The Polynesian Cultural Center was created by the LDS Church in 1962. The center provides jobs for students who travel from all over the Pacific Islands to study at the university next door. Students at Brigham Young University Hawaii, present traditional aspects of their cultures included dance, lifestyle, cooking, and dress. The Polynesial Cultural Center (PCC) is a family-friendly event that has a bit of an amusement park feel. At the PCC, you will learn about people and places from all over the south Pacific.
There are six cultures featured in the Polynesian Cultural Center. They are Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Maori, and Tahiti. Some exhibits also focus on Easter Island and other less-known areas. The large property in Laie, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, is split into six sections, one for each of these cultures. Throughout the day, each culture does shows that include dancing, music, and demonstrations. When you buy tickets online, you can register for an app that helps you to plan your visit. Between shows there are small interactive games and crafts for both kids and adults. Here is an example of visiting Hawaii:
Here are a few of things we saw in some of the cultural areas. Hopefully it will help you know what to expect when visiting the PCC. In Fiji, we were given long, hollow bamboo sticks. We sang songs and beat patterns on the floor with the sticks in a musical sing-a-long. In Tahiti, we learned traditional dance steps and danced alongside performers in their traditional dress. In the New Zealand area, we participated in games of rhythmic stick toss, and learned to swing traditional poi strings. In Hawaii, we were taught about the history and significance of Hula dancing. In Samoa, they showed us how to start a fire, and how to climb a coconut tree in under ten seconds. There were many other amazing activities, too, but those were a few of our favorites.
Temple Bus Ride
There is a bus ride that leaves from the Polynesian Cultural Center and drives you past BYU Hawaii. The bus then makes a stop at the Laie Temple. Here you can walk through the Visitor Center for a few minutes and take a few pictures. We love doing this, but we also recommend coming back another time to spend longer than the 15 minutes that is allowed on the bus tour (if you have the time).
The hardest thing about the PCC is honestly cramming everything in. The shows start at 12:30 pm and run through 5:30 pm. With the tram ride over to the temple and the six cultural shows, it’s hard to do everything you want to do in just one day. Luckily, your tickets allow you to return within three days if you missed something that you really wanted to do. We used the app and planned out our day the best we could before arriving.
When you enter the PCC inner gate, you are handed a map of the property. It shows each of the six areas, and quite a few other displays. If you’ve planned your stops, you can get all 6 shows, a canoe ride down the canal, a bus ride to the temple grounds, and still have a little time for games, but your feet will be weary by the end! Make sure to take it slow and interact with the students and faculty members of BYU-H as that is part of the fun. If you have time to visit on more than one day, this would be the best option.
Since we first visited the PCC a dozen years ago, there have been significant changes to the entrance of the property. Now food trucks and shops line the outer gate. This means that you can show up before the 12:30 start time and have lunch, do some shopping and get treats. You can also do what we did and grab dinner as you exit for the evening. We liked this change as it gives you choices for food when there aren’t a lot of options in this part of Laie.
Luau & Show
For an additional charge, guests at the PCC can stay after hours for a Luau. This means more dancing, traditional food, and an emcee hosting the event with jokes and fun. After the luau, there is an evening performance called Ha, the Breath of Life. This is a full-length play written specially for the PCC. It is very much like any other theater experience, but it includes fire dancing, which was really exciting.
We stayed for the Luau and evening show when we visited as a couple many years ago, but we opted not to do these activities with our kids. First of all, visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center is pricey, so adding on additional costs wasn’t in our budget with 5 people instead of two. Second, our kids are fairly picky eaters, so we decided not to spend money on a huge meal that they might not even eat. Instead we opted for dinner outside at the food trucks where everyone could eat from a different spot and find something they liked.
Tips For Families
If you are on the island of Oahu, plan a full day for visiting the small town of Laie and the Polynesian Cultural Center. It’s a great way to see a little more than just the beach and the ocean. You will definitely want to walk the Laie temple grounds in the morning before the Polynesian Cultural Center opens.
- Arrive early so you are ready once they open the gates.
- Buy tickets online to save time.
- Use the app to plan your day ahead of time, but be flexible.
- Bring a bag with water and snacks to help kids survive the day. There are places to refill water bottles throughout the village.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. You will be on your feet all day.
- We recommend heading to the farthest parts of the Polynesian Cultural Center at the beginning of the day and working your way back to the front. There seemed to be fewer crowds that way, but we had to zigzag a little bit based on show times.
- Let the kids play the games and activities, even if it means missing a show. That was our boys’ favorite part. They love the shows, but getting to participate is what they remember.
- Eat lunch before you arrive and dinner once you are done.
- Take the last bus tour to the temple. These tours run later than the shows, so plan to hit all the shows and villages, and then grab a bus tour as you head out.
- If you want to do a luau, this is a great place to do it because the PCC is so family-friendly. Just add it on to your ticket when you get a reservation.