A Guide To O’ahu’s Polynesian Cultural Center

Found in the northeast of O’ahu within the town called Lāʻie there is the Polynesian Cultural Center and visiting is one of the most popular cultural attractions when on O’ahu.

If you have even the slightest interest in Polynesian culture, you can not miss this center on the amount of interesting information you will be able to find in one place.

A Guide To O'ahu's Polynesian Cultural Center

It is a great place to visit by yourself, but if you are a family it is especially fun for kids with a good variety of child-friendly interactive activities and educational information.

This guide will cover some simple information on the Polynesian Cultural Center and help you work out if you want to visit, and if you decide to, what would be best for you to do when you come.

If you think you are interested in O’ahu’s Polynesian Cultural Center, keep reading to find out all the information you need to know to visit!

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Quick Questions About The Polynesian Cultural Center

Before diving into the details in the rest of the guide, this section will cover some simple questions and answers people tend to have when visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center.

If you do not need all the details but just a quick recommendation, this section will have the answers you are looking for!

What Is There For Adults To Do At The Polynesian Cultural Center?

Some of the most enjoyable activities for the adult visitors are the cultural presentations given by the island nations that will be informative as well as humorous.

There is also the reputable Polynesian Football Hall Of Fame, which is small but very interesting if you love the NFL. There is also an evening show called ‘Hā Breath of Life’ which is an enjoyable Hawaiian musical, however, it does not finish until 9pm.

Can You Drink Alcohol In The Polynesian Cultural Center?

You can not drink alcohol at the Polynesian Cultural Center. It is not served anywhere on the site’s campus because of the Mormon ownership. This means you will not find any alcohol at the lu’au, buffet or during the show.

Is There Anything Important To Know Before Visiting The Polynesian Cultural Center?

When you are visiting the island nations, you can best experience them by sitting to enjoy the shows.

While the small displays are nice to peruse quickly, they are best when they are brought to life during the shows, so rushing will make the experience nowhere near as good as someone who takes their time. 

These are not just simple performances but interactive and engaging, so make sure to follow the schedule you will be given upon entering or seen online as it will make it easy to follow the best of these exhibitions.

If you do not like the idea of watching these performances, the Polynesian Cultural Center is probably a skip for you.

What Is The Best Thing For Families To Do At The Polynesian Cultural Center?

One of the best activities for families is the cultural demonstrations and performances, which are normally safe for all audiences. There are also free canoe rides on the man-made river help on campus.

There are also ukulele lessons given regularly at the Ukulele Experience And Shop. This experience also has a walk-through display showing hoe Ukuleles are made, which requires no ticket to enter.

What Will Kids Be Able To Do At The Polynesian Cultural Center?

Child visitors tend to enjoy the hands-on nature of the demonstrations, which have a massive variety and differ based on the nation.

However, they usually include references to ancient dances and games, cultural cooking demonstrations, weapon making, various crafting demonstrations, and much more!

What Is The Weather Like At The Polynesian Cultural Center?

If you have sensitive skin, keep in mind that there is often limited shade within the Polynesian Cultural Center and because so many of the cultural performances are in the afternoon, the temperature while watching them can get quite hot.

Make sure to wear an appropriate SPF of sunscreen and to stay hydrated. Backpacks are allowed, so you can save money by bringing your own water.

Because of the lack of shelter, bringing appropriate rain protection is recommended if the forecast suggests this is a possibility.

How Long Does It Take To Visit The Polynesian Cultural Center?

If you plan to watch and visit all of the exhibits as well as go to the lu’au in the evening, you can end up being at the Polynesian Cultural Center for over 8 hours.

Dedicating half a day feels like a good amount of time for most, and arriving at 12.45pm when the island exhibits start performances means you can keep your morning free.

While the evening lu’au can be enjoyable, if you are tired after the performances, sometimes by this time of the day you will just want to relax at your accommodation.

Attending a lu’au outside the context of the PCC can be more relaxed and if you drink it is nice to have that option.

What Will I Learn At The Polynesian Cultural Center?

The demonstrations and performances are one of the most engaging ways to educate yourself on Polynesian culture, and you will definitely learn some information that will stick with you!

However, the information is more entertaining than academic, so if you want more serious studies there are better places to get this style of information. If you are looking for this, O’ahu has some great museums that will suit your tastes better.

The Polynesian Cultural Center

This center is often described as Hawaii’s Epcot in comparison to Disney’s global exhibition. While it is not as in-depth as Disney’s exhibition and if you enjoy alcohol, this is definitely not the best place to visit, it has significant merits in other areas.

This experience is a lot more focused on the look at Polynesian culture you would get at Epcot, and because of this is a lot more authentic. The main feature of this center is visiting the main 6 island nations and learning about them in dynamic, informative ways.

The 6 Island Nations At The Polynesian Cultural Center

Each of the island nations that are included in the Polynesian Cultural Center have their own distinct atmosphere and sense of self. They are located around the man-made river and lagoon, as well as palm trees.

Each island represented has its own stage for their performances, where you will see a variety of demonstrations. These vary between interactive workshops, to full on cultural performances.

The workshops can cover a variety of skills like; cooking, dancing, as well as traditional games and skills. These activities are all on a rotating schedule, so there will be equal opportunities to watch and engage with them all.

The 6 island nations which are represented are; Aotearoa, Fiji, Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga.

History Of The Polynesian Cultural Center

The PCC was opened by the Mormon Church in 1963 with its main aim being as a method for students from the nearby Church College of Hawai’i (currently known as the Brigham Young University, Hawaii) to be able to work and earn money while preserving and displaying Polynesian culture.

This is a tradition that is still present, as most of the people who work at the Polynesian Cultural Center are students from this university. 

The PCC has evolved since its inception with it now including a market, theater, restaurant, and event spaces. It is now seen as one of the top tourist attractions on O’ahu and a great interactive experience that should not be missed.

Explaining The Main Attractions In The Polynesian Cultural Center

There are quite a few different attractions at the Polynesian Cultural Center, so knowing what they are going in will help you better plan your trip and get the best use out of your time!

The 6 Island Villages

The main attraction of the PCC which requires a ticket to enter is what attracts the most people. If you are unsure if you want to pay to attend these, there is plenty of description detailing exactly what they include at a certain time on the website and before buying tickets on site.

To get into these you will need to pay $69.95, and you can enter between 12.45pm until 5.30pm. The represented island nations are as previously mentioned; Aotearoa, Fiji, Hawai’i, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga.

The next sections will explain what each of these island villages consists of!

Islands Of Aotearoa (NZ)

The Maori people from New Zealand make the focus of the culture orbit the strength of the family. The Maori representation you will get at the PCC will give you a formal welcome, and you will hear harmonic Maori songs and witness a traditional war dance known as the Haka.

Your agility will be put to the test by the ancient Maori games which are still being taught to school children to help teach them skills. You will be able to watch Maori artisans craft weapons and watch the traditional food preparation as well as preservation.

You will also learn about the traditional Maori facial tattoos as well as what they represent.

Islands Of Fiji

The representation of Fijian culture at the PCC is a mix of sincerity, amusement, and etiquette where they will make obvious through language and formality that all the villagers are considered family.

The Fijian warriors will give you a sense of their enthusiasm with a powerful greeting will the women perform traditional dances. 

You will be able to try your hand at pounding the derua and even making coconut oil. Amidst these activities, you can even receive a realistic but reassuringly temporary tattoo and admire the beautiful 6-story temple they have.

Islands Of Hawai’i

In the Hawai’i village section of the Polynesian Cultural Center, you will witness the beauty of the Hawaiian islands represented through the talent of the villagers singing and dancing.

There are also hula dance lessons given throughout the day under the shade tree. There are also ancient Hawaiian games demonstrated and interactive food preparation, making poi. You can also learn the traditional art form of weaving lauhala. 

Islands Of Samoa

The Samoans are famous amidst the Polynesian islands for their sense of fun and good humor.

This humor is rooted in respect, generosity and love, which they present at the PCC. The focus of the Samoan village is the traditional songs and dances, as well as demonstrating impressive skills.

One example of this is getting to watch young warriors climb up an insane 40-foot coconut tree with just their bare feet.

Islands Of Tahiti

When you enter the Tahiti village you will be able to hear their uplifting voices singing and witness the impressive moves of the traditional Ori Tahiti dance which is famous for how agile and fast the moves are.

This dance displays apt movement of the hips and knees and is unique to their culture and is worth witnessing in person, it is common that the teachers will encourage you to attempt the famous dance yourself.

You will also be able to watch a traditional Tahiti style wedding ceremony to watch how people from this island proclaim their love. You will also be able to sample the delicious coconut bread, as well as, attempt trying pole fishing on the pier.

If you are skilled enough, you will even be able to try spear throwing practice on coconuts.

Islands Of Tonga

Finally, the island of Tonga village emanates a happy atmosphere with lessons on how to do the traditional sitting dancing as well as stomping your feet to the signature music.

Some lucky audience volunteers will be able to act as drummers during the performances during the day as well. Visitors will be able to paddle in a traditional Tongan outrigger, as well as play the shuffleboard game known as lafo.

Similarly to the Tahitian island village, you will also get a chance to test spear throwing skills.

Lu’aus And Meal Options

If you want to eat at the Polynesian Cultural Center, there are plenty of options. On top of the Marketplace, which will be mentioned in the next section, there are two options that require tickets for getting dinner.

The first option is Ali’i Lu’au, this is a buffet style dinner which also has a performance for entertainment while eating. Make sure to remember that alcohol is not served anywhere in the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The second dining option is the Gateway Buffet, which is a more Hawaiian style buffet which does not feature a show while you are eating, having a more chill atmosphere instead.

You can get a ticket to either of the dining options tied in with either of the entrance tickets to the islands villages, and this is a great way to save money if you know that you will want to eat at the Polynesian Cultural Center. 

Both of these buffets have a good variety of options if you are with a family or larger group, but if you are by yourself or in a smaller group and are looking for more fine dining, there are better options about, especially if you like eating with alcohol.

The Marketplace At The Polynesian Cultural Center

Before you go through the entrances which require tickets, you will reach the Hukilau Marketplace, which means you can browse these shops without needing to pay anything.

Inside the marketplace is a whole restaurant called Pounders as well as a good variety of food vendors if you are looking for a smaller snack. These vendors provide a massive variety of treats including, coffee, ice cream, shaved ice, crêpes, smoothies, and much more. 

As well as the food options available, there are loads of other activities like, galleries, souvenir shops, and henna tattoos. If you do not want to pay to go to the island villages but want a quick activity for a couple of hours while in the area, the PCC marketplace is a great idea!

Evening Shows And Other Exhibits At The Polynesian Cultural Center

As previously mentioned, the Ha Breath of Life show takes place most days at 7.30pm and you can either get tickets just for this show, or save a little and get it bundled with park entrance tickets.

This show presents a Polynesian romance and displays traditional singing and dancing with impressive fire knife performances. The show is appropriate for all age groups, but it ends at 9pm, which is a little late for some groups.

As well as this show, there is the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which while modest is a great exhibit for NFL fans. There is also the Ukulele Experience and Shop, which is great for kids who are interested in music.

Both of these experiences are located before the ticket gates, so if you are working on a budget, they are worth a visit if you are in the area.

Getting To The Polynesian Cultural Center

The best place to get tickets to the PCC is on their website, and they are often running a deal where you can get a small discount for booking in advance.

The easiest way to get to the site is by car which is an hour trip from Honolulu and Waikīkī and there are plenty of easy routes to get there. Driving is also a great option because of the massive space for parking, which is currently free to use.

If you are staying on the north coast of O’ahu taking the number 60 bus is an easy option from Hale-iwa or a similar area. This is direct, not needing any changes, but is slower than a drive.

There is also a shuttle bus ran from some hotels in Waikīkī and costs $30 to use. While this might be convenient, it will restrict your choices, making you have to leave your hotel around 10 to 11am and usually returns late after the evening show.

If you are taking the bus, your whole day will be revolving around the Polynesian Cultural Center, so if you are using this option, make sure to pack your day there full of activities to make the most of the long trip.  

If you are driving, however, you can get to the PCC via the Kualoa Regional Park or the Kahana State Park, and these will make great scenic stops to break up the journey.

If you finish early at the PCC you can also visit the nearby north shore which features many iconic beaches as well as some more specific dining choice than featured in the PCC

So that is all you need to know about the Polynesian Cultural Center! If you are planning to visit, what are you most looking forward to seeing?

Richard Ennis