Toa Luau: Oahu’s Newest Luau Experience
Are you heading to Oahu and looking for a family-friendly luau to attend? Have you been to others on the island and just want something a bit more authentic or different? Toa Luau at Waimea Valley is Oahu’s newest luau experience. It’s a family-run luau that started in October 2017. If you’re visiting Hawaii for the first time, Toa Lua is a must do in Oahu.
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I was invited to attend their 17th performance last week and I was truly impressed. For the past 20 years, I’ve been a professional hula dancer. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn other Polynesian dances through the Pacific Islanders Club and Hawaii Club at Washington State University. To say that Polynesian culture is important to me would be an understatement.
When I take my kids to Hawaii, we always incorporate Hawaiian culture. From hands-on crafts to a theatrical luau show, there’s always an educational element to our Hawaiian vacation. So for our first trip to Oahu, I was on the hunt for a kid-friendly luau that was more authentic than touristy. We were looking for things to do in North Shore, Oahu. Toa Luau was the perfect fit for my family, including my 4-year-old and 17-month-old.
What Sets Them Apart from Other Luaus
FOCUS ON SAMOAN CULTURE + OTHER POLYNESIAN CULTURES
If you’ve been to Hawaii before, you’ll realize that Hawaii is made up of so many cultures, not just Hawaiian. People come from all over Asia and the Pacific Islands and that has made Hawaii what it is today. Primarily, luaus will start off with hula dancing, then do a few exciting Tahitian dances and finish off with the Samoan fire knife dance. That’s all people get to see.
Toa Luau is run by a Samoan family and they are able to show a more encompassing view of Samoan culture. They also have dancers from all over Polynesia who perform traditional dances from their home islands. During Toa Luau, we got to see dances from Samoa, Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, and New Zealand.
During the first hour, Toa Luau offers hands-on activities and ceremonies. This included weaving head bands that people wore throughout the evening. We didn’t arrive early enough to participate, unfortunately, and my preschooler was disappointed. Next time, we will make sure to arrive on time!
At other luaus, performers usually uncover a pig that has been cooking in an underground Hawaiian oven called an Imu. However, since Toa Luau has a Samoan-focus, food is cooked in their above ground over called an Umu. They carefully wrapped green bananas, palusami (taro leaves mixed with coconut milk) and taro and placed on hot rocks. Then they covered the food with big leaves and let it cook for about an hour.
We were then invited to sit on the grass where we participated in a traditional Kava ceremony. We all sat in a big circle on mats and chairs. Kava is a drink made from a root that has numbing properties. They explained that chiefs would drink this during negotiations and if they argued, they would drink some more! I’ve also heard that warriors would drink Kava before battle so they could fight through the pain. The ceremony was done in the Samoan language and it was briefly translated so guests understood what was going on.
After the ceremony, guests were invited to try Kava before heading to their table. My Mom tried it and said it tasted like “dirty water” and she could feel the numbing effects immediately. My 4-year-old also took a sip and gave it a thumbs up!
We also were treated to an authentic dance usually performed by a Samoan princess. Traditionally, this was a big deal because princesses were usually kept away from villagers. My kids loved being able to watch her dance and were even more impressed with her headdress. Apparently, in the old days, the headdress was made from the hair of chiefs after they died in hopes that their knowledge would be passed to the next generation of chiefs.
During dinner, guests were invited back out to the Umu to uncover the food. They encouraged kids to use tongs made of the spine of a leaf to help. In hindsight, I should have let my 4-year-old participate along with the other kids. He was completely fascinated!
As we headed back to our table after the Umu demonstration, we saw a lady standing at a table weaving with leaves. My son and I went up to see what she was making. Turns out, she was quickly weaving bowls to put the Samoan food in to serve to each table. And sure enough, she brought out the food just a few minutes later in those bowls!
The buffet dinner consisted of macaroni salad, green salad, furikake white rice, lomi lomi salmon, teriyaki chicken and kalua pork. It was a bit smaller of a spread than other luaus we’ve attended. The dessert buffet featured haupia, an array of fresh fruit and a yummy cake.
What really sets Toa Luau apart is their authentic Samoan food. My Mom and my kids devours the palusami, which is taro leaves cooked in coconut milk. The emcee called it their version of spinach. We would have easily eaten a whole plate of it! The baked taro was good, but even better with a bit of palusami mixed in. My family wasn’t a fan of the green banana, but I’m glad we had the opportunity to try it.
When I’ve attended luaus in the past, I usually feel like I’m being herded in a crowd of 300 people. In a crowd that big, it’s often hard to see the stage. And you usually are seated next to strangers at a long table.
Toa Luau is completely different. There were 16 round tables. Our table just had my family of four, which was perfect! There is a main floor with staggered tables and an upper deck with one row of tables. Each table has an awesome view of the stage. Plus, there’s room for kids to run around on the grass behind the stage or on the upper deck. My 17-month-old just learned to walk a few weeks ago and was eager to explore every inch of the upper deck. That was fine because I still got a great view of the show!
Instead of bringing people on stage to learn the Hukilau or shake their booty to Tahitian drumming, Toa Luau teaches men the Haka. What a fun thing to do in Oahu! If you watch football (or rugby) you’d immediately recognize the Haka. It’s a traditional Maori dance from New Zealand that has recently been a cultural phenomenon as sports teams perform it before big games.
I loved the way they presented it! They brought men up on stage and showed them the hand motions. To help them remember, they said a few silly phrases and asked the audience to repeat back some of them. Everyone caught on easily and if you were to watch the dance without sound, it looked like they knew how to dance an authentic Haka!
Why it’s AWESOME for Kids
THERE ARE KIDS HELPING AT THE LUAU
When we first checked in, a young girl presented us with fresh orchid leis. Usually, my 17-month-old doesn’t like to wear leis, but he just beamed as she put on around his neck. And he actually wore it throughout the luau! My 4-year-old also thought it was so cool to see another kid helping in the kitchen. I appreciated my kids seeing other kids helping with their family business. It’s definitely a fun thing to do in Oahu!
KIDS UNDER 5 ARE FREE
Another thing I appreciate about Toa Luau is that kids under the age of 5 are free. That makes it an economical family activity in Hawaii. Additionally, I think because kids under 5 are free, more families choose this luau. Meaning, your kids will be around other kids.
THEY CAN PARTICIPATE
My kids love to participate! They want to be a part of whatever we have going on. So, it was really cool that not only could they watch the demonstrations, but they were invited to join in on the fun!
HIGH CHAIRS ARE AVAILABLE
Since I have a 17-month-old young toddler, I loved that high chairs were available. I just asked one of the staff members and he quickly brought one to our table.
I didn’t expect the Toa Luau to be stroller-friendly, so we left our stroller in the car. However, I saw a few families use them throughout the evening. This is perfect for younger babies who might fall asleep or would prefer to eat in their stroller. I ended up putting my baby in my Tula baby carrier near the end of the show.
IT ENDS AT 7:30PM
One of my biggest deterrents for booking a luau in the past is that many of them end at 9:30pm or 10:00pm. That’s just too late for my little kids, especially when factoring in the time change. That’s why Toa Luau immediately caught my eye. During October-February, the whole event is done by 7:30pm. March-September, it’s done by 8:30pm, which is still much earlier than other luaus.
What You Need to Know:
It took us 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to Waimea Valley from Waikiki on a Tuesday afternoon. There was an accident on one of the highways. So, if you are coming from Waikiki or Honolulu (or anywhere other than the North Shore) I recommend checking traffic well before you leave. It only took us an hour to drive back to Waikiki.
Toa Luau rents a place at Waimea Valley, which is located across the street from the famous surfing spot Sunset Beach. There are so many things to do in North Shore, Oahu. Waimea Valley itself is a spot featuring cultural demonstrations and exhibits. Plus, you can swim at a waterfall! Your luau ticket also provides same-day admission to Waimea Valley.
If you want to make a day of it, head to Waimea Valley several hours before the Toa Luau begins. There are changing rooms located at the falls so you can get out of wet swim suits and into your Aloha wear. Or, if you are staying on the North Shore, you can head home to clean up and then return in time for the Toa Luau.
Parking is available at the Waimea Valley Visitors Center. When we arrived at 5pm, there were plenty of spots available there because that’s when Waimea Valley closes. If you arrive earlier and the parking lot is full, there is an overflow parking lot.
When you arrive, head to the Waimea Vally Visitors Center and walk to the very back. There, you will see a sign for Toa Luau. There will be someone at a booth to check you in and present you with a fresh flower lei and give you your table number and drink tickets.
Admission tickets for the Silver Package start at $88 for ages 12+. Kids ages 5-11 are $75. Gold and VIP packages are also available.
HOW TO ORDER TICKETS
If this looks like something your family would enjoy on their next trip to Oahu, get tickets here.
Toa Luau provided me with tickets for review purposes. All opinions are my own.
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