Family Guide:
Pearl Harbor & the USS Arizona

On December 7, 1941, America would be stunned by a surprise attack that would have a change American history.  The Japanese would carefully plan and carry out this surprise attack that would be the final straw that would draw the United States into World War II.
If you and your family are planning a vacation to Hawaii, and specifically the island of Oahu, I highly recommend a visit to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona.  This site is considered a National Monument and is run by the National Park Service.  It is called World War II Valor in the Pacific. 

Sharing a snack with the pigeons while waiting for our tour to begin
We visited last year and our kids were 9 and 11 at the time.  We saw children of all ages there that day and with most historical points of interest, any age can work.  If they are too young to understand what they are seeing, they will still enjoy walking through a submarine or taking a boat ride.  If they are elementary age or older, they will be able to learn about an important part of our American history.  The displays, memorial and film are appropriate for every member of your family and respectfully tell the story of what happened on December 7, 1941 without being too graphic.
Planning a trip to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona can be a little tricky to navigate with the various choices for tickets and tours available to choose from.  Use these tips below to make the most of your family visit.

First Thing to Consider:

Walk-In Tickets or Advance Tickets?
The National Park Service gives out 1300 tickets each day (free of charge) on a first come, first served basis.  The ticket office open at 7am and if you’re planning to get walk-in tickets, I recommend that you arrive as close to 7am as possible on the day you want to visit.  There are a few reasons why this is important: 

1.  Since they only give out 1300 a day, they do run out. 

2.  Just because you have a ticket, you are still not guaranteed a boat ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial.  Winds often kick up in the afternoon and tours out to the memorial are sometimes cancelled.  By going first thing in the morning, you have less of a chance of this happening. 

3.  It can get pretty hot as the day goes on.  The temperatures will be much more pleasant in the morning.
If you opt to get advance tickets, visit this link.  These tickets are still free of charge, but a $1.50 service fee per ticket will be collected at the time of booking.  These advance tickets can be reserved up to 2 months in advance.  Basic Tour 1 includes seeing the documentary film and going out to visit the memorial.  If you’d like to participate in Tour Option 2 or 3, check online for increased ticket prices and what’s included.  We were pleased with Tour Option 1 as it included everything we wanted to see.  If we were traveling with older children or those particularly interested in World War II history, we may have opted for one of the other tours. 
The reason we did not reserve our tickets ahead of time was because we were not certain which day of our vacation would be best for us to visit.  Once we got to Oahu and sorted out all our other plans and excursions, we were able to pick a morning to visit that worked well with our schedule.  We would not have been unable to do this two months in advance.  Having said that, if you know the date you plan to visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona, get your tickets in advance.  Especially in high seasons like summer and spring break, walk-in tickets are often gone by mid-morning.

What’s Included in your Free Ticket?

  • A 23-minute documentary film in our Pearl Harbor Visitor Center theater
  • A boat ride to the memorial
  • About 10-15 minutes at the memorial
  • A boat ride back to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

What to Do While You Wait
When you receive your ticket, a tour time will be listed.  Your tour will begin with the film and then your group will go directly out to load onto the boat ride out to the memorial.  While you are waiting for your tour to begin, you’ll find plenty of things to keep you and your family busy.  Stop by and visit the “Road to War” and “Attack” exhibit galleries.  The photographs, timelines and personal memorabilia bring the events of December 7th to life.  There is also an area where your kids can walk through World War II planes and submarines.  The bookstore has many books, posters and souvenirs, including a nice-sized children’s section.  There are a couple of small snack bar-type places to purchase a bottle of water or light snack.  I was quite warm on the day we visited so we were glad to find cold drinks and ice cream there.  Since food choices are somewhat limited, consider the needs of your family before visiting.  Starting your day with a big breakfast or bringing along your own snacks might be a good idea. 

The Film
When your tour officially begins, you’ll first start with a 23 minute documentary that is very well-done and educational.  My nine year old had so many questions for me before our visit (and many I didn’t know the answer to).  Like… “ Why did the Japanese attack us?”  and “Were the Japanese allies with Hitler in Europe?”. This well-done documentary answered every one of them.  I was so pleased with the amount of information that was presented in the film, the way it was presented and the quality of the production.  It was really great! 
After the film we boarded a navy vessel to take a short boat ride out to the memorial that floats above the USS Arizona.  It was a somber experience and one that will stick with my boys, my husband and me for some time to come.   In the years ahead when they study World War II, I know they will be able to draw from this experience and picture in their minds the actual USS Arizona lying just under the surface of the water, a tomb that still holds the bodies of the young men that lost their lives that day. 
They allow visitors to be on the memorial for about 15 minutes total.  This keeps groups moving through, but we found it to be plenty of time.  We even had time for a nice conversation with a veteran who answered more questions.
Be sure and check the National Park Service website for the latest information before your visit.




My Recommendations for Children's Books

on Pearl Harbor

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