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Maximize Your Experience at the Polynesian Cultural Centre

The Polynesian Cultural Centre is Hawaii's number one paid attraction, with around a million annual visitors. It dates back to 1963 when Mormon missionaries had an idea to honor Pacific island cultures while supporting Polynesian students at Church College of Hawaii. Over the years, this vision transformed into a living museum in Laie on Oahu's North Shore. For wholesome entertainment at its best, look no further than this award-winning arts and culture destination.

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01 Planning your visit

Polynesian Culture Center on the island of Oahu. The Polynesian Culture Center opened in October 12, 1963. Michael Gordon / Shutterstock.com

Ticket prices and packages vary—it's $89.95 per adult for access to just the villages, $119.95 to add admission to the spectacular evening show, and $144.95 to add the basic buffet. The most expensive package is the Super Ambassador Lu'au package, which includes a private tour, the best seating at the nighttime show, and the best dining options available. It costs $289.95 per adult and is fab for your first time at the park.

Prebooking at least ten days in advance can score you a 10% discount, and booking months in advance guarantees your preferred package doesn't sell out. You can easily change or cancel your reservation. In general, weekdays at the Polynesian Cultural Centre tend to be less crowded.

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02 Getting there

Laie, HI: October 5, 2016: Polynesian Culture Center on the island of Oahu. The Polynesian Culture Center opened in October 12, 1963. Michael Gordon / Shutterstock.com

Driving from Waikīkī to the Polynesian Cultural Centre (PCC) can take over an hour, and you can expect congestion from Honolulu in the late afternoon. Drive closer to the mountains on the H1 Freeway until you exit right at Likelike Highway (#63). You'll be taking a right-hand exit onto #83 and driving the coast-hugging Kamehameha Highway all the way to Laie. To return to Waikīkī, reverse the route. Parking at PCC is free, and disability parking is available. There are also charging stations for electric cars. Driving gives you the most flexibility en route. If you choose to rent a car, ask Alamo Car Rental for a PCC discount. You can also book a shuttle service and island tour when you buy your tickets.

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03 Navigating the Polynesian Cultural Center

Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu, Hawaii, as seen on December 26, 2012. The center is owned by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com

When you pass through the admission gate, the dining, shopping, and theatre areas are to the right, and the six island villages are spread around the lagoon to the left. Samoa is the first island you will encounter, but there's also Aotearoa (New Zealand), Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, and Tonga.

Paying for guided tours enhances the PCC experience and ensures you see as much as possible in one day if you're pressed for time. You can choose the Ali'i Lūʻau package at $194.95 per adult for a relatively affordable group tour (as opposed to a private tour).

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04 Must-See villages and shows

Students perform a Maori dance (haka) at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) July 26th, 2008 in La'ie, HI. The PCC is Hawai'i top paid attraction. Jose Gil / Shutterstock.com

Each village has unique features and activities. In Samoa, there are traditional fire-making and coconut tree-climbing demos. In Tonga, you can paddle an outrigger canoe and learn about tapa cloth creation. Get an awesome-looking temporary warrior tattoo in Fiji. Aotearoa is a highlight with cooking demos, earth oven techniques, and Maori games and hakas. Hawaii will teach you about hula storytelling. Finally, Tahiti is where you can witness a marriage ceremony and taste delicious coconut bread. If you're on a self-guided tour, use the app to craft an itinerary out of your preferred scheduled events. Don't miss the Huki canoe pageant, where each island presents its music and unique dance forms on large canoes. "Ha: Breath of Life," the evening show, is a must-see production and well worth the extra $30 over the base fare.

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05 Cultural demonstrations and activities

A young Samoan man demonstrating the art of weaving in the Village of Samoa at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Brave Behind the Lenz / Shutterstock.com

Here are just some of the activities you can do on the various islands. You can learn how to spin a fire knife and husk a coconut in Samoa, throw spears in Tonga, play the drums in Fiji, and practice hula dancing and poi pounding in Hawaii. In New Zealand, you can try your hand at performing the double-long poi, a type of juggling with balls attached to ropes. And in Tahiti, you can faux fish with bamboo poles. Best of all, you'll gain an insight into each activity's history and cultural significance.

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06 Dining options

Two young Hawaiian men at the Polynesian Cultural Center uplift a pig cooked in the traditional style Kalua utilizing an Imu (under ground oven) Brave Behind the Lenz / Shutterstock.com

For fresh, seasonal food, there are two main dining options to choose from: the Gateway Buffet and the Ali'i lūʻau buffet. The former costs a little less and is the most popular dinner package, but the latter has been voted the best lūʻau in Oʻahu, so you can expect a top-notch and authentic cultural performance. The Ali'i lūʻau menu includes a pig that's been slow-roasting since the morning. At the Hukilau Marketplace, you'll find delectable sweet treats and an abundance of cuisines, including Korean BBQ and Mexican food. Finding kid-friendly grub, such as hot dogs, is a cinch here, and if you have dietary restrictions, accommodations are possible.

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07 Shopping and souvenirs

Welcome sign at entrance to Hukilau Marketplace under blue cloudscape. One-story buildings, people and green vegetation. Claudine Van Massenhove / Shutterstock.com

Souvenir kiosks are dotted throughout the park selling handmade items, and the Ulu store at the Hawaiian Journeys Theatre sells ceramics, wood, music, and other products too. In addition, you'll find plenty of unique gifts and memorabilia at Hukilau Marketplace. Check out the Hawaiian-style quilts at Hapa Home, procure a genuine pearl at the Pearl Factory or Na Hoku, or buy a dyed pareo from Tahitian Treasures. Kap Tafiti's art can add that special touch to your interior decor. After you leave, you can purchase pieces online.

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08 Special events and night shows

Students perform Hawaiian fire dance at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) July 26th, 2008 in La'ie, HI. The PCC is Hawai'i top paid attraction and supports BYU students. Jose Gil / Shutterstock.com

"HĀ: Breath of Life" starts at 19:30 and ends at 21:00. It is anything but your run-of-the-mill upsell, so don't dismiss this delicately crafted, moving, and high-energy production about love, family, and tradition. The native performers' passion is tangible, and you will be blown away by the skill and special effects even if you go in with lofty expectations. Seasonal events At PCC include a haunted canoe ride for Halloween and a Winter Wonderland during the festive season.

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09 Tips for families

Polynesian Culture Center on the island of Oahu. The Polynesian Culture Center opened in October 12, 1963. Michael Gordon / Shutterstock.com

The hands-on activities at each island are family-friendly and make PCC an indelible excursion for kiddos. From taking photos with the Polynesians to laughing at the jokes in Samoa, children aren't likely to get bored anytime soon. PCC offers parents other services, too. At the Welcome Centre, you'll find a First Aid office where nursing mothers can breastfeed or use their pumps. The customer service rep can assist you with access to conference rooms for nursing, too. You can rent a stroller from the Customer Service kiosk in the Hukilau Marketplace, and appreciate the infant changing stations available at all restrooms.

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10 Tips for couples and solo travelers

Polynesian Cultural Center. A beautiful girl, a student from Brigham Young University-Hawaii performs hula dance on Christmas Eve on December 24, 2008 in Oahu, Hawaii Boykov / Shutterstock.com

Romance is alive and kicking at the Polynesian Cultural Centre. Play the stick game with your significant other, strum a love song on a ukulele, or make kukui nut bracelets as a honeymoon memento. In Tonga, you can escape the hustle and bustle on a double-hulled canoe, and in Tahiti, you can renew your vows. Booking a group tour is a great option for solo travelers and couples to make new friends.

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11 Maximizing your dollar

Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu, Hawaii, as seen on December 26, 2012. The center is owned by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com

You'll get more value for money if you plan to go to PCC early because the cost per hour of entertainment decreases. It drops even further if you carry a photo ID to get your free readmission pass from the Box Office. The pass is valid for three consecutive business days after your first visit. The readmission excludes meals, bus transportation, and the evening show but allows you to visit all the villages and do the activities at a leisurely pace. Here's the thing: if you're planning to go to a luau while in Hawaii, you'd do well to attend the one at PCC because of all the extras that come with it and how much further your dollar goes. PCC also has a free loyalty program for Hawaii residents called "The Ohana Club." Membership benefits include a 20% discount and giveaways.

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12 Beyond the Polynesian Cultural Center

If you're keen on the shuttle service, consider the Oahu Circle Island Tour, which conveniently whisks travelers from one Oahu highlight to the next. You might catch sight of some of the world's best surfers at the North Shore's famous beaches. The North Shore also has a slew of other opportunities for rest and recreation, from hiking Hauʻula Trail to golfing at the popular Kahuku Municipal Golf Course. Gunstock Ranch offers horseriding in the countryside, and the Keana Farms Zipline tour is a 3-hour feast for the senses.

13 Practical information

Dining room of the Gateway Buffet restaurant at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore of O'ahu island in Hawaii, United States Alexandre.ROSA / Shutterstock.com

For your planning purposes, the Polynesian Cultural Centre is closed on Wednesdays, Sundays, and on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Currently, operating hours are from 12:30 to 21:00, although the Hukilau Marketplace and Pounders Restaurant open at 11:00 and close at 20:30. Hands-on activities tend to end around 17:30. Folks with disabilities can rest assured that all major areas are wheelchair-accessible. Arriving early to village presentations should make for a smoother experience.

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14 Exploring local culture and traditions

Students perform a Maori dance with thrown sticks at the Polynesian Cultural Center Jose Gil / Shutterstock.com

Throw yourself into cultural activities. Listen attentively to the presentations. By enthusiastically embracing the PCC experience, you will reinforce what you learn about these amazing millennia-old civilizations from the Pacific islands. Engagement here lays the foundation for meaningful interactions with local artisans, performers, and educators elsewhere in the region.

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