There were several things I was eager to experience during my recent trip to Hawaii. Topping that list was my first-ever authentic Hawaiian luau.
As fate would have it, I discovered upon check-in that the Sheraton Kauai hosts its very own luau — which would be taking place the next day! With the promise of a traditional live stage show, a buffet filled with authentic Hawaiian cuisine and (most importantly) an open bar, how could I not sign up?
The luau began at 5:30, but Eric and I got in line early in hopes of getting a good seat. As we waited, waiters brought around a selection of tropical drinks: Mai Tais and a mysterious blue cocktail. Before long, the line started inching forward.
We were given seashell leis and led to our seats; a waiter seated us side-by-side at one of four long, white tables facing an elaborately decorated stage at the front. We were encouraged to proceed to the buffet to grab appetizers before the show. I loaded up a small paper tray with roasted purple potatoes, spicy edamame, and “Hawaiian chili” — a tantalizing blend of salted beef, onions, and peppers.
Then this conversation occurred between my husband and the bartender:
“What are the blue drinks?”
“Excuse me, what?”
And then the bartender walked away. We tried asking another waiter and got a similar response. Needless to say, I stuck with Mai Tais for the rest of the evening.
Thankfully, the food was tasty, and worked to reduce some of my disappointment at discovering I wouldn’t be able to down piña coladas all night. As we munched on our appetizers, the stage program began, and continued throughout our meal.
After, it was time to return to the buffet for our main course. I grabbed a bit of everything, not wanting to miss a single unique flavor. When I’d finished, my plate was overflowing with a smorgasbord of chow mein noodles, kalua pork, ahi poke, roasted chicken, smoked beef, cucumber salad, macaroni salad, grilled fish, a taro roll, and a small cup of poi.
I sampled it with a few different items, but admittedly wasn’t immediately impressed. The older gentleman beside me decided that the twenty minutes we’d been sitting next to each other made us close enough acquaintances to call for an extensive rant about his undying hatred of poi. The cup of purple goo on my plate was relatively flavorless, but hardly offensive.
The show carried on. At one point, the honeymooners in the audience were invited to come up on stage for a dance. Eric, insisting he wanted to embarrass me, led me up on stage and positioned us front and center. He then proceeded to not embarrass me at all. I tried to help: maybe we could dance around the stage erratically, or he could try spinning me or dipping me? That would be super embarrassing! But no. We just enjoyed a simple dance to some lovely Hawaiian music.
He also wouldn’t buy me a giant honeymoon and anniversary tiki, even though it would have been a perfect enhancement to our home. And would not have caused any problems with re-packing our luggage. But I digress.
As the luau came to an end, Eric and I wandered slowly back to our room, feeling especially full but not at all tipsy despite the seven Mai Tais I’d drank. I reflected on the evening’s experience: on all I’d learned about Hawaiian culture and history, on the outstanding performers I’d seen, and on the delicious meal I’d eaten. It was a fun event, but I was disappointed by the overwhelmingly huge price tag. We paid $104 each, which was excessive. The food was good, but hardly gourmet, and the drinks were disappointingly weak and the selection limited. If I were to attend another Hawaiian luau, I would definitely spend more time searching for a better value. I can only hope the performers were paid exceptionally well!