Planning & Pricing
On our recent trip to Disney's Aulani in Hawaii we wanted to book a Luau dinner show to experience some culture and tasty food. There are quite a few options for different Luau's and unfortunately in the past we had experienced one that was on the cheaper side and ended up severely disappointed. KA WA‘A – A Lū‘au at Aulani, takes place on resort property (the Hālāwai Lawn) a few nights a week. Luau's aren't cheap to begin with, and Disney's is an even higher price point than others, but we figured Disney does things top notch and decided to pull the trigger and book it.
General admission is $129 for adults and $79 for kids ages 3-9. Kids under 3 are free. For the VIP experience, the cost is $169 for adults and $109 for kids ages 3-9. The ticket site specifies VIP guests receive an upgraded lei, early check-in, priority seating closer to the stage, and all beverages included (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). It was an anniversary celebration, plus we figured the $40 difference would be covered with about 3-4 resort cocktails, so we decided to upgrade to the VIP option.
About 60 days out we were able to make reservations at Disney's partner booking site. We paid at the time of booking, the prices listed above include gratuities but not tax. When we checked into Aulani we simply picked up our tickets at the concierge desk.
We arrived right around 5:00 and passed by a line of people waiting for general admission to open. Upon check-in we received our upgraded leis (which were just ok, flowers would have been way prettier than corn), our first beverage of the evening (choice of a small pre-made Mai Tai or Blue Hawaiian punch), and then we were directed to a group photo opp with a couple of the performers. (By the way pictures were an uncharge which was a little surprising).
The bar was open as soon as the VIP guests were allowed in so after that was our first stop. We then stopped by the various activity tables set up around the area. The cultural crafts included temporary kakau tattoos, floral bracelet making, kapa printing, and pa'i ai taro pounding. Even though these activities were originally intended to keep kids entertained plenty of adults were checking it out. It was fun to learn about the culture behind the craft station and with no lines, why not check it out? However it was a good thing we hit them up right away. We were told VIPs were let in an hour before the general admission ticket holders, but they were allowed in immediately after all VIP folks were through the door (which probably wasn't even 30 minutes). Luckily each station was pretty short and we were wrapping up just as the masses started making their way in.
The location of our VIP table was just about the best seat in the venue. We were in the front row, and just one table to the left of center. Our table only sat 6 people and we were joined by a fun couple on their honeymoon. We noticed that other tables in the sections behind us were much longer. We enjoyed some of the pre-show music on stage and chatted over drinks for a bit before it was time to eat. The chairs and tables were metal patio furniture and pretty comfortable actually. Note: One really bad thing to call out about the overall location of the Luau is there are no bathrooms. The ones available were all the way over in the Ama Ama restaurant. It was a pretty decent walk and a fairly small restroom, so it ate up far too much time if you had to go.
Part of our rationale for the VIP upgrade cost was that we would make it up in drink consumption. As we mentioned above we received one tiny drink upon check in then were able to order freely from the bar. We were impressed that there were some higher end offerings and really any liquor you could want. Julie was able to order Grey Goose and mixed it with a tropical mixer. Andrew stuck with rum. There was a nice assortment of beers too. It was mentioned that we would have a server to bring us drinks throughout the night but they only brought us our first round and then we never were asked again. So we did have to keep running back to the bar, which closed well before the end of the show. So needless to say it was more work than we were expecting to be able to achieve our break even goal in a short window of availablity.
When we first sat down a chef was brought out to walk Julie around the buffet tables and point out what was safe and what to avoid for her food allergies. (Disney is always the best with this kind of stuff!). Then shortly after VIP tables were individually called up to be first in line for the buffet. The food itself was absolutely amazing. Our plates were heaped with authentic dishes to sample, delicious meats and sides, (and all of us adults may have even made a stop to the kids station to snag some of the mac 'n' cheese). We did enjoy dinner and chatting so much we almost missed out on dessert before we realized it was being put away! Here is a list of the offerings (and some drool worthy photos!):
Salads & Sides
Waipouli Lettuce, Vine Ripe Kula Tomatoes and Shaved Maui Onions with Taro & Guava Croutons and Papya Seed Maui Onion Dressing
Lomi Lomi Salmon Salad
Aulani Style Ahi Poke
Taro Macaroni Salad
Traditional Poi (fermented root of the taro, which has been baked and pounded to a paste)
Braised Pork Imu Style with Maui Onion
Local Fish with Macadamia Sauce
Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry
Roasted Hawaiian Pig (with amazing Bao Bread on the side!)
Tropical Fruit & Berries
Haupia (Coconut Pudding)
Banana Bread Pudding
Coffee and Tea Station
The entire evening had a much different flow than our last luau experience. For us it seemed there was no waiting for anything and the whole evening magically moved from one thing to the next. From the easy check-in and pre activities with live music, to a prompt and plentiful dinner we were always in the moment enjoying our surroundings. While everyone was eating Aunty was on stage telling stories and announcing celebrations. The four of us received a special shout out that both couples were celebrating 10 years of marriage and that we were also celebrating a 5 year friend-aversary of meeting on a Disney cruise and then deciding to purchase DVC memberships at the same time. We got a nice round of applause and it was a fun little moment.
The performance itself was stunning! The actors, dancers and musicians were all top notch. There were even some appearances by some well known Disney characters (they just popped in to say hi though, this was not a Mickey focused show). Since this particular space has been designed for the luau, the lighting, sounds, and overall atmosphere was incredibly immersive. They also a few smaller platforms down the middle aisle of the dining area so people further back could be close to the action as well. The concept of the storytelling was rooted in historical legend, culture and talking about the importance of Ohana (family). We enjoyed seeing all of the beautiful costumes and traditional performing arts. After the show, everyone had an opportunity to take pictures with the performers as well. They were very nice and didn't leave until everyone had left the luau area. Even though things were being cleaned up we were able to leisurely leave and not feel unwelcome.
Our Final Thoughts
We had a blast at the Luau and thought everything was very high quality, we have absolutely no regrets of attending. Given the higher price tag we would most likely prioritize some other new experiences the next time we visit, but given the chance in the future we would absolutely do it again. PROS: on property saved time and effort, top notch performers, delicious food, high end bar, smaller crowd and attention to detail. CONS: seemed just a tad short for the cost of the experience, the restroom situation was not good, and as nice as the lawn was it could have been a even cooler to be closer to the water/sunset.
The next question: was the VIP upgrade worth it? To be honest the description of the package sounded a little better in the marketing pitch than in reality. We had visions of having more VIP pre-party time and a more attentive drink server. We could care less about the leis. A free souvenir photo instead would have been more valuable. We do have to say the seats were amazing. In the end we think we consumed just enough drinks to even out the cost difference. If not for that, the extra money spent would have most likely felt like a disappointment. For us it was a special trip and how often would we have the chance to do a Luau VIP style, so at the end of the day we are glad we splurged on the the upgrade. We hope our review helps future Aulani guests help decide what is the best option for them. All we know is if you can swing the price tag, definitely check out this event!
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