The Polynesian Cultural Center hosts 6 island nations of Polynesia (there are actually many, many more than this). The ones featured are Hawai’i, Tahiti, Tonga, New Zealand, Samoa, and Fiji. Did you know Hawai’i has a sizable Mormon population? Back in 1963 a Mormon man named Howard Hunter decided to build the Polynesian Cultural Center on 42 acres of land. He wanted to preserve the Polynesian culture for many generations to come. Most of the performers are students that attend BYU next door in the town of Laie.
Getting There and Back Again from Honolulu
Without a rent-a-car this can be tricky. When you purchase a ticket they’ll give you an option to explain what hotel you’re staying in and give you an option of different charters to take. This does cost extra no matter which one you pick. The city bus system does go from Waikiki to Laie. It will take about 2 and a half hours. If you get to the Ala Moana Center (buses 8, 19, 20, and 42 all stop there) and then transfer to bus 55 it’ll take you straight there. On the way back it’s a bit trickier. After around 6pm or so the buses only run about once every hour no matter what. If you miss the 9:25 bus after the hula show (which ends at 9pm) it could be another hour for the next 55 to come and get you back to Honolulu which means you won’t get back to your hotel until after midnight. Getting a taxi, uber, or lyft from up there could end up being pricey since it’s 35 miles away from Honolulu.
Personally I’d head straight to their actual website. There are many options to choose from and tickets begin at $85 per person, and that’s just the starter package. There are times when the tickets go on sale. The hours for the Polynesian Cultural Center are quite strange. It doesn’t even open until noon from Monday through Saturday (not open Sundays). There is so much that goes on if you don’t want to be running around the park all day you might want to budget out 2 days or more (especially if you have kids!) since shows and activities only go on for 6 hours.
When you first go in, you’ll get a map that has all the times when everything happens. I suggest getting there as close to when they open at noon as possible so you don’t have to scramble as much to see everything. Multiple times a day each island nation has a show explaining their history, culture, and language. For example, in Tonga they had a quick lesson on Tongan dance. In Fiji they handed out traditional instruments Fijians use to dance with. In Samoa they demonstrated how Samoans climb trees with their bare feet. These shows usually last 20-25 minutes which is good because the seats are kind of uncomfortable. This is perfect timing to find another show that starts within the few minutes.
After the show takes place the performers have activities planned and also have picture taking opportunities. In New Zealand they teach you how to dance with their traditional Maori instruments. In Tahiti they taught a traditional recipe for coconut bread with all traditional tools (no electricity required!) These types of things are great for children. Although, because there are so many other things going on at the same time it’s hard to hit all of the activities and shows at once! All of the shows and activities end at 6pm like I said, it might be best to spend another day there.
If you have enough time in your schedule to take a break from each island nation head to the middle of the river to watch the canoe pageant. Every day at 2:30pm each Polynesian Nation enters from under a bridge and showcases their traditional dance. Good seats are hard to find so standing might be best unless you get there early. While I was there the Samoan dancers made the guy guiding the boat fall into the water. Thankfully the river is only 3 feet deep.
With even the most basic package the Polynesian Cultural Center comes the buffet style restaurant. The line might be quite long but thankfully dinner hours are from 4:45 to 6:45. All of the carts have the same food, mashed potatoes, gravy, pork, vegetables, and soft drinks are available. They take your picture with some Native Hawaiians dressed up in traditional attire before you go in however these pictures cost a lot of money so I don’t think it’s worth it. If you have a VIP package they have specific dinners for you to choose from in a different dining hall. In the pictures above is the buffet style dinner.
Every evening there is a show from 7:30-9pm. It is assigned seating when you buy the tickets. No pictures are allowed. It’s really dark in there so it’s super obvious if you try to take your phone or camera out and get some pictures. When I went it was a show about a boy born in the Hawaiian islands named Mauna (this means mountain in Hawaiian) and his upbringing and love story over time. It showcases traditional Polynesian dances from different island nations and quite a few fire shows that look quite terrifying.
What You’ll Learn
The Polynesian people were quite a capable people. I know sometimes we like to re-write history and say indigenous cultures didn’t know how to do anything before white people showed up. If that’s what you thought of Polynesia you couldn’t be more wrong! Polynesians also don’t seem to harbor a grudge as to what has happened throughout history. While in Fiji the man explained that there were good things that came with the white settlers; education and no longer fighting each other were a few of these things.
After coming out of this experience I can tell you I can mostly tell the different between the different traditional dances. To the untrained eye they can easily look the same. Did you know that most of the shows you’ll find in Waikiki are actually Tahitian dances rather than Hawaiian hula? The outfits Polynesians wear aren’t made out of grass or wheat, they’re made out of coconut leaves if they’re authentic (nowadays they’re probably plastic, less upkeep).