Considered by many to be one of the top, must-do, attractions in Hawaii the Polynesian Cultural Center showcases what Island life has been like across the Polynesian Island in the Pacific. Along with the Cultural Center’s Island exhibits you can also attend the Centers Luau, a traditional Hawaiian feast and Spectacular Show making this a one-stop show for all your Cultural needs while in Oahu. We take you right into the heart of the center in Our Polynesian Cultural Center Review and break down everything you need to know to decide if the PCC is the right attraction for your Hawaii adventures.
We take a look at the Island Exhibits and the Center’s wonderful grounds, weigh up the different dining options and Luau Packages, and have a look at the Ha-Breath of Life Show to see how it stacks up. There is a lot going on at the center and we help you decide if this is the right attraction for you and whether you want to visit JUST the center or take in the Luau as well.
What is the Polynesian Cultural Center?
The Polynesian Cultural Center was set up to educate and celebrate the different cultures of the Polynesian island in a fun and educational manner. The Center is best described as a living Museum, With the authentic reconstructions of island life from 6 of the different Polynesian Culterals from around the Pacific Rim.
Each Island has been recreated in traditional Fashion showing what life was like in years gone by living a traditional Life on each of the Islands. Live Actors in traditional dress perform live demonstrations of Arts, crafts, Dance, Skills, and Games from the island’s culture.
In Addition the Center host one of the most authentic Luaus in Hawaii. The Feast is one of the best available and the show is the largest and most dramatic anywhere in the Island Chain. You can Either Just Visit the center and the Island Exhibits or you can double up and visit the Luau as well. We suppose you can just attend the Luau but the center is part of the ticket fee and it’s a waste, and possibly a bit insensitive to ignore the wonderful Island Exhibits.
- Attraction – Polynesian Cultural Center
- Location – Laie, Oahu North Shore
- Type – Cultural Exhibits/living Museum, Luau Feast, and Polynesian Show
- Prices – Center – Adult – $69 – Child (11-4) – $56 – Child (<3) – Free
- Prices – Luau – Adult – $140-$243 – Youth (7-17) – $112-$195 – Child (<3) – Free
- Rating – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4.6 Stars
Polynesian Cultural Center – Islands of Polynesia
The large lagoon is at the center of the PCC, and clustered around this are the different Islands that make up the attraction. These are not actually islands but are laid out in a way that they feel like they are. As you make your way around the lagoon you visit the different islands and experience the different cultures of how the inhabitants used to live.
The Islands are dressed in the style of the ancient cultures with typical plants, buildings, and the paraphilia of their cultures. They are also inhabited by cast members dressed and trained to mimic the varying island inhabitants. These cast members are almost entirely students of Brigham Young University, which is run by the LDS Church which also runs the Center. students can support their studies by working at the Center (More on this later).
The Islands are brought to life via regular Cultural presentations where the cast member shows demonstrations of life in the villages. These are interactive and let the crowd participate along with the cast.
The First Village is Tonga. Here you can paddle a canoe, practice tossing a spear, and take part in some traditional drumming. The presentation is very light-hearted and fun and the Village is filled with flowers and is wonderfully welcoming.
Tahiti is the most romantic of the villages, and you can even witness a wedding. Here you can sample coconut bread, have a go at pole fishing, learn to dance like a Tahitian, and even get a temporary Tattoo.
Naturally, the Hawaiin Village is the most popular as these are the islands we have all come to see, and experiencing a little Hawaiian Culture is fantastic. Here you can learn the Hula, Pound some Poi and taste it if you must! Try some lauhala Weaving and learn to fish with a net. Also, don’t miss the large (Moana Style) Voyaging Canoe, these were the types of vessels that were used to locate the Hawaiin islands originally.
Fiji ups the tempo a little and is a bit more fierce than the other islands. Here you get to visit a Fijian skyscraper, travel in time (Fiji sits o nth International Date Line) Make coconut oil, and get a Tattoo.
Aotearoa (New Zealand)
The Maori were calling New Zealand home (and Aotearoa) well before us pesky Europeans showed up. The Aotearoa Island lets you experience, and learn, the fearsome Haka, the Maori War Dance. There are cooking demonstrations, Facial Tattoos (Temporary), fun games, and weapons-building skills.
Samoa is probably our favorite Island at the Center. Here you can learn about the art of Fire Knife Dancing and see an impressive demonstration. Watch the ancient art of Coconut tree climbing, Learn to husk and open a coconut without tools, and start a fire with two sticks. The Samoan Island just feels the most lively and the most fun overall. But really we don’t like to pick favorites.
Voyaging Canoe Tour
The Best way to start your tour is with a Canoe ride around the Lagoon. These relaxing tours of the complex get you orientated and show off the lush tropical planting and amazing grounds, It’s included with entry and is definitely worth your time.
These tours are great fun as the Guide/Gondoliers provide a really funny commentary of your journey around the Islands. The best way to describe is it similar to the Jungle Cruise at Dinsey, but a bit Dryer. You really can’t tell they are joking half the time but once you catch in it’s very funny.
Church and University Tour
We mentioned above that the Cultural Center is staffed mainly by students from Brigham Young University, which is run by the Church of the Latter-Day Saints in Laie. This can all sound a bit shady and underhand, but the center makes no secret of this fact and instead is very proud of the links. They have helped thousands of students achieve an education when they may otherwise have been priced out.
Visitors to the Center have the option of taking a tour of the university and the Church aboard a tram and seeing the work the church does and how the three support each other. It is worth understanding this link and its intrinsic to the whole place. But it’s perfectly fine to just visit and enjoy the wonderful grounds and cultural presentations without diving into the church connections.
How Much Does the Polynesian Cultural Center Cost?
If you just want to visit the Center, the cost is fairly reasonable, but certainly not inexpensive.
Many people come to Hawaii and are content sitting on a beach and enjoying the stunning scenery but really we think it’s appropriate to immerse yourself in a little culture. Most people’s idea of this is to visit a Luau. While this is a fun activity and is based on Hawaiin Culture, it’s so commercialized now it bears little resemblance to anything the Hawaiians would have done.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is far more authentic and really showcases life, not just in Hawaii, but the other wonderful cultures of the Polynesian Islands chains. So the high cost is well worth it in our eyes and provides a full afternoon of entertainment and learning. Especially for families as this is learning by stealth as everything is presented in a really fun way.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is also included on the Go Oahu Pass. This could potentially save you hundreds of dollars on attractions across the Island of Oahu, and if you are planning on visiting the PCC it’s sure to be an incredible value. Read our full review here
The Other way to make this even better value is to extend your stay at the Center by upgrading to one of the Luau Packages. This will get you a fantastic Luau Feast and entry to the Hā-Breath of Life Show, one of the best Luau Shows in Hawaii.
Polynesian Cultural Center Luau
There are 3 main packages to choose from when upgrading to the Luau. All three offer a feast and the show the main differences are the location of the meal, the seating in the theatre, and added extra’s thrown in on the higher packages.
Remember Access to the Center and the Island Villages as we described above is included on all the packages below. The below Package Prices get you the Luau AND the Center.
Gateway Buffet Package
This is the base option and is proving incredibly popular. The Gateway Buffet offers diners an incredible array of traditional Island foods, along with some less authentic, more modern Island Staples and a few American home comforts for the fussy eaters. Honestly, when we first heard of this new Gateway Buffet package we were pretty unimpressed. It felt like being stuffed in a canteen with low-quality food options.
The reality is the Gateway Buffet is a stunning location. High Ceilings, Hawaiian Artwork, and oodles of wooden detailing See above! The setting is not as tropical as the Alii Luau it’s still a really nice place to eat your luau feast.
The Buffet is also every bit as good as the Alii Luau feast, the food is basically the same, in fact, there is more choice at the gateway buffet and certainly more familiar options if you are not too keen on a full Hawaiian style menu.
Dishes such as sticky Chicken Wings, Spicy Pork Belly, and Char Sui Pork ribs stand out as fan favorites and there are the traditional Luau Options of Kalua Pork, Local Fish, and Lomi Lomi Salmon.
The Poke Bar really grabs our attention too with a huge selection of Poke and even Ahi Sashimi. The desserts selection is also far superior to the Alii Buffet and the whole menu just stands out as more varied. You are missing out on the IMU Pig Ceremony and fresh roasted Pork which is always the highlight of any Luau, but there is a lot on offer to compensate and there is still Kalua Pork, just not fresh from the ground.
Alii Luau Package
The Alii Luau Package is the more traditional Luau Option. This comes with the added bells and whistles most people expect from a Luau. The Main Differences, apart from the location and style of the meal are the addition of a Flower Lei, and the more central and prominent seating location at the Show.
We really feel a beautiful Fragrant Flower Lei is all part of the show, and feel a little short-changed if we don’t get one at a Luai, so this is a welcome addition. The Seating at the show is also a real boost. The Gateway Seats are not actually bad, but it just feels a bit better to be front and central!
But the major difference is the Luau Feast. The Alii Luau is a more traditional affair. The location is really wonderful, it’s outdoors but still covered, and has a wonderful tropical backdrop.
The Buffet Menu here is more geared towards the traditional Luau Foods and can be a bit more challenging to fussy eaters. It’s not too alien to western tastes with dishes such as Kahlua Pork, Local Fish, Huli Huli Chicken, Various Poke, and Teriyaki Brisket.
The Star of the Meal is the Whole Pig Baked underground in an IMU Oven and is the centerpiece of any good Luau. The Whole Pig Ceremony is missing from the Gateway Buffet and is a bit of a must for first-time Luau visitors.
The Price for the Alii Luau can seem pretty steep. But in reality, we see it as really good value. You are getting an absolute top-notch Luau Feat and all the trimming, along with the Best Show on the Island, and a wonderful afternoon exploring the Island villages.
The Price is pretty comparable to the other Luau’s on the island and they do not come close in terms of included extras! You also get a lot for your money over the basic Gateway Package, better seats, a lei, and a superior Meal is pretty decent for $30
Super ambassador luau package
The Super Ambassador Package is the top VIP option for those that want it all. On top of everything you get in the Alii, you get added VIP privileges too. First up is an additionally carved kukui nut lei which will last a lot longer than the flower Lei (which you get as well) You also get the best seats in the house at the Show, right at the front with the best view in the house.
You get your own private canoe tour, front row at all the cultural presentations, and general VIP treatment throughout your day.
The Super Ambassador is a very popular option and sells out really fast, well over 3 months ahead, so make sure you get in early if it’s important to you. The Center does not sell many Super Ambasidors each day so you really are treated very specially.
On the face of it, this upgrade doesn’t feel as valuable when booking. There are fewer bells and whistles to point out, but it’s that general feeling of being treated as a VIP that the extra pays for. It is well worth the extra if you want to be front and center of everything all day! When they want volunteers, they look for the Super Ambassadors, when there are queues the Super Ambassadors are at the front, it’s that sort of thing.
So in terms of value, it’s how much you value VIP treatment rather than tangible benefits that are easier to quantify.
Ok, this is for some an issue. Due to the affiliation with the Church, Alcohol is forbidden on the grounds. That means there are NO alcoholic drinks included or even available during the meal. This could be an issue for some and quite frankly we may be having some readers turn off right now!
If this is a breakpoint for you, and the thought of not having a drink at your Luau is just a deal-breaker. Then Check out our Full Guide to Oahu’s Luau’s there are many on offer and most have alcohol included, and all have bars where you can buy separately too. Also still consider visiting the cultural Center for the Daytime Activities. It is well worth taking your time to understand the culture of the islands and Polynesia in general.
If you consider the Go Oahu Card you can visit the Ka Moana Luau at the Sea Life Park, and visit the Cultural center another day.
For those that are still with us, those that can consider not having a drink with their meal, the truth is it’s a good job for all the other Luau’s in Oahu that they do not serve alcohol, The PCC Luau us SO far ahead of the others we doubt most would stay in business if the PCC didn’t have this one downside. It’s about the only negative thing we can say about it!
Others may have the odd trump point up on the Polynesian Cultural Center, The Ka Moana has the wonderful Sea-Life Park attached, the Waikiki Starlight is very central and convenient in Waikiki, the Paradise Cove has an enviable location and The Diamond Head just pips it on food, but the PCC has them all whipped on almost every other level. It is by far, and away, the best Luau on the Island. So if you can bear one evening of sobriety, it really is a Killer Luau.
In fact, we find staying sober not too much of a chore, and we are drinkers, especially at Luaus. But the rather inconvenient location of the Polynesian Cultural Center means we normally have to drive there anyway so it’s much safer and more responsible to not have a drink anyway. But we do accept for some the deal is off.
Of Course, there is a great selection of soft drinks available, all included in the price. And Finally, there is the Virgin Pina Coladas that the PCC provides with the Alli Luau Feast. These are seriously tasty and barely need alcohol at all. They are best described as runny Dole Whip but of better quality. Honestly, these are SO good you will forget all about the Lack of Rum…a sentence I never thought I would utter!
Hā–Breath of Life
The final thing to discuss is the Luau Show. Here again, the Polynesian Cultural Center not only beats the competition it destroys it.
Luau shows mostly have a quaint feel about them. It’s hard to describe, but they feel very cliche and dumbed down for a tourist audience. They put on a great show, and the enthusiasm and passion of the performance shine through. but there is always a feeling of limitations. The Hā–Breath of Life is quite different. It feels more let loose. It is far more grandiose in both scope and execution. The Large Stage is filled with performers and everything is more refined.
It’s a really well-drilled stage show with top-rate performers. The Stage lighting, the Props, the costumes, the sound, everything is just another level above the competition. HA: Breath of life is better compared to a Broadway production or a Cirque Du Soleil show, it really is that level of production.
The one slight downside is this scale does lose a little of the intimacy we find at other Luaus. Some of the shows take place almost on your lap with the cast parading right through the audience. We guess you can’t have everything and scaling the show up like this will always lose you some intimacy.
Overall it’s by bar the best show on the Island. We do hear it being hailed as the most authentic show in Hawaii, but we certainly contest that. That honor falls to the Old Lahaina Luau over on Maui, but Hā–Breath of Life is by far the grandest and most accomplished show we have seen anywhere in Hawaii…by a long way!
*One thing they do ask during the Show is NO – PHOTOGRAPHY! Now, this is really fine by use, you can put the phone away and relax and enjoy the show. However, it does mean we are a little restricted in bringing the essence of the show to you. We have to rely on words and not Pictures and images.
Hā–Breath of Life Seating Layout
The Show uses more traditional theater seating so everyone gets a good view. Most Luau shows simply take place next to the dining area, but the Hā–Breath of Life Show is in its own dedicated amphitheater. The seats are assigned depending on your Package With the best going to Super Ambsidorm then Alii Luau and finally the Gateway Buffet Guests.
Aside from the General Areas Seats are individually assigned when booking. A lot of Luau’s use a first come first served basis for the best seats, but the PCC has individually assigned seats so you can choose where in your available section you wish to choose.
On this basis, and due to reduced capacity running at the minute, it really pays to book your package early!
Frequently asked Questions
How do we get to the Polynesian Cultural Center?
As the center is situated up in Laie on the North Shore it is a bit of a trek to get there. It’s a good hour’s drive up from Waikiki. Naturally, the best way of getting there is by driving yourself. As there is no Alcohol involved then this is no problem if you are hiring a car.
It is more problematic for those without. There is no easy public transport that will get you there and a Taxi is prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, the Center has its own transport available from most Waikiki Locations.
This costs $30 for a round trip and pick-up is around 11:00 am depending on the Hotel Pickup. This will tend to get you back into Waikiki at around 9:30-10 pm so it’s a LONG day, and you will be at the PCC for most of that time. So it’s a good job there is so much on offer.
What Should We Wear?
Hawaii is warm year-round, however, the center is on one of the wetter parts of the island so while it is always likely to be warm rain showers can form any time of the year. So with this in mind some type of light rain jacket can be advisable, but not essential, any rain is likely to be short-lived.
Other than that smart, but light attire is the best. For a Luau, it’s almost mandatory to wear an Ahloa Shirt for men. This may be a bit uncomfortable for the whole day so consider bringing a change of shirt. For ladies, it’s best to just focus on light and breezy attire. We don’t want to encroach on your fashion style but you are likely to be in your outfit all day in hot conditions so light and comfortable are the obvious factors, but consideration should be made to look smart for the Luau Dinner.
There is NO formal dress code, so don’t worry too much, but we all like to look nice for a special dinner so try not to dress too casual for the day.
How Long Should we spend at the Polynesian Cultural Center?
The Center Opens after lunch, and really to get the most out of the experience you need a good couple of hours in the Island villages. To see and do everything would probably take you the whole afternoon. If you are using the transport you will be there all day so make the most out of what the center offers.
We prefer arriving a little later and spending the morning exploring the North Shore. It’s very different from the Waikiki Area and far more remote and unexplored. You can see most of the center before Dinner starts at around 5 pm.
Have Your Say
Have you been to the Polynesian Cultural Center? What did you think of your time there? Did you attend the Luau or just the Villages? Which was your favorite Island? Which Package did you go for and was it good value? We would particularly love some feedback on the New gateway Buffet?
Whatever you have to say just fire away in the comments. And if you have any questions just let us know.