Special visits are a common occurance here at the PCC

The more than 40 million people who have visited the Polynesian Cultural Center since it opened in 1963 includes a long list of stars and dignitaries: kings, queens, national leaders, presidents, famous actors, governors, Latter-day Saint general authorities, and the list goes on.


Elvis Presley (center), the “king of rock and roll,” spent approximately one week at the Polynesian Cultural Center in June 1965 filming a portion of his movie Paradise Hawaiian Style.

For example, earlier this year the king and queen of Tonga spent two days at the Center; and just days ago President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the worldwide First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — which founded both BYU—Hawaii and the PCC in 1955 and 1963, respectively — and his family spent time at the Center: “He’s very open and personable, and always willing to shake hands with everybody,” said PCC Guest Services Manager Jimmy Mapu of President Uchtdorf.


King Tupou VIand Queen Nanasipau’u, of Tonga during their visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center in 2016



Bobby Akoi, former PCC director of protocol, with movie star Anthony Quinn.

All visitors are our special guests

Mapu, a Hawaii-born Samoan from Laie who served as a Mormon missionary in Tokyo, Japan — and often delights Japanese visitors with his fluent language skills, if not his sumo wrestler-like build — now works closely with Bobby Akoi, the Center’s former director of protocol. He makes sure that not only VIP visits go smoothly, but that all Polynesian Cultural Center guests enjoy a special experience.

Jimmy Mapu 2015


Mapu said when he trains the guides, he tells them, “All visitors are our special guests — not just the ones on their tours or the ones they come in contact with. Everybody who comes should be treated special.”

“One of our student guides replied, she even tries to think of every guest she comes in contact with as her family: ‘How would I want my family to be treated if they came here? Then I reach out and make sure they’re cared for that way.’”

”I’m proud of our guide team and the things that they do, but I always remind them that no matter how high the guest satisfactions scores are, or they’re constantly receiving compliments, they’re just the ‘face’ of the total experience. They get to feel all this gratitude and receive these wonderful thanks, but it wasn’t really just for them. It was for the whole Polynesian Cultural Center experience.”

Giving it our all

Sometimes, Mapu continued, many guests aren’t even aware of all the extra effort and hard work PCC employees put in. For example, he recalled recently after a Japanese visitor dropped her smart phone into the deepest part of the lagoon, her canoe guide rushed back to the spot when the tour was over, but couldn’t find it. Going back again later, he dredged through the mud at the bottom of the lagoon with his bare feet, found the waterlogged phone, and then, used his own miniature tools and a hair dryer to repair and return it to the visitor.

On another occasion when a traffic accident on nearby Kamehameha Highway knocked out power and guests weren’t aware the Center was operating with generators and meeting challenges behind the scenes, Mapu recalled assisting guests as they prepared to enjoy the Polynesian Cultural Center evening show: He saw an older man “walking slowly with his head down, staring at his feet. When he reached me, he only looked up for a second — just long enough to flash his ticket to me — then immediately looked back down at his feet, and continued on past me. Before I could stop him to ask if he was okay, he paused, turned to me, and put his old, rough hand on my shoulder. A small, faint smile slowly creeped onto his face.”

“He said, very slowly and deliberately, ‘You people are something else.’ I thought to myself, Uh oh! This could be good or it could be bad. Brace yourself!”: ‘All day, as I walked around this place,’ he continued, ‘every one I’ve come in contact with — EVERY SINGLE ONE — has been smiling! There’s just something about you people. You’ve made this old man happy.’”


Mapu added, “I think this place has such a wonderful spirit of aloha that people feel it and are touched by it”; and Akoi said, “The Polynesian Cultural Center has the ability to make all our guests feel the aloha spirit. They often remark they feel something special here. They also like how the different cultures and fellow guests from all over the world all mesh together in one place in peace and harmony.”

Story and images by Mike Foley


Mike Foley, who has worked off-and-on

at the Polynesian Cultural Center since

1968,  has been a full-time freelance

writer and digital media specialist since

2002, and had a long career in marketing

communications and PR before that. He

learned to speak fluent Samoan as a

Mormon missionary before moving to Laie

in 1967 — still does, and he has traveled

extensively over the years throughout

Polynesia and other Pacific islands. Foley

is mostly retired now, but continues to

contribute to various PCC and other media.