Luau Kalamaku Review (Kilohana Plantation, Kauai) [2022]

If you’re visiting the Hawaiian island of Kauai and looking for one of the best luaus then make sure you consider Luau Kalamaku.

Attending this luau was one of the major highlights of our ten night trip to Hawaii and in this article I’ll give you a complete breakdown of what to expect and how to make the most of your visit.

What is the Luau Kalamaku?

The Luau Kalamaku is one of the most popular luaus in Kauai. It’s a theatrical luau that tells the story of the remarkable voyages between the Tahiti and Hawaii Islands through song and dance.

In addition to the show, you can enjoy a Hawaiian feast, take a historic train ride around the plantation, browse local artisan stations, and enjoy some other traditional activities.

Looking for tickets to the Luau Kalamaku? Book your tickets here.

Luau Kalamaku schedule

Here is the Luau Kalamaku schedule:

5:00pm to 6:00pm: Artisan market

Things start to open up at 5pm and you can stroll through different stations on the back lawn. If you booked a ticket on the Kilohana Plantation Train, the train will leave the depot at 5:30pm.

6:15pm: Hawaiian Imu Ceremony

At 6:15pm you can listen for the sound of the conch shell, which will begin the traditional Hawaiian Imu Ceremony. We missed this sound so you might want to just head over to the ceremony area at around that time.

6:30pm to 7:30pm: Dinner

At 6:30pm, dinner will begin followed by dessert and coffee if you wish. Things will already be started on the stage with traditional hula dancers.

7:30pm to 8:15pm: The show begins!

At 7:30, Luau Kalamaku begins and it lasts approximately 45 minutes.

8:15pm: Photo sessions

Right after the show, you can get special photos with the cast.

Luau Kalamaku

Where is the Luau Kalamaku?

The Luau Kalamaku takes place on the Kilohana Plantation and is located at: Depot, 3-2087 Kaumualii Hwy, Lihue, HI 96766. It’s just outside of the city of Lihue on the southeast side of the island.

Kilohana Plantation history

The Kilohana Estate history goes back to 1896, when plantation manager Albert Spencer Wilcox, one of the original missionary families, first developed it as a working cattle ranch.

Later on in 1936, his nephew Gaylord Parke Wilcox took it over and built the first mansion on the island. It was an immaculate and modern building designed by a famous British architect, Mark Potter.

The house has been restored and it is free to visit today.

So in addition to the luau experience you might want to just give all of the Kilohana Plantation a visit to check out the 16,000-square-foot mansion and all of the shops within and around it.

If you think that you’ll be working up an appetite then give the highly rated Gaylord’s restaurant a try.

Of course, if you book the VIP package then you’ll get a four course meal and the VIP luau seating which is highly recommended.

You can also check out the Mahiko Lounge bar for happy hour and the rum shop.

Experiencing Luau Kalamaku

Parking

The plantation has a huge (free) parking area so finding parking should never be an issue. In our case, the staff ushered us through a dirt path where we were able to find a parking spot in the grass.

Luau Kalamaku parking

Arriving

Your first move will be to the check-in desk where they will verify the type of ticket that you have and show you where you need to go.

From what I could tell, you either get pointed towards the main entrance to the luau or if you booked a train ride, you will get pointed towards the train station.

Kilohana Plantation Train

Easily my biggest regret is not riding the Kilohana Plantation Train.

Just a few days prior, we rode the Pineapple Express at the Dole Plantation and it wasn’t exactly the most riveting experience, so I kind of wasn’t in the mood for another meh… train ride.

But when we arrived at the plantation I realized that this was actually a full-sized train that looked like it would be a fun ride.

Plus, it’s one of two heritage railways in Kauai, complete with flatcars that were originally built in 1941 at Pearl Harbor by the U.S. Navy. History always seems to come together in Hawaii.

Kilohana Plantation Train

I also found out that the train depot was used in one of Disney’s biggest new movies, Jungle Cruise. Take a look at the photo I took from the movie and pay special attention to the lattice at the bottom of the building.

It totally lines up with the train depot which is just amazing.

We were just wrapping up checking out all of the Jurassic Park filming sites in Kauai so it was cool to stumble upon another big time movie location.

If for some reason the train is full when you arrive or you forgot to book you a ride, they offer train rides throughout the day so you can always come back and check it out.

Anyway, the train is a 40 minute conductor narrated train ride through a 2.5 to 3 mile rail line with mahogany train cars.

It will take you through the plantation where you’ll see mango, banana, papaya, pineapple, (and other fruits) and it will offer you the opportunity to feed the pigs, goats, sheep, and their friendly donkey, Stiney.

So this is definitely a kid friendly/family type of attraction.

Kilohana Plantation Train map

Getting leid

If you’ve never been leid before get excited because you will have your opportunity when you arrive at the luau! They choose to give women a floral lei and men a shell lei.

The shell leis for men are pretty thin and don’t really stand out that much.

So if you are a man looking for a shell lei that stands out a little bit more consider bringing your own. Personally, I really liked the look of the black nut leis.

Also, women might think about wearing something that contrasts really nice with the purple lei. If you’re not sure what to wear to the luau, check out my article on luau outfit ideas for men and women.

While you can pretty much wear whatever you want to, it’s fun to come “properly” dressed for a lua.

Woodworks

If you’re looking for a memorable Hawaiian souvenir, this luau might just be the place to get it.

Right near the entrance you’ll see a woodworker who is creating brilliant wood pieces right before your eyes.

As you can imagine these are going to be a pretty penny for the larger ones but I would highly advise you to check them out because you might find something that you really love.

Get there early though because the best pieces may already be gone later on.

Luau Kalamaku woodwork

Picture time

After you enter you have the opportunity to get your photo snapped by a professional photographer.

Open Bar

Something that will certainly excite a lot of people about this luau is the open bar.

I actually don’t drink so I was not able to personally experience the drinks but Brad said they were good but very sugary in their sugar-to-alcohol ratio.

The bartender did serve me up some sort of virgin tropical drinks which were extremely refreshing.

The bar is in the rear of the pavilion. Initially when we arrived there was a pretty long line but it got short very quickly and then I never noticed it getting backed up again.

Here’s a look at one of the drinks they were serving up — it’s a very tempting blue. They also serve mai tais.

Luau Kalamaku drinks

And here is that delightful tropical drink that they made for me, complete with a fresh pineapple slice.

Luau Kalamaku drinks

Restrooms are located just outside the back exit near the bar.

Artisan Market

Before the show starts you’ll want to check out the artisan market.

It’s a mini-market with around six or seven different stations where you can find local crafts. They had some pretty cool items like tiki pet collars, Hawaiian wooden cell phone cases, and lots of bags and jewelry.

I also saw some people getting henna tattoos.

Personally, I was most interested in the woodworking near the entrance but they had some cool stuff over here too.

Dinner

When doing research for different luaus, I saw very mixed reviews for the dining experiences.

Some luaus really seemed to deliver while others served up pretty mediocre dishes. So I went into this a little bit nervous about the quality of dinner.

Fortunately, the dinner ended up surpassing expectations.

First, they came around and served the table a bowl of salad and allowed us to fix our own plates.

Luau Kalamaku salad

Then they came by with some warm rolls which were great with butter.

Luau Kalamaku dinner rolls

And then it was time for the buffet.

I was kind of dreading the buffet because there were so many people and it just seemed like it was going to be madness.

But then I picked up on their system which is to call on certain tables to proceed to one of the buffet lines (I think they had four?). It actually was a pretty orderly process.

Because of the pandemic they did ask us to put on gloves before heading to the buffet. It was kind of a nuisance trying to put on those thin gloves but I’m sure it kept things more sterile so I did not mind.

The buffet had a lot of pretty solid options.

I thought that the teriyaki chicken and pork was terrific. Some of the other items like the rice were also pretty good.

Luau Kalamaku dinner plate

During your meal don’t focus on your food too much because you might miss some traditional hula dancing on the stage!

Luau Kalamaku hula dancer

After people have had their main dish then there is the call for dessert.

I wasn’t totally crazy about the dessert options because they just really were not my style of dessert which is basically just anything chocolate. Still, they weren’t bad. You can’t go wrong with pineapple upside down cake.

Luau Kalamaku dessert

After dinner there will be a short break and then the show will soon begin!

The performance

I thoroughly enjoyed the performance but there are a couple of things you should do to help you to truly appreciate the performance.

The first thing you want to do is secure yourself a good view of the stage. After everyone is finished eating, they will encourage everyone to point their seat toward the stage.

Yes, your seats are assigned but you still might be able to slide your seat one way or the other to optimize your view.

The great thing about the stage is that seats surround the stage so it’s really easy to get a good view. Once again, if you want to secure a great view look into the VIP package.

Luau Kalamaku stage

If you are in one of the aisles don’t protrude out too much because they will ask you to move in due to the performers running through with fire and what not.

This is why I highly recommend you looking into one of the VIP packages because you can have one of the best views in the house without having to risk your hair catching on fire.

Just be ready to potentially put on your dance moves if you are sitting close to the stage. At a couple of instances, the performers came out to the crowd looking for volunteers to join in.

Some people declined but there was one kid who volunteered and learned a few moves on the spot. If he had not accepted I think they would’ve asked us next!

The other thing you want to do is to refer to your program for context of the show.

It will have a breakdown of every scene and what is going on and you can use that to provide yourself with some context as to what is going on with the performers.

I found myself referring to it several times throughout the evening and it helped me to appreciate what was going on on stage.

It will be a huge help because it’s not always clear what is going on.

But the gist of the show is that it’s telling the story of ancient Polynesia and the voyages they took between the Tahiti and Hawaii Islands by focusing on one family’s courage and vision.

Luau Kalamaku

I was really impressed once the drumming began and the energy levels instantly rose. Apparently, the drummers make their own drums by hand which I thought was really impressive.

It can be a pretty adrenaline inducing experience to watch these passionate performances, especially if it is your first time witnessing something like this.

Luau Kalamaku
Luau Kalamaku dancers

The costumes and accessories are pretty extravagant, and with the sound system and all of the lighting you quickly realize just how theatrical this luau is.

Luau Kalamaku dancers
Luau Kalamaku dancers

The cast wears a lot of different outfits throughout the performance and it’s always interesting to see the different variations they come out with at the start of each scene.

Luau Kalamaku dancers

And then towards the latter part of the show, out comes the fire!

I’d have to say that no luau would seem complete without a good fire show and they definitely put on a good one here.

Fire poi-balls swing and traditional fire knife dancing steal the show, which is no surprise considering that “Kalamaku” in Hawaiian, means “flaming torch.”

You know it’s about to get intense whenever they raise the cage.

Luau Kalamaku fire dancers
Luau Kalamaku fire dancers
Luau Kalamaku dancers

And then before you know it the luau is done and you can get pictures with the crew if you’d like.

Luau Kalamaku cast

Final word

This was a very enjoyable evening and I would definitely recommend it to other people. Judging on the quality of the production, I would guess that this is probably one of the top luaus in Kauai.

Looking for tickets to the Luau Kalamaku? Book your tickets here.

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