In Hawaii, you can pretty much go anywhere to see hula dancing. Shows are held weekly, or daily, at the mall, parks, shopping centers, beach, etc. But, if you want to have a full-fledged “tourist” experience, complete with an imu ceremony and an all-you-can-eat buffet, you need to attend a traditional Hawaiian luau. My family and I finally did this when we went to the Smith Family Garden Luau in Kauai, HI.
(FYI, Part Two with all the dancing is below so keep reading. Or, scroll down if you’re more of a visual person. I won’t judge 😉)
Hawaiian Luau in Kauai — Smith Family Garden Luau
What makes the Smith Family Garden Luau is the location and setup. The luau is in the family’s expansive 30-acre botanical and cultural garden. After checking in, guests receive shell leis and have a commemorative photo taken. You can then opt to board the tram for a narrated tour or walk around the grounds at your leisure. The tram tour takes about 10-15 minutes. It includes information about the plants and structures in the meticulously-cared garden.
Before the Imu Ceremony, a family member comes out to give a warm welcome and to share a brief history of the Smith family. We heard from the current patriarch, Walter (whose nickname is “Freckles”), the day we were there. The ceremony commences with the blowing of conch shells and digging up the kalua pig.
Luau Feast at the Luau Hale with Full Menu
Dinner is served across the lagoon at the Luau Hale (pavilion). There is open seating but parties of six or more have reserved tables. Guests can enjoy mai tais, fruit punch, water, soda, wine, or beer while listening to the live band.
The MC then says a prayer before dinner (grace) over the sound system. That was awkward, especially since almost everyone at the luau has different beliefs. These are not given any consideration. While I understand this is a family tradition, it would show more respect to the various guests to have a moment of silence instead.
Tables are called up one by one to get their food at the buffet. There’s PLENTY of food and the line moves quickly so everyone is able to leisurely eat their fill. My favorites were the Hawaiian sweet potatoes, teriyaki beef, and kalua pork.
Hawaiian Luau Main Buffet Menu
- Mixed salad (Papaya Seed or Lava Guava dressing)
- Macaroni Salad
- Three Bean Salad
- Namasu Salad (cucumber salad) – Gluten-free
- Lomi Lomi Salmon (tomatoes, green onions, salted raw salmon) – Gluten-free
- Poi (mashed taro root; use as a dip or topping) – Gluten-free
- Bread (guava, sweet, and pineapple varieties)
- Hawaiian sweet potatoes (purple) – Gluten-free
- Chinese Fried Rice
- Mashed Potatoes – Gluten-free
- Stir-Fried Vegetables – Gluten-free
- Sweet ‘n’ Sour Mahi Mahi
- Kalua Pork (super tender) – Gluten-free
- Chicken Adobo
- Teriyaki Beef (Delish!)
Hawaiian Luau Dessert Menu
- Haupia (coconut jello)
- Fresh Cut Fruit (includes papaya from the garden)
- Rice pudding (which Munchkin had three servings of…)
Accommodating Food Allergies & Celiac / Gluten Free
While making a luau reservation, there is a box labeled “Comments or Special Needs.” Note any dietary restrictions here. Someone from the venue will call to make special arrangements and provide further instructions.
The wait staff has a list of those with food allergies on-hand but guests do need to meet with them before dinner. They can then go through the buffet line before everyone else to get their food and to avoid cross-contamination. The staff will bring out a separate plate of food for you from the kitchen as well. For everyone else, each dish is clearly marked with common allergens.
Make sure you double- and triple-check that your food allergy is noted in the system and that you talk to the wait staff well before dinner starts. We had a little mishap and there was no mention of my husband’s celiac disease in our reservation. (Our reservation was made differently so it was an unusual situation.)
Dinner already started and Frans could not safely eat from the buffet. I was so stressed since his condition and ability to enjoy the food was the main reason we chose to attend this particular Hawaiian luau in Kauai. The staff put extra effort in to rectify the situation. They walked Frans through the line, let him pick which items he wanted, and later brought out a plate that as especially prepared for him. It wasn’t ideal but at least he had enough to eat for the evening.
Rhythm of Aloha Luau Show
It’s a short walk from the Luau Hale to the Pele Amphitheater. That’s where dancers perform the Rhythm of Aloha Show. Guests pass the bathrooms (always good to know where the bathrooms are) and the spot where they can purchase the photo they took earlier at the entrance ($25 per photo).
The theater has stadium-type seating and good visibility from every seat. We enjoyed how the show was weaved together as a story of Hawaii’s history. Each section smoothly transitions to the next from the legend of the islands’ beginnings, through the arrival of the Polynesians, and to today. Performances highlight dances from Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Philippines, New Zealand, and Japan.
Overall, the dancing was amazing. The ladies who did the Tahitian and Hawaiian hula dances are seriously talented and must have bionic hips! The show made good use of the theater area. Performers used the main stage, interacted with the erupting volcano, and made their way onto the raised platform near the audience.
Some performances were more interesting than others, though. In general, the gals seemed more into it than the guys. A few dancers seemed to be less familiar with the routines or not very interested in them. Most of the dancers, if not all, are part of the family or close friends. So, it makes sense that not every performer is at the same level of experience. While this dropped the quality of the show a bit, it also made it less formal and more “cozy” in a way. Both dances on top of the volcano were kind of, well, creepy. That’s why I didn’t include them in the above video.
The dances from the Philippines (tinikling) and Japan (fan dance) were kind of “meh.” Now, tinikling is a super hard dance. (I’ve tried it before and pinched ankles are inevitable.) But, this part kind of looked like an “intro to tinikling” performance. The Japanese one seemed like a spoof from 1960s Hollywood with stereotypical music and “moves.” I actually wondered if audience members from Japan would be offended by this part. A Chinese lion dance was once part of the program but, apparently, local rains ruined the lion’s body. The New Zealand poi balls performance was pretty good (with a couple boo-boos) but got better when they added fire. 🙂
The crowd favorite had to be the performer who did the Samoan Fire Knife dance. He is AWESOME!!! Not only did he do some crazy jaw-dropping moves, but he also knew how to work the audience for major “oohs” and “aahs.”
The show is not the best ever with top acts all the way through. But, it is still impressive and most of it will “wow” you, leaving you with a unique and exciting new family memory. BTW, there is a “show only” option so check out those tickets if you’re not up to the full buffet (adults are only $15 and kids are $7.50).
Enjoying a Full Hawaiian Luau in Kauai
Well, we can now cross off “Hawaiian Luau” from our bucket list. The food was good, the staff was helpful, and the property is clean and well-maintained. As a family that deals with food allergies and restrictions, I appreciate the attention given to accommodate these.
The Smith Family Garden Luau stands out as a full evening experience. The luau is geared to tourists but it adds an element of feeling like an intimate family gathering (a really big one). It’s so different from a standard commercial dinner show at a hotel or by the beach. Plus, the garden and theater are fantastic! I definitely recommend giving this luau a try if you are looking for an inclusive activity to round out your Hawaiian vibes.
My family and I were given a discounted rate for review purposes. All opinions are my own.