on September 1, 2009
The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is often on the "must do" lists when you come to Hawaii, and especially for Honolulu and/or Oahu. Having been to this island a couple of times in the past and having never done it, we felt we owed it to ourselves to plan a day around exploring the PCC.Without wanting to sound like a Hawaiian tourist snob, I must say that having been to Hawaii some six or eight times over the past decade, we felt this "top attraction" fell short of our expectations given all the hype it gets. It took me a while to figure out why, but once I did, it seemed more rationale than writing them off as just another tourist trap.They will tell you that first and foremost, the PCC is here to further the studies and education on the cultures of the Polynesian Islands . . . six to be exact: Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaii and Aotearoa (I had never heard of that last one). The park is set up as islands divided by several water channels. The effect is quite nice and the grounds lush. Each island features cultural displays and demonstrations. Some are hands on, encouraging audience participation. Learn to shuck a coconut in Samoa or do the hula in Hawaii . . . you can also learn about more uses and cooking with coconuts in Tahiti.In addition to the six islands, there are other cultural exhibits including several hand carved canoes. The most impressive is the Iosepa which was built here recently (2000) as part of their discovery and learning program. A large 56' double hulled canoe, the craftsmanship is exquisite. As you enter the exhibit area, there is a DVD on continuous play to show the building and first sail of this beautiful vessel.The theme of six islands is also the backdrop to the "Rainbow of Paradise" canoe pageant. Each canoe tours through a viewing area, highlighting the music and dance of the various island people. Not unlike much of the show that you would see at a traditional luau, it was interesting and entertaining . . . providing a nice 30 minute break from the walk around the grounds.Speaking of canoes, if you would like to take a ride from one end of the park to the other, they do this via 25 person canoes. It is a nice way to see the various islands and get a good lay of the land. We rode to the far end and then enjoyed our leisurely stroll back to the main entrance area. Unfortunately, at least on our boat trip, the guides were full of cheesy lame jokes making it difficult to really enjoy the ride.We also enjoyed the 50 minute IMAX feature movie "Coral Reef Adventure" which chronicles the studies of the reef in the South Pacific. The photography is wonderful and the film educational. While global warming is one of the contributing factors to the death of reefs around the world, it was nice to not have to hear that it is the sole cause for the problems in the ocean.After a full afternoon of visiting the islands and seeing the shows of interest, we headed for our 5:00pm dinner at The Gateway. The buffet dinner was included in the admission package we purchased and wasn't much to write home about. There was a vast assortment of items to choose from, and it all had decent flavor. It just seemed that everything being served here was a notch below what diners would have enjoyed at the additional (optional) fee luau. An example is the fried chicken. Plenty of it and if you like thighs, you'd be very happy . . . but there were no other pieces offered . . . not even a drumstick or wing.After dinner we decided to take the Laie Tram Tour, which was also included in our admission package. Billed as a 35 minute tour to the Brigham Young University - Hawaii campus and the Hawaiian temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), we felt that it was little more than an effort to proselytize to visitors. A big turn-off in my book, especially on vacation! The "tour" was given by two "sisters" of the church; young women who were providing service for an 18 month period as volunteers at the PCC.It was on this tour that we learned that the number one reason that the PCC was created was to provide jobs for the students coming to Hawaii to study at BYU-Hawaii. I suppose creating an attraction that also serves the student body is a benevolent cause.Our admission package also include the evening show "HA - The Breath of Life" which was scheduled for 7:30pm. By this time, however, we were tired and not really interested in a 90 minute story that furthered their agenda or possibly religious beliefs . . . so we opted out. Part of what played into our decision was the fact that while the marketing literature promotes the PCC as just 35 minutes from Honolulu, we found it to be just over an hour to where we were staying. I know Honolulu is a big place, so I suppose it depends on where you are coming from, but we were both too tired to stay for a show until 9:00pm and then have the hour plus drive back to Waikiki.The PCC is really feeling the pinch of the US economy. While there seemed to be a lot of Japanese visitors, it seemed Americans were outnumbered 10:1. I had read somewhere that the attendance at the PCC was down some 30-50% and based on what we saw, I would believe it. The place really seemed empty when you think about it in the context of being the number one attraction on Oahu.There are a number of tour companies that feature the Polynesian Cultural Center including Roberts Hawaii. You can also pick up tickets online, which is what we did. Our package including admissions to all activities, dinner at the Gateway Buffet and the show, was $60 per person. The package that excludes dinner is $45 and the first basic package that includes the luau is $88. More information on ticket package options may be found on their web site: http://www.polynesia.com/.Here's my bottom line on this attraction . . .If you have never been to Hawaii and may never come again, this is probably a "must do" attraction for you. It will provide you with the best overall cultural experience and education on the people of the islands. At $60 including the basic dinner buffet, the price provides good value.If however, you have been to Hawaii before and taken in a luau or two in the past, you will probably find this attraction a bit remedial and not a very good value for your precious vacation time and money.
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