A setting sun, palm trees, floral leis and the sounds of ukelele – these are all the cliches of a Hawaiian holiday. But we found out that embracing these cliches can be a lot of fun when we enjoyed a sunset luau at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort.
Growing up watching Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii at least once a year on a Saturday afternoon, I had certain expectations of Hawaii. Floral leis, Hawaiian shirts, grass skirts, beautiful wahine hula dancing, handsome half-naked men tossing fire… All of my expectations were met when we attended the Sunset Luau at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort on the Big Island.
A luau (lū‘au) is a traditional Hawaiian party or feast that is usually accompanied by entertainment. At Waikoloa Beach Marriott, a sunset luau is held in the resort’s grounds every Saturday and Wednesday.
It claims to be the Big Island’s most authentic luau show, and in addition to including songs and dances from across the Pacific Island cultures, the centerpiece of the buffet meal is the Kalua Pig which is unearthed from its imu (underground oven) before dinner is served.
Guests of the hotel can also watch the pig being put into its hot rock and sand oven at 9am that morning, but despite my strictest instructions for Queenie to go watch and take some photos for me while I was at an island orientation lecture, she was distracted by the pool!
It’s best to book tickets for the sunset luau in advance, as it is popular with people from hotels and resorts all over the island. The ticket price includes an open bar with specialty Hawaiian cocktails and a Hawaiian dinner buffet featuring traditional and contemporary dishes, followed by a music and dance show.
The ‘doors’ to the area in the resort grounds open at 5.00pm with check-in and ticket collection in the hotel lobby from 4pm. We had been warned not to be tardy if we wanted to be seated at a table near the front with a good view of the show, so we were there early. For an extra fee (I think it was $30) you can be seated in one of the front row tables, and receive a floral lei, but we stuck with the regular tickets, and our friend, Katherine purchased leis for all of us – so we definitely felt like we were on the set of Blue Hawaii.
The seating is at shared round tables. We were joined by a group of Californians who proved to be lively company over the evening. Chatting to your table companions is one of the highlights of any of these types of events.
The barstaff were happy to mix up cocktails (or mocktails for the under 21s) of our own choosing, and they certainly didn’t skimp on the spirits. Gratuities are included in the luau ticket price, but the bar staff were not discouraging dollar bills being deposited in their very obvious tip jar.
As our table was directed over to the buffet, we were encouraged to ‘try the poi’. Poi is a Hawaiian word for a liquid-y foodstuff made from the underground stem of the taro plant. The taro stem is baked or steamed, then mashed until it is a purple-ish liquid. The Californians on our table were nudging each other as they said to us, “Mmm-mmm, you MUST try the poi…” Which I interpreted to mean – it’s an acquired taste. But I’m always game for most foodstuffs at least once, so I poured it over my steak. It tasted a bit starchy/chalky, but wasn’t that bad.
I’m not usually a huge fan of buffet dinners, but I have to admit this one was well-organised, and the dishes were all fresh and tasty. Importantly for Australians who don’t like salad dressing quite as much as the Americans do, all the dressings were served on the side.
After dinner, the show started and it met all my expectations – grass skirts (which were actually tea-leaf skirts), Tahitian dancing, a Maori haka, Samoan fire-throwing, Hawaiian hula… The show was pacy and the costumes were great. All up the show lasted for just over an hour, and the final item included some crowd participation. Several audience members were brought up onto the stage where they danced with the professional dancers. I was disappointed I wasn’t pulled from the crowd. I was ready to hula by that point. 🙂
Towards the end of that item, all the audience members bar two left the stage and the dance troupe surrounded the man and woman who were left. He then got down on one knee and pulled a ring out of his pocket. There was a huge “Awwwwww” from the audience. Cheesy, but so cute.
After that the show was over. All finished by 8.30pm, which makes it a very reasonable night for anyone bringing kids, or travelling from other parts of the Big Island.
The details:Sunset Luau
Held in the grounds of Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa every Wednesday and Saturday
Tickets can be collected from 4pm. Seating begins at 5pm.
Address: 69-275 Waikoloa Beach Drive
Waikoloa, Hawaii 96738
For reservations: 808 886-6789
Adults: $102 plus tax
Children (ages 6-12): $48 plus tax
Children (5 & under): Free
(In-house guests with a resort activities passport receive a 20% discount)
Prices include gratuity, open bar, buffet dinner and luʻau show.
Would you want to hula too?
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