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Getting the royal treatment at 'Aha 'Aina

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Where better to have a meal fit for royalty than under the stars in Waikiki? That’s the experience you’ll have at “‘Aha ‘Aina: A Royal Celebration” (‘aha meaning “gathering,” and ‘aina meaning “meal”), a dinner show offered every Monday at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

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In contrast to the more informal luaus offered elsewhere in Hawaii, which usually have buffet-style service, ‘Aha ‘Aina features table service. But the evening is about more than just having a meal. It’s also a cultural experience, which begins in the lobby with a welcoming ceremony and complimentary cocktail.

After you’ve been seated, you’re invited to get up and watch performers demonstrating various traditional Hawaiian skills on stages around the grounds, like making kapa cloth, fishing tools, or poi; if you’re curious about what you’re watching, feel free to ask questions.

The menu also has local fare. The appetizer selection includes lomi lomi salmon, kalua pig, and that Hawaiian staple, poi (mashed taro; an acquired taste, but better when it’s fresh). The salad features greens from the Big Island. The main course has lobster tail, sake braised short ribs, and locally grown vegetables. Everything’s well prepared and tasty, and will leave you quite satisfied. The dessert is Royal Hawaiian’s Signature Pink Haupia Cake — toasted coconut, mango guava, and Liliko’i puree — sweet end to the meal. There’s also live Hawaiian music while you dine and watch the sunset.

That alone would make for an enjoyable evening. But now the pageantry begins. The show part of the evening takes you through Hawaii’s history, from the legend of Helumoa (meaning “chicken scratch,” referring to the place in Waikiki where a mythical rooster scratched the earth to mark where a coconut grove should be planted — on the very grounds where the Royal Hawaiian Hotel now stands), to the court of “Merrie Monarch” King Kalakaua, to the beach boy surf craze. A narrator also shares stories and information about Hawaiian culture.

The show has plenty of hula and dancing, along with a display of outfits worn by the royal family and their smartly attired guard. The evening wouldn’t be complete without a fire knife dancer, and on the night Examiner attended there was an extra treat; the flashy ukulele work of Taimane.

With a ticket price of $175, “‘Aha ‘Aina” isn’t an inexpensive. But if you’re looking for a unique experience that gives an elegant spin to the typical luau, “‘Aha ‘Aina” will provide a memorable night out.

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