Luau 101: Islands feasts, beyond the pork and poi

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What would a trip to Hawaii be without a luau? We may never find out: Each island offers a plethora of the traditional feasts. The components may be similar -- a buffet of traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian fare, accompanied by entertainment in the form of a musical revue -- but luaus do differ in timing, location and pricing.

Following is a sampling of Hawaiis biggest, newest or otherwise notable luaus:

The Big Island

" The Hilton Waikoloa Villages Legends of the Pacific luau serves up all the classic dinner favorites (lomi salmon, poke and kalua pork) with additions such as Parker Ranch ribs, ginger chicken salad, paniolo chili beef salad and huli chicken with green onion sauce -- all of which nod to the ranch lifestyle prominent on the Big Island.

The festivities begin at 8 a.m. at the Waikoloa resort, where guests are invited to watch a pig being placed in the underground imu, or oven, where it is slow-cooked over the course of a day.

The kalua pig is removed at 6:40 p.m., and a buffet dinner follows. At 7:45 p.m., Tihati Productions takes over with a performance that highlights ancient folklore and historical references to Hawaiian origins as well as music and dance from Samoa, Fiji and Tahiti.

Tickets to the Legends of the Pacific are $74 for adults and $37 for children ages 5 through 12. Call (808) 886-1234, Ext. 54, or visit www.hiltonwaikoloavillage.com for more information and bookings.

" The Tuesday evening luau at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is hosted by kumu hula Nani Lim and her award-winning dance troupe, who demonstrate both differences and similarities between ancient and modern hula. (Kumu hula is the highest level of achievement in the art of hula dancing.)

The entertainment is set against the Kohala Coast, a desolate stretch of volcanic rock that juts right up to the blue waters on the islands western shore.

Guests dine on traditional Polynesian and Hawaiian fare like ahi poke, chicken long rice and poi, all prepared fresh and served as the sun sets and Lim performs. For tickets, call (866) 774-6236 or visit www.maunakeabeachhotel.com

" The new Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spas Origins luau The Sheraton Kauais Origins Luau. takes place Mondays and Thursdays, on specially designated luau grounds.

Guests walk out on Crystal Blue Point overlooking Keauhou Bay, for an hour-long mai-tai cocktail reception among arts-and-crafts booths where they can learn a few hula steps, see Polynesian body art being designed or learn how to play the ukulele. 

Recording artist Danny Couch hosts the evenings entertainment, offering audiences a musical journey through the various aspects of Polynesian culture, with help from a company of dancers, drummers and performers.

Origins offers an Alii Circle table service package for $79 per adult and half-price for children ages 5 to 12 or traditional buffet seating at $65 per person. Call (808) 930-4900 or go to www.sheratonkeauhou.com.

Kauai

" The Sheraton Kauais new Surf to Sunset Luau, in Poipu on the south shore, claims to be the islands only oceanfront luau. The event takes place twice weekly, Mondays and Fridays, at 6 p.m.

Bedecked in authentic shell leis, guests can opt for a full buffet at $68 per person or table service, with food served family-style, at $80 per head; kids eat for half-price.

Either way, they get standard luau fare: lomi salmon, kalua pig, poke, poi and locally grown pineapple for the main course.

More creatively, guava chiffon pie, coconut haupia pie, pineapple upside-down cake and chocolate-macadamia nut cake round out the luau dessert options.

Host Dickie Chang introduces an award-winning hula troupe, which puts on an array of performances from various Polynesian islands, and the show ends with a traditional Samoan fire-knife dance. For more, log on to www.sheratonkauai.com or call (808) 742-8200.

Maui

" The Old Lahaina Luau, which takes place in the historical whaling town of Lahaina, features a top-shelf open bar and some of the best luau-style food islandwide. It is also one of the few luaus that takes place nightly.

Guests are given the option of sitting on a traditional Hawaiian mat or at tables and chairs. Prior to seating, islanders show them around the luau grounds and explain traditional Polynesian crafts and lifestyles.

They are then invited to gather at the imu for the removal of the kalua pig, which is marched up to the luau grounds. Grilled sirloin steak, mahi mahi stuffed with fresh crabmeat and shrimp topped with a macadamia nut glaze are a few of the culinary efforts that set this luau apart.

The music is provided by Na Leo Hooulu, an impressive group with a wide range of Polynesian influences. The show explains the evolution of hula dance, addressing hulas role in everyday life and how tourism has helped spread its notoriety worldwide.

Rates begin at $88 for adults and $57 for children. For reservations, call (808) 667-6998 or go to www.oldlahainaluau.com.

" The Feast at Lele is a more intimate, interactive offering from the folks at Old Lahaina Luau.

Held on the beach at 505 Front St. in Lahaina, the performance unfolds while five courses -- from Hawaii, Tonga, Tahiti and Samoa, along with dessert -- are served by wait staff, who explain the dishes and perform accompanying dances.

Seating is first come, first served, so reservations are advised. Apart from luau standards like poi and kalua pig, the menu includes steamed moi fish (Hawaii); tunu pulu, or grilled strip steak (Tonga); eiota, or marinated raw fish (Tahiti); and palusami, a breadfruit and taro dish (Samoa).

Admission to the luau -- which runs nightly except Sundays -- is $99 for adults and $69 for children. Call (866) 244-5353 or visit www.feastatlele.com.

Oahu

" The Paradise Cove Luau -- located 30 minutes by car from Waikiki, at Ko Olina on the west coast of Oahu -- prides itself on the authenticity of its activities and entertainment based on Polynesian cultures.

Entertainment Director OBrian Eselu employs an attentive staff that is well-trained in the culture of the Pacific Islands.

The Paradise Cove Luau -- one of the few not connected with an Oahu hotel -- is held nightly in a secluded cove, which is designed to lend the sensation of participating in an old-time luau on a very remote island.

Depending on package chosen, prices range from $65 to $110 per person for adults; $56 to $100 children age 13 to 17; and $45 to $90 for younger children. Rates include late-afternoon pickup in Waikiki and a return shuttle at 9 p.m. Go to www.paradisecoveluau.com or call (800) 775-2683.

" The newest luau on Oahu is the Sea Life Park Luau, set in the rather unusual venue of a marine theme park.

When the luau debuted this summer in an area of Sea Life Park called the Meadows, Travel Weekly reviewed it as one of the better examples of the [luau] species. (See Sea Life Parks new luau rated top quality, Oct. 6, 2005.)

Basic all-inclusive prices are $83.33 for adults and $50 for kids ages 4 to 12. Transportation from Waikiki is available for $12.

Luau tickets include admission to the marine park, valid up to 30 days. For more information or reservations, call (808) 259-7933 or visit www.sealifeparkhawaii.com.

" The Tepatasi Luau at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa The Tepatasi Luau at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa in Honolulu.is held Friday evenings. A relative newcomer that debuted in July, the luau takes place on the hotels Pialeilani Terrace facing Waikiki Beach.

Before the luau, guests can partake in lei-making, palm-frond weaving and other Hawaiian crafts. After the luau, guests can enjoy some of the other Hawaiian entertainment on offer at the hotel such as performances by slack-key guitarists and legendary falsetto singer Auntie Genoa Keawe.

Dinner seating for the luau starts at 6:30 p.m., and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $80 for adults and $50 for children ages 5 to 12. Call (808) 922-6611 or log on to www.marriottwaikiki.com.

To contact reporter Brian Berusch, send e-mail to [email protected].

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