Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii: A Hands-On Family Experience

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If you’re looking at exposing yourself to a little polynesian culture while visiting Hawaii, a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center is a must. Founded in 1963, the nonprofit Center was created so that the students of nearby Brigham Young University Hawaii could work their way through college by sharing their island heritage with visitors.

The Villages
A visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center immerses you in the culture of Polynesia, with seven of the Polynesian Islands represented in the Village area. You’ll see first hand how natives lived on each island as well as learn about history, customs and culture. The representatives within each village aren’t employees playing the part of a villager; they are actual Fijians, Samoans, Hawaiians, dressed in traditional costume. Their enthusiasm and pride in their own culture comes through in their presentations, making the experience that much more enjoyable and powerful.

Visiting the villages isn’t like seeing a display in a museum either. The Polynesian Cultural Center invites you to experience their culture with hands-on demonstrations and activities.

  • In the Tahitian Village we watched (and participated in) a demonstration of traditional dance and tried some fresh coconut bread.
  • In the Hawaiian Village we learned the language of hula and performed our own story.
  • In the Fijian Village the kids received tattoos, a Fijian Warrior tattoo for my son and a Fijian Princess tattoo for my daughters.
  • In the Samoa Village we learned how to climb a coconut tree and shuck a coconut. The kids got to try their hand at making fire without matches.
  • In the Aotearoa Village (New Zealand) we witnessed a welcoming ceremony and played tititorea, a Maori stick game designed to develop hand-eye coordination.
  • In the Tongan Village we watched a traditional drumming presentation.

The activities and presentations happen throughout the day so if you miss one you can probably catch it later on. You can learn more about the different villages and hands-on activites on the Polynesian Cultural Center‘s site. We only had time to try our hand at a few things and could have easily have spent another day there exploring all the villages have to offer.


Ohana Adventure – Just for Kids
My kids love a mission and the Polynesian Cultural Center‘s Ohana Adventure gave them one. Each child receives a paper passport covering the various villages found throughout the grounds. The mission, should they choose to take it, is to visit each village and complete one of the cultural activities to receive a passport stamp for that village. The passport is also full of information that would appeal to kids and it makes a great souvenir of their whole experience.



When we arrived, we decided to enjoy the Barbecue Luncheon Buffet which is open before the rest of the grounds. The covered seating is outdoors within the nice surrounds of the Polynesian Cultural Center. The food was pretty standard buffet material; you won’t run into anything really exotic here though I really loved the Pineapple Crumb Bars for dessert.

If a full buffet is too much for you, you can grab a smaller snack at the Banyan Tree Snack Bar.

The Luau
While visiting Hawaii attending a luau was at the top of my list. The Polynesian Cultural Centre‘s Ali’i Luau has been named ‘Hawaii’s Most Authentic Luau’ by the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Kahili Awards and after attending I can see why. Greeted with a beautiful flower lei you are taken to you seat in a covered outdoor seating area that is tiered so you won’t have difficulty seeing the entertainment. You’ll find water and pop or fruit punch already sitting at your table but I had to try their pina colada drink served in a carved out pineapple. Delicious and the drink lasted me the entire night.

Food is served buffet style and contains more traditional items like Poi (a traditional Hawaiian staple made from Taro root), Pipi Kaula (seasoned beef jerky), Hawaiian sweet potatoes and of course Kalua Pua’a (roast pork that is prepared in a Hawaiian underground steam over). We saw them pull the pig out from the ground just before dinner.

While you enjoy your Hawaiian Feast you will be entertained by a variety of hula dances. The Ali’i Luau is a treat for the senses.


The Shows
Along with the shows scheduled throughout the day in each of the villages, you can enjoy the Rainbows of Paradise every 2 p.m.. This pageant takes place by canoe right in the waterway that runs through the villages. Each island is featured on its own canoe as it floats by you. They will be dressed in traditional costumes and demonstrating their dance while a storyteller gives you some more detail. It’s a very colourful and fun parade to watch; it’s great to see the different dance styles as each canoe floats by. Be sure to grab a bench (or rock) to watch this.

The most spectacular show is the evening performance of Ha. Breath of Life. This show combines dance and music and fire and video to tell the story of a young man’s journey to become a warrior. The set is spectacular and the performance inspiring. Although my 4 year old fell asleep during the production, my other two children as well as my husband and myself we’re mesmerized by the performers. A show you should see at least once. Your not allowed to take any photos or videos during the show but you this video from the Polynesian Cultural Center will give you a good idea of what to expect at the show:

You can purchase individual elements of your experience but if you are looking at doing more than one thing, like visiting the villages and attending the luau and watching the evening show, then you might want to look into some of the packages offered.

We went under the Ambassador Ali’i Lu’au which gave us everything we wanted plus a few bonus things only available through a package (like a small group backstage tour of the show HA. Breath of Life as well as a souvenir DVD). Our package also included a guide which was a great bonus. Although you can wonder the grounds freely, we found our guide James very fun and informative. He made sure we were able to get the most out of our short visit plus he gave us tips on good places to stand for performances and showed my kids how to play some of the New Zealand games. For your first time experience to Polynesian Cultural Center, a guide is a great option. Subsequent visits, our pass gave us access to the centre a second day, you can choose to go it alone, participating in activities you may have missed the first time through.

Getting There
Located on the North Shore, you can drive to the centre directly or do as we did and take the Polynesian Cultural Center‘s coach shuttle. There are 8 major pick-up locations and from their site you can find the nearest one to your hotel. Although the centre doesn’t open until 12:00 p.m., our 1.5 hour bus ride meant we had to leave at about 10:30 a.m. The good news about a later tour departure means you don’t have to get up early and you still have time for breakfast.

An hour and a half sounds like a long bus ride but our tour guide and the scenery made the time pass quickly. Our guide pointed out filming locations for a number of hollywood movies (like Karate Kid and 51 First Dates), a bunker embedded in the mountain side from the war, the cost of housing in certain areas, macadamia nut farms, mythology; before we knew it we were at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

If you travel by coach your cost ($22 US per person) covers your transportation there and back.This meant we could sit back and take a rest and not worry about the nighttime drive. And you’ll be tired after a full day at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The Polynesian Cultural Center has so much for your family to do, don’t be surprised if you don’t accomplish it all in one day. My whole family enjoyed their experience and have been talking about it since they went. If we were to be visit O’ahu again, the Polynesian Cultural Center would certainly be on our list of must see items. The video below will give you a sample of what are day was filled when we visited:

With its large lagoon, waterfalls, lush tropical flora, and an “erupting” volcano, the Polynesian Cultural Center captures all the romance and excitement of the South Pacific islands. A visit to this famous Hawaii attraction represents a chance to travel through Polynesia in a single day, and participate in the celebration of centuries of Polynesian culture — no passport required.

For more information on the Polynesian Cultural Center visit their site www.polynesia.com. You can join them on Facebook and follow them on twitter also.

I would like to thank the Polynesian Cultural Center for inviting us to experience them first hand.

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