Celebrate an ancient Hawaiian tradition in a decadent, tropical setting with the Royal Hawaiian Luau — the Aha’aina. The majestic pink hotel is a Waikiki landmark fronting the beach and the Helumoa, legendary playground of the ancient Hawaiian court. The Helumoa, now called the Ocean Lawn, is the location of the Royal Hawaiian’s weekly aha’aina.

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While living on Oahu, I attended 4 luau’s within a 10-day period. (Needless to say, I was a little bit luau-ed out by the end!) I was shooting them for a work project for a client, and it was a great assignment because I got to do one of those ‘touristy’ things that those of us who live in Hawaii never actually do…which means that now I can write about each one to help you in your search for your perfect Oahu luau! An important disclaimer: I did not eat at any of the luau’s, so can’t report on the food side of things — just on the location, overall experience, and activities. Each luau has a distinct ‘feel’ that is different than others on the island, despite sharing so many similarities, so the ‘best’ luau on Oahu really depends on what you are looking for. Some are more family-friendly and island casual, while others — such as the Royal Hawaiian Luau — are a bit ‘classier,’ which is only fitting of the sprawling, luxioursly pink Waikiki landmark.Royal Hawaiian Luau-1

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The Royal Hawaiian’s twist on the traditional and well-known Hawaiian Luau is the Aha’aina, a historic tradition that dates back to ancient Hawaii prior to the Luau. Meaning “to gather for a meal,” the aha’aina was a feast of food, song, and hula celebrated by ancient Hawaiians during momentous occasions and holidays.

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The festivities begin at 5:30pm with historic activities such as kapa-making (cloth made from pounded bark), na lawai’a (making fishing tools), and poi-pounding. The blowing of the conch shell marks the beginning of the feast and the start of the evening’s entertainment — a riveting performance with storytelling, hula, music, and much more. The feast features sit-down dinner service and an open bar. The menu includes poi, salmon, kalua pig, local greens, kona lobster tail, the Royal Hawaiian signature pink haupia cake, and more.

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One of the main components of any luau is the Kalua Pig, which is traditionally wrapped in leaves and cooked in leaves in an Imu, which is a type of underground oven. (Kalua is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘to cook in an underground oven.’) Some luaus use conventional ovens to cook their pork, and others use an Imu Pao, which is an above-ground version of the imu, but the luau’s that are trying to create a more traditional, authentic experience will use an actual imu, which is typically 6 ft long, 4 ft wide and 3 ft deep.

For the imu, a fire is created in the dirt pit using kiawe wood. Once the fire is burning well, rocks are put in the pit so that they retain the fire’s heat and continue cooking the pig after the flames have burnt out. When the rocks are extremely hot, the pit is lined with banana leaves. The pig (or whatever meat being cooked) is salted, filled with more hot rocks, and wrapped in ti and banana leaves. To help retain moisture and produce an even cooking heat, the meat is covered with wet burlap, and then with a layer of sand or dirt. After this, the waiting begins! The meat is left in the imu to cook for 6-8 hours, absorbing smoke and steam from the wood and leaves that give kalua meat its signature flavor. Once the meat is done, it is removed from the imu and shredded.

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‘Luau’ is the Hawaiian word for a taro leaf, and traditionally, luau guests ate on the floor over mats called ‘lauhala’ (made from woven leaves.) Today, unfortunately, lu-au guests don’t get to eat on the floor and are seated at tables instead.

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Set against a backdrop of the turquoise ocean and Diamond Head, the aha’aina pro-vides guests with a memorable experience conveniently located in the heart of Wai-kiki, within walking distance of the strip’s many hotels and resorts.

Experience the Royal Hawaiian Aha’aina

Hours: Mondays 5:30pm – 8pm
Cost: $175 for adults. $97 for children ages 5 – 12.
Phone: 808-921-4600
Website: www.royal-hawaiian.com/dining/ahaaina
Address: 2259 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI
Directions: The Royal Hawaiian is the large pink resort located right on the main beach strip in Waikiki. Take Kalakaua Ave toward Diamond Head; the resort will be on your right. Self-parking and valet parking are available, both complimentary as part of your luau package.

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