower initial ticket price, you’ll have to decide for yourself if it is worth it and if so, if the upgraded package is also worth it. 

Consider the upgraded packages. You can’t control whether the tables in front of you stand up during the show, but you can always control how close you are to the stage. 

Cost.  Luaus aren’t cheap, and the ones that are usually require traveling further or compromising on quality. While bigger venues can offer more affordable tickets than a small venue can, there are several other costs to consider. Besides travel expenses, some luau tickets may include free drinks, leis, free or validated parking, or free admission to the surrounding park they are in. Also, comparing apples-to-oranges and trying to determine which luau is the best value can be a difficult and tedious process. While the cost of a luau is an important determining factor, having a range in mind that you can comfortably spend within, as opposed to a strict $ limit might save you some time and headaches.

Special Considerations.  Are you traveling with children or someone with a dietary restriction or mobility issue? While all venues do their best to accommodate special needs, some are just naturally better suited than others given their location, schedule, and menu selection. You’ll find sample menus, schedules, detailed descriptions, accessibility information, and much more on the in-depth luau description pages for each luau. There are also several helpful blog posts that determine the best luaus for these issues and similar concerns. (Use the search function to find past articles on the topics of most interest to you).

Once you have successfully given all these factors some thought and eliminated the luaus that just won’t work, now  it is time to decide what are the best luaus. For more information on how to choose the best luaus once you’ve narrowed down your choices, click here for Part 2

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