A luau (Hawaiian: lūʻau, pronounced as “LOO-ow”) is a traditional Hawaiian party usually including food and entertainment. For most visitors to the Big Island however, going to a luau means joining other visitors at a luau show. This experience includes a buffet with traditional foods and entertaining cultural performances from Hawaii and greater Polynesia that include music, dance (hula), and storytelling.
We discuss the following subjects to help you decide about joining a luau and to explain the alternatives:
Table of contents
Table of Contents
- Luau FAQ
- Should you visit a Luau?
- Luau comparison
- List of 10 luaus (dinner + show) on the Big Island
- Luau history and background
- Typical dishes served at a luau
- What is Hula?
- Other (free) cultural events related to Hula
What is the Best Luau + other frequently asked luau questions
Our Luau guide is often updated to give you an extensive, fair, and balanced, overview of all the Luau shows on the island. Because of this it is quite long and that means it sometimes can be difficult to find a direct answer to your question(s).
For your convenience we summarize the most frequently asked answers below:
There are 10 Luau shows on the Big Island, and each has their own unique selling point. For example, the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau in Kona has a good price/quality ratio and GREAT ocean views, the Legends of Hawaii Luau at the Hilton has the best show (but is quite pricey), and the Mauna Kea luau is our favorite for the food.
Going to a Luau costs between ~$130 and $180 per person for the basic experience. Upgrades such as preferred seating, a group photo, and a flower lei, typically adds another $30 to the price.
Children between ~4 and 12 years old often get large discounts, and kids under the age of 4 can usually come along free of charge. You can find the prices for all Luau shows on the Big Island here.
While all Luau shows have special activities for kids before the buffet, the Island Breeze Luau is especially well-liked by families as (in our opinion) it strikes the best balance between family entertainment and affordability.
A luau is a fun and memorable dinner show with local food and island entertainment that is held in a gorgeous setting, and if you like a good Hawaii-themed show you should definitely consider going.
Have a look at our description of a typical luau to decide whether that experience is worth the ~$130/person for you.
Luaus are an evening affair, typically starting around dusk and ending a few hours after sunset (i.e. between 4-5 pm and 7-9pm). This is to make sure you can see what you eat and to make the show more spectacular (fire dancers, anyone?)
Should you go to a Luau?
Many people hear that visiting a luau while vacationing in Hawaii is a “must-do” event, but this is by no means true. A luau is a memorable and fun dinner show with local food and island entertainment that is held in a gorgeous setting, and if you like a good Hawaii-themed show you will certainly make good memories.
Most people are very happy with their experiences but, to avoid false expectations / disappointments, we describe a typical luau and some things you should know before:
What happens during a luau?
Typically a luau lasts 2.5 hours and starts with ~half an hour of child-friendly and cultural demonstrations / activities, followed by 1 hour of dinner buffet, and finally a 1 hour show that includes narration, hula, and fire dancers. You should definitely have a look at our favorite Luau shows if this description sounds good to you!
Things you should know about attending a Luau:
There are certain things you should know (expect) when signing up for a luau show.
- You will be attending a luau together with possibly hundreds of other guests and may have to share a large table with strangers. Access to the buffet is given on a table-by-table basis which means you may have to wait a while to fill your plate. If you want to be the first in line you can consider getting a ‘preferred seating’ upgrade, which guarantees early access to the line.
- Another thing to consider is the price. A luau is not cheap (starting at $130/person) and, although the food you are served is in general tasty, you will be able to find better food for a lower price at local restaurants. Some luaus have the option to skip the dinner and only attend the show for ~ half the price.
- Finally there is parking. All luaus are organized at hotel or resort grounds and parking is not always included in the price. This means that you need to pay for parking if you are not already staying in said hotel/resort if there is no free parking opportunity close-by.
If your main reason to visit a Luau is to get to know Hawaiian culture and you don’t care about the food, you may opt for choosing the “half price show only” option mentioned above, or you may even choose to forego a luau altogether and instead look for one of the free Hula shows or other cultural events organized all over the Big Island.
If you are only getting more stoked about getting the full luau experience, keep reading for a description of all luaus organized on the Big Island. If you are visiting more islands, our comparison of 10 Luau shows on Oʻahu, the 6 Luau shows on Kauaʻi, and our Maui Luau overview articles, are recommended reading.
Comparison of Luau shows
In this table we compare all Luau shows currently organized on the Big Island. We list their starting price (excluding taxes and fees), their availability (which day of the week they are organized), and their location. Click on the name of each Luau to read more about it.
|Voyagers of the Pacific luau||Mon., Tue. Wed., Fri.||Royal Kona Resort (downtown Kona)||$169|
|Island Breeze luau||Tue., Thu., Sun.||Marriott King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel (downtown Kona)||$176|
|Hawaiʻi loa luʻau||Saturday||Fairmont Orchid resort (Waikoloa)||$198|
|Sunset luau||Monday + Wednesday||Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa||$176|
|Mauna Kea luau||Tue. (+seasonally Fri.)||Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (Waikoloa)||$180|
|Legends of Hawaiʻi luau||Tue., Fri., Sun.||Hilton Waikoloa Village resort (Waikoloa)||$190|
|Hale Hoaloha Lūʻau||Friday||Mauna Lani resort||$220|
|Feast & Fire Lūʻau||Mon. + Thu.||Outrigger Kona||$160|
|Pilikana Luau||Unavailable||Kona Inn||$150|
|Hoʻomau Luau||Unavailable||Mai Grill on the Waikoloa Beach Golf Course||$157|
List of all luaus on the Big Island
There are currently 8 active luau shows on the island, all organized on resorts properties on the Kohala coast and in and around Kailua Kona:
- Voyagers of the Pacific luau (at the Royal Kona Resort in Kailua-Kona)
- Island Breeze luau (at the Courtyard King Kamehamehaʻs Kona Beach Hotel in Kona)
- Hawaiʻi loa luʻau (at the Fairmont Orchid resort on the Kohala coast)
- Sunset luau (at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on the Kohala coast)
- Legends of Hawaiʻi luau (at the Hilton Waikoloa Village resort on the Kohala coast)
- Mauna Kea luau (at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Kohala coast)
- Hale Hoaloha Lūʻau (at the Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection)
- Feast & Fire Luau (at the Outrigger Kona Resort, Keauhou Bay)
- Pilikana Luau (at the Kona Inn, downtown Kona)
- Hoʻomau Waikoloa Luau (at the Waikoloa Beach Golf Course)
1: Voyagers of the Pacific Luau (Kona)
Organized at the Royal Kona Resort in downtown Kona this is a very convenient Luau with great ocean views. It is organized on the oceanfront lawn in front of the hotel and has all the usual features you’d expect: pre-show entertainment and classes including and imu ceremony, and an all you can eat buffet. Complementary drinks are a nice extra feature, and the fire knife dance at the end of the show is spectacular.
Have a look at the short video below to get an impression of the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau:
When? On Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Where? At the Royal Kona Resort in downtown Kona
Price range: Starting at $169 (adults, excluding taxes).
Voyagers of the Pacific Luau
Discover Hawaiian culture through food, music and entertainment while overlooking Kailua Bay. Sip Mai Tais as the sun sets over the ocean and savor a delicious all-you-can-eat dinner with traditional island fare
Duration: 2.5 hours
By: Royal Kona Luau
Free cancellation: up to 24 hours before tour
2: Island Breeze Luau (Kona)
The Island Breeze Luau is probably one of the best packages when looking at the quality of the show, the food, and the location. It is held on the grounds of the Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, right next to the historic Ahu’ena Heiau.
As most luaus this one also is well-suited for families, and includes child-friendly activities such as learning a hula and getting a Hawaiian tattoo. The show includes an arrival of the “royal court” by an outrigger canoe, the uncovering of the main dish (Kalua pig) from the imu (underground oven), and a dinner buffet and open bar. Entertainment throughout the evening includes live dinner music and a Polynesian show called “He ʻOhana Kakou” (we are family).
See the short video below to get an impression of this luau.
When? Every Tuesday and Sunday.
Where? At the Marriott King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel in downtown Kona.
Price range: From $176 (adults, excluding taxes), price depends on possible upgrades such as preferred seating, a group photo or a flower lei.
3: Hawaiʻi loa Luʻau (formerly the “Gathering of the Kings”, Kohala coast)
This Luau is held at the at the Fairmont Orchid grounds on the Kohala coast and tells the story of how the Hawaiians came to Hawai’i during show including narration, hula dancers, and musicians. Before the show you can take part in / learn about cultural activities and games and enjoy the tasty dinner buffet / open bar.
Have a look at the short video below to get an impression of this luau.
When? Every Saturday.
Where? At the Fairmont Orchid resort.
Price range: Starting at $198 (adults, excluding taxes), price depends on possible upgrades such as preferred seating, a group photo or a flower lei.
4: Sunset Luau at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort (Kohala coast)
Sunset Luau at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa is one of the most popular Luaus on the Big Island for good reason. The buffet has some high quality contemporary and Hawaiian dishes and there is a full open bar.
When? Every Monday and Wednesday.
Where? At the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.
Price range: $176 (adults, including taxes), with an option to upgrade for $30 which gets you preferred first row seating, a lei greeting, and a Hawaiian pūpū (gift).
Where to book: On the Sunset Luau website.
5: Legends of Hawaii Luau (Kohala coast)
The Legends of Hawaii Luau held at the Hilton Waikoloa Village is the most expensive luau on our island. As it is organized at the Hilton you are guaranteed to get good food and see a professional performance, but the location of this one is not as good: the show takes place in an open amphitheater instead of an open outdoors setting with good views.
See also promotion video of this Luau produced by the Hilton below.
When? Every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
Where? At the Hilton Waikoloa Village resort.
Price range: Starting at $190 (adult, before taxes), with an option to upgrade to preferred seating and better access to the food stations for $30 extra. It is also possible to skip the buffet and only see the show for less than half price.
6: Mauna Kea Luau (Kohala coast)
The Mauna Kea Luau is organized at a cozy and secluded part of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel resort grounds. This luau can feel a bit more festive than the average luau e.g. because of their use of wooden plates (no plastic) and because guests are requested to wear ‘aloha attire‘, which basically means an aloha shirt for men and flowery prints for women. This is of course not mandatory but it does work to make the whole experience seem a bit more festive.
The show is entertaining and the food is good, but there is no open bar (one complementary drink is included, for the rest you’d have to pay). Have a look at the 5 minute video below to get an impression of this luau.
When? Every Tuesday, while seasonally Fridays and Sundays are available.
Where? At the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
Price range: Starting at $180 (adult, before taxes), with an option to upgrade to preferred seating for $20 extra. It is also possible to skip the buffet and only see the show with a steep discount.
Where to book: On the Mauna Kea Luau website.
7: Hale Hoaloha Lūʻau at the Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection
Organized by Big Island Breeze productions, who also organize 2 other luau shows on the Big Island. This is the newest of all luaus on the island and their first reviews are good, but the jury is still out on the price/quality ratio.
When? Every Friday.
Where? At the Mauna Lani (Auberge Resorts Collection).
Price range: Starting at $220 (excluding taxes and fees) for standard seating
Where to book: for more information and booking see the Hoaloha luau booking page on tripadvisor.
8: Feast & Fire Lūʻau at the Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa
The Feast and Fire luau is performed by the famed Lim Family of Kohala, and with their lineage being traceable back to Alapa‘i Nui, guests are in the presence of royal descendants of the one-time ruler of Hawaii who have been iconic musicians for generations.
When? Every Monday + Thursday.
Where? At the Outrigger Kona resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay (south of Kona)
Price range: Starting at $160 (excluding taxes and fees) for adult standard seating
Where to book: for more information and booking see the Feast & Fire luau booking page.
9: Pilikana Lūʻau at Kona Inn (currently unavailable)
This recent (2022) Luau on the island is organized at the downtown Kona Kona Inn shopping Village. The 3-hour show features live entertainment, drinks, and an all-you-can-eat buffet catered by the popular Umekes Fish Market Bar & Grill.
When? Every Monday.
Where? At the Kona Inn
Price range: Starting at $150 (excluding taxes and fees) for standard seating
Good to know: This Luau has a very strict 7-day cancellation policy.
Where to book: This Luau is currently unavailable.
10: Hoʻomau Waikoloa Luau (currently unavailable)
A wonderful option for families and friends, enjoy one free welcome mai tai and a shell lei greeting upon arrival. Further included are a buffet-style meal featuring Pan-Pacific cuisine and an authentic performance that covers the islands of Polynesia. Pictures of the event are available for download online (for free) after the luau.
When? Every Wednesday.
Where? At Mai Grill on the Waikoloa Beach Golf Course
Price range: Starting at $157 (excluding taxes and fees) for standard seating
Good to know: This Luau has a very strict cancellation policy. All sales are final, and there will be no refunds should you wish to cancel once the booking has been confirmed.
Where to book: This Luau is currently unavailable.
The History of the Luau
The history of the Luau traces back to the year 1819, when King Kamehameha II removed the religious requirement that men and women ate their meals separately. Soon after, the king performed the symbolic act of eating together with women thus holding arguably the first Luau. This means that the Luau as we know it today was created almost 200 years ago and as such represents part of Hawaiian history.
If you are interested in finding out more on history of the Luau, you can read more in-depth about it here.
7 Typical Luau Foods:
Good and local food is one of the pillars of any luau and you are bound to get to know some new tastes if you are joining one. Some of these dishes may look strange to you but please try at least a little bit, it’s an experience!
We describe the 7 most typical / iconic dishes below so you can prepare yourself on what to expect:
- Kalua Pig (or Pork) is the centerpiece of the luau and a giant of Hawaiian cuisine. It consists of pork that is cooked in an imu or underground oven and shredded afterwards. Delicious with everything and omnipresent in our local restaurants.
- Poi is a traditional Hawaiian “pudding” that was a main source of carbohydrate for the native Hawaiians. Poi is a thick paste made from the taro root that is either steamed or baked and then pounded into a pulp. It tastes starchy and slightly sour from the light fermentation in the preparation process, and is the most controversial of all dishes on this list. You should definitely give it a try!
- Chicken Long Rice is inspired by the Chinese cuisine. Its main ingredients are chicken soup, clear noodles, chicken and ginger.
- Laulau is delicious! It consists of pork / chicken / fish that is wrapped in luau (taro) leaves and steamed for a long time. The tough taro leaves become soft, almost like spinach, and the meat remains tender and juicy. Traditionally laulau is also prepared in an imu.
- Lomilomi Salmon is a traditional salad / side dish with fresh tomato, salmon, and onion.
- Haupia or coconut pudding is a sweet traditional dessert made from coconut milk and cornstarch.
- Poke is another one of our favorites. Poke is made of raw fish that is marinated typically with soy sauce, onions and lemon (but many other marinades also exist). It has become more popular worldwide because of the rise to popularity of the “Poke Bowl” but is very typical to Hawaii and, honestly, tastes the BEST here on the islands.
You don’t need to go to a luau to taste any of these foods. Many are also available at local supermarkets (KTA for example) or in one of our local L&L Hawaiian BBQ chain restaurants. See our list of hawaiian foods for more local specialties and where to buy them.
What is Hula?
Hula is a form of dance that is accompanies by a chant or song. Hula was first developed here on the Hawaiian islands and is a way of story telling: hula dancers portray the words being sung/chanted with a complex hand motions and a graceful dance motions.
Written language did not exist in Hawaii before contact with the western world and hula played an important role in keeping history, genealogy, mythology, and culture, alive. Dancing hula was a way to express culture and had an important place in society. Nowadays hula has become a worldwide symbol for Hawaii culture, and visitors can enjoy Hula performances while they are visiting our Hawaiian islands.
In the following video you can see Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole express the true meaning of hula from a native Hawaiian perspective. Kanakaole is a force of nature: she has won multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Awards (Hawaii’s highest musical honor), and has traveled the world giving performances.
Two different styles of Hula:
Modern Hula can be split in two different types: Hula Kahiko and Hula Auana.
Hula Kahiko is the traditional or ancient style and is often defined as those hula composed prior to 1894. Hula kahiko is performed today by dancing to the historical chants without the use of modern instruments and is characterized by traditional costuming, an austere look, and a reverence for their spiritual root. Hula Kahiko is what people refer to when they speak about “traditional hula”.
Hula Auana is a more contemporary form of Hula, where the old histories have been re-imagined with new choreography and music, including more modern instruments such as the ukulele, guitar, steel guitar, bass or piano.
Free Hula and other cultural events on the Big Island
Some of the national parks and shopping centers on the Big Island organize free cultural events. Most of these events are organized on a weekly or monthly basis, so it is very likely you will be able to attend one during your visit to the Big Island.
These events include e.g. Polynesian shows, Hula performances, music shows and Hawaiian craft demonstrations such as lei making classes and Hawaiian featherwork.
List of free cultural events on the Big Island:
- Hula performances in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park [link]
- The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park calendar [link]
- The Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Park calendar [link]
- The Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site calendar [link]
- Weekly events at the King shops [Waikoloa resort, link]
- Upcoming events at the Queens marketplace [Waikoloa resort, link]
- Events calendar at the Mauna Lani shopping center [Kohala coast, all events link]
More historic and cultural things to do on the Big Island
Next to attending a Luau there is much more history to explore, as well as many archeological sites and opportunities for cultural understanding. Have a look at our BIG list of cultural and historical things to do on the Big Island to learn more.