The Polynesian Cultural Center is a once in a lifetime experience (I hope!). If you're looking for an authentic taste of all the different nations of Polynesia, then visit all of the nations of Polynesia! But, if you're looking for an ersatz Epcot Center-like experience shared with busloads of tourists, but plunk down big bucks and spend a day at the PCC. Admittedly, we didn't spend the entire day there and skipped the IMAX theater and the tour of the Mormon Temple (the PCC is run by the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), but we saw enough of the center to believe that it wouldn't have made the experience worthwhile.
The PCC has exhibits on Tahiti, New Zealand, Easter Island, Samoa, The Marqueses, Fiji and Hawaii, but aside from a few lame artifacts (hysterically, the tiki carvings in Hawaii had loincloths!) the focus was mostly on music and dance. This is okay, but we've seen similar music/dance presentations elsewhere for far less money and with far more joy (the Bishop Museum or even on the Ali'i Kai dinner cruise). The nightime show is nothing but a song and dance routine.
Of course, I'm biased -- traditional song/dance revues don't do much for me. Usually, I can endure by secretly admiring the hot bodies of the female dancers. But I couldn't even do THAT here -- it was a chaste Mormon event and there was not a female belly button to be seen, not even on the Tahitians!
Just as chaste was the luau -- no alcohol and no caffiene. And, for the dark hour-long drive home from Laie, I really could have used a good cup of java!
Unique Suggestions If you are prodded into visiting (hopely on discounted tickets like us), make sure you get there by the 2:30 canoe pagent. All of the nations parade up and down the waterways dressed in traditional (mostly) clothing, and it's worth watching. If you end up going to the 1.5 hour song and dance show in the evening, feel free to sleep through most of it (and you WILL sleep because there was no caffiene at the luau), but wake up for the fire dancing at the end -- that was spectacular!
Also, I wish I had taken the tour of Laie and the Mormon Temple (what you can see of it) because it would at least have been more authentic. Believe it or not, the history of the Mormons is fascinating, and it would have probably been worth the time.
Lastly, whether you want to go or not, it's worth noting that the PCC is closed on Sundays as is much of Laie.
Fun Alternatives For a real, though staid, look at Polynesia, visit the Bishop Museum in downtown Honolulu. You'll learn a lot more about all of the Pacific cultures. While I was there, hula was being demonstrated. You can also see excellent hula at the Halekulani Hotel's House Without a Key poolside bar. Additionally, Polynesian dances are performed on the Ali'i Kai dinner cruise, with much more of an emphasis on fun.
Finally, if you're driving through Laie, you can stop in the McDonalds, which has Polynesian wood carvings, instruments and even a tropical waterfall. While I can't recommend the food, I can say that it's one of the most interesting McDonald's architecturally in the U.S. -- after all, how many replace the golden arches with Maori-themed entrances?
Every place that has a huge tourist influx will have at least one place that is the ultimate tourist trap. The International Marketplace is the ultimate tourist trap on Oahu. There is no bigger one.
Filled with numerous stores and stalls, not much here is worth purchasing. For the most part it is cheap junk. If you really want to do some shopping, just stick to Ala Moana, or even better Ward Warehouse.
The only redeeming quality about the International marketplace is that there are Polynesian carvings all over, if you are interested in seeing something like that.
Unique Suggestions Check out the carvings...and hurry through to the other side.
Fun Alternatives shop at The Ala Moana Center, The Ward Center, or The Ward Warehouse