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The Polynesian Cultural Center allows you to experience Hawaii in context, along with sister islands like Tahiti and Samoa. A new hands-on activity demonstrates how to cook traditional Samoan foods in an umu — an above ground oven. Guests are invited to help build the oven, then to prepare and cook traditional foods such as talo (taro) and ulu (breadfruit).
The activity begins at noon each day with fire building. Large logs are placed in a square with river rocks inside in the shape of a pyramid. Tinder is lit to heat the rocks. While the rocks are heating, guests may help to skin the taro and breadfruit or scrape coconut meat out of shells. When the rocks are hot, they are flattened out and the food is placed on top, then covered with large leaves and burlap bags to seal in the heat. After the “Rainbows of Paradise” canoe pageant at 3 pm, the umu is opened so guests can taste the food they helped to make.
The PCC opens about noon (except Sunday), so this activity would be a good way to start the day. You will want to arrive by then anyway, as demonstrations pause for the canoe pageant and most of the villages close at 5 pm for the luau and evening show. Since the PCC is a drive across the island from Waikiki hotels, it is a good idea to make this the only activity for the day. There is a lunch BBQ and snack stands sell sandwiches inside the park area. A less expensive lunch option is to visit the Laie Shopping Center before you enter the PCC but it is about a quarter of a mile away. There is a McDonalds across the parking lot but it was very crowded the day we visited.
Prices for admission to the PCC villages begin at about $50 (adult), $36 (child) — which does NOT include transportation or food — and increase as you add the various luau packages, buffet dinner or fine dining and/or the evening show. There are many different ticket options for those who wish to spend only part of an afternoon or evening. However, the combination of the ticket price and travel time makes a quick visit less appealing.
The best information about transportation is on the PCC website. It outlines the various tour options you may add to the price of admission and explains the city bus option. Parking is $8 if you drive yourself. The PCC is located in a beautiful area of Oahu’s north shore, so it is a good opportunity to see a different part of the island no matter how you get there.
PCC describes itself as a “cultural theme park.” It is a re-creation that demonstrates the culture, customs and crafts of Polynesia, including Hawaii. The performers in the villages, luau and evening show are students at nearby Brigham Young University-Hawaii. PCC says it has provided financial assistance to more than 17,000 students from more than 70 different countries while they were enrolled at BYU-H. PCC is closed on Sundays and there is no alcohol allowed any time.
Photo provided by the Polynesian Cultural Center.