It shouldn’t be surprising that I just started to document our adventures from both our September 2017 Honeymoon to Maui and Oahu and our September 2018 first-anniversary trip to Maui. After all, I didn’t write about our Wedding until just the end of 2018.
However, I was partly motivated to begin writing more about our Hawaiian trips thanks to Cate Lincoln, a travel blogger whose site, Hula Land, I enjoy a lot.
Before I quit Facebook, I was also part of her Facebook group for Hawaii travel fans. It’s a good community where people share their reviews and recommendations, which I found myself taking advantage of during our trips.
As someone who travels to Hawaii a lot, Cate is more of an insider on everything (or at least most things) Hawaii, and I respect her advice a lot. Before going to Hawaii ourselves, I thought she was always spot-on with her recommendations, but after having been a couple of times, she’s started to seem more of a “fan girl,” so to speak–someone who won’t divulge everything (including the bad)–and whose advice I now take with a grain of salt.
But I’m not that way. You can see on my Instagram that when I review a product or restaurant, I’m always open about what I really thought because I want others to have realistic expectations. If you go somewhere with a bar set too high, you’ll be sorely disappointed once you experience something less.
And that, unfortunately, is what our experience was like at the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui (OLL).
Deciding to go to a Luau
We booked our first-anniversary trip, to Maui, on my birthday last year–approx. seven months before the trip itself. We were ecstatic and I couldn’t not count the days! (Especially because around the time that we booked it it was so snowy and dreary outside! Not to mention I was in the middle of a cold or flu, haha.)
It wasn’t long after we arrived from our Honeymoon that I decided we needed to go to a Luau on our next trip to Hawaii. Although I didn’t know which one yet, I thought it was one of those particularly Hawaiian things that tourists must do at least once. We didn’t go to one during our Honeymoon, and I actually didn’t miss it because we had lots to do our first time there. But I really wanted to go to one this next time around.
Which one, though? I can’t remember exactly how I landed on Old Lahaina Luau other than having heard it mentioned at least a dozen times on different occasions on that Facebook group Cate started for her blog’s followers. I swear every time someone asked about which luau to attend, 90% of the answers were “Old Lahaina on Maui!”
I also learned that tickets for it must be booked MANY months in advance because that’s how your spots are arranged–on a first-come, first-serve basis. I believe we booked ours that Spring or maybe early Summer and once there I saw we had been able to get quite good seats!
Ironically, no one said the tickets were pricey–just that the luau was amazing, a great time, and so very worth it. For $125 each, it better be! was my only thought. Chris was always supportive of the idea because he knew I didn’t want to do a luau every time we went to Hawaii. In fact, my line of reasoning went, if this is in fact THE best there is, then I don’t care about any others and I’m more than happy letting this one be the first and last luau we ever attend.
We bought the tickets and anxiously waited for the last few months before our trip to tick by.
Arriving at the luau
We stayed past Lahaina during our stay on Maui last year, which made the drive to the luau a relatively short one. The OLL sits right on the shore, with a pristine view of the ocean and the sunset, if you go for the 5-6ish PM showing.
Bring a hat and strong sunglasses as the sunset is the first thing that hits you when you come in!
When you arrive you’re first assigned to one of two lines, depending on which side of the stage you’ll be seated at. As you come in, you’re greeted with a flower lei and a free drink–alcoholic or its non-alcoholic counterpart. We don’t drink so we picked the non-alcoholic version and it was quite tasty.
One of the servers then escorts you to your table, which you share with three other couples (or six strangers) if your group isn’t large enough, and takes your drink order.
Something we were surprised by? The free, on-demand drinks. Yes, you’d get a menu of what was available at the bar (about eight popular cocktails) and you simply had to give your order to the waiter and he’d bring it a few minutes later. A neat thing was they created virgin versions of all their alcoholic drinks.
(At home we consume little to no sugar so we like to “splurge” when we’re traveling and coming across new foods.)
It is recommended you arrive at least 30 mins before showtime so that you have time to not only get situated, but also walk around and participate in some of the group events. We didn’t do any of that; we just sat, talked, and took selfies :).
Let’s get this started!
The OLL began with an Imu ceremony, which is when the luau pig is unearthed. Apparently this is a pretty popular thing to watch but it looked so crowded that we chose to stay put instead. (We were hungry.)
Then the dancing began and I admit the performers were so very talented. It was truly a joy to see them celebrate their heritage so beautifully!
We were pretty hungry when we arrived so were really looking forward to getting called up to the buffet. (Each section of tables gets called at different times.) This happened about 30-45 mins after the show began.
The food looked tasty–options included kalua pork, teriyaki chicken, mahi mahi, poi, lau lau, poke and other cold salads, mashed purple sweet potatoes, and breads, among others.
The food at the luau
This is where our first disappointment occurred. The food was OK. Just OK. Nothing we’d recommend to anyone or that we’d have again ourselves. It was quite average. Some things we even ended up leaving on our plate because they weren’t good at all; they were either too salty, too dry, or had nothing special.
And for a ticket price of $125 EACH, the food included should’ve been MUCH better, period.
Some people (Cate included) will say that since it’s a buffet, it’s not abnormal for the food to not be splendid, but I wholeheartedly disagree: (A) I don’t support mediocrity; and (B) how come Vegas buffets (like at the Caesar’s Palace or the Paris) are SO.MUCH.BETTER?
We’re not food snobs but we have had and made delicious things, so it always boggles our minds how restaurants can miss the mark when it’s their only job to make stuff that tastes good.
About 10-20 minutes after finishing our meals, our server came by with a dessert tray to leave on our table that had bite-sized portions of popular desserts. Again, nothing spectacular, though the passionfruit one was yummy, but I’m biased because I grew up eating passionfruit and I love it. The brownies looked dry and one of our table mates confirmed it was.
Unlike the food, however, the service was spectacular. Our server came by our table every few minutes to check on us, refill our waters, and take any drink orders. (He’d memorize all this, too, which was impressive considering he had a whole row of tables to work with.)
Towards the end of the luau
Although the food was subpar/just meh but the service was super, the entertainment was another thing that left us wanting more. We weren’t impressed, to be honest, perhaps because it wasn’t our first time seeing people dance hulas, and it somehow didn’t offer anything new, per se. The story that was the theme of the luau and the transitions were very nice.
We also learned that our ticket price (remember: $250 total for two people) included all beverages, food, and entertainment, but NOT the service or gratuity.
You mean we have to pay even MORE money because our tickets didn’t include the price of service AND we hadn’t been told about this until just now? We were flabbergasted! In the end, we noticed some people didn’t tip the servers but we did while still wishing we had been told about it beforehand.
While walking out we were each given a tiny loaf of banana bread in a paper bag to take as a memento. Just like with the food, this banana bread was all right. (If you want some of the BEST banana bread on Maui, stop by Aunty Sandy’s on the Road to Hana. We always get at least a handful of loaves there because it’s PERFECTION.)
Is the Old Lahaina Luau worth it?
Despite my mixed feelings and the fact that we can’t really recommend it or that we wouldn’t go again, I’ll leave this one up to you!
Haha what a non-answer :).
But here’s the thing: After our return, I kept seeing questions from people on that Facebook group asking for luau recommendations and I’d always tell them that at the OLL the food was all right, the entertainment was OK, the grounds were gorgeous, and the service was stupendous. $250+tip was a high price to pay for the assurance to know we’ll never go again but I AM still glad we went, because it means we won’t have to return and we won’t wonder what it’d be like!
However, I don’t want to take business away from anyone, and it’s for this reason I share the good and the bad in my reviews. Perhaps you’re not looking for award-winning food but you’re dying to see some good entertainment and love the idea of free drinks: If so, then this is the place for you.
For us, we’d rather stay away and find things that are less of a “tourist trap.”
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Have you been to the Old Lahaina Luau? What did you think?