The Luau Lowdown
Ah, the Hawaiian luau, so much a staple of the Hawaiian vacation experience. Before I actually went to one, I pictured a giant big fat pig roasting on a spit. I envisioned scantily clad men and women dancing near tiki torches under the stars and moon. And I imagined there’d be lots of loud shirts and goofish tourists scarfing down umbrella-clad cocktails.
Some of that vision was myth, and some was, indeed reality, as I found out last month at Waikiki Starlight Luau at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort & Spa. So what really goes down at a Hawaiian luau? Read on, and I’ll give you the luau lowdown.
First off, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort, where the luau took place, is an incredible collection of properties, restaurants, and shops that stretches on for several prime seaside acres. The rooms are beautiful, and the tropical landscaping is exquisite, with blooming flowers at every turn, plus a flamingo pond, lots of koi, penguins (yes, believe it or else), fabulous swimming pools, and that magnificent stretch of beach that is wider than it is in most of Waikiki. Set slightly apart from the rest of Waikiki, the whole village is really quite self-contained (and has its own fireworks shows on Friday nights). The luau took place right next to the property’s picturesque lagoon as the sun slowly sank into the sea.
View of the sunset from the luau.
To start, as I entered into the luau, I was given a shell lei, then escorted to my table. Almost immediately, someone took my drink order (mai tai) and as everyone got settled at their seats there was time to get to know some of the other travelers sitting nearby, which was almost exclusively couples.
Some pre-dinner hula.
Ends up, there was no pig on a spit after all. But there was meat, and plenty of it. The dining was an absolute feast of a buffet, with roast suckling pork, lomi lomi salmon, Hawaiian paella, ahi tuna poke, and beef sirloin. Hawaiian ingredients were prevalent in dishes like Molokai herb-roasted sweet potatoes, taro rolls, poi, Pacific rice noodle salad, and much more. (On a side note: since I’m a vegetarian, I let them know in advance and they prepared me a special pesto pasta, which ended up being quite good.)
A dance demonstration.
As for the entertainment, there was everything from slow crooning to the slack-key guitar, gentle hula to some serious no-holds-barred rump-and-hip shimmying, story-telling to crazy feats with fire. There was music and dance from all over Polynesia and the South Seas performed by both warriors and wahines, and the culmination was an act in which a few brave men literally spun, danced, and held their feet to fire in an amazing act of endurance and Hawaiian-style chutzpah.
The luau showcased costumes and dance from all over Polynesia.
I admit it–coming into the luau as a first-timer I had expected a certain amount of hokeyness, but the song and dance was truly beautiful, and rooted in real traditions and customs. The costumes were incredible, and the performers pretty mezmerizing. All it all, the experience was much more authentic and thoughtful than I had imagined.
Have you ever been to a luau, and were your experiences similar to mine?
My name: Rachel Berg.
Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.
View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.
Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.
Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.
Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.