Mark Loproto
Posted on January 17, 2024

Are Luaus Worth It?

Are Luaus Worth It?

by Mark L., Last Updated January 17, 2024

Still from a Brady Buch episode where the family attends a Hawaiian Luau
Even the Brady Bunch knew that a trip to Hawaii isn’t complete without experiencing a luau

One thing you’ve probably heard a lot after mentioning you’re traveling to Hawaii is: “You must go to a luau!”

Despite all the encouragement from friends and family, you may still be skeptical and question if luaus are worth it. After all, luaus are expensive, must be reserved in advance, and seem like a very basic, touristy thing to do. And yet, everyone who’s been to one acts giddy and excited, like it’s the best thing they’ve ever experienced.

Well, your friends are on to something. Luaus are popular for a reason,  and we’re going to agree with your friends on this: you must go to a luau!  Let’s talk about why a luau is an important part of a Hawaiian vacation.

Luaus are more than just exotic food and mesmerizing entertainment. A luau is a culturally important part of life on the islands. Sure, commercial luaus do cater to tourists, but the meaning and traditions have, for the most part, remained intact.

There are three main components to a luau, each deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture, customs, and history.

Luau Food & Drinks

Two men uncover an imu during a demonstration at a luau
The imu is an ancient Polynesian cooking method

Food connects us to the history of whatever region we’re in. You can learn a lot about the history of the Hawaiian Islands simply by paying attention to the foods you’re served. They may not tell the complete story of the Kingdom of Hawaii, but food is a tasty introduction and will complement the stories you’ll hear later in the evening.

Starting with the early voyagers who came to the islands from across the Polynesian Triangle and the Pacific, luau food also connects the wildly different cultures that came together in the Hawaiian Islands.

You’ll find Polynesian foods, such as poi, made from pounded taro root, which the first Polynesian travelers brought. Fun Fact: Very few edible plants are native to Hawaii. Nearly all the foods we think of when we think of Hawaii (coconuts, pineapple, sugarcane, taro, etc.) came from somewhere else.

One food tradition that has been passed down for ages though is cooking in an underground oven called an imu. However, the idea of cooking a big hunk of meat in an oven dug into the earth is not native to Hawaii. It was brought here by the first Polynesian settlers along with the pigs and chickens that traditionally were cooked this way.

During the 1800s, during the age of sugarcane and pineapple plantations, new settlers arrived from all around the globe and brought even more new foods to Hawaii. This is why you’ll notice many Asian, Portuguese, and Caribbean-inspired foods and flavors on luau menus and in local cuisine.

Luau Activities

Guests enjoy a hula lesson at Diamond Head Luau, Waikiki, Hawaii. Guests often underestimate the value in luau cultural activities.
Learning some hula moves at Diamond Head Luau

Luaus try to keep guests entertained from start to finish.

Many do so by providing a variety of cultural activities great for both keiki (kids) and grownups. While they are all entertaining and fun, they also represent a different aspect of traditional Polynesian culture.

Popular activities can include making a traditional lei, weaving a headband, or learning a few hula dance moves. You may even get the opportunity to learn how to throw a spear or play ulu maikia (an ancient lawn bowling game).

Lei and hula have been important parts of the Hawaiian culture for generations. They’re both important pieces of Hawaii that you’ll likely see a lot of, even outside of the luau.

Luau Entertainment

A Fire Knife Dancer performs onstage with a flaming blade and a line of fire at his feet, luau performances alone are worth the price of admission
The Fire-Knife performance alone is worth the price of admission

Every luau tells a story. The food and the activities are part of the story, but it’s the live production that completes the tale.

Hawaiian music and dance is deliberate. Each component plays an important part in taking you on a journey from the early days of Polynesian voyagers and the rise of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The details vary from one luau production to the next, of course, but the show always tells the history of the islands. They often recount a fateful quest, accompanied by song and dance.

Hawaiian hula is the most common traditional dance you’ll see at a luau, but luaus also incorporate dances from other Polynesian countries into their shows. The most spellbinding of these is the Samoan Siva Afi, otherwise known as the fire-knife dance. Just as the name implies, there is fire, there are knives, and there is dancing. An awe-inspiring fire-knife performance is something that you will likely only get to see at a luau. For many people, this alone makes luaus worth it.

Bottom Line: Luaus are Worth It!

Have we convinced you of the importance of attending a luau? It’s not just about the food and the entertainment. It’s about gaining a fuller understanding of the magical place you’re visiting. You get to watch the history of the Hawaiian Islands unfold before your eyes, play traditional games, eat traditional foods, and so much more. Yes, a few aspects will feel “touristy”, but overall, this is an immersive cultural experience. And it’s one that you cannot experience anywhere else.  If we’ve convinced you, start here at our luau comparison chart.

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