If there is one thing that you absolutely must do when visiting Hawaii, it is attend a luau. With traditional food, music and dancing, you’ll learn a lot about the Hawaiian culture at a luau. And, if you’re at the right luau, you’ll have tremendous fun at the same time! If you’re looking for a luau on Oahu, you can’t go wrong with Experience Nutridge.
Is Experience Nutridge the best luau on Oahu? I guess that depends on what you want out of a luau. For us, it was absolutely perfect and I would return in a heartbeat. Read on for our full review to determine if the Experience Nutridge luau is right for you.
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Choosing the Right Luau
Each of the Hawaiian islands boasts plenty of luau options, allowing you to choose the perfect one for you and your family. Which luau is right for you depends on your preferences. Things to consider include:
- Do you want an oceanfront luau?
- Would you prefer big and splashy or small and intimate?
- How far are you willing to drive? Or do you need transportation provided?
- Do you care if alcohol is served?
- Would you like to watch an imu ceremony (uncovering of the underground oven traditionally used to cook the kalua pork at a luau)?
- How much are you willing to spend?
Of course, you may not find the luau that can provide everything you think you want. And even if you do find it, then you have to manage to actually secure the tickets. Like many things in Hawaii, it’s always helpful to plan as far in advance as possible to allow yourself the most options.
If I’m being honest, the Experience Nutridge Luau actually wasn’t my first choice. We originally had the Old Lahaina Luau on the island of Maui booked when we first planned our Hawaii vacation. My sister and I attended that luau when we visited during a cruise back in 2007. We had a great time, so I wanted to share that with Grant.
But that trip was scheduled for the summer of 2020 and got canceled due to COVID. We eventually rebooked the trip for December 2021. With everything going on in our lives at that time (chiefly, moving and writing a book), I dropped the ball on making reservations. By the time I thought about it, the Old Lahaina Luau was sold out for our dates.
I have to say, though, it absolutely worked out for the best.
Why Experience Nutridge Luau?
So, why exactly did we choose Experience Nutridge? Well, we were spending most of our time on the island of Oahu, so it made sense to look for a luau near Honolulu. I did my research and compared several different options. ‘
I’d say the main reason we chose the Nutridge luau was the history of the estate. The site was the first macadamia nut plantation in Hawaii. Additionally, the Nutridge Estate was a favorite retreat for many celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. I mean if it was good enough for The King, it’s good enough for us, right?
Additionally, the Nutridge Estate is located on a hillside above Honolulu, providing great views of the city. And, it was only about a 20-minute drive from our hotel. Everything about the location sounded just about perfect. Yes, beachside might be nice but, honestly, we didn’t miss that at all!
We also liked that Experience Nutridge advertised as being a small and intimate luau. Honestly, I didn’t necessarily want something super small. But I also didn’t want something too big and commercialized. Their website says “We go from being strangers to family within the few hours you are here.” I have to say, that was spot on and, perhaps, the best thing about the entire luau.
Finally, we liked the simplicity of the pricing. At a large luau, you often have to pay more for “better” seating or certain experiences. At Experience Nutridge, there’s just a set price, based on age.
Getting to the Nutridge Luau
As mentioned previously, the Nutridge Estate is located on a hillside, on the inland side of Honolulu. If you have a car, you can easily drive yourself from Honolulu. For those without a car, or if you just want to leave the driving to someone else so you can enjoy a few mai tais, you can pay extra for transportation.
From the city, you’ll drive through a residential area and up a tall mountainside to the Pu’u Ualaka’a Wayside Park. The entrance for the Nutridge Estate is just before you get to the State Wayside overlook. In fact, if you arrive early, they’ll direct you to take a few minutes to drive up to the overlook – which you absolutely should do!
At the Pu’u Ualaka’a overlook, you’ll have unobstructed views of Diamond Head and the Honolulu skyline. Take a moment and enjoy the view, then head back over to enjoy the rest of the night at the Nutridge luau!
What to Expect at the Nutridge Luau
Once everyone was checked in at the gates to the Nutridge Estate, we received a warm welcome from our hosts. Before we entered, our host performed a traditional chant to ask permission, at which time the dancers approached with the response. Inside the gates, we received our official introduction to the estate.
As we made our way over to a small amphitheater around the imu, we picked up our choice of a mai tai or ice water. We also each received a kukui nut lei (the kukui is the official state tree of Hawaii). While these are not the traditional flower leis that most people associate with Hawaii, it also didn’t wilt within 24 hours. In fact, we still have ours at home looking just as good as when we received them!
Hula Dancing and Imu Demonstration
Here, we heard more about the history of the property and learned that it takes 300 pounds of pressure to crack open a macadamia nut! Following that, there was some hula dancing – thankfully not interactive!
What they did ask the guests to participate in was getting to know their neighbors. This is just one way that the Nutridge luau begins to feel like you are with your family. As it turns out, we were sitting next to the daughter of the owner… she was in town for Christmas and chose to spend the night at the luau with her boyfriend.
We also learned about the imu, which is an underground oven that is used for cooking. The imu is frequently used to cook kalua pork, the main staple of any luau, along with side dishes such as sweet potatoes. While there was an imu, this luau did not actually have a traditional imu ceremony, where the cooked pig is unearthed. They did, however, have a few guests help wrap sweet potatoes in leaves which were served at dinner.
More Traditional Dancing
Next, we took a short, easy walk down a path into the jungle. At this stage, we saw more traditional dancing. The women performed a dance with sticks (sorry, I don’t know the official name of the dance). The men performed a haka, a traditional Maori dance with a lot stomping and chanting. While not traditionally Hawaiian, it is a Polynesian dance.
To end that portion of the night, one of the men performed a fire dance.
I have to say, watching the traditional Polynesian dancing is always fascinating for me. The skill and stamina that it takes to do that are just incredible.
From there, we had about an hour before dinner. During this time, we were free to wander around the grounds, get more drinks or participate in a few traditional games. We ran into the owner and talked to him for a few minutes. While he is from Hawaii, he actually lived near Atlanta for a while, so that was definitely one of those “small world” moments. It was great to hear his story and see his passion for the Nutridge luau.
Grant tried his hand at ‘O’O ihe, which is spear throwing. The target was the stalk of a banana tree, which you try to reach with a wooden spear. Traditionally, this helped young warriors prepare for battle or gather food.
There was also a place where you could try a game that was similar to bowling.
Nutridge Luau Dinner
Finally, it was time for dinner! Even with some remaining COVID precautions, dinner was set up as a buffet, with food dished out by the dancers. Of course, Grant and I did our best to try a little bit of everything.
Our meal included salad, Kalua pork, chicken, purple sweet potatoes, rice, rolls and pork wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. I have to say, everything on the plate was absolutely delicious. But the pork, oh my… that was probably the best pork that I’ve ever had in my life. Seriously. Words don’t adequately describe it.
For dessert, they had premade plates that included a cupcake, haupia (a firm coconut pudding), and a wedge of pineapple.
Everything about the food was absolutely perfect!
Even More Dancing
Following dinner, there was more dancing. First, the dancers continued their show with both the males and females performing traditional Hawaiian dances.
Eventually, they got the guests to participate. Grant and I are not generally the first ones to get up and dance. But, we couldn’t be the only ones still sitting in our chairs! Of course, we both had a blast! It almost felt like being at a wedding reception.
Final Thoughts on the Experience Nutridge Luau
With a small cast of dancers and emcees, it really felt like we got to know the performers over the course of the night. And with a small number of guests (maybe 100 at the most), it really felt like we were in someone’s backyard, at a family luau.
That is probably what I most enjoyed about the Nutridge luau over the Old Lahaina Luau. The Old Lahaina Luau did include an imu ceremony and is waterfront. And it was a great show when I saw it back in 2007. But, the small, intimate experience at Experience Nutridge made it feel slightly more authentic. We left feeling like we enjoyed a nice night with friends and family, rather than a show.
Additionally, the pace of the events at the Nutridge Luau was perfect. There was just enough information at the beginning to pique your interest, without lasting so long that it gets boring. The dancing was spaced out enough that you didn’t get tired of just sitting and watching.
All of the dancers and emcees did a great job of interacting with the guests as much as possible. And it truly seemed they were enjoying themselves every step of the way!
Seriously, if you’re looking for a luau on Oahu, I cannot recommend Experience Nutridge enough. We loved every single moment of our evening and can only hope that we have the opportunity to go again one day.
Need more help planning your visit to Hawaii? Check out all of our articles on visiting Oahu and Maui:
- Best Places to Go on Oahu
- Planning the Perfect Oahu Itinerary
- Visiting Pearl Harbor
- Our Review of the Polynesian Cultural Center
- Driving the Road to Hana on Maui
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