Ready to emerge from its Covid-19 hibernation, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is reopening with limited services on Jan. 18 with plans to restore more operations in March.
The attraction is one of the largest on Oahu’s North Shore, and the center includes a half dozen “island villages” representing Samoa, Hawaii, New Zealand (identified by its Maori name, Aotearoa), Tahiti, Fiji, and Tonga in addition to multiple shows, including a newly reimagined evening production.
The relaunch of the attraction, which has been closed since March 16, kicks off with a six-week “soft opening” that PCC president Alfred Grace said will enable the park to gradually ramp up operations while maintaining health and safety protocols.
“We are champing at the bit to get going,” Grace said. “I think we are more excited to see guests than they are to see us. If it weren’t for Covid-19 social distancing, we’d probably be hugging everybody coming through the gates.”
From Jan. 18 to Feb. 27, guests can purchase a special ticket package with visitor capacity tightly restricted, shorter hours and pared-down services. Through Feb. 27, the center will be open from 3:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays as well as Thursdays through Saturdays.
The ticket package includes a visit to the Samoan Village experience with activities and demonstrations, including a look at Samoan farming methods and lessons on fire-making with primitive tools, weaving and fire-knife dancing; an Alii Luau Buffet with live entertainment; and front section seating at the “Ha: Breath of Life” evening show. The Hukilau Marketplace, a collection of food vendors and shops at the PCC, will also be open during this period from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
“We’re only taking 260 guests per day, so compared to our typical average daily traffic of 2,000 to 2,500 guests, it’s quite a bit less,” Grace said of the initial reopening period. “We are featuring one of our most popular island presentations in [the Samoan Village]. You can also do canoe tours on the lagoon, and everyone gets the best seating for the evening show.”
The Alii Luau Buffet starts at 5 p.m. and includes “Onipaa,” a new live musical performance celebrating the life and legacy of Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. The menu includes smoked pig cooked in an earthen over (known as an imu) and other traditional Polynesian dishes along with Asian and American fare. “Ha: Breath of Life” is performed in a covered amphitheater with an elaborate stage including waterfalls, native plants and a mock erupting volcano. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and features Polynesian fire-knife dancers, firewalkers and other dancers and performers.
“It’s a shorter day than normal, and every group will be personally handled by their own escorts even if your group is two people,” Grace said. “We are very sensitive to the state and federal health guidelines for Covid-19; masks will be mandatory for anyone over age 5, and there will be social distancing for all activities including the luau and evening show.”
One silver lining of the pandemic shutdown has been the opportunity to do maintenance that is simply not possible while the center is open.
“We’ve done a lot of work to enhance guest experience and make accommodations better,” Grace said. “I think this is the first time in my 30 years here that the lagoon has been completely drained and cleaned. We also replaced a major water line that ran under the main traffic flow area for the center.”
Additionally, the shutdown period allowed the PCC to launch a new reservation system that allows for ticketless entry using a QR code on smartphones. They are also developing an app that will offer guests updates on activities throughout the day and help them schedule to get the most out of their time at the center or upgrade their tickets for the evening show.
The center plans to return to a more normal program starting March 1, but social distancing and other pandemic-related health protocols will lead to adjustments in operations. Hours are expected to expand to 11:45 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and there will be a range of ticket packages to choose from.
“The full reopening in March is, of course, subject to circumstances and conditions as we move forward,” Grace said. “Our intent is to open all activities and all of the villages at the beginning of March, but it will depend a bit on what regulations are in place. If we still have six-foot social distancing and a 50% occupancy mandate, then our evening show theater, which seats 2,700, sells out at around 1,200 or so.”
There are also plans to expand on a program begun prior to the pandemic that offered more in-depth, small-group experiences such as cooking a traditional Samoan meal, Grace said.
The only other time the Polynesian Cultural Center closed in its 57-year history was for a few days during a 2018 hurricane that caused flooding of the coastal roads leading to the attractions, according to Grace. Now, after a 10-month shutdown, the team is eager to welcome visitors once again.