If you have ever wanted to visit Pearl Harbor, adding it to your Aulani vacation is an excellent (and cost-efficient – you will already be in Hawaii!) way to experience it.
When we booked our trip, I had prearranged for us to have one a free day of car rental as a perk for being a WDW Annual Passholder. You can read more about how I planned this trip and our arrival day HERE.
I felt that our Pearl Harbor visit would be the best day to have the car as we were planning to attend church in the morning, experience our tour at Pearl Harbor, visit Waikiki, and end our day with a trip to the local Target.
Booking a tour for Pearl Harbor is very easy to do. However, you have to be prepared to make prior reservations online, which is not difficult to do.
Tour times are offered every 15 minutes from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm for the USS Arizona Memorial.
Ordering Tickets per the website: Advance reservation tickets may be ordered online up to 60-days in advance at 7 a.m. Hawaii Time. Additional tickets listed as “Not Yet Released” will become available one day before the tour date at 7 a.m. Hawaii Time.
Login to your account or create a new account BEFORE Pearl Harbor Historic Sites (USS Arizona) tickets become available for reservation. You can add a ticket to your cart and proceed with your reservation only if you are logged into your account.
So 60 days before our visit, I reserved 4 tickets for my family to visit on Sunday, December 8, 2019. I was a bit worried that we would not find a reservation as it was the day after the anniversary of the bombing at Pearl Harbor.
Luckily, I had no trouble making our reservations. In addition to reserving a tour, the website offers a variety of add ons to visit such as a narrated headset, smartphone access to the National Park Service’s WWII archives and videos, admission to the Pearl Harbor Virtual Reality Center and admission to admission to partner sites.
These partner sites include USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.
For our family, I selected the SS Arizona Memorial tour from 1:00 to 2:15 pm. Within a couple of minutes of making my reservation, I received a confirmation email that a $4.00 convenience fee had been taken from my credit card to make the reservations as well as a very lengthy list of reservation details of need-to-know information.
The list covers what you need to know regarding strollers, restrooms, food, parking, bags, dress code, accessibility, and when to arrive for your tour. It is also detailed on the website under Need to Know.
On the morning of the 9th after attending Mass at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, which is a twenty-minute drive from Aulani, we decided that we would find lunch close to Pearl Harbor.
I noticed that there was a McDonald’s close by, but my husband figured that they would have food at the visitor center especially since it was only 11 am and our tour did not begin until 1 pm.
There are two parking lots that divide the entrance to the visitor’s center. My husband did not think we would find any parking, but luckily we did.
It is free to park in the parking lot. As no guests are allowed to carry a concealed bag into the visitor’s center and during the 75-minute program we decided to leave them in the locked car.
This is where it can get a little tricky. When I did my research about the parking lot, there were lots of complaints of people breaking into cars just because of the fact that they know people cannot take bags in.
There is also a bag storage facility onsite, located at the USS Bowfin Submarine shuttle bus stop where guests can store their belongings for a fee of $5 per bag.
After taking a couple of pictures in front of the Pearl Harbor sign, we walked through security which was swift and easy as there was no bag check. We then walked over to the Tickets & Information Booth to pick up our tickets and see if there was any earlier availability as we were two hours early.
The gentleman was very nice and informed us that we could go in with the 11:30 am tour. We were to arrive at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater ten minutes before our ticket time, which meant at this point, that we had ten minutes before we had to go.
Now, remember when I told you that we were hungry? I very well knew that there are many restaurants that are a short drive away from the visitor’s center. Well, here’s is a tip that I would like to share as we learned the hard way.
The only food that is found at the visitor’s center is a small snack shop that sells grab-and-go food such as chips, sandwiches, and fruit. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones that thought otherwise, as the line was out the door and many people were complaining that the snacks they were eating would not keep them full until after their tour.
We arrived at the theatre at 11:20 am and were told that the only thing we could take into the theatre and during the boat ride to the memorial was a sealed water bottle. At exactly, 11:30 am we were brought into the theatre.
The visit to the memorial begins with a 23-minute film about the attack. It is part of every tour. You then board a boat that is driven by active members in the Navy, as Pearl Harbor is an active Naval base.
The boat ride from the visitor’s center to the USS Arizona Memorial is not very long and you are informed that when you disembark you are not to take any pictures as everyone must clear the pathway of the walkway to the Memorial.
The visitation is perfectly synchronized – when the group is disembarking the boat, those guests that were visiting the memorial are then next to embark on the boat to bring them back to the visitor’s center.
Before our trip to Hawaii, visiting Pearl Harbor has always been a dream of mine to visit as I have always held a special place for those who have served in the military, such as my husband.
However, I always recall the story of my neighbor who had many times shared with me that her husband was in Pearl Harbor the day of the attack, but thank God, he was not on the base at the time.
My two daughters really did not know much about Pearl Harbor before our visit and did not seem very much interested in visiting. However, after watching the 23-minute film at the start of the tour, my youngest (who is 8) did not move one inch while watching the film. After the film ended, I could see the neurons and the gears in her little head and heart racing rapidly.
We were very lucky to visit the memorial as it had been closed as of May 2018, after the discovery that the loading dock was not safely secured to the ocean floor. The memorial reopened on September 1, 2019, after a 15-month closure that cost over 2 million dollars.
The boat ride over to the USS Arizona Memorial was very somber and quiet. After viewing the film, your frame of mind goes directly to the visuals of what happened on the morning of December 7, 1941.
Walking around the memorial gave me the same feeling of sorrow that I felt years ago when I visited a concentration camp in Germany. My youngest daughter must have felt the same as she tugged on my hand and asked if we could say a prayer.
To the far left of the memorial, you will see the Battleship Missouri which is the ship where the treaty ending WWII took place in Tokyo Bay. Guests are welcome to tour the battleship. You can find more information here.
One of the memories I will forever take with me is the bubbling of oil that you see surrounding the memorial, as the USS Arizona lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor It leaks 2-9 quarts each day.
The leaking of the oil is sometimes referred to as “the tears of the Arizona” or “black tears.”
If you are visiting Aulani or the island of Oahu, I would highly recommend you visit Pearl Harbor as well. I know that one of the questions that always comes up is whether it is appropriate and suitable for young children.
As I mentioned previously, my 8 year old daughter now has such a heartfelt affinity for Pearl Harbor after our experience. In fact, she names it as one of her favorite parts of our vacation.
I think you need to be sensitive to what your children can handle; after all, you know them best. However, I also think it’s not an opportunity to be missed and you may be surprised at the impact it can have on a young person.
The visit to Pearl Harbor and to the USS Arizona Memorial is truly humbling and hard to put into words. Even as I write this, my eyes are full of tears.
Have you visited Pearl Harbor? What did you think of the tour? We would love to hear your experience. Share them with us in the comments or on the official KtP facebook page.