Our recent trip to Hawaii was the first trip where we felt the kids were old enough to learn about the destination before we got there. Since a lot of the books and movies had focused on traditional Hawaiian culture, we decided to take them to a Luau to get a live glimpse into that culture.
When we were on Oahu in 2014 we went to the Chief’s Luau and had a great time, but really wished that it had been on the beach. This trip we decided to return to the Paradise Cove Luau which I had attended back in 2007 because we knew it was right on the beach.
I’m sharing this Paradise Cove Luau review to help you decided whether this is the right luau experience for your family. If you have had experience with Paradise Cove please leave your own experience in the comments!
Paradise Cove Luau Review
We booked online a month in advance, but we would have been able to buy tickets the day of. It is definitely easier to have the peace of mind that comes with advance reservations, but if you are looking at the last minute, this one runs every day and has tons of capacity.
They offer round trip transportation for $16 or they have a large lot with free parking. The transportation buses arrive at 5 but you are allowed to check in at 4. If you want time to browse the activities without a crowd, aim to arrive right at 4. We had a weird vacation nap schedule to accommodate and arrived at 6. As a result, we didn’t get to participate in hardly any of the activities because the lines were so long at that point.
When we arrived we checked in at the desk and they gave us color coded stickers which told the staff which package we had purchased. They also gave us drink cards to spend at the bar, on pictures, or the gift shop. HJ’s card clearly stated “child” and could not be used to buy alcohol.
After checking in we went through the gate and wound through a garden entrance area. There was a little waterfall with a pond full of lily pads which was perfect for snapping a pre-luau family picture.
If we had been there earlier there may have been a line, but we continued right to the welcome drinks which were sorted into alcoholic/non-alcoholic. The staff gave us each a cup and both versions were sugary and delicious.
We had a short wait for the next station where they presented us with fresh flower leis and took our picture with two of the dancers.
Next, a hostess led us to the table and allowed us to pick our seats among those remaining. She wrote our choice on the table so we weren’t required to leave any belongings to claim our spot. This is where coming late really bit us because we were all the way in the back. Fortunately, this turned out OK as we had more room to stretch out and the kids could take up more space.
We wandered over to the activities and got in line to hold some tropical birds. While we were in line the demonstrations were going on nearby and we could hear that they were teaching the crowd how to open a coconut. We wouldn’t have been able to get close enough to see it, so we stayed in line for the birds. The next demonstration moved right next to us though, and the bird line had to pause and wait for the line to move on. A performer climbed to the top of a coconut tree and opened a bag of fresh flowers onto the crowd. It was pretty cool, but the bag didn’t open much so the actual “shower” was more like a quick drop.
K really loved getting to hold and pet the tropical birds. If you are set on getting good pictures of this, try to do this earlier in the evening. When it was our turn the canoe demonstration was going on and there were hoards of people in the background instead of a beautiful beach. They won’t let you use your own camera, so your only option is to pay $20 each for prints that they take.
Next, we headed to make bracelets out of braided leaves and flowers. The line was quite long but there was lots of space nearby for the kids to play and Chris went and got drinks while I waited. HJ was pretty excited about her bracelet, but I didn’t make it quite tight enough and all the flowers fell out. Oh well.
While we waited in line to make bracelets, most of the crowd headed to a small arena where the final demonstration involved removing the hog from the underground pit where it had been cooking all day.
After bracelet making, all of the stations were shutting down for the night. We missed out of woven headbands, face painting, spear throwing, and canoeing. The kids had wanted to get their faces painted but they handled the disappointment really well. (It might help that I’ve started painting their faces at home on a regular basis.)
Instead of seating ourselves right away, we took advantage of the now-empty beach to snap a couple pictures of the sunset.
By the time we made our way over to the tables, someone was waiting to excuse us to the buffet. The line was short and moved quickly and there were plenty of food options for everyone. I thought HJ would be really excited to try poi because it was purple, but she was still a bit ornery from her nap. I was really impressed with both the chicken and the pork. They were both moist and flavorful. The buns, veggies, and dessert were all buffet-standard.
After dinner, the real luau started! They introduced each dance and the island it was from. The dances covered all the Pacific islands and not just Hawaii. Both kids really enjoyed seeing the costumes and the dancers, but HJ had a much longer attention span for it.
After a few dances, they invited the audience up on the stage to learn to dance the Hula. Both of the kids were excited about this and we joined what seemed like half the audience on stage. They stacked everyone two deep and there was hardly enough room to do the motions, but the kids had fun and received a certificate afterward.
When the children lost interest in the dancers, I took them to look at our family pictures. I ended up buying the welcome picture and one of the pictures of K holding a parrot. ($40 for both, prints only.) I like the pictures, but the Aulani photo packages were a better value.
After we picked out their photos, the fire dancers had started and the kids watched that with new appreciation. The dancers and singers were all great and entertaining but the show was a little long for my small tots.
I particularly liked that the dancers (both male and female) came in a variety of body types. They definitely weren’t the Rockettes trying to be identical heights and weights.
We ducked out right before the last song so we wouldn’t have to fight in the parking lot.
Next time we’ll probably try a different Luau, just to experience something different, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Paradise Cove to anyone. It’s one of the largest luaus and that comes with crowds, but if you plan accordingly you could still fit everything in. The food and programming were good and the location is top notch.
It would have been nice if they had allowed the activities to overlap dinner by half-an-hour or so, but we weren’t upset about anything we missed.
We chose the “Orchid” package because I wanted the kids to experience the fresh flower leis and it would allow the kids a slightly better view of the stage than the cheaper “Hawaiian Luau Package”.
All of the packages list children’s pricing for kids 4-12 and allow kids under 4 in free. The caveat is that any children without a paid ticket are not supposed to have a chair or their own plate at the buffet. We chose to bring K (2) in free and pay for HJ’s ticket (5 days before her 4th birthday) so that we wouldn’t have to hold them both on our laps during the show. In retrospect, we should have brought them both in for free. There were plenty of empty seats by us (in the back) and no one raised any concerns about K having his own plate at the buffet. The staff also provided K with a welcome drink and a flower lei even though he didn’t have a sticker.
If you have a child who is under 4 but close and might want their own seat, consider which package you are getting. The “Hawaiian Luau” and “Delux Luau” packages were mostly full and you would not be likely to score an empty seat in those sections. There were plenty of empty seats in the “Orchid Luau” and “Royal Box” sections, so it might be worth saving the money in those sections and trying your luck. In the “Orchid Luau” section you definitely need to sit in the back to have a chance to spread out!
Have you attended a luau in Hawaii? Which is your favorite one?