Polynesian Cultural Center
One Of Hawaiiʻs Top Attractions – Laie, Oahu – Hawaii
The windward side of Oahu became home to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) in 1962. The area was mostly agricultural until the Mormon Church purchased a 6000-acre plantation back in 1865 which encompassed the small town of Laie. The church built a large temple here in 1919 and throughout the 1920’s missionary teachings were extended throughout the major island groups of Polynesia thousands of miles away. In 1955 the Church College of Hawaii was built nearby which would go on to become a branch campus of Brigham Young University in 1974.
During the 1920’s church leader Matthew Cowley, returning from missionary work was concerned about the erosion of traditional cultures. In a speech he delivered in Honolulu he envisioned “… to see the day when my Maori people in New Zealand will have a little village at Laie with beautifully carved houses…the Tongans will have a village too, and the Tahitians and Samoans and all those islanders of the sea”.
In the late 1940’s just after the war church members started a hukilau, a traditional fishing festival that included a luau feast and Polynesian entertainment as a fundraising event. Throughout the 1950’s the hukilau increased in popularity and soon busloads of visitors were coming to Laie for the events. Church President David McKay authorized the construction of the Polynesian Cultural Center in 1962 and over 100 “labor missionaries” volunteered to help build 39 structures on the then 12 acre site. Skilled craftsmen used materials imported from these distant islands to build authentic village houses. The completed project would bring much needed employment to this side of Oahu and students to BYU-Hawaii. The Polynesian Cultural Center officially opened on October 12th, 1963. The school’s students would come from throughout the Polynesian islands represented here for the next five decades to work at the Cultural Center.
Through the early 1960’s the 600 seat amphitheater was only full on Saturdays but with promotional appearances on the US mainland, including on TV’s Ed Sullivan Show, visitor attendance increased and the Center expanded the seating in the amphitheater to 1300. Villagers sometimes staged two shows a night during peak-season.
Expansions continued in the mid-1970’s with the addition of buildings including a new 2800 seat amphitheater and the 1000 seat Gateway Restaurant. The 1980’s saw more additions such as an 1850’s era missionary compound, a Marquesan Islands tohua (ceremonial compound), a 70 ft bure kalou, or Fijian “spirit house”, the Migrations Museum, Yoshimura Store and a 1920’s style sweets shop, along with upgrading the village landscaping.
By the 1990’s the intention of new expansions were to ensure that returning visitors would experience something new each time. 1995 saw the addition of a night show, an IMAX theater, a $1.4 million shopping plaza and the Ali’i Luau dinner show. The Center was awarded the “Keep it Hawai’i” award by the Hawai’i Visitor and Convention Bureau and the ‘Oihana Maika’i Award by the State of Hawai’i for excellence in service.
Upgrades in the 2000’s continued with new IMAX movies, longer cultural presentations, mini-museum displays of island artifacts and the all-new Hale Aloha building housing the award-winning Ali’i Luau. Exhibits were expanded to include moai statues of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) which were carved on site by Rapa Nui islanders as well as hand-carved replicas of various voyaging canoes from throughout the Pacific.
Over $1 million in improvements to the front entrance buildings and landscaping were completed for the 40th anniversary in 2003. The introduction of the popular “Free Within Three” campaign allowed visitors to return to the center within three consecutive days at no additional charge. Today visitors have all the time they need to take in the spirit of this world-renown place of entertainment, enchantment and education. It’s an authentic experience of the peoples of the Pacific set in the spirit and beauty of north shore of Oahu!
For the 55th Anniversary of the Center, it was decided to invest $100 million over 10 years. The recent improvement to the Hukilau Marketplace takes the experience to a whole new level. Today the market is a wonderful part of the experience with great food and unique and colorful shops.
We splurged and got the Ambassador Package in order to get good seats for the luau. It was way worth it. We had a tour guide lead us through the islands. She took us from show to show. We wouldn’t have been able to see so much on our own. She took great photos of us and was so friendly. It was a fantastic day seeing so many wonderful performances. Highlights included the canoe pageant, the newly opened Cook Islands, and the luau which was delicious and entertaining. We also had a ukulele lesson which inspired us to buy one – they had lots of great ukuleles to choose from. The evening show Breath of Life was amazing. The show or the dinner is worth the price alone, but you get so much. I would highly recommend it. We did it at the beginning of our trip so we had jet lag and we were pretty tired. I would recommend you do it at least a few days after you arrive.MichaelIrvine California
If we had to do it again, I would definitely pick the twilight option and shorten the trip by 2 hours. And also pick the 6pm dinner instead of 4pm. That way you get there just in time to watch the boat parade, go around the islands and have dinner at 6 and the Breath of Life show at 7:30.NeadLos Angeles California
Everyone in my family aged 10-65 all enjoyed ourselves! We purchased the Ambassador package which included a personal tour guide of the grounds, canoe ride, luau dinner and Ha-Breath of Life show. Although pricey it’s worth it. Our guide Pattica was great. He kept us on schedule to see most of the villages but allowed breaks for food and bathroom visits. Be sure to eat at one of the cafes at the front of the center before checking in because your meal doesn’t happen until 5pm! There were food booths at each country but to stay on schedule to see most of them you should bring some nonperishable snacks and bring plenty of water or at least a refillable bottle. There were plenty of water fountains around. Each village was beautifully landscaped and each of the hosts were proud to explain their culture to the visitors. I’m encouraged to visit the other islands for future vacations.Angel B
It was really cool! My kids age 6 to 17 loved every minute. I’d suggest downloading the PCC app and using one of their agendas so you can experience as much as possible. There was so much to see. Everyone was warm and welcoming, plus it was a great education into the Polynesian culture.CammieBoise ID
The heart and soul of the Polynesian Cultural Center are the villages. The authentic representation of the cultures of the Pacific is impressive and visitors can not only see and participate in the traditional lifestyle of six island nations but also meet the islanders who have come from these islands to live, go to college and work at the center sharing with the world their culture, humor, and stories of life in the far reaches of the Pacific.
Explore them all and be sure to try the activities within each village as well as see the presentations and shows the islanders perform throughout the day. It’s a lot to keep track of so if you wish to simplify your experience try a package that includes a native Polynesian guide! They know where to go and what time to be there for shows and activities. You’ll get the most out of your day while spending time with an informative native guide from one of six island nations!.
Presentations run hourly from 12:30 pm to 5:30 pm respectively.
Each island village offers a show used to explain the culture of the islands, which makes for a fun and engaging learning experience. Canoe rides passing each island are also popular. The fire making show at the Samoan Village is hilarious along with demonstrations of all the things coconuts are used for. It may take more than one day to get in all the shows unless you book a guide or guided group tour. The guides know the timing of the shows and they’ll help get you to them much more efficiently than you might on your own.