On our last night on Oahu, as we walked back to our hotel to kill the remaining hours before our flight, we stumbled on a long line of men and women dressed up for a Hawaiian night out. They were in line for that evening’s luau at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.
We weren’t exactly dressed in our finest, but walked to the ticket counter to see how long the show lasted and how many clamshells the luau would cost us. It turned out to be a decent price ($48 per adult) and the timing was perfect.
The authenticity of the Polynesian cultural experience in commercial luaus is up for debate. On the other hand, we heard that Oahu’s Luaus can be a cheesy good time if you’re willing to let your hair down a little. We picked up our last minute tickets and set in for a fine night of over the top tourist tackiness and family fun. The Hale Koa luau had all that in spades and more.
The Hale Koa puts on a great luau for kids. We were greeted with a shell lei and a decent Mai Thai. The little ones were given some delicious fruit juice. The lovely gardens were filled with fun activities, including making a flower lei bracelet, creating a warrior head band made of palm fronds, blowing conch shells, getting a removable tattoo and learning to twirl Poi (balls on a rope) originally practiced by the Maori from New Zealand.
One thing the Hale Koa pre-show had plenty of was humor. Cousin Dennis hosted the pre-show demonstrating all the activities around the yard and then rapidly climbed a coconut tree in the classic tribal style. He was quick witted, comical and had everyone smiling along with his antics. Everyone from the pre-show demonstrations was smiling and laughing, including the hula dancers and the tribesmen.
The pre-show ended with the removal of of the roast pig from the imu (underground oven). Traditionally, an imu was a hole dug in the ground, lined with head size lava rocks and with a fire of kiawe wood. Banana tree stumps were typically used to line the imu to prevent burning and to help steam the pig. The pig was then stuffed with hot rocks and wrapped with banana leaves for around 12 hours. At the luau, the pit is a permanent large mound of rock and concrete, however the pig is still prepared in the traditional style.
Traditionally called an Aha ‘Aina, the luau was a gathering centered around a feast to celebrate a successful harvest, the birth of a child, or a victorious battle. It included games of skill and competitions of bravery. The luau show at the Hale Kona Hotel is more of a dinner theater with a luau theme.
Native Hawaiian Glenn Medeiros (of Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You fame from the late 1980s) put on the dinner show with equal doses of cheese, humor and patriotism. Because the Hale Koa Luau is a military hotel, there was a lot of commentary on military service in the show and an over the top, but touching tribute to those who’ve served at the end of the evening.
We were expecting the dinner show to focus on Hawaiian history, but instead it featured many different styles of Polynesian entertainment, including Tahitian hula, Maori haka and of course, a Samoan fire dancer. The show was professional and the dancers talented. We would have preferred to see more of the entertaining Cousin Dennis and less of Glenn, but the show moved along at a good pace. The young fire dancers were especially talented and both of our kids watched the fire dancing demonstration with fascination.
Supper was more than ample for the average guest, with huge plates of Kahlua pork, Mahimahi fish, chicken, sweet potato, seasoned rice and fried banana. Servers dropped prepared plates on our tables as we watched the activities. Side dishes included everything from fresh fruit that was cut up and stacked all around the table to cucumber salad, seaweed and the obligatory poi.
Poi is a gloopy, purplish, slighly sour paste made from the taro root. The taro is cooked, mashed with water and then fermented. Poi is a common dish that Hawaii locals seem to love.
For a vegetarian, the meal was definitely lacking. Micki ended up eating fresh fruit from our table and the sweet potatoes. She went away more than a little hungry. She also learned the hard way that the little bowl that looks like bruschetta topping is actually lomilomi, a native Hawaiian dish made with salmon, onions and tomatoes. Not a fan of salmon she took a giant bite and was more than a little surprised at the flavor. The line “Who adds raw fish to bruschetta?” became our in-joke for the remainder of the evening.
The final course was a simple but delicious desert of either coconut cake or pudding. The kids, who were a little hungry themselves, sweet talked the server into seconds.
Extra alcoholic drinks could be purchased from the center bar, but since we were leaving in a few hours we decided to skip them. From what we heard, most are $7 a piece so we were happy we stuck with the pitchers of water they served.
The evening finished the same way it started, with photo ops of women in coconut bras and beefy tattooed men (one of whom looked exactly like The Rock).
All in all, the Hale Koa luau was a cheesy good time, even though it wasn’t in our travel plans. It’s exactly what you would expect of a commercial luau in the middle of Waikiki, Oahu. We were thrilled we had the chance to take in an Hawaiian Luau and the kids were so tired that the flight home was quiet and restful.
All About The Hale Koa Luau
Reviews said that you must be a member of the military or sponsored by someone to attend the Hale Koa luau. We’re not military and we just walked up to the ticket counter and purchased tickets, so it doesn’t seem to be enforced.
Where: Monday nights at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.
When: Seating for dinner is at 5:30.
Cost: $48 for adults, free for kids under six. Tickets included two free alcoholic drinks, pre-dinner show and activities, supper and the supper show.You can buy tickets at the Hale Koa Activities Desk, by phone (808-955-0555) with a major credit card or at Special Services ticket outlets.
Reservations: To guarantee a seat, a reservation is a good idea, but we walked up just before 4:30 and bought four tickets at the ticket counter on the ocean side of the hotel.
More info: Hale Koa Hotel or phone 808-955-0555.
Cons: The Hale Koa Luau isn’t on the beach, so if you’re in the mood for a luau on the sand with the surf crashing in the background, this may not be the one for you.
Pros: Great entertainment option for families, much cheaper than other Luaus and located conveniently in Waikiki.
Other Oahu Luaus
Germaines. Germaine’s Luau. $72 for adults, free ages five and under. Located 45 minutes from Waikiki, with free transportation from Waikiki hotels. Tickets may be cheaper from your hotel reservation desk than the luau’s website.
Paradise Cove. The Paradise Cove Luau is set on 12 acres along the ocean on Oahu’s leeward coast near Ko Olina. Prices range fro $86 to $149 per adult, depending on your choice of seating, number of drinks, and perks like a lei greeting and souvenier photo.
Polynesian Cultural Center Ali’i Luau. The Ali’i Luau is located on 42 acres on Oahu’s North Shore. Tickets are $91.95 for adults. Oddly, this place is owned by Mormons, and we’ve heard that the revised Polynesian history displayed here reflects it.
Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Aha ‘Aina, a Royal Celebration Luau, is an oceanfront affair. Tickets cost $169 for adults.