Ali’i Luau vs Gateway Buffet: 5 Differences You Need to Know

Polynesian Cultural Center - Ali'i Luau

Are you having a hard time choosing between the Ali’i Luau and the Gateway Buffet Restaurtant at the Polynesian Cultural Center?

Let me guide you through the differences, including the stage performance, venue, food, and seating at the night show, so that you can choose the one that suites you.

What are Ali’i Luau and Gateway Buffet?

First, let me give you a quick overview of what the Ali’i Luau and the Gateway Buffet are all about.

The Ali’i Luau is a traditional Hawaiian banquet held in a special amphitheater-style restaurant. While you enjoy a delicious buffet of Hawaiian cuisine, you’ll be treated to various performances of Hula and Hawaiian music on stage.

On the other hand, the Gateway Buffet is a Polynesian-influenced buffet restaurant where you can enjoy live Hawaiian music in the background while spending quality time with your family and friends – there’s no stage performance to distract you.

In this article, I’ll be exploring the main differences between the two options so you can make an informed decision.

Ali’i LuauGateway Buffet
FoodBuffet (luau menu)Buffet (more variety)
PerformanceSong, Dance, StorytellingLive Music
VenueAmphitheater-style VenuePolynesian(Samoan)-style Banquet Hall
Hours16:30-18:3016:30-19:00 (Arrive anytime)
Seat at Evening ShowPremium or GoldSilver
PackageSuper Ambassador Luau Package
Ali’i Luau Package
Gateway Package

Ali’i Luau vs Gateway Buffet: What is the Difference?

Difference 1: Live Music and Performances

When it comes to dining at the Polynesian Cultural Center, the biggest difference between the Ali’i Luau and the Gateway Buffet is the entertainment.

The Ali’i Luau offers a vibrant and immersive luau show filled with dance, music, cultural ceremony, and an MC to guide you through the experience. In contrast, the Gateway Buffet features cozy background music performed by a live band.

During the Ali’i Luau, you’ll enjoy a stage performance featuring dancing, storytelling, and music, while at the Gateway Buffet, you’ll only have live music to listen to.

Having personally attended the Ali’i Luau multiple times, I can attest to the incredible job the performers do in creating a beautiful and engaging atmosphere.

Currently, the Ali’i Luau features a program called ‘Onipa’a, which pays tribute to Hawaii’s last ruling monarch and only sovereign queen, Queen Lili’uokalani.

It’s just one example of the rich cultural experiences you can enjoy at this incredible event.

You may be wondering, “But don’t they have a night show after dinner too?”

And you’re right, they do!

However, in my opinion, the Ali’i Luau and the night show offer two different experiences. The Ali’i Luau focuses on traditional Hawaiian hula, while the night show features dance and music from all over Polynesia.

Even if you attend the Ali’i Luau, you’ll still be able to enjoy the night show afterward.

At the Gateway Buffet, while there may not be any dancing, you can still enjoy live music in a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the Ali’i Luau.

Difference 2: Venue

Ali’i Luau and Gateway Buffet are located in two different places and have very distinct venues.

Polynesian Cultural Center

Venue at Ali’i Luau

Hale Aloha, where Ali’i Luau takes place, is an amphitheater-style venue that was specifically built for luau.

As you can see, it’s designed so that the further the seats go from the stage, the higher they are, ensuring that every guest has an unobstructed view of the performance.

Having a venue specifically built for luau is quite unique, as other luaus on the island are typically held on flat fields where it becomes harder to see the performers the farther you are from the stage.

The great stage setup features palm trees, rocks, waterfalls, and an Imu (Hawaiian oven) pit located behind the stage, with the sky in the background. As the program progresses, you can still see the sky change its color.

All of this takes place under a roof, keeping you safe from rain and wind, on a solid concrete floor, rather than grass or sand like other outdoor luaus.

I would say that there’s no other venue that can provide a more comfortable luau experience.

Venue at Gateway Restaurant

Now, let’s take a look at the Gateway Restaurant.

Upon entering, I was truly overwhelmed by the sheer size of this massive facility. It’s a dining hall designed to look like a Samoan house, known as a “Fale,” and it’s actually the largest indoor dining facility in Hawaii.

These facilities at the PCC do an excellent job of immersing guests in the Polynesian experience.

Even the doors are 12 feet tall and transport you to a Samoan palace for a feast.


Surrounding the hall is one of the largest mural paintings in the world, measuring 150 meters in length and 740 square meters in total area.

The mural depicts the people from various Polynesian countries, with the Hawaiian royal family “Ali’i” welcoming immigrants from overseas.

Just like the Polynesian Cultural Center welcomes us, right?

The facility does everything possible to keep you immersed in the Polynesian experience, from the wooden tables decorated with genuine “Kapa” cloth made in Samoa, to the beautiful plants in the dining hall, and the shell-shaped lamps that softly illuminate the hall.

Difference 3: Food

While both offer island-inspired buffets with typical favorites like poke, Kalua Pork, Lomi Lomi Salmon, taro rolls, and more, there are some notable differences.

Food at Ali’i Luau

At the Ali’i Luau, the food has always been good, but it recently underwent an upgrade that made it truly amazing.

Even something as seemingly simple as Poke was significantly improved, and they added new features like carving stations serving roasted pork and local fish, as well as healthier options like Tofu poke.

During my November 2021 visit to Ali’i Luau, they were even serving complimentary pina coladas in a pineapple fruit to everyone, which was a delightful surprise considering that they used to be sold at $10 each and were well worth the price.

I’m not sure if you can find this kind of authentic yet sophisticated luau food anywhere else.

Food at Gateway Buffet

Polynesian Cultural Center

When you look at some of the main categories from each restaurant, Gateway buffet actually has more variety than the luau in general. (Please note that the menu can change)

Ali’i Luau Buffet MenuGateway Buffet Menu
Poke BarAhi Shoyu Poke
Spicy Local Fish Poke
Tofu Poke
Ulu Uala Poke
Fresh Ahi Sashimi served with a tare glaze
Spicy Fish Poke
Kimchi Tako Poke
Shrimp Poke
California Poke
Ahi Shoyu Poke
SeafoodPan Seared Local Fresh Fish w/ Olena Calamansi glaze (Gluten-free)
Whole Steamed Kona Kanpachi in Ti leaves
Whole Grilled Kona Kanpachi Fish
Lomi Lomi Salmon
Furikake Panko Crusted Catch of the Day with lemongrass beurre blanc
Crispy Shrimp with sweet chili garlic aioli
Fried Calamari served with pineapple chili sauce
ChickenHuli Chicken
Moa with Opu (Chicken & Squash, Gluten-free)
Mango Habanero Chicken Wings
Adobo Fried Chicken Wings
Garlic Brown Sugar Roast Chicken with Pineapple Relish
Hawaiian Style Sweet & Sour Chicken
Pork & BeefImu Pua’a Pork
Kalua Pork
Pipikaula in orange rosemary vinaigrette
Teriyaki Brisket
Kalua Pork
Char Siu Pork Ribs
Spicy Pork Belly
Top Sirloin Roast with Cinnamon Brown Sugar Pineapple Slices
Kalbi Stir Fry
Note: The menu is subject to change

Difference 4: Tour Guide

In addition to the dining options, your choice of tour package will determine the availability of a tour guide.

As you can see below, Ali’i Luau is available with either the Super Ambassador Luau or Ali’i Luau package.

PackageDiningTour GuideAdultChild (4-11)
Super Ambassador LuauAli’i LuauPersonal Tour Guide$269.95$215.96
Ali’i LuauAli’i LuauGroup Tour Guide$189.95$151.96
Gateway BuffetGateway BuffetSelf-Guided Tour$139.95$111.96

Both “Luau” packages include a tour guide for the village tour, who will organize your itinerary and provide information about Polynesia.

The Super Ambassador Luau package provides a personal tour guide exclusively for your party, whereas the Ali’i Luau package includes a group tour guide who will also be responsible for assisting a few other parties on the tour.

On the other hand, guests with the Gateway Buffet package will have a self-guided tour. You can still visit all the island villages and engage with the “villagers” who will share presentations and insights into the customs and traditions of their islands.

Difference 5: Night Show Seating

One important consideration to keep in mind is the seating at the night show.

Guests who choose the Gateway Buffet Package will have “Silver” level seating, while those who opt for the Ali’i Luau Package or the Super Ambassador Luau Package, which includes dining at Ali’i Luau, will have “Gold” and “Platinum” level seating, respectively.

Seat LevelPackageDiningAdultChild (4-11)
PlatinumSuper Ambassador LuauAli’i Luau$269.95$215.96
GoldAli’i LuauAli’i Luau$189.95$151.96
SilverGateway BuffetGateway Buffet$139.95$111.96
BronzeIslands of Polynesia & HA: Breath of LifeNot Included$119.95$95.96

As you can see from the image above, the “Silver” seats that come with the Gateway Buffet Package are located towards the back or on the sides.

If you want to be closer to the stage and have a better view, it is highly recommended to choose the Ali’i Luau.

For your reference, this picture below was taken from the “Silver” level area.

Ali’i Luau vs Gateway Buffet: How to Decide

Deciding between Ali’i Luau or Gateway Buffet really depends on what you’re looking for in terms of the village tour and the night show.

If you’re seeking non-stop entertainment and a complete Polynesian Cultural Center experience, then the Ali’i Luau is the way to go.

It’s a top-tier luau with delicious food and sophisticated performances, all provided in a facility specifically designed for a luau. You’re guaranteed to have a great time.

However, if you prefer a more relaxing and private experience with your group, then the Gateway Buffet is a better option.

You can come and go as you please while the facility is open, giving you more flexibility and the ability to focus on your peers.

Book Early to Get 10% Discount

Here are the packages and you get 10% of discount if you book at least 10 days in advance.

  • Super Ambassador Luau Package – PCC
    • Private guided tour through 6 island villages
    • Free 3-day pass to island villages
    • Platinum level seating at “HA: Breath of Life” show
    • Reserved seating at all village presentations
    • Reserved Canoe tour
  • Ali’i Luau Package – PCC
    • Group guided tour through 6 island villages
    • Free 3-day pass to island villages
    • Gold level seating at “HA: Breath of Life” show
  • Gateway Buffet Package – PCC
    • Self-guided experience through 6 island villages
    • Free 3-day pass to island villages
    • Gateway Buffet dinner with live music
    • Silver level seating at “HA: Breath of Life” evening show

Also, you can check out the articles below, if you want to know more about each dining option.

I hope you enjoy your day at the Polynesian Cultural Center.