Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center
55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, Hawaii
I’ve always wanted to go to a luau. It’s hard to find one these days that are true to traditional Hawaiian culture, ones that are not kitschy, overpriced and touristy. From my research and recommendations, the Polynesian Cultural Center seemed to offer the best luau on Oahu. Along with the ticket price is entrance to the park. The Polynesian Cultural Center isn’t just one building, it’s a full-fledged theme park celebrating the culture of the Polynesian islands, Hawaii, Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, Aotearoa (aka New Zealand), and Fiji. The Polynesian Cultural Center is located on the gorgeous North Shore of Oahu near Kualoa Ranch. I’ll never get enough of the breathtaking dramatic backdrops of the green rolling hills on Oahu, there’s something so captivating, majestic and inspirational about the scenery here; it’s no wonder we met so many people on Oahu who moved to the island because they fell in love with the place. The Polynesian Cultural Center is part of the Brigham Young University in Hawaii and is attached to the campus. You can take a tram tour at the park that takes you around the park and the University campus. We also noticed that the employees of the park wore name tags that stated their major area of study; and the majors ranged from biology to drama.
We arrived at the Polynesian Cultural Center shortly after lunch. We drove there but the park also owns a fleet of coach buses that can pick you up from all over the island, you can purchase transportation options as part of your ticket. We got to the park just in time for the canoe pageant which only happens once a day. The pageant featured a float for each island, dancers on the float danced in the island’s traditional form of dance and each float traveled down the canal that ran the length of the park. I loved the Samoa dance the best, especially at the end when the dancers rocked the float so hard that the paddler steering the float fell right into the water!
There are many other fun activities at the Polynesian Cultural Center. My boyfriend really wanted to do the Tongan spear throwing. It was almost like he was on an episode of Survivor. One of the park officials gave a quick demo of how to throw the spears, and hands out a bunch of long wooden spears to participants and off you go. Other activities we managed to squeeze in before dinner was a boat tour of the park, we also rowed canoes and caught a few of the shows. There was even a coconut demo where we got to sample some fresh coconut.
Then finally it was time for the much anticipated luau. At the entrance of the luau, we were greeted with leis and an usher showed us to our seats in the giant dining room. Luaus have been part of Hawaiian culture since the 19th century, they are large feasts accompanied by entertainment and music. Luaus used to be religious celebrations but in 1819, King Kamehameha opened up luau celebrations to all his subjects, regardless of religion. The Polynesian Cultural Center offers a number of different luaus, I chose the Ali’i luau based on the menu and the dinner program. I really wanted to try the famous Hawaiian dish, the kalua pig, the pig is barbecued whole in an underground pit.
The Ali’i luau also featured a presentation of the King and his court along with the ceremony of unearthing the kalua pig. The host of the luau was very thorough and informative in explaining the history and significance behind luau traditions. I also loved the seating arrangement at the luau, seats were arranged family style in long tables that seat up to 8 people. It gave us a chance to meet other people and find out what everyone else had been up to on the island. We met a nice couple vacationing from Germany as well as a couple visiting their brother who lives on the island. There was also a couple of women from Ohio sitting at our table who gave us tips on where to see sea turtles.
As the royal court and the King arrived on stage at the luau, we were served the most delicious and moist taro buns. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t think much of the little purple buns placed at our table until I finally bit into one, they were so soft and moist that I didn’t even need butter. There was a slight sweetness to the buns from the taro paste. Our host on stage explained that the little buns were made of taro poi, which is a Polynesian staple: pounded taro paste.
The luau buffet consisted of steamed white fish, mango chicken, steamed rice, teriyaki strip loin, and my favourite, kalua pork. There was also a wide selection of salads and fruit. We went straight for the pineapple.
The kalua pork was everything I expected, smoky and moist, super succulent and flavourful. I couldn’t get enough of it. Half my plate was filled with big scoops of it.
There were also small plastic cups filled with poke. We tried poke multiple times on the island, even at Costco! My boyfriend hated it, writing it off as too salty. But we both loved the poke at the Polynesian Cultural Center, it tasted more mild than the poke at other places.
The dessert table was impressive, laden with chocolate cake, pineapple bars, coconut cake with haupia sauce and bread pudding and of course baskets of those sweet, moist taro buns. The coconut cake was my absolute favourite, moist, rich and sweet.
After dinner, there was a fire dance show called Ha, Breath of Life. The Polynesian Cultural Center park closes at 6pm but the gift shops remain open, we had just about an hour to wander around the gift shops before the fire dance show started. There were also photo stands selling the day’s pictures. Throughout the day, photographers are found throughout the park taking pictures of guests doing activities, they sell these pictures at the end of the day for $15 to $25 each. It was a little steep for us so we didn’t purchase photos even though I loved the photo of us with our leis at the entrance of the luau.
The show, Ha, Breath of Life was incredible, totally worth the ticket price and it really completed our Hawaiian experience.
If you ever get a chance to check out the Polynesian Cultural Center, make sure you spend the day there and attend one of the park’s delicious luaus.