How did we do it??
We visited the PCC!
The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is a 42 acre park that celebrates the culture of the Polynesian islands including Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaii, Samoa and Rapa Nui. It’s kind of like Epcot but for islands in the Pacific Ocean!
I say Epcot but the PCC is much less fantastical and over the top. I was worried that the experience would be cringey and that I would feel bad for the islanders made to dress up, sing, and dance for the tourists. After we left though, all I felt was so much more knowledgeable and pretty dang tired!
We arrived at the PCC about half an hour before 12 when it opens, so we decided to take a peek at the little street fair type set up that was right outside in their little square, the Hukilau Marketplace. They were selling leis, grass skirts, pearls, dolls, drinks, coconuts, all kinds of delicious and brightly colored items. There is also a sweet shop that sells the incredible Dole Whip, a couple restaurants, the stadium where they have their evening show, Ha Breath of Life, and the ticketing counter.
We were pretty hungry and had been poor planners not bringing lunch, so we got an outdoor table at Pounders and ordered shrimp curry for me, and a burger for Brent. I am 50% Mexican but that didn’t give me any protection from the heat of that curry oo baby! I ended up giving Brent half of it and then stealing his water. It was nice and shaded but the flies were intense. There is also a bakery counter inside Pounders with some muffins and cookies the size of my head that we didn’t have a chance to taste.
Closer to 12 we headed over to the ticket office and waited in a very short but slightly exasperating line that took ages to get through as someone before us was having issues with their tickets. We had opted for the whole shebang which included entrance to the park, the luau at 4, and the Ha Breath of Life show at 7:30. It was actually included on our Oahu Go! cards which I will review soon and link here!
The park is open until 9pm, but be warned – the villages do *not* remain active until that time! Be sure to come early so that you can experience it all before the islanders pack up and head home. Our luau being at 4 meant that when we were finished, the villages would be pretty much done for the day. We were offered to move our luau time to 6 so that we could have more time to wander the park, and we thought that was a fabulous idea! Until the ticket seller told us it would be another $25 each. As poor newlyweds living in the most expensive place to buy toilet paper in the world, we liked our already included option! It turns out that the later luau is called the Ambassador’s Luau and it seems as though the only perk is the later time according to their website. There are many other dining options listed on their site including a fancier prime rib dinner with no entertainment, and a buffet, so be sure to check them out!
Upon entering the park, we were accosted by two nice young ladies by the entrance that were wearing name tags denoting them as “Sister.” Something to note is that the Cultural Center is owned and operated by the Mormon church, and many of the employees are BYU students. Brent is actually a former Mormon, so we were curious to see exactly how much Mormonism and/or BYU was displayed at the park. We were pleasantly surprised to see that religion was not at all shoved in your face, and the only main mention of it was on the card handed to us by the sisters for a tram ride to tour BYU. We passed.
Directly in front of us was a ukulele museum and studio that we quickly toured. There is a little keiki (kid’s) music studio inside where you can strum an instrument, and a shop where you can buy any type or size of ukulele your heart desires. Take a peek inside the buffet hall on the left as well, the murals on the walls include the actual faces of many of the employees, as well as Elvis!
We got to the first island, Samoa, just in time for their presentation. We learned a lot about coconuts, including how to open one with your teeth – do not recommend! A woman was also plucked from the crowd to drink the coconut water inside, and the Samoan in charge didn’t let her go sit down until she had finished it all! In return for her efforts though he gave her a hand woven basket. Pretty cool – but I’m not sure I would want to lug that around the park! Other people in return for their involvement with the various presentations at the islands around the park were given haku leis (headbands) or cute little woven “fish” on a “fishing pole!” The Samoan show closed out with a nimble man climbing a coconut tree, something I definitely wish I could do to keep a coconut supply at all times.
I am one of those people that if I am somewhere I need to experience it 100% or I feel SO UNFULFILLED so trying to figure out how to fit in all of the presentations before the luau was stressful! There was also a canoe show at 2:30 that we couldn’t miss. Luckily a lot of the island presentations were off-set from each other so we could kind of move from one to the other. We were able to see New Zealand’s presentation which started outside with a greeting ceremony, then moved inside to a high energy hula and poi ball dance.
After that we hit Fiji where we joined in a bamboo drum session accompanied by ukuleles and the cutest tiny little dancers! Excuse me, warriors!
LOOK AT HIS FEROCIOUS FACE! ❤
We weren’t going to make Hawaii’s presentation or Tahiti so we sat down in “Fiji” for a little lesson on coconut oil. All I knew about it was that it was delicious when used to make oil popped popcorn! (Seriously, try it! It has the best flavor)
The poor guy was a sweaty mess as he had just danced his heart out for the Fiji presentation! We learned that green coconuts are best for their water, yellow coconuts for the flesh, and old brown coconuts for things like coconut shavings. It was amazing how quickly he pulverized a coconut into tiny flakes! We all got to try some. Coconut oil was and is made on the islands from squeezing the “cream” from the coconut meat into a jug, which is then left to sit until the oil separates from the liquid. It looks pretty gnarly!
From him we actually learned a lot about the park’s employees too. They are all invited to come attend BYU directly from their homeland and each employee is actually from the island that they are representing in the park. It helps to make the experience more authentic, and each employee can share their own culture from the heart instead of memorized from a book.
After getting our fill of coconut knowledge we snagged a seat by the river where the canoe pageant was about to start. It is an impressive display of song and dance by each island all performed on flat top canoes! It was especially nice because we knew we wouldn’t see each island’s presentation with our time constraints.
Right after this we sped on over to Tonga where we watched a presentation on drums and the accompanying dances. We were cutting it close to our luau but I’m glad we stayed! They pulled three people from the audience to poke fun at and learn some drum skills.
Right after this we headed to our luau that was currently getting sat. We were given a beautiful lei each and got our …… can you guess? …. touristy picture taken with a Hawaiian princess! No prop to hold this time, just shakas. (I accidentally threw up the “I love you” sign at first! Love you Hawaii?)
Our own (free) version of the luau picture. Call us cheapskates.
We were sat at the luau at a table that was already occupied by another family. An employee came around to ask if we wanted to dance on stage (heck no!) and another to try and sell us a pineapple smoothie for an exorbitant amount of money. No really, it was like $10! It was pretty cute though. Something to keep in mind – since the PCC is run by the Mormon church, you won’t find any alcohol here! That wasn’t a pro or con for us, we just didn’t mind. This might be a major drawback for some though so be aware! They *do* have coffee though which surprised me, as coffee is something else Mormon people are not allowed to drink. It was the perfect pick me up!
After most everyone was sat, we were invited back behind the stage to see them take the pig out of the imu, or underground “oven.” Get to the viewing area quickly though or your view will be obstructed, especially if you are short like me. I went around the side though and saw just fine.
It smelled delicious!
After that we were let loose table by table to grab a plate at the buffet. If you wanted a plate of the fresh pork you could go grab some at a table set up in the middle of the space. Overall the food was alright. It was nothing spectacular, but it definitely filled us up. Side note, don’t bother with the poke – get some at Foodland instead! The luau show was fun to watch, but I did have to turn my chair so I could see, not everyone is set up in such a way that you have a perfect view of the stage. In my opinion, the village shows were much more fun, I think because I could give them my full attention! There was an impressive little boy that was a fire dancing champion that performed too, he dropped his fire stick twice though and you could feel his disappointment poor thing.
After the luau we walked around the villages that we hadn’t gotten to see or hadn’t spent much time in. It was deserted and sad by that point though 😦
The height on that structure though!
We came across a map of the Polynesian islands and I made Brent explain to me the connection between all of the different cultures and how they were all technically Polynesian, just different evolved sub-sets with their own yet similar languages, dances, songs, and traditions.
Learning about island housing. Most, if not all, of the structures in each “village” are still made the old way with no nails.
At each village as well there were little demonstrations in addition to the presentations which we missed. You could take a mini hula class, learn how to weave, how to fish, the importance of tattoos in the different cultures, etc. Unfortunately we had to skip them all but maybe one day we will be back!
Gorgeous carved door
We then exited the actual park and took another look around the Hukilau Marketplace before the evening show. They had started a little karaoke session in the gazebo in the middle of the marketplace that actually looked and sounded pretty successful! Brent and I got a Dole Whip from the sweet shop and sat back to listen. At 7:00 we were able to enter the giant stadium for the Ha: Breath of Life show. It was so big I didn’t think it would fill up, but it sure did!
Bring your bug spray and douse yourself! I was bled dry by mosquitoes and spent the next 3 days scratching my legs off!
There is no photography allowed in the show, which I think is fine as it is definitely something that should be experienced with your own eyes. It was a giant conglomeration of all of the island cultures on display at the PCC, one merging right into the next in a very artsy way. The show was full of energy and had some of the best fire dancing we have seen yet! Truly mind blowing.
If you want to experience the Polynesian Cultural Center for youself, be sure to check online for deals. They have deals on their own site that include a free return trip online, the PCC is part of the Oahu Go! Card, and Groupon-esque sites always have bargains as well.
We were pretty beat by the time we drove home, and weren’t big fans of the fact that the PCC was pretty much on the opposite side of the island to where we currently live! It was dark by the time we started the drive. If you are staying in Waikiki, it will take you 1.5 hours (not including potential traffic) to drive to the center.
Are you as big a fan of a deal as we are? What’s the best deal you’ve gotten on a vacation? Comment below!