A couple years ago we took advantage of the kids’ week off at Thanksgiving to take a family vacation to Pismo Beach and spend Thanksgiving with Brian’s extended family who were having Thanksgiving dinner at the North Beach Campground. We had so much fun on that trip that we made the decision before ever getting home, that we would take a family vacation for Thanksgiving every year.
Last year we spent our Thanksgiving vacation at Disneyland, enjoying the Disney Princess Lunch at Ariel’s Grotto for our “Thanksgiving Meal” and eating churros and ice cream cones for dinner while we waited for the parade.
This year we spent our Thanksgiving vacation at The Grand Wailea in Maui, so of course we made reservations to have our Thanksgiving dinner at The Grand Luau at Honua’ula on the Grand Wailea grounds. I had read a ton of great reviews about the luau, and Brian and I couldn’t wait to experience the culture and flavors of Hawaii with Natalie and Carter. The last time I had been to a luau was before they were born!
Because we wanted to go to the Thanksgiving Day Luau, I knew it would book up quickly, so I booked our reservations over the phone a month in advance (which is an early as the hotel would let me). They added the reservation to our room/account and sent an email confirmation. Once we arrived, we stopped by the concierge to confirm our reservations and they shared some important information with us that made a huge difference!
Even though the luau doesn’t start until 6:00pm, check-in for the luau starts at 4:00pm and the concierge recommended we arrive for check-in around 3:45pm.
When you check-in for The Grand Luau, they assign you a table and table assignments are first come, first served. We had purchased the premium seating package, which guarantees you a seat in the front half of the tables, but not any specific table — so if we wanted to be in the front we needed to check-in early to get the best table assignment possible. Good to know!
All week long we had seen people getting henna tattoos done by the Wailea Canyon Activity Pool, and Natalie and I wanted to get henna tattoos before going home. Here’s the thing though: you need to let them dry for at least three hours and we were planning on swimming and playing at the beach whenever we weren’t adventuring. The only time that made sense was before The Grand Luau — then we could let the Henna dry while watching the show.
On Thanksgiving Day, we spent the morning swimming and playing, took early showers, got dressed up for the luau, and then split up. Brian and Carter went to scope out the check-in situation and Natalie and I went to get henna tattoos. The woman who did our tattoos was very friendly and she did a killer job. They were gorgeous and lasted for more than two weeks!
My only advice is:
- Make sure you wash ALL of the extra Henna off your skin. I thought I washed it off really well before bed, but the next morning I woke up with faint henna marks on my forehead that lasted almost a week — so embarrassing!
- Think carefully about where you get your henna tattoo! We thought getting it done on our hands looked cool, but once I got home and it started to wear off, my hand just looked dirty all the time. It drove me crazy and eventually I took a pumice stone to my hand and scrubbed it (and a layer of my skin, ouch!) off.
The Grand Luau
Brian was one of the first few people in line to check-in for The Grand Luau and being his natural charming self got us the absolute best table assignment in the premium seating section! He gets upgrades and special things everywhere we go, which just speaks volumes about how important it is to be extra friendly and respectful to those in service roles.
The luau doors don’t open until 5:00pm, and we had our wristbands, so we decided to walk along the beach and take a photo of our family all dressed up and capture the moment — rarely are all four of us dressed nice at the same time! But don’t be fooled like we were. The line to get into the luau was already forming and within minutes it was wrapping around the luau area down the pathway along the beach. Yikes! We jumped in line right away when we saw that.
It took about 20 minutes to move through the line and get into The Grand Luau.
Grand Luau Photos
Once inside, we were greeted with shell leis and ushered over to have a photo taken with one of the hula dancers. I was excited about this at first… but then not so much. There were two female and two male hula dancers and they didn’t let us pick who we wanted to have our photo with. They also don’t let you take photos with your own camera — which would have been okay I guess, IF the photos they took were actually good. But they weren’t. The photos were blurry and overexposed, and they weren’t included in our $100+/person ticket price — you had to buy them. Lame.
Grand Luau Imu Ceremony
The Imu Ceremony was one of our favorite parts of the night!
After having our photos taken, we grabbed drinks from the open bar and found our table. Then it was time to watch the imu ceremony. An imu is the underground oven used to cook the pig for the luau — and because it was Thanksgiving, it also held several turkeys! The Imu uses hot coals and stones and layers of leaves and cloth (bed sheets) to steam the pork and turkey.
The ceremony included some storytelling and narration, and the removal of the dirt and layers of leaves and cloth from the underground oven to expose the cooked pork and turkeys. We were front and center so the kids could see the whole cooked pig up close! Both were intrigued by the process of cooking in an underground pit oven, but Carter, our non-meat eater was grossed out.
After the imu ceremony, we wandered along the displays from local vendors selling their wares. After chatting with the artist who makes them, we bought a hand-carved tiki sculpture to remind us of this amazing vacation. He also threw in two small hand-carved wooden turtles for Natalie and Carter! Just remember to bring cash, the vendors prefer cash and some only accept cash.
Grand Luau Dining Experience
We splurged for The Grand Luau premium seating option, so we were also the first to experience the buffet right at 6:00pm — which was awesome because we typically don’t eat at buffets unless we’re first through the line.
The Grand Luau delivered all of the traditional Hawaiian luau foods you would expect, including the most delicious, smoky, shredded pork I have ever had. Seriously, Natalie and I could have only eaten that, and Carter was in heaven because they had Hawaiian rolls and butter, and as much of it as he wanted (he’s my picky eater)!
Also, because it was Thanksgiving, they also had all of the traditional Thanksgiving foods to enjoy, like sweet potatoes, smoked turkey, stuffing, gravy, and even pumpkin pie! As a dessert lover, I wasn’t really impressed with the desserts, but the rest of the family was over the moon about the pumpkin pie.
We were completely done with our meal, even after going back for seconds, before some people had even eaten. Now I know we’re fast eaters, but we’re not that fast! There were several hundred people in attendance and once again, the premium seating package paid off!
Grand Luau Show
Before The Grand Luau show, the emcee lead a hula dancing lesson and invited people to join him on stage. Natalie went up there to participate, but we couldn’t see her at all. I don’t think I have ever seen a stage that full of people, or of adult women crowding in front of the little kids. At least I didn’t have to worry about getting any photos!
The show told the story of the first Polynesians who discovered the sacred island of Maui and the co-existence of gods and goddess of Hawaii living in harmony. Sitting at the center table in the front row gave us a fantastic view of the stage and the kids were thrilled no tall adults were in front of them!
We enjoyed the traditional hula routines, the storytelling by the narrator, the bits of comedy added, the acrobatics, and especially the fire dancing. The kids laughed at the men sitting on the fire and putting it out with their butts, and were amazed at the fire dancing and fire walking, but they were simply captivated by the fire dancer who did awesome tricks with the fire sticks and came so close to us that we could feel the heat.
With The Grand Wailea sitting at the bottom of the Haleakalā volcano, the stories told included Maui legends and history surrounding the volcano. We also heard all about the drive to the Haleakalā Summit from our tablemates, who highly recommended it, so we decided to visit Haleakalā National Park the next day and do a little Maui wine tasting at the same time.
Thanks and Gratitude
After the show ended and we walked back to our hotel room, both kids agreed: “This was our favorite Thanksgiving ever!” I am so happy we were able to spend Thanksgiving this year in such an amazing and beautiful place, at a spectacular Hawaiian resort — and that after a day swimming in the pools and playing at the beach, we enjoyed such a warm and relaxing evening with a delicious meal and great entertainment.
Thanksgiving is always a time for us to pause, evaluate life, and acknowledge the good — to understand how much we have to be grateful for, to remind ourselves to practice gratitude daily, and to pay it forward when we can.
Looking back, 2015 was an incredible year both for our business and for us personally. We are all healthy and happy, we’re enjoying more freedom and fulfillment, and we’re having more fun.
I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings…
What About You?
Have you ever been to The Grand Luau at the Grand Wailea or maybe another luau that you liked? Have you ever done a Hawaiian luau for Thanksgiving dinner or for another holiday?
I’d love to hear from you!