In all our trips to the islands, we have never been to a luau. We went to one of the Polynesian shows in Waikiki once and while the show was great, the food was mediocre and I remember throwing elbows with the members of large tour groups to even get close to the buffet tables.
So we figured it was about time to check one out. We were leaning toward the Old Lahaina luau because of its reputation of being the best and most authentic. However, we were concerned that it wouldn't be flashy enough for our son (i.e., no fire dancers!). It turned out that the Hyatt luau offered a free kid's ticket with purchase of an adult ticket and then we won a free ticket as a door prize at the Embassy Resort activities welcome breakfast. So the three of us went for the price of one!
The luau is not served on the beach, but instead in an area with a stage adjacent to the Kaanapali beach walk. In fact, probably the worst part of the whole thing is queuing up in the hot sun on the beachwalk before they let you into the seating area. You're presented with a lei (flowers for the gals, shells for the guys) as you enter and then handed your choice of a mai-tai or fruit punch as you’re led to your seat. It's open seating but they try to fill up the middle first. My wife talked our host into putting us right up front off to the side instead - turned out to be a great seat for the show and no one tried to drag us up on stage to look like a doofus trying to hula.
After you're seated, the drinks just keep on coming. No one can accuse them of being chintzy with the drinks. Not only will the waiters bring them to you as fast as you can drink them, but you can go over to the bar area and get any kind of simple mixed drink. I heard the rum punch and mai-tais were watered down but they seemed fine to me (what's my name again?). If in doubt, go to the bar and have the bartender mix you up something fresh.
After the emcee entertains you with a few songs, each table is invited to exit the seating area and go out to two buffet lines which move quickly and featured various salads, fish, chicken, beef, kalau pig, and of course poi. Everything was very good (except the poi) and the beef and pig were excellent. Desserts were chocolate macadamia nut pie, pineapple upside down cake, bread pudding, and coconut jello and were all very good, too. We were one of the last tables to go to the buffet line, but there was still plenty of fresh food. Although we got enough to eat, we didn't feel like we had enough time to go back for seconds before the show started. I guess when something is all-you-can-eat, you don't feel like you got your money's worth unless you're uncomfortably stuffed!
The show itself is run by Tihati Productions which is probably the premier Polynesian show outfit and the same company that did the show we saw in Waikiki. Rather than feature just hula, a variety of songs and dances from all the tropical islands are demonstrated. The favorites with the kids are the Maori warriors (sticking out their tongues is a big hit) and of course the fire dancer. These guys are amazing - how anyone can put his tongue on a flaming torch is beyond me. These shows may not be completely authentic but they provide a good balance of flashiness and cultural respect. And the musicians and dancers are all very talented.
The activities director at the Embassy Resort directed us to the free beach access parking at the back of the Hyatt which has a limited number of spaces but was closer to the luau location. I heard that you could also get validated parking in the regular lots but then you have to find your way through the Hyatt grounds (which are very nice) to the luau area.
One other problem is the lack of bathrooms. The mens and ladies rooms near the luau area are both pretty small and when you get five hundred people eating and drinking (a lot!), there was a pretty long line after the show. The next closest restrooms are some distance away inside the hotel. Your best bet is to duck in right before the show starts.
While not real inexpensive (the list price for an adult ticket is around $80), the Hyatt luau is still a good value for an evening's entertainment particularly with the free kid's ticket. Discounts are available at the various activity centers and you could probably go for free if you’re willing to sit through a timeshare pitch.