How to have Aloha fun at the best luau in Oahu

oahu best luau

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Palms swaying in the breeze, the sound of beating drums and the scent of tropical flowers and roasted meat in the air. Aloha! And welcome to the best luau in Oahu.

There’s no better way to experience local culture and famous warm Polynesian hospitality than at a luau. This traditional feast or party is a must do on any list of things to do in Hawaii. Feel the spirit of ohana (family and friends) with delicious local food, dancing and entertainment. It’s truly a night to remember.

No doubt you’ll want to experience the very best luau Oahu has to offer so we’ll take you through what to expect at a luau and where you can find an authentic dinner and show throughout the island.

But, for those of you who can’t wait, we’ll tell you straight up that the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Ali’i Luau is a feast for the senses and a must do activity when you’re in Oahu.

What is a Luau 

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Maybe you learnt about luaus from old Elvis movies like Blue Lagoon or more recently 50 First Dates. Hollywood sure made luaus look like lots of fun. But what is a luau?

This tradition dates back centuries when the people of the Hawaiian islands would gather together to mark special occasions such as victories in battle, weddings and the birth of new children. And today, when the people of Hawaii want to celebrate birthdays, weddings and graduations (or anything really), they throw a luau.  It’s a traditional feast or party with entertainment, Hawaiian food, music and hula dancing.

Everyone is welcome at a luau. From the smallest children to their great grandparents. Bring the whole family, relax and enjoy this family friendly occasion. 

A traditional greeting

A luau starts with the presentation of a flower wreath or garland known as a lei. This traditional greeting signifies affection bestowed upon the visitor by the luau hosts.

You’ll receive your beautiful lei as you arrive and it’s all part of ceremony and culture of the occasion. Wear your lei with pride and enjoy the fragrance of the beautiful tropical flowers as you eat and enjoy the entertainment.

The all important Luau Food

hawaii luau oahu food

Food is one of the most important part of the luau and it relies on the bountiful tropical ingredients found on the islands of Hawaii. So you know what to expect, here’s a guide to the most traditional luau dishes so you can prepare yourself for the feasting ahead. 

The centerpiece of any luau feast is kalua pork. An underground wood oven, known as an imu  is used to slow cook a whole pig wrapped in ti leaves for 8-10 hours. The meat remains in the oven for so long it comes out tender, juicy and flavorful. Kalua pork is traditionally served with poi (a thick, purple paste made from taro), pineapple and fresh rolls made from taro.

Of course the islands of Hawaii are famous for their fish and seafood so you’ll also find poke – diced raw fish served with condiments like soy sauce – baked mahi-mahi (whitefish fillets) and lomi-lomi salmon – a salad made from fresh salmon, tomatoes and onions. If you’re luck you might also try lu`au a dish made from taro leaves baked with octopus and coconut cream.

If you love eating chicken, there are plenty of luau dishes to try. Chicken Long Rice is made with bean or thread noodles served with pieces of hot chicken while huli-huli chicken is made using Hawaiian brown sugar, fresh ginger and soy sauce. 

best luau oahu food

And don’t forget the famous pipi kaula – Hawaiian style beef jerky made with strips of flank steak marinated in water, red peppers and soy sauce before being dried.

When it’s time for dessert your sweet tooth will be satisfied with a variety of tropical cakes such as coconut, pineapple and banana cakes. You can also try haupia a coconut pudding with the consistency of a firm jelly and kulolo – a fudge like dessert made from taro corms and coconut.  

Hungry now? You should be! But don’t worry, generous hospitality is all part of the Hawaiian culture so your bellies won’t be rumbling when you leave the luau. 

Luau Entertainment

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While you enjoy feasting on delicious Hawaiian foods, relax and enjoy traditional entertainment and learn exactly how the locals like to party. Traditional Hawaiian songs on ukuleles or a slack key guitar accompany hula dancers who tell the stories of the islands – of love, loss and battle. If you’re lucky you’ll see some super cute keiki (child) hula dancers and the awe inspiring fire dancers.

Many luaus put on Hawaiian games for your entertainment so prepare to be challenged.  Hawaiian limbo is when two people hold the ends of a long stick or broom at different heights. At first, the stick is held high so it easy to bend beneath it to reach the other side. As the stick is lowered, the game becomes a lot harder.

For those that have extra eating skills a poi eating contest is always a lot of fun. You have two minutes to eat as much poi as possible without using any utensils or your hands.

If you want to join in the fun the best luaus make sure there is plenty of crowd participation. So you may go home from vacation with a new skill – hula dancing or limbo!

Looking for a place to stay in Oahu? Check our guide to Oahu’s best Airbnbs

The best luau in Oahu: Ali’i Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center

polynesian center luau

The best authentic luau in Oahu is at the Polynesian Cultural Center. From the moment each guest is welcomed at the Ali’i luau with a fresh orchid lei, the fun and feasting begins.

A traditional Hawaiian dinner is served buffet style while the entertainment takes place on stage. Highlights include the ceremonial uncovering of slow cooked kalua pig, welcoming the royal court of Hawaii and special on stage activities for people visiting Hawaii for special occasions and members of the US armed forces.

This award wining experience is actually only a small part of a huge package of entertainment that you can enjoy over three days entry to the Polynesian Cultural Center included in all luau ticket offers.You can read more about what to expect at the center below. 

Luau pricing and information

  • Price: from $122.95 (adults) There are also premium food and experience packages available – more info
  • Duration: luau dinner – 1.5 hours, full experience 1- 2 days
  • Best for: families, couples and friends wanting a fun cultural experience with food, activities and entertainment

Tip – buy your tickets up to 10 days in advance to save 10% on luau packages

Review: What to Expect at the Polynesian Cultural Center

polynesian cultural center oahu

The best way to experience the Polynesian Cultural Center luau is to make a day of it or stay overnight. This is because the Ali’i Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center experience is much more than dinner and a show.

Your luau ticket also includes 3 day admission to the park and access to cultural displays and a spectacular on water parade as well as the award winning Ha: Breath of Life evening performance.

Arrive well before the luau to make the most of the cultural park and stay for the evening show. You won’t be able to see everything in just one day so we recommend staying close by on the North Shore to make the most of your ticket.

Sample itinerary

Here is a suggested itinerary to help you make the most of your time at the PCC. 

Day one

  • 12:00 – arrive as the center opens for the day and get your bearings 
  • 12:30 – 13:30 – take a canoe tour on the tropical lagoon and visit one of the six island villages
  • 13:30 – watch the Hawaiian Journey presentation then grab a snack 
  • 14:30 – 15:00 – enjoy the colorful all singing and dancing canoe pageant
  • 15:00 – 15:45 – visit another village and try some activities before making your way to the luau
  • 16:00 – 17:15 – Ali’i luau
  • 17:30 – stroll around the park and 
  • 19:00 – 21:00 – take your seats for the Ha: Breath of Life show

best luau in oahu for families polynesian cultural center

Day two

  • 12:00 – visit the villages you missed the previous day and try all the activities
  • 14:30 – 15:00 – see the pageant again – it’s so much fun! 
  • 15:00 – find your favorite souvenir of a memorable few days exploring Polynesia!

Island Villages

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At the Polynesian Cultural Center one of the best things to do is explore the island nations of the region by visiting six villages celebrating local traditions and  rich cultural history. Each of the villages offers a unique insight into the beauty and differences across the South Pacific. You can easily spend up to an hour at each village watching performances, taking part in activities and learning about the customs of the local people.

Stop by the Hawaii village to learn why dance is so important to the culture, learn the skill of lauhala weed weaving, taste Hawaiian poi and play ancient games.

At the village of Tahiti offers a chance to go pole fishing, experience a wedding ceremony or see the famous Tahitian hip shaking dance. You might even want to try it for yourself. Tip – it’s harder than it looks! In Tahiti you can also learn about underwater pearl farms and taste coconut bread. 

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The Island of Aotearoa is all about the culture of New Zealand’s Maori people. Here you can watch traditional weapons being carved by artisans and learn the meaning of their striking facial tattoos. Make sure to visit during one of the regular shows where the power of the Haka warrior cry will run through your body. 

Visit the village of the island of Samoa and learn how to twirl a fire knife or crack open a coconut. You will even discover the ingenious Samoan technique for making natural air conditioning. Are you an adventurer? You might want to try shimmying up a coconut tree to cut down some delicious fruit.

Image: Michal Pechardo [Unsplash]
There are presentations throughout the day in the Fiji village featuring the fearsome (but very friendly) warriors. You can learn about the traditional bamboo or derua instrument, take a tour of the six-story temple or choose a temporary tattoo. In happy go lucky Tonga learn how to dance while seated and marvel at the energetic drummers. See if you have what it takes to throw spears and paddle an outrigger canoe or learn to play the Tongan shuffleboard.

Water pageant

authentic luau oahu

You do not want to miss the canoe pageant held daily at 2:30pm. This theatrical show featuring dancers and musicians on boats gliding across the spectacular lagoon was one of the highlights of our visit.

It’s a riot of sound, color and fun showcasing the dancers of each island nation. Make sure to grab a pineapple smoothie while you watch the show. You slurp it from a whole pineapple!  

Ali’i luau

choosing a lei at the best luau in hawaii

When you arrive at the Ali’i luau you are greeted with a fresh orchid lei in the Hawaiian tradition. As you get closer to the luau, you will hear the sound of the conch or pu. This was the original signal for the Royal Court of Hawaii.

The “king and queen” arrive adorned in the clothing and colors befitting true royalty and the celebrations begin. First up is the all important uncovering of the kalua pig.

Now the sounds of the melodic steel guitar and ukelele serenade you as the hula dancers engage in both modern and ancient Hawaiian dances.

luau food at polynesian cultural center

You’ll enjoy a mouthwatering feast of traditional delicacies such as kalua pork, poke, huli-huli chicken and traditional Hawaiian side dishes taro rolls, poi and Hawaiian fried rice. The salad bar offers produce and a variety of fresh seasonal fruits. Don’t forget to save room for haupia coconut pudding or chocolate and pineapple cakes from the dessert bar.

A series of dances and songs are performed while you eat followed by recognition of special occasions and hula lessons for those who want to get up on stage.

HA: Breath of Life show

dinner shows oahu hawaiian fire dance

Your day at the Polynesian Cultural Center ends with the evening theatrical performance of Ha: Breath of Life. This saga about tragedy and triumph, love and family and birth and death is the symbolic story of Mana and Lani as they journey through the Pacific Islands.

We don’t want to give too much away but this amazing tale includes Polynesian music and dance, more than 100 performers, blazing fire knife dancers, special surround sound, animation and effects. It is the perfect way to end your day at the PCC.

Don’t forget to buy your tickets up to 10 days in advance to save 10% on luau packages – click here for online booking

See you at the luau!

Attending a luau is a highlight of any trip to Hawaii. There’s no better way to get into the aloha spirit and experience the food and culture of the islands so make sure you include one on your itinerary for Oahu.

We’ll be back very soon ready to hula at the Polynesia Cultural Center. But before we go, here are some practical tips and ideas for getting into the spirit of the event.  

Tips for attending the PCC luau

oahu luau review polynesian cultural center

Now you’ve decided on your luau, you want to look the part and have a great time. So let’s get ready! There’s actually not too much to prepare for, just come with a huge smile, an empty belly and your dancing feet.

Book your tickets early

Purchasing your tickets for the Polynesian Cultural Center early can save you up to 10%. You’ll need to book at least 10 days before your visit to take advantage of this offer. Apart from the cost savings you’ll also secure some of the best seats in the house for the evening show – click here for online bookings

What to Wear to a Luau

Hawaiian shirt for women
shell necklace
hawaiian dress
Hawaiian shirt

You can have a lot of fun dressing up for a luau. The best part is every floral pattern is acceptable, you can always wear a traditional aloha shirt and there is no such thing as too much color.

The idea is to relax and enjoy spending time with your friends and family. You also want to make sure you are comfortable so women usually choose floral patterned dresses while Hawaiian print shirts are popular with men.If you are interested in a more traditional look, women can wear a long dress with a sarong or floral print or a muʻumuʻu.

Have fun with the accessories. You can enhance any outfit by wearing a lei of fresh flowers, a pukka shell necklace or a single flower behind your ear. If you are taken, the flower goes behind your left ear. If single, behind your right.

The best footwear includes slippers, flip-flops, sandals or bare feet. But, whatever you wear, the most important part of any luau is to have fun.

How to get to the Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center is in Laie Oahu about an hour and a half drive from Waikiki and Honolulu depending on traffic. If you want to rent a car we suggest searching on Car Rental by for the best deals.

Alternatively, you can organize a transfer directly with the Polynesian Cultural Center. They also offer full day special Circle Island tours that take you from Waikiki to Diamond Head and the beaches of the North Shore before spending the afternoon and evening at the luau and cultural park – more info

Best place to stay near the Polynesian Cultural Center

We stayed at Turtle Bay Resort which is about 15 minutes drive away but you can stay within walking distance at the Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore is right next door. Otherwise check out these stunning Airbnb beach property rentals on the North Shore

Want more ideas for things to do on your trip to Oahu?

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