Best Cultural Experience on Maui

Week #2 of “Surprise Travel for Elliott” surprise brought us to the beautiful island of Maui, Hawaii.  Within our first two days here, we saw two great, and very different, shows.  Which one do you think sounds better?

He said:

This is our fourth visit to Hawaii, and our second visit to Maui. Now, you can’t come to Hawaii without doing *something* to get a feel for Hawaiian culture. Of course, the very best activity for Hawaiian culture is a Luau! Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s pricey. Yes, it’s for the tourists. And yes, it’s a great evening. I have dragged Stephanie to one on each of our visits. My favorite luau was on Kauai, but the one we went to this time is a very close second. Rather than drag out to the touristy section of Maui (Ka’anapali), we opted for a luau in Kihei, South Maui at the Grand Wailua near where we were staying. The food was good, but when you’re at an event that’s feeding over 100 people at once, it will rarely be spectacular. The show is really what sets a luau apart.

Many luaus we’ve seen show different dances form all the Polynesian islands, but this one told stories of Hawaii’s history and culture. It also included a couple of Cirque-du-Soleil style elements. My particular favorites were of Mo’o the lizard spirit who lived in a waterfall (done on aerial silks), the cloud goddess whose dress was a giant, billowing, white parachute, and the fire spirits who danced and played on actual fire.

Every luau ends with a fire-knife dancer. This is usually a very muscular guy who spins and twirls a large baton with both ends ablaze. It makes for some pretty good theater, and this guy is the best one we’ve seen yet.  Check him out.

So, in conclusion: Luau – good. Food – good. Mai-tais – good. Hawaiian culture – good. So go see a luau in Hawaii.

She said:

Pork is good, we all get that. And who doesn’t love a luau? But we’d done the luau before, a few times, so I was excited on this trip to see a show that’s a little more authentically in touch with the Hawaiian culture. At Ulalena, we were able to do just that. This show has been going on for fourteen years, and has been named “Best Show” 2007 through 2012, as well as “Best Cultural Show” 2010 through 2012. It’s a show that depicts Hawaii’s history, and most of the cast is made up of people who grew up here locally on Maui!

Ulalena is a live music and dance show consisting of nine scenes, which span the time of Maui’s creation, to the first Polynesian explorers; day-to-day life of the Hawaiians, to the arrival of Europeans to its present culture. My favorite scene was The European Explorer, where they used shadows to make Captain Cook, initially revered by the Hawaiians as a god, look larger than life as he sailed in on his ship. I also loved The Regenerating Forces of Nature, where Volcano Goddess Pele explodes in red fabrics all over the stage. Finally, in other scenes there was both an aerial silk girl, and a girl on a huge swinging hoop!

The best thing of all is that the entire show was live – including the music and singing. It was so good and of such production sound quality, I often forgot the music was live! Then I’d look on stage and see someone standing off to the side, singing in the Hawaiian language, and I was blown away every time. The percussionists were so awesome, even I was able to appreciate them (and I am not one to notice percussion). One guy created an entire thunderstorm, all by himself, using basic stuff like chains and a huge piece of sheet metal!

After the show, we sat and relaxed as most of the audience rushed out. We were rewarded with an after show in which many members of the cast came out to talk to us! They explained a lot about how the show was done, about how their local upbringings helped them portray their characters in the show, and let us ask our own questions. I talked to one of the fabric/hoop girls and found out it only took her two months to learn both apparatuses!

In conclusion: Show – good. Percussion – great. Singing – amazing! Combine all of that with local Hawaiian language and culture to make this a must-see show.

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3 thoughts on “Best Cultural Experience on Maui

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