By Anne Taylor Hartzell, on March 26, 2014

An authentic luau on Oahu

Over years of visits to Hawaii, my family has attended our share of Hawaiian luaus. While each of these experiences has been unique, many of the luaus have blended similar elements, such as a welcome cocktail and fresh flower lei greeting, a family-style buffet complete with purple Taro rolls, traditional Hawaiian dancing, and more.

On our last trip to the island of Oahu, Hawaii, we were excited to take the kids to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) in Laie, about an hour and a half drive from our Honolulu hotel. Here, on the island’s North Shore, we planned to spend the day learning about the rich history and culture of Hawaii. We also were excited to experience an authentic Hawaiian luau: The Ali’i Luau.

What makes the Ali’i Luau authentically Hawaiian?

This luau incorporates a number of the most traditional elements: traditional dance from the Hawaiian Islands, a presentation of the Royal Court in traditional Hawaiian dress, arts and crafts, and ample opportunities to learn about culture. While many mainstream island luaus incorporate a fusion of many other Polynesian island dances and music, The PCC has worked hard to maintain the authenticity of the Ali’i Luau, making it distinctly “Hawaiian.”

In 2004, the Ali’i Luau received the title of ‘Hawai’i?s Most Authentic Luau” and prestigious Kahili Award, a part of the The “Keep It Hawai‘i” program created by the Hawai‘i Visitors & Convention Bureau in 1991 to recognize businesses that preserve Hawaiian culture and share Aloha spirit.

During the luau, I was impressed with the gorgeous costumes adorning the Royal Court, the beauty and grace of the dancers, and the ability of the PCC staff to handle large crowds of hungry visitors. Typically at luaus, you end up standing in long lines waiting to plate up your pulled Kalua pork, lomilomi salmon and poi. At the PCC, however, we were eating within a short time of sitting down at our table—a big plus when you have young children.

Viewfinder Tip: Allow children to get up and move closer to the stage during the dancing portion of the luau; this way they can get a better view.

Teaching kids more about Polynesian culture

During our visit to the PCC, we also immersed ourselves in some of the other culture on hand. We sat in on ukulele lessons. We watched some old women weaving baskets out of palm fronds. We learned about archaeology in the South Pacific.

There were opportunities to experience other cultures, too. The PCC is somewhat of a a “Disneyland” of Polynesian culture, taking visitors through the South Pacific to explore the island nations and people of Hawai’i, Samoa, Maori New Zealand (Aotearoa), Fiji, Tonga, Easter Island, Tahiti and the Marquesas (French Polynesia). The PCC separates each of these island cultures into different areas of the park, and connects them with walkways that pass gentle waterfalls, hibiscus blossoms, and palm trees, as well as a long lagoon (on which boat rides also are available). Each of these areas feels distinctly different; these differences helped us understand some of the differences between cultures.


ukelele lessons at the Hawai’i village

Getting the most out of a visit to the PCC

The PCC has a variety of different pricing models. After spending the day there with my family, I determined that the best way to get the most out of a visit is to spring for the Ali’i Luau package, which includes general admission to the six island villages, access to the “Hawaiian Journey” cinematic experience, the Ali’i Luau, and the “Ha: Breath of Life” evening show.

Yes, you’ll be there all day. But you also will get a complete immersion in Polynesian culture—an immersion this luau veteran is convinced you can’t get anywhere else in Hawaii.

What are your favorite ways to experience culture when you visit Hawaii?