Hawaii is to Luau as Portland is to VooDoo Doughnuts — the locals may not do it, but for tourists? It’s a must.
So when my husband and I took our kids to Oahu for spring break, we searched around for a family-friendly luau that would work for us as well as our 8-year-old twins. It wasn’t hard to find: That’s Disney’s whole jam, right?
Booking it wasn’t so easy, as we weren’t staying at the resort. I had to call four or five times and leave multiple messages before getting a callback with a confirmed reservation. And the price, at $119 per adult and $79 per kid, was steep, but we reasoned that we’d be amortizing it over the 3.5 hours of the luau. (Readers will not be surprised to learn that we opted out of the “photo package” for an additional $35).
Pro tip: Luau-goers should get in line early — general admission starts at 5:15 pm, but when we got to the gates at 5 pm, there were already about 20 people in line ahead of us. Everyone is individually welcomed with leis, photographed with costumed performers, given a welcome drink (mocktails for the kiddos, and a very needed rum punch for us) and escorted to their seats, so it’s a lengthy process, and we didn’t even get in until 5:30 pm.
Once we were in, though, we were impressed with the pre-luau activities. My daughter strung her own flower lei, my son and husband got matching Polynesian-inspired temporary tattoos and both kids tried their hand at taro pounding, and even tried a little of the final product. (It’s an acquired taste.)
At around 6 pm, guests are invited to take their seats and are welcomed by the narrators of the evening, a talented brother/sister pair who grew up nearby and lead the hula dancing, songs, stories and ukulele strumming. First, though, you feast — or more accurately, shift impatiently in your seat while waiting for your table’s turn to hit the buffet line. By this point, we were straight-up starving, which leads to another pro tip: Book this luau when you’re adjusted to Hawaiian time, not when your stomach is still three hours ahead on Portland time.
The food was pretty good, especially considering it was being served to 250 people at once. I appreciated the ahi poke, roast suckling pig served in Chinese steamed buns and fresh greens; my twins found plenty to like in the “kid’s line,” where there was the requisite macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers and crudites, along with fresh fruit that had been inexplicably tossed with marshmallows and whipped cream.
When everyone had their fill, the show began with a visit from Mickey, in his Hawaiian shirt, natch. This was the only overt Disney-fication of the entire evening, which I thought was impressive; particularly with the release of Moana earlier this year, I had been expecting many more commercialized tie-ins. Then the kids were called up to the front to learn some hula moves; I was shocked that even my too-cool-for-school son made his way up there eagerly.
The show itself was lovely, especially in the twilight, with palm trees silhouetted above us. Younger kids around us got fidgety as the nearly hour-long show went on with songs and dances touching on Hawaiian myths, traditions and history. My kids perked up when they were chosen to play traditional Hawaiian instruments to accompany the hula dancers, and again for the closing number, which featured crowd-pleasing fire dancing.
And at the end, be sure to thank the amazing performers, who are happy to pose for pictures with your kids — for free.