We are very pleased to share the Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center. This detailed blog, written by Travel Blogger Harley Charlebois, provides a great overview of the packages available, things to see and activities to participate in while visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Oahu, Hawaii. Enjoy!


Guiding you through the Polynesian Cultural Center

One of my favorite things to do on Oahu is visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for unique experiences on the island. This extensive cultural theme park, nested along the rural North Shore area of Oahu, is frequently ranked as one of the top attractions in Hawaii. They are dedicated to preserving and portraying the cultures, arts and crafts of Polynesia. They do this through cultural presentations, hands-on activities, and full-scale replicas of buildings of cultural significance; all of which provides in-depth and enjoyable learning opportunities to visitors from around the world. Learn to paddle a canoe, throw a spear, recognize hula movements and much more while growing your understanding of the beauty and diversity of Polynesian cultures. This is definitely an experience unlike any other.

But before you can explore the 42 acres of tropical splendor, you have to buy a ticket. Do this as soon as you can because, depending on your desired package, tickets can sell out months in advance.

(*All particulars pertaining to price, perks, discounts, times etc. are subject to change. Check Polynesia.com for up to date information*)

Where to Start

The Center often runs discounts when you buy tickets farther in advance. For instance at the time of this article, select packages purchased at least 10 days out offer 10% off. This discount is, for obvious reasons, only available when you purchase directly from the Center. My readers are well aware that I prefer to purchase tickets directly; whether for planes, trains, events or parks. I have far too much experience with Murphy’s Law to trust that nothing will go wrong and most places are far more understanding if you paid them directly. The major perk of buying directly through the Center is their “no hassle reservation changes and cancellations”. Check the current cost of each package on their website.

Picking the Right Package for You

If you have never been to the Center I highly recommend the Ali’i Luau. Their luau is consistently ranked one of the best on the island and certainly one of the most authentic. It is also delicious, with an updated menu from Executive Chef Felix Tai. If this is not your first or last visit to the Center then you can save some money on the tickets by opting for the Gateway Buffet or one of the two entrance and entertainment only packages.

There is plenty to see and do in the park itself that makes the visit worthwhile. However, I feel that a day at the Center is incomplete if I miss HA: Breath of Life, the Center’s spectacular nighttime show. This is one of the best live shows that I have ever seen.

For many people visiting the Center is a once in a lifetime opportunity. For this reason you should carefully consider which package will provide you with everything you’re looking for.

Delicious Kalua Pork presented at Alii Luau

If it is your first visit to the Center, I absolutely recommend the “Super Ambassador” or “Alii Luau” package. The luau is well worth it. The food is always fresh and in season. They also feature a Kalua whole roasted pig that has been cooking in a traditional umu (ground oven) since the early morning. Read more about the best luau on Oahu. Note: be sure to check if your ticket is for Hale Ohana or Hale Aloha. The menu, show, and price are the same for both locations, but your ticket will only scan for the one you were randomly assigned.

Guide giving Super Ambassador tour

Guide giving Super Ambassador tour

The “Super Ambassador” Luau package comes with a few distinct perks, including a kukui lei greeting at your arrival and reserved seating at all of the cultural presentations. However, the most notable difference is in the tour. With the “Super Ambassador” package you (and your party) will have a private tour guide throughout the day. With the “Alii” package the tour will be with a group. For single travelers or couples I recommend the group tour. It is a chance to make memories with others. For large family groups I would recommend the private tour. But the preference is entirely personal for each visitor. I am usually traveling by myself so I prefer the group tour with the “Alii” package.

Always a wonderful welcome at the Gateway Buffet

Next on the list is the “Gateway Buffet” Package. While it does not include a tour guide it does include dinner. The gorgeous Gateway Buffet was recently renovated and introduced an entirely new and delicious menu. (Can you tell that I really like this place?) This venue features a larger than life 360° mural and live music. The menu boasts fresh Ahi and a succulent roast carved right in front of you. My favorite feature is the poke bar. This is also a great option for families with children as there is a wide selection of kids’ food.

There are two packages that do not include dinner. However, there are some great dining options in the Hukilau Marketplace right outside the Center’s entrance. My favorite is Pounders Restaurant which is well worth a visit all on its own and features inspired twists on Hawaiian favorites. There are also several food trucks to choose from.

The primary difference between the “Islands of Polynesia and HA: Breath of Life” package and the “Islands of Polynesia” package is obviously tickets to the HA show. In my opinion there is no better way to end a visit to the Center.

Don’t miss HA: Breath of Life. A sweeping view no matter where you sit.

HA: Breath of Life is beautiful and heartfelt. The talent and dedication of the performers leaves me in awe and the music is the kind that you feel as much as hear. This show tells the story of Mana. The storyline follows his life through important traditions of each Polynesian culture represented by the island villages you will have spent the day visiting. This package includes bronze level seating for the show. No worries! Each section offers a sweeping view of the stage. The “Super Ambassador” package includes platinum level seating, which is the front two rows. Talk about up close and personal! The “Alii” package has gold level seating and the “Gateway Buffet” package has silver level seating.

With so much to see and do in the Center’s 42 acres you may think it is impossible to get it all done in one day, and you would be right! Luckily all 5 packages currently include a 3 day pass that allows for reentry into the Island Villages the two days following your initial visit.

Each package has its pros and cons but my favorite, especially for first time visitors is the “Super Ambassador” Luau package. My recommendation for families with young kids is the “Gateway Buffet” Package. Finally, a recommendation for repeat visitors, the “Islands of Polynesia & HA: Breath of Life” package.

Getting an Early start to the Day

I arrive at the Hukilau Marketplace between eleven and noon so that I can go to Pounders Restaurant for brunch. For something quick and sweet there is always the delicious, connected bakery, Aunty Emily’s. If this is not your first visit to Hukilau Marketplace then by all means branch out to some of the food trucks on site, but my favorite will always be Pounders.

This is also a good time to shop at the Hukilau Marketplace. You can store any purchases in your car before going into the island villages. If you are only walking around the island villages for the day, getting your shopping done first isn’t a big deal. If you have purchased the full package, most of the shops and kiosks will be closed by the time you get out of the HA show.

There are also several opportunities to buy souvenirs while in the islands themselves. Shops include the Ukulele Experience Gallery, which offers a large selection of ukuleles and accessories. A favorite of mine is Mahinalani, which focuses on local art, jewelry and handicrafts.  You’ll also find the Ulu Store attached to the Hawaiian Journey Theater, the Early Mission home inside the Hawaiian Mission Settlement, Kap’s Gallery in Samoa, and Friendly Island Handicrafts in Tonga.

My Favorite Order

You may be inclined to travel from village to village in a simple circle, but you could miss some real gems. You might even get turned around in Fiji and end up missing Hawaii and Tahiti all together…it has happened. To make sure that you see everything, my recommended track is a bit more serpentine and does involve some backtracking.

If you are self-guided (i.e. you did not buy a luau package) here is the order I recommend. P.S. I have tried, but I have never successfully seen and been able to experience everything in one day. If you manage it, please let me know what order you went in. I can’t wait to hear it.

Whether you follow my path or set your own, you will want to get an early start. The islands open at 12:30 and I recommend you start in Samoa. The presentation is always fun with demonstrations of traditional fire-making (no matches involved) and how to climb coconut trees. After the show you too can try your hand at starting a fire and learn how to spin a fireknife. If Kap, our Cultural Ambassador and YouTube star, is there make sure to say “hi!” Also check out his art gallery. Three times a day there are cooking demonstrations, 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30pm. However, the food tasting doesn’t happen until the end of the 3:30pm demonstration.

After Samoa, walk across my favorite bridge in the Center which passes through the Rapa Nui Exhibit. This also happens to be a great photo opportunity. It is usually less crowded than the popular waterfall next to the Hale Aloha entrance. Make sure you have the free app downloaded to read some interesting facts about the exhibits around the Center while you explore.

After crossing the Rapa Nui bridge, take a walk through the Hawaiian Mission Settlement. They have free ukulele lessons and beautiful handmade quilts for sale.

Audience having a great time at the Tonga Presentation

You can hear this audience having a great time from a mile away

From there, go through Tonga. Audience participation really does make all the difference at the Tonga presentation. If you are trying to make it to the luau or Gateway Buffet the 2pm or 3pm crowd will do fine. If you have a bit more time in your day before dinner you should definitely catch the 4pm or 5pm crowd. The show at 1pm is going to have a rather small audience. While in Tonga I also paddle an outrigger canoe and learn more about the fascinating process of creating tapa cloth. Oh! And I always try my hand at spear throwing no big deal, right? Just the usual theme park activities.

If at this point in the day you are feeling that tropical sun and really need an airconditioned break, I have just the thing for you. The Hawaiian Journey Theatre! While there enjoy a brilliant, surround sound cinematic experience. The show itself is just under 15 minutes and tells of the unique beauty of the islands as seen through the eyes of the first Hawaiians. After the show be sure to stop by the Ulu store which is a great place for souvenirs. If you want to visit the Hawaiian Journey Theatre sooner or later in your day you absolutely can. Showtimes are every half hour from 1:00 to 6:30pm. The outside of Hawaiian Journey Theater is built to look like a dormant volcano with a mini waterfall. Another great photo opp.

After the presentation in Tonga (or a trip to the theater), cross the bridge to Fiji where there is an authentic replica of a Bure Kalou, or Fijian temple. You can also learn to play a bamboo instrument called a derua and get a Fijian warrior tattoo. Don’t worry it washes off.

Next stop Aotearoa (New Zealand)! I probably spend the most time in this Island Village because I just love all the activities and presentations. If you love cooking demonstrations, here is another opportunity for you. Learn more about the Maori earth-oven technique at 2:30pm in Aotearoa. I love the high energy presentation in this island village, this is generally where you can find me at 3pm. I also enjoy twirling the double-long poi (a ball on the end of string) and playing titi torea, a popular Maori stick game.

Don’t miss the Iosepa. It’s amazing to think that this canoe actually sails around Oahu when it’s not on display.

Here is where I remind you that there are two more Island Villages you have yet to visit. Skirting around Fiji, make your way up to Hawaii. In the Hawaiian Island Village there are opportunities to play popular games of skill. Also watch how poi (a common island root starch) is made and taste it for yourself. Finally, take a lesson in dancing and understand the storytelling of hula. Attend the Hawaiian presentation to get a more in-depth understanding of the Hawaiian hula. While in Hawaii make sure to check out the Iosepa! This massive double hulled Canoe can and has made its way around the Island of Oahu. Only one of the many impressive replicas of different kinds of canoes on display at the Center. (You might also recognize this one from the iconic end scene of a popular Disney movie, you’re welcome.)

The last island is Tahiti. If you make it by 4pm you will have the wonderful opportunity to witness a traditional Tahitian wedding ceremony. If you are there with your spouse, you can even renew your own vows while following along with the presentation. The Tahitian wedding ceremony is performed at 3pm and 4pm. During the presentation you will also learn how to dance the popular and alluring Ori Tahiti. If there is any available, I highly recommend tasting the traditional Tahitian coconut bread, it is a favorite of mine. While in Tahiti you can also fish with bamboo poles (don’t worry, no fish are harmed in this activity.)

Once you have explored Tahiti it is the perfect time to take the canoe tour. Load in at the North landing across from the Iosepa display and ride back to the South landing which lets out right beside the Hawaiian Journey Theatre. From there it is easy to navigate to the Gateway Restaurant or back to the Hukilau Marketplace.

Dinner

After walking all day across the beautiful 42 acres you’re going to be starving. Luckily the Center has many options to satiate your hunger. If you are not attending the Luau or the Gateway Buffet, make your way back out to the Hukilau Marketplace. There you will find many food trucks and huts. As well as Pounders Restaurant, which has a delicious and seasonally fresh selection of inspired dishes and local favorites.

The Best Live Show I’ve Seen

A show unlike any other!

Nothing like ending your visit on a high note! We have now come to my favorite activity at the Center. I love learning, and I cannot get enough of food, but there is just something magical about this live show. HA: Breath of Life tells the symbolic story of Mana. Watch as each step of his life is shown through traditions of the cultures represented at the Center. These milestones are highlighted through fantastic music and choreography that makes you laugh, cry, and sit on the edge of your seat for the entire display. Every seat in the amphitheater offers a sweeping view of this touching story of family, love, loss, and life.

I am so pleased to present this Ultimate Guide to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Every time I visit this magical place, I have a new experience, I find a new story to share and receive a renewed appreciation for all there is to learn about the cultures of Polynesia. I invite you to find the same.

**Note:** All images provided courtesy of the Polynesian Cultural Center