Ka Moana Luau Review
With a recent relocation from Waimanalo to downtown Honolulu, it was time to take a new look at an old favorite, here’s a review of the NEW Ka Moana Luau!
For many years the Ka Moana Luau was located at Sea Life Park on the east coast of Oahu. They moved to their new location on the grounds of the iconic Aloha Tower at the Honolulu Pier in early 2023, bringing with them their wildly popular Polynesian show and performers. Before the move, Ka Moana had a reputation for a great luau show, but not so great food. So I was curious to see what had changed with the move. Was the show still as great? Had the food improved? Would the Aloha Tower be a better setting than the oceanfront vista at the old location?
The Aloha Tower is a former lighthouse and clock tower that was built in 1926. It welcomed ships into Honolulu Harbor for many decades and was considered the tallest building on the island for many years until Honolulu’s highrises eventually surpassed it. The Aloha Tower’s observation deck on its 10th floor was a major tourist attraction until it closed unexpectedly in 2020. There is currently no expected reopening date for the observation deck, but the site remains an important Hawaiian landmark nevertheless.
The luau grounds face the water and the sunset view is spectacular. The stage is large, centrally located, and has professional lighting and sound and a jumbo screen that is used for background graphics. I am seated at a table in the very last row but is central to the stage with a great view. I believe this would be considered Splash Premium seating, although I have purchased the cheaper Classic package. There is a lot of seating off to the wings, but it seems like the view of the stage would still be decent from these seats, though not quite as good.
The overall layout is nice and organized, with new modern buildings to house the bar and buffet lines that can accommodate hundreds of people easily. Despite the organized layout, the grounds are packed with tables so it is hard to move around and get through the aisles. I did visit at the very peak of the summer high season, however, so this may not always be the case.
Although the historic Aloha Tower makes a pretty backdrop, it gets forgotten amongst the commotion. Maybe it is because of the large crowd, the surrounding marketplace, or its closeness to downtown Honolulu’s bustling financial zone. There’s a busy, commercial feel that you really can’t shake. While there certainly are more luaus on Oahu that feel more like tourist traps than this one, if you are looking for one located in a peaceful natural setting this is probably not the luau for you. It does have a fun lively vibe, though, so if you’re looking for a party you won’t be disappointed with Ka Moana Luau.
There are a few cultural activities on the luau grounds that are available for guests to participate in. There are lessons for Polynesian instruments, weaving palm leaf headbands, and a temporary tattoo station. Unfortunately, there are large crowds gathered around each station and there’s just not enough space or activities to accommodate a crowd that large. This happens a lot at the larger-sized luaus. Limited space usually means that only children participate in the pre-dinner activities while the adults drink and mingle. There is not an imu (in-ground oven) located on the grounds, which seems understandable given the luaus location. There is a coconut husking and fire-starting demonstration, though, and some brave performers climb the coconut trees on the grounds, which is always a crowd-pleaser.
There’s a walk-up bar on-site offering beer and all the fancy tropical drinks you’d expect at a luau. However, the drink tickets included with the packages only cover tiny Mai Tais, basic well mixers, beer, or non-alcoholic options for ticket holders. You can upgrade for an extra charge, of course, and many people choose that option. You can even drink the cocktail of your choice from a real pineapple!
The Celebrity seating package includes table service, and it takes a long time for them to get served while the rest of us wait. They are served the same food from the buffet line, so this doesn’t make much sense. However, once the buffet lines are opened to the masses the lines move very quickly. The food is quite good. Slow-roasted Kalua Pork, BBQ Chicken, baked fish, Lomi Lomi Salmon, Poi, Haupia, and more – all the standard luau foods, but everything is hot, fresh, and delicious. Turns out that the luau is now catered by the Chart House Restaurant, which is a long-standing Waikiki institution known for having great food, and one of my personal favorites.
The thought entertainment was spectacular, similar to what I’d see at the old location except a bit more polished and professional than before. There was live Hawaiian music, a comic emcee, and a Polynesian show that took us on a journey through the islands, involving many different rhythms, dances, and costume changes. The highlight of any luau show is the fire-knife dancing performance, though, and this one did not disappoint! It was a thrilling end to a fantastic show.
Service, in general, is just different at a venue where they are used to dealing with large crowds of people than it is at a small venue. It’s less personal and faster-paced out of necessity, but there were times at Ka Moana when I felt like we were unnecessarily treated like cattle – especially when we were herded into the holding areas to check in or be let into the luau grounds. Every interaction I had with an individual staff member was pleasant and positive, but the whole process that the guests went through to enter the luau felt unwelcoming.
The Classic package is currently priced at $129 per person. That makes it one of the lowest price luaus in the area. I thought it was a great value for the price, a convenient location with great food and a spectacular show. Be careful where you buy tickets from though. Many guests in attendance were from the Princess cruise ship that was docked nearby, and one couple told me they paid $275 through the cruise line for the same show! That is a steep markup, just to be transported less than a mile to the venue from the pier.
Pros & Cons
Pros: Convenient location minutes from Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, and right next to the cruise ship terminals. Beautiful waterfront setting. Great food catered by the Chart House. Entertaining, professional Polynesian show with an exciting fire-knife finale. Party vibes. Best budget option in the area.
Cons: Large-sized luau, feels somewhat crowded in high season. Depersonalized service. No imu demonstration. Not enough time or space for everyone to participate in the cultural activities. More entertainment-focused than educational.
Overall, I enjoyed this luau much more than I expected to, as I prefer smaller, family-style luaus that are more culturally focused. But it seems like the addition of the new venue has up-leveled the food quality and stage production. And I can appreciate how nice it is to have a solid structure surrounding you after attending many haphazard luaus complete with portapotties and food being blown away by the wind before you get a chance to eat it. It was fun, the big crowds always bring a celebratory atmosphere, and it is a tremendous value for the price too. If you are staying in Honolulu or on a cruise ship in port the location is ideal.
However, if you are looking for a luau that is small and intimate or more intensely focused on cultural education, then this is probably not the luau for you. However, if you are looking for something light and lively, with good food and great entertainment, then Ka Moana Luau is a great option. If you are looking for a smaller luau in Waikiki, Diamond Head Luau at the Waikiki Aquarium is another great option. And if you are looking for a small luau that is more culturally focused consider these luaus. ·
Ka Moana Luau Review: Bonus Tips
Tips for getting there: The Aloha Tower is about three miles from the west end of Waikiki Beach’s resorts (Prince, Illikai, Hawaiian Hilton Village). It is a pleasant walk if you are a walker comfortable with the distance, but most people will likely need transportation. The luau offers a shuttle service for $19/person, but this is probably not your best option unless you are traveling in a large group. A taxi or rideshare (Lyft or Uber) will likely be the quicker and less expensive option.
If you drive yourself, there is $10 valet parking or you can self-park in the large lot in front of the Aloha Tower Marketplace, but beware! The line for valet parking was quite long when I arrived, so I foolishly chose to self-park. I ended up paying $21 for parking and it took over an hour to get out of the lot at the end of the night because there was only one exit and we were all leaving the same event at the same time. The valet return service also seemed to move slowly, so be patient if you choose that option. If I were to do it over again, I would just take a Lyft there and back and enjoy a few more Mai Tais.
Tips for Check-In: The check-in is on the right side of the Marketplace. If you enter through the open-air marketplace’s main entrance and head toward the Aloha Tower you’ll have to turn around and go back the way you came. There are a few signs to guide you, but they were not visible from the parking lot or the front of the building on the day that I visited. Also, there’s a lot of standing in line and waiting around, first to check-in, and then to be given leis and photographed, and then finally to be let into the luau grounds. Fortunately, you wait in shaded areas, but you are outside and it can be quite hot. Seating is preassigned, so there doesn’t seem to be any advantage to showing up early for this luau.
Final Tip: Don’t come early to explore the Marketplace. The name is misleading because most of the former retail space has been leased out to a private university. There are only a few shops and restaurants left in the complex and they tend to keep banker’s hours. With the closure of the Aloha Tower’s observation deck, there is not much to see here besides the picturesque waterfront and the ships that may/may not be docked nearby. Chinatown and the historic sites of downtown Honolulu are just a few blocks away, however, and are worth a visit if you have the time.