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SeaWorld – South End: Makahiki Luau

What: Nightly dinner show
Where: In the Seafire Inn at the Waterfront
Reservations: (800) 327-2424; (407) 351-3600
Prices: Adults $45.95, children (3 to 9) $29.9, plus tax and tip; park admission not required.
Times: Daily at 6:00 p.m.; a late show is added at busy times, call for info

At dusk, a ceremonial procession makes its way through the Waterfront, heralding the approach of a Polynesian tribal chieftain. A warrior blows a conch shell to announce the arrival of the Grand Kahuna. A welcoming ceremony complete with dancing briefly enlivens the wharfside while the park’s visitors look on. Then, those who have ponied up for the luau are ushered into a spacious theater in the back of the nearby Seafire Grill restaurant where they are transported to the lush South Seas. Giant tikis flank the raised semicircular stage and family-style tables radiate outwards to give everyone a good view.

The show, which begins as the crowd settles in, is hosted by the Grand Kahuna himself, a sumo-sized mountain of a man, with the assistance of a guitar and ukulele trio singing songs of the island from the authentic to the hokey commercial variety.

Most of the show is given over to the dancers, five bare-chested men and four lissome young women who constantly reappear in new and ever more colorful costumes to evoke a variety of styles and moods. The dancing is never less than enchanting and in the war chant numbers rather exciting. What’s more, the dancing never veers towards the offensive, making this a perfectly G-rated show.

The Grand Kahuna and his female counterpart are charming hosts as they take us on a guided tour of the folk dances of the islands of Polynesia, from Hawaii to New Zealand, with stops at Tonga and Fiji along the way. The show’s standout is a Fire Dance that is literally incendiary, as a dancer wearing nothing but a loincloth twirls a flaming baton and rests the burning ends on his tongue and the soles of his feet.

All of this, our host explains, to illustrate “the light of life that shines in the sky and in every one of us.” The sentiment is typical of the gentle spirit of this show, which is apparently a family affair. At one point, the Grand Kahuna introduces his son, who seems to be having just as much fun as the audience.

The food may not be quite as good as the show, but there is plenty of it, all served family style. First comes a salad, followed by three entrees, mahi-mahi in piña colada sauce, sweet and sour chicken, and BBQ spareribs, along with rice and mixed steamed vegetables. Dessert is the “Big Kahuna,” a sort of peanut flavored bundt cake, accompanied by coffee. The admission price includes the meal, one complimentary cocktail, and complimentary soft drinks, coffee, or unlimited iced tea. For the drinkers in the crowd, a cash bar is available.

Note: From November through New Years, SeaWorld presents the Makahiki Christmas Luau, which adds a big dollop of "O Holy Night" to the Polynesian polyglot performance. Prices and menu are the same as the regular show; see the website for exact times and dates.

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