Even without thrill rides, returning crowds pack Punahou Carnival

This weekend’s Punahou Carnival looks, feels and definitely smells like those before the pandemic.
Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 9:58 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 4, 2023 at 12:37 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - This weekend’s Punahou Carnival looks, feels and definitely smells like those before the pandemic.

That’s what thousands of people experienced Friday night as the longtime tradition reopened to the public for the first time in three years — even though there’s still a big part that’s missing.

“We never knew in eighth grade if we were going to have Carnival, so to have it back, back open to the public, we’re just stoked,” said Lulu Uluave, a member of the junior class that traditionally spearheads the event. “We’re excited to get it back out there.”

While the crowds, the malasadas and the Portuguese bean soap are back, there’s a big empty grassy area on Chamberlain Field.

That’s where thrill rides — like the Pharaoh’s Fury, the Wave Swinger and the Zipper — would have been.

“Yeah, they’re a smaller footprint, but they still have them,” said E.K. Fernandez Shows President Scott Fernandez.

Fernandez announced last September that it would only offer family rides at the Punahou Carnival this year.

Iolani and Mililani high schools were also informed to expect the same at their carnivals this year.

Fernandez said Hawaii’s COVID mandates forced longtime employees to head elsewhere.

“We lost a lot of our seasoned staff,” he said. “They went to work at other carnivals in other states that were open late in 2020.”

Fernandez said rehiring and retraining has been slow, because these big rides are complicated to put together and take apart so a smaller staff takes a lot longer.

And at school campuses, there’s not much time.

“Literally, you’re building a construction project, so you’ve got to have the leaders and the guys right underneath them.”

“I wouldn’t say there were concerns, but it did throw us for a loop,” said Punahou Vice President and Treasurer Sunny Donenfeld. “We were a little surprised, and we understand times have changed a little bit.”

There are still nine family rides at the carnival.

Some of them are smaller kid versions of the missing attractions.

On Friday night, the lines snaked across the area where the thrill rides and games would normally be.

“As a junior class we put a lot of work in with all our 4,500 volunteers into putting this carnival on, so even without some of the thrill rides, we’ve been successful in putting on a big carnival,” said Punahou junior Evan Porter.