In which our Travel Editor—and resident Elvis authority—guides us through some fine, and in places, quirky, dining spots along the Honolulu beachfront. (Additional reading: “Dancing Barefoot: The Great Waikiki Mai Tai Taste Off,” Gaar’s guide to Hawaii’s  finest mixology establishments.) (Above: King of Hawaii: Johnny Fortuno as Elvis in Rock-a-Hula.)


In Waikiki, everyone wants to snag a good seat to enjoy the inevitably beautiful sunset, and Blurt’s given you some suggestions as to where to do exactly that. But what about after the sun goes down? If you’re not heading to a luau (we’ll cover those later), here’s a look at what you’ll find in Waikiki, offering more than just hula dancing:


Magic of Polynesia: This production gives a Hawaiian twist to a magic show. But it’s a bit of an uneasy mashup that would’ve worked better if there was something specifically “Hawaiian” about the tricks. Instead, it alternates between tricks, some hula, more tricks, some fire knife dancing, and so on. The tricks are pretty standard stuff (e.g. the assistant gets in a box and disappears, reappearing in the auditorium), but still enjoyable. Whoever the magician is (they alternate) adds some comedy to the proceedings as well. There are four packages: show only, one cocktail, dinner, and deluxe dinner. I’ve seen this a show a couple of times, but haven’t had the dinner. The main advantage of buying a dinner package is better seating. Ditto the cheaper tickets; you could do the show only ticket, and buy two cocktails, and that would still be cheaper than the cocktail package; but you’d get better seating at the latter. Rating: Fun show, but lacks the fire to make it a must-see. (Below: No rabbits, no hats: it’s the Magic of Polynesia.)

Star of Honolulu Dinner Cruise: The appeal of a dinner cruise in Honolulu is obvious, since you’re in one of the most picturesque places on earth. This company prides itself on presentation and customer service, which are both first rate. There’s transportation via bus to the dock at Aloha Tower (at one time the tallest building in the islands), where hula dancers entertain you until it’s time to board. There are four dinner options, and I’ve done two. The Pacific Star Sunset package, the cheapest, offers a buffet and Polynesian-themed show. The Star Sunset package has all-you-can-eat crab and tenderloin of beef, and a “60 Years of Aloha” show. I’ve experienced the Three Star Dinner package, with lobster and tenderloin of beef, plus the “Aloha” show. (Below: The picturesque presentation of the Star of Honolulu’s Five Star Sunset Dining.)I was disappointed that the “champagne” toast wasn’t sparkling wine but non-alcoholic. I was told this was because some of the guests were under 21; fine, give them the sparking cider, and sparkling wine to the rest of us. The mixed drinks were also weak; I asked for an additional shot in mine. The food was tasty and plentiful. The Five Star Sunset Dining & Jazz is the swanky one. The meal has seven courses, starting with appetizers on the top deck where you meet the captain, followed by soup, salad, lobster, sorbet to cleanse your palate, prime tenderloin of beef, and two small desserts (more fun than one big one). The dining room here is less crowded; it’s more cramped on the lower floors. And instead of a Polynesian-themed show, you get a jazz vocalist following your meal. I enjoyed getting a taste of the high life. Whatever deck you’re on, try to get a window table. You’re free to wander about the ship during the voyage, so be sure to go outside and deck to enjoy the view. I also recommend paying the extra fee to go on Friday night, when the ship stays out later to see the weekly fireworks display at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The cruise isn’t cheap (prices start at $97), so reserve it for a special night out. Rating: It’s worth taking to the time to see the island from a different perspective — on the sea. (Below: Jazzin’ it up on the Star of Honolulu dinner cruise.)

Blue Note Hawaii: The Outrigger Waikiki used to be host to the long running variety show Society of Seven. It was then decided that the show was too long in the tooth, so it was closed down, the space was remodeled, and reopened as the Hawaii branch of the Blue Note jazz club chain. One nice thing about Blue Note Hawaii is there’s a good mix of local and national talent; shows with local acts are cheaper as well. The space seats over 300, but the design makes it feel relatively intimate, so you can get a decent view pretty much wherever you sit; the cheapest seats are at the bar at the back. (Below: The Winston Marsalis “Star Table” at Blue Note Hawaii.)There are two shows a night, with food available. On my last visit, I had the Chocolate Macadamia Nut Martini — like drinking a liquid chocolate bar (and it needed more alcohol). One drawback: you’re forced to order something, because there’s a $10 food/beverage minimum — which always makes ordering feel like more an imposition, than something you’re doing for pleasure. Another drawback is the wait in lobby before you’re admitted (especially for the second set, as you’re only admitted a half hour before showtime), something that could easily be solved by having reserved seats. Note also that because of the smaller size, popular acts (like Herb Alpert or Chris Botti) tend to sell out fast, so if you’re interested in such a show, don’t delay in getting a ticket. Rating: A quality venue with a good range of talent, and a nice change of pace from the tropical drink bar scene. (Below: All that jazz at Blue Note Hawaii.)

Rock-a-Hula: My hands down favorite show in Waikiki. They’ve just updated the show and I plan to see it on my next trip and tell you all about it, so I’ll just give an overview here. The show was created by Legends in Concert, who put on tribute shows in Vegas. There’s a rotating cast of tribute artists, but there’s always an Elvis (the wonderful Johnny Fortuno), who of course has a strong connection to Hawaii, having made three films here, not to mention his Aloha From Hawaii by Satellite concert from 1973 — and songs from his films and the ’73 concert are very much a part of this production (it’s even named after an Elvis song from Blue Hawaii). There are five packages here; show only, one cocktail, luau dinner, “Stageside VIP” dinner, and the deluxe “Green Room” package (which gives you a backstage tour). I recommend the Luau package (a great meal and good seats), but if you can spring for it, the “Green Room” package is terrific fun. Drinks are on the weak side; ask for an extra shot. After the show, stick around and meet the cast in the lobby. Rating: The strong performances and high production values of this show make it a guaranteed good night out. (Elvis and Michael Jackson in Rock-a-Hula, Waikiki’s best stage show.)

Lewers Lounge: This venue is tucked away in the ritzy Halekulani hotel. The lighting is low, and it’s the kind of place people casually drop into and out of throughout the evening; the perfect place to escape the hectic activity of Waikiki. There’s jazz every night, starting at 8:30 p.m. (most of the time you’ll see Maggie Herron, who’s on Wednesday through Sunday), and a menu of interesting cocktails and snacks; my favorite is the Lost Passion, a “sophisticated blend of tequila, Cointreau and fresh juices, topped with Champagne.” (Below: Double the fun: The delectable “Lost Passion” at Halekulani’s Lewers Lounge.)

Note that there’s a dress code here: “Casual Elegant Attire — casual t-shirts, tank tops, beachwear, exercise attire or flip-flops are not permitted,” and I have seen people turned away at the door for being deemed underdressed. I myself favor a black ensemble on my visits and have had no difficulties. Rating: A classy, sophisticated venue. A great place to stop in for a nightcap, or indulge yourself and stay all evening. And say hello to Maggie for me! (Below: Catch Maggie Heron Wednesday through Sunday at Halekulani’s Lewers Lounge.)

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