Pearl Harbor: how to organize your visit

Written by Flo Updated on 26/05/2018

As we prepare for our trip to the other side of the world, there is a visit that I absolutely wanted to make when I came to Hawaii: Pearl Harbor.

Not only for the history of this place, which brought the United States into the Second World War, but also because of my profession, I like the "vehicles" marked by history, as during our visit to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington D. C. where you can admire the Space Shuttle Discovery, an Air France Concorde, or Enola Gay who dropped the Little Boy nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.

Pearl Harbor is one of those places where meditation and questioning intertwine. It's not about judgment here. Just to understand what happened, this morning of December 7,1941 at 7:48 am. The Japanese attack left 2,403 Americans and 64 Japanese on the carpet, and caused enormous material damage (I encourage you to take a look at Pearl Harbor's wikipedia page for more information).

Breaking news

Update of 26/05/2018 : Since several weeks the access to the memorial above the USS Arizona is closed because the structure was damaged by time. It was only supposed to be closed for a few days, but the damage turned out to be greater than expected. Access to the memorial is therefore closed for an indefinite period, the time needed to make all the necessary repairs to consolidate the structure. During the closure, boat tours to the wreck continue but you will no longer be able to disembark to access the memorial. 

Despite the closure, we recommend that you do not miss a visit to Pearl Harbor. The visit of the memorial could not exceed 10 minutes and most of the information is given during the film before boarding and in the exhibitions accessible free of charge.

Arrange your visit to Pearl Harbor

Arrival logistics

You will have to go to the World War II Valor In the Pacific National Monument, which is a National Park (NPS), which will be called by its small name, WWIIVITPNM (!), north of Honolulu airport.

Once parked, you will have to go through the security "portico" without a handbag, backpack or even a camera bag. Ideally, do not take any bags for the visit, or leave them at the drop-off on the right of the entrance, but it will cost you $4 per bag, to be paid in cash only. For the cameras, you will have to keep them on your neck for the whole day.

Tip: Inside, it is possible to buy water bottles. Keep them and fill them in the toilets to have water all day long, because the prices in the compound are quite exaggerated.

Places to visit and their prices

Once you have passed the portal, you will have to define, if not already done, the sites you want to visit. Here are the possibilities of visits:

  • The USS Arizona Memorial (free of charge, but reservation of the boat is required - departure on site)
  • Exhibitions on Pearl Harbor attack (on site - free)
  • The Battleship Missouri Memorial (Shuttle bus to take - with fees)
  • USS Bowfin Museum Park submarine (on site - with fees)
  • USS Bowfin Museum Park
  • The Pacific Aviation Museum (shuttle bus to be taken - with fees)

Access to the main enclosure including exhibitions on the Pearl Harbor attack, as well as boat access to the memorial above the Arizona USS are free of charge. But to make the most of it, especially if you're not English-speaking, we recommend that you take the audio guide in French (what they call the USS Arizona Memorial Narrated Tour, at $7.50), because there's no information at the memorial.

For all other sites, you have "Deals", in other words packages or combo tours to stay in English terms, that you will find here, and that you will find at this link: http://www.pearlharborhistoricsites.org/deals

You will be able to buy a Passport to Pearl Harbor and make all day trips on condition that you start very early in the morning, come home late at night, and sleep the next day (at the beach as long as you have to)!

More seriously, we opted for the pack: USS Arizona Memorial Narrated Tour + Battleship Missouri Combo Tour for $32.50 each. We arrived at 7am in the morning and left around 2:30pm, after a rather exhausting half day! It would have been possible to make the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Bowfin, but after having travelled the USS Missouri along, across, and across the coast, we would have lacked strength.

On the site they indicate that the Combo Tour can be completed in 4 to 5 hours, except that in reality, there are waiting times not to be neglected, such as the time of your boat or the endless waiting for the shuttle back after the visit of the Battleship Missouri (I speak about it again just after).

Further details before deciding which activity to do:

The Battleship Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum are located outside the complex on the Ford Island military base in the middle of the bay. It is impossible to get there by yourself (we tried to try, but we confirm that it is forbidden). It is therefore necessary to borrow a shuttle (free of charge) which makes rotations all day long, and the shuttles are very infrequent (to my taste!) especially on busy days.

The worst part is that once you're at the Battleship Missouri or Pacific Aviation Museum, the bus is already full, the shuttles looping around and dropping visitors off at each site. Only a few people will be able to board the bus, depending on the number of people who have just got off the bus. So if no one gets off, then nobody can get on! And thanks to this little game, we waited over an hour at the bus stop to get back from Battleship Missouri!

Finally, you should know that there is no audio guide in French for the Battleship Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum. We used the audio guide in English for the Battleship Missouri tour.

Online reservations for the USS Arizona

There is a small specificity for the visit of the USS Arizona Memorial. As access is by boat, you must therefore book your ticket, even if the site is free. To do this, we highly recommend that you book your tickets online at www.recreation.gov, 2 months before your visit, to avoid having to come to the aurora on the day of your visit. It will cost you $1.50 reservation fee. But few places are available, so to get the precious sesame:

  • Login 2 months day to day before your visit to maximize your chances of getting a seat
  • Or try to have one of the remaining seats, given up for sale, the day before, starting at 7:00 a. m.

If not, you'll have to come early in the morning, I'll tell you about it right after. For all other sites, you will be able to buy your tickets when you arrive on site.

When to come to Pearl Harbor?

If you wish to go by boat to the memorial and you could not book your ticket on the internet, we advise you to arrive early, very early. That is to say around 6:45 am at the car park, because on the one hand the car park fills up quickly and this will force you to find a place far enough away from the reception, but also because the reservations of the boat to go to the memorial work on the system of the first come, first served knowing that there are only 1 300 seats per day and that the reservations on the spot can be bought only for the same day.

As public access is possible from 7:00 a. m., there is a good chance that there will be no more space on the boats around 9:00 a. m. - 10:00 a. m. (see previous in case of crowds), or that you will find yourself with a boat at a late hour which will probably not suit you (the last departure is at 3:00 p. m.). 

Please note that we came at 6:50 am and found ourselves in a queue of 200 meters long waiting for the doors to open! But finally, at 7:00 am everything accelerates and we didn't have to wait too long at the checkouts. We were able to take the 9:00 a. m. boat which allowed us not to wait too long and optimize the visit.

If you do not wish to access the USS Arizona Memorial or if you have already booked your ticket online, come at the time that suits you best, keeping in mind that the parking lot is likely to be saturated around 9am-10am, requiring you to park further away. 

A day at Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona Memorial

Among the ships sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona is at the heart of the visit and meditation. The American battleship put into service in 1916 was the hardest hit by two 800kg bombs, one of which crossed the bridge to explode in the ammunition bay. 1,177 dead.

To access the memorial, you will need to go to the time indicated on your reservation ticket in front of the room south of WWIIVITPNM. Here, you will be shown a 23-minute moving film depicting the events of December 7,1941. Before entering this room, a park employee will make you aware of the solemn character and attitude to adopt on this place. Silence is at the memorial.

If you took the audio guide with the USS Arizona Memorial Narrated Tour, remember to pick it up to the left of the cash register before heading to the room. It will also enable you to understand the exhibitions and symbolic objects on site.

After the screening, you will descend through the lower right-hand corner of the room, where you will be greeted by a U. S. sea shuttle. Navy, because yes, the Pearl Harbor area is still a military base. The crossing takes only a few minutes. Once you arrive, you will land at the level of the white monument on the water, at the bottom of which are engraved the names of sailors and civilians who died and disappeared that morning. 

Please note that you will only be allowed to stay at the memorial for about ten minutes, so optimize your time.

Below the monument, you will see the USS Arizona towers protruding from the surface of the water, and from time to time, you will see a drop of oil coming from the boat, stain the waters of the bay as if to remind us that there was life, in the past, in this ship of the American navy. The staff will insist on the pious character of the site, as the ship is still to this day the burial place for many sailors who gave their lives on that day in 1941. The condition of the bodies would not have allowed them to be decently lifted up to give them to the families, no matter what happens.

The return trip is done by the same shuttle.

Exhibitions on Pearl Harbor attack

Within the premises of the site, accessible free of charge, are two exhibition halls that trace the attack of December 7th. We discover many testimonies, films of the time, personal objects and we learn a little more about the strategy of the Japanese attack and the reaction of the American army.

Taking our time with the audio-guide, we spent nearly 1h30 discovering these stories and reliving the attack of December 7th. After visiting the Hiroshima Memorial in 2015, we had the feeling of living the war on both sides. An incredible, very interesting, but sad history lesson.

USS Bowfin submarine

The USS Bowfin is accessible since 1981 in Pearl Harbor Bay to visitors who come to immerse themselves in the archipelago's military past. The submarine, which was launched in late 1942, served mainly Allied interests in the Pacific before leaving for the Atlantic force between the end of the Second World War in September 1945 and February 1947, when it was placed in reserve.

It was only in July 1951 for the Korean War that it was reactivated to serve as a "school submarine" for two years, and again between 1960 and 1971 in Seattle. That year, the USS Bowfin bowed its bow as a memorial to Pearl Harbor.

USS Battleship Missouri

The USS Battleship Missouri is much more than one of the four Iowa-class battleships that served in the U. S. Army. "Mighty Mo" will have seen many military operations such as the Second World War, the Korean War, or more recently the Gulf War. After 16 years of active service and 48 years in the Navy, USS Missouri bowed out in 1992, before returning to its final destination, Pearl Harbor, in June 1998 to become a floating museum.

Beyond its weapons, Big Mo will remain a high place of history with a great H. It was on its bridge, on the right-hand side near the upper turret, that the capitulation of Japan was signed in 1945 and by extension the end of the Second World War, in the heart of Tokyo Bay. The location is symbolized by a metal and glass plate at the exact location of the signature.

You will be able to visit the interior of this ship and walk what we thought was the 20 kilometres of corridors, cafeterias, dormitories,... in short, a complete immersion of what life on board a warship was like. And what can be said is that the daily life should not be pink!

Before boarding this giant, take your precautions, it's a real maze! What I mean is, be careful, the visit can last a long time. Just to be clear, go to the little corner!

On site, the audio guide in English is included in the ticket (we regret that there is no French). Between us, not all the audioguide numbers are interesting, but if you want to do 100% of the numbers, the visit is given for 2 hours. A guided tour is possible and lasts 35 minutes in English.

Our experience encourages us to revisit the visit time at 1h30, not to mention the long, very long shuttle bus waits.

We really didn't regret getting on board this battleship, because everything remained faithful, with some personal effects still in place in the cabins. We are well aware of the atmosphere on board. One absolutely penetrates in all the rooms, from the officers' cabins to the dormitories and common bathrooms.

Pacific Aviation Museum

With a collection of 43 aircraft, this museum dedicated to war aviation is essentially centred on the machines that distinguished themselves in the Pacific area during the Second World War. The notable pieces are the remains of one of the rare Mitsubishi A6M Zero aircraft recovered by the Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor, another whole Zero and restored that one, or a Boeing B-17 "Swamp Ghost" that remained trapped in swamps in Papua New Guinea from 1942 to 2006 after an emergency landing, the aircraft having been hit by the Japanese.

More information on the museum website : http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/.

In conclusion

As you will understand, you will have plenty to do during your visit! In view of the importance of this historic site, a visit to Pearl Harbor seems to me to be essential when we have the opportunity to pass by, if only take 2 hours and listen to the poignant testimonies of the survivors of the attack of December 7,1941.

The translation may not be accurate. If you detect any errors, please let us know , and we will correct them immediately. Thank you and sorry for this inconvenience. Sandrine & Flo

Comments
2 Comments
  1. Author avatar
    Florian
    01/03/2018

    Merci pour ce super article. Après un mois de roadtrip dans l’ouest américain, on a fait une escale de 4j sur l’île d’Oahu avant de s’envoller pour la Nouvelle-Zélande en visa vacances travail. On a choisi le même combo que vous, on est arrivé vers 7h20 et on a pu avoir une place pour le bateau de 8h pour l’USS Arizona (c’était le 26 février, pas la pleine saison). L’article est bien détaillé, on a pu préparer notre visite sans soucis. On est tombé sur votre blog en faisant une recherche sur google pour avoir des infos sur pearl harbor. La visite nous a vraiment marqué, c’est vraiment un incontournable d’Hawaï. Florian & Estelle www.est-aile.com

    • Smartrippers avatar
      Smartrippers
      04/03/2018

      Bonjour Florian et merci pour ton commentaire. Effectivement, venir tôt le matin est idéal! On est content que notre article vous ait été utile et que la visite vous ait plu :-) On vous souhaite un bon séjour en Nouvelle Zélande! Ca doit être une super destination pour un PVT. Profitez bien!

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