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This is the ultimate first timer’s guide for attending the Ka Wa’a Luau at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa.
For first-time visitors, no trip to Hawaii is complete without celebrating in the traditional feast of the Hawaiian people: the luau.
I often describe Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, as a “Hawaiian resort with touches of Disney.”
Aulani offers one of the premier luau experiences on the entire island of Oahu, Ka Wa’a, a luau at Aulani. The luau shines a careful light on the historically significant foods, activities, dances, and songs of Hawaii, with a focus on the history of the local Oahu region.
Table of Contents
- What does the Name Ka Wa’a Mean?
- What Happens at the Luau?
- The Luau Dinner
- The Luau Program
- How Long Does the Luau Last?
- How Much Does the Luau Cost?
- What to Wear to Aulani Luau?
- When is the Aulani Luau?
- What Happens if it Rains?
- What is the Cancelation Policy?
- Is VIP Worth it?
- Aulani Sign Language Interpretation
- Aulani Ka Wa’a Luau Tips
- Conclusion: Is It Worth It?
What Does the Name Ka Wa’a Mean?
The term wa’a means canoe, and Ka Wa’a roughly translated means “the canoe”.
The name is inspired by the canoes that transported the early ancestors of the Hawaiians from far off Polynesian islands to Hawaii.
What Happens at the Luau?
When Does it Start?
Seating and pre-show activities for the luau begin at 5:00pm for VIP guests and 5:15pm for general seating. A line is common, so try to get there 15-30 minutes before your entrance time.
Get Your Seat
At the Ka Wa’a luau, dining is communal, meaning you’ll be seated at long tables with other guests.
When it is your turn to enter the lawn, your group will be escorted to your table and seated. Seats are from front to back, so the earlier you get seated, the closer you’ll be to the stage and performance.
VIP guests receive early access (15-30 minutes prior to general admission) and will be seated closest to the stage.
Greeting & Lei
Upon entry to the luau, you’ll be greeted by one or more of the dancers and gifted a lei.
Males will receive a puka shell lei while the ladies receive a beautiful flower lei made of orchids and tuberoses. Kids have the option to get a lei like the adults or a Maui fish hook necklace which looks pretty sweet.
Prior to dinner being served, guests are invited to wander the grounds and visit a variety of stations featuring cultural activities.
These are staffed by the dancers themselves and they teach arts, crafts, music, and more related to the Polynesian history and culture.
When we went to the Ka Wa’a luau, these were the stations open to us:
- Learn to make poi (traditional Hawaiian food made from taro root)
- Receive a free ukelele lesson
- Get a tribal tattoo (don’t worry, they’re temporary!)
- Make an orchid bracelet
- Use traditional Hawaiian stamping methods to make a bookmark
Take Your Own Pictures
The setting in the luau courtyard is idyllic and picturesque. This time before dinner is ideal for taking family photos or selfies against the scenic backdrop.
Take advantage of this time while the sun is still up.
A staff photographer will invite you to have your picture taken with some of the hula dancers.
This photo is available for purchase later, or, if you have the PhotoPass, it will be included in your collection.
If you don’t have the PhotoPass, skip the line for the pictures and take your own pictures to save yourself the time and money.
The Luau Dinner
When dinner is served, families are invited table by table to visit the all-you-can-eat buffet to fill their plates.
Meats, salads, vegetables, and desserts are all available, including carving stations offering prime rib and the traditional kalua pork.
We enjoyed the food here much more than at other luaus we have been to in the past!
For my husband and I, luaus are more for the show than for the food, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the cuisine at Ka Wa’a was much better than at other luaus.
Some examples of the foods we enjoyed:
- Teriyaki chicken
- Fresh island fruits
- Seasonal vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
- Taro rolls with butter
- Haupia-coconut pudding
- Banana bread pudding
- Guava cake
- Macademia nut brownies
In addition to all the traditional luau fare, there are kid-friendly options such as carrot & celery sticks, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and Mickey Mouse shaped pasta.
Vegetarian or Food Allergies
If you have special dietary needs, contact them before to let them know.
The luau is owned and run by a separate company and you can reach them by calling the same number as reservations (844-284-7644).
As a vegetarian, I contacted them to request a special plate. On the day of the luau, they had a note of my name and brought me a special dish made by the chef.
Additionally, they have options for people with other food allergies. Just call ahead and they’ll take care of you.
The Aulani Luau Menu
Here is a detailed version of the luau menu from when we visited. I assume it changes from time to time, but this should give you a sense of what is offered.
(GF= Gluten Free, DF=Dairy Free, NF= Nut Allergy Free)
Waipoli Lettuce/Vine Ripe Kula Tomatoes/Shaved Maui Onions(GF, DF) Papaya Seed Dressing,/ Maui Onion Dressing/ Taro and Guava Croutons Lomi Lomi Salmon Salad(GF,DF, NF)
Taro Macaroni Salad
Hapa Nui/ Main
Braised Pork Imu Style/ Maui Onion(GF,DF,NF)
Stir Fry/ Seasonally Sourced Vegetables(GF,DF,NF)
Hawaiian Waters Local Catch/ Crushed Macadamia Nut Sauce
Teriyaki Chicken / Oven Roasted Marinated Chicken(DF)
Grilled Shoulder Steak/Hamakua Mushrooms(GF,DF,NF)
Steamed Short Grain Rice((GF,DF,NF)
Sweet Potato Duet/ Puree Okinawan and Uala Potato (NF)
Whole Roasted Hawaiian Raised Suckling Pig(DF)
Slow Roasted Prime Rib/ Alae Sea Salt Crusted(GF,DF,NF)
Steamed Bao Buns/ Taro Rolls/ Lilikoi Butter(NF)
Mea ‘ai Momona/Dessert
Macadamia Nut Brownie (Nuts, Dairy, Egg, Gluten)
Haupia/ Coconut Pudding
Guava Cake (Egg, Gluten, Dairy)
Banana Bread Pudding (Egg, Gluten, Dairy)
Seasonal and Tropical Fruit and Berries
Surfer Carrot and Celery Sticks/ Ranch Dip(GF,NF)
Big Wave Fruit Cup/ Marshmallows(NF)
Shaka Macaroni and Cheese
Tiki Chicken Tenderloin/ Pineapple BBQ Sauce
Mickey Pasta/ Tomato Sauce/ Meatballs(DF,NF) Moana Surprise Dessert (Egg, Gluten, Dairy)
The Luau Program
The evening’s main event starts promptly when dinner is done.
The story is told by a Hawaiian brother and sister, who reflect on their personal family history and traditions, weaving in traditional songs and dances, including hula kahiko and hula auana.
They relate stories of how their ancestors traveled from Tahiti to the local region. Additionally, we learn about sugar cane, fishing, taro farming, and other aspects of the daily life of their Hawaiian ancestors.
The Disney touches are very light with the focus being on the cultural significance of dance and song.
However, you will likely enjoy brief surprise visits from Moana, Mickey, and Minnie Mouse a few times during the program.
While much of the action takes place on the main stage, there are small platforms at other spots in the audience (down the middle aisle) bringing the action closer to you even if you are seated further back from the front.
The luau ends at the conclusion of the show, at approximately 8:30pm.
How Long Does the Luau Program Last?
The entire luau including pre-show activities, food, and the show lasts about 3 hours. The show portion of the program itself lasts a little over an hour.
How Much Does the Luau Cost?
- $144 Adults
- $94 Youth (ages 3-9)
- Free Kids under 3
- $184 Adults
- $114 Youth (ages 3-9)
- Free Kids under 3
What to Wear to the Aulani Luau?
Many high-end Disney experiences have mandatory dress codes that guests must adhere to in order to eat.
This is not the case with the Aulani luau.
Wear something you’ll be comfortable in. Maybe some stretchy pants so when you inevitably overeat at the Hawaiian buffet you don’t get strangled by your pants.
When is the Aulani Luau?
The luau does not take place every night.
It is every two to three nights, so check the schedule before making a booking.
Either visit the Aulani official website or call (844) 284-7644 to find out what days the luau is going on.
What Happens if it Rains?
The Aulani Ka Wa’a information page has this listed:
“For sprinkling and passing showers, we will continue with the show. We will cancel the show for heavy downpours or steady rain. We reserve the right to cancel or modify the show at any time for weather or safety-related issues.”
What is the Cancellation Policy?
Any cancelation must go through the Aulani Resort in person, or via phone call to the Disney Reservation Center at (866) 443-4763.
Is VIP Worth It?
One of the most significant benefits of VIP includes early entry to the Hawaiian Lawn before guests with general admission tickets, but there are some other benefits that come with the added price:
Early Entry – Activities:
Getting onto the lawn before everyone else gives you and your kids a head start on the activity stations.
However, there is plenty of time for these activities, even if you buy general admission.
Early Entry – Seating:
This is arguably the biggest perk of VIP tickets, as you’ll be seated much closer to the stage than the rest of the guests.
VIP Guests also receive complimentary beverages when seated (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and a special welcome lei.
So is it Worth it to get VIP tickets?
In our opinion, probably not.
We enjoyed the same food and activity stations as everyone else, and the drinks and lei aren’t convincing enough for us to buy VIP tickets next time we go.
The biggest seller for the VIP tickets is the close proximity to the stage, so if you’re willing to spend an extra $40 per adult to sit close to the stage then go for it.
My tip is to skip the VIP experience and just arrive early to wait in line and get a good spot.
Aulani Sign Language Interpretation
For guests with hearing impairments, sign language interpretation is offered when requested. Call (844) 284-7644 at least 14 days in advance of your reservation in order to request an interpreter.
After placing a request for an interpreter, a cast member will reach out to you and let you know if an interpreter is available and if so, what their name is.
Aulani Ka Wa’a Luau Tips
If you’re interested in reading about our 101 tips for the Disney Aulani Resort in general, check out this post.
Here are a few of our tips for the Ka Wa’a luau specifically:
Getting in Line
Seating is based on a first-come, first-served basis.
We were told when we’d be let into the luau, so we arrived an hour early. We were the first in line and all by ourselves until about 20-30 minutes before the designated start time.
Don’t Take Professional Pictures Unless You Plan on Buying Them
When you first enter the luau grounds, you’ll receive a lei and be guided to a photo opp with some of the Polynesian dancers.
This will be a picture taken by Disney’s professional photographers. The idea here is for you to purchase the picture as a memento.
Since we were directed to the spot for pictures, we thought it was mandatory but we could have declined and made our way to our table, thus ensuring us a better seat.
So, if you don’t plan to pay for the Aulani Luau photo package, feel free to skip this and go straight to the seating line.
Room that Faces the Courtyard
If you have a room that faces the courtyard, you will have a full view of the program from your balcony.
In that case, you can probably skip paying for the buffet and just enjoy the dancing and singing from your room.
Rooms on the 2nd to 5th floors will likely have the best views.
If Online is Booked, Call for Reservations
When I researched our booking, the online reservations were all gone.
However, I called the number for reservations and an agent was able to get me a reservation over the phone.
If you look for reservations and they appear to be full, try giving the resort a call at (844) 284-7644 and see if they can help you.
VIP Sells Out Early
Book if you think you want this. It’s easy to cancel or “downgrade” later but these spots go fast.
Tattoos Last a Few Days
Of course, the tattoos are temporary, but they typically last a few days, so factor that into your decision about how many tattoos to get and where to place them.
Send Your Kids Into the Participation Parts of the Program Quickly
There are a couple of portions of the program when children are invited to approach the stage for more interactive participation. Don’t delay on these.
These are fun experiences but very short, so if your child is slow to go, he or she could miss it completely.
Go to the Bathroom Before Entering the Luau
There are no bathrooms on the Hawaiian Lawn, and the closest ones are far away from where the luau takes place.
Make sure you and your group use the bathroom beforehand so you don’t have to miss any of the spectacular program or activities.
You don’t need Umbrellas
If you get light rain showers, the show will go on and guests will be handed clear umbrellas. If it begins to rain heavily, the show may be canceled.
Get Parking Validated
If you are attending the luau but aren’t staying at the resort, up to 5 hours of self-parking will be validated for you.
Watch the Luau on Christmas
If you’re staying at Aulani over the Christmas holiday, the Ka Wa’a luau will take place on December 25, 2021. There will also be shows on New Years’ Eve 2021 and New Years Day 2022.
Book Toward the Middle of Your Trip
There is a three hour time difference between Hawaii and the Pacific Time Zone, so if you’re coming from the East Coast, the difference could be six hours.
This jet lag is a very real thing on the first few days of your trip; staying up late can be challenging and you find yourself wide awake at 4:30am local time.
On the other hand, if the show is canceled due to rain, and you have booked a luau at the end of your trip, you could possibly miss out because you won’t be around to enjoy the rescheduled date.
This makes the middle of your trip ideal for booking your Aulani luau reservation.
Conclusion: Is it Worth It?
We have attended a variety of luaus in the past, so we feel comfortable comparing the Aulani Luau to others we’ve experienced.
The luau as a proxy for a family (Ohana) feast is such an important aspect of Hawaiian culture that adds authenticity to any Hawaiian vacation.
In our experience, luau food in general is simply not our favorite. We don’t attend a luau for the dining.
The Aulani luau buffet was a notch higher than most luaus we’ve attended. However, if we based our decision on whether to attend Aulani’s luau for the fine dining aspect, we probably would just save our money.
But luaus are much more than just the food.
Connecting to Hawaii’s proud heritage provides deeper context and appreciation for Hawaii and the people who have been stewards of these islands for so many generations.
The combination of gorgeous setting, short but engaging cultural activities, traditional luau cuisine, and the not-too-long-but-not-too-short evening program make the Aulani luau one of our favorites.
A luau is an experience worth having at least once!