July 4, 2012

A Memorable Family Visit to Pearl Harbor

I can’t think of a better topic to blog about on the Fourth of July than our recent visit to Pearl Harbor (which is officially known as the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument). It was a moving experience, and I felt so proud to be an American. Hopefully reading about our visit will help you know what to expect, especially if you plan to go with kids. In our group we had an 11 yr old, 12 yr old, and two 14 year olds, and they all really enjoyed it, despite some of them not really knowing what it was about before we arrived.

The first thing you should know is that very recently the National Park Service started offering advance tickets for visiting the USS Arizona. This is a HUGE deal! Previously, the tickets (which are free) were only issued on a first come, first served basis. So even if you booked a “tour,” the buses had to arrive very early to ensure everyone could get tickets for one of the morning departures. It’s kind of like the Disney FastPass system. Tickets are issued for a specific tour time, and the later you arrive, the later your tour starts, and they can run out early in the day. When we picked up our tickets at 10 am, the people next to us who didn’t have advance reservations were told their tour was not for 3 more hours!

However, note that the minimum recommended time for a visit is 3 hours in order to see all the displays, and in face we spent 5 hours there ourselves. The USS Arizona tour takes about 90 min, but the grounds are fairly large and filled with many displays and artifacts, a gift shop, and a museum. On arrival you can also buy tickets to tour the USS Missouri, the USS Bowfin Submarine, and the Pacific Aviation Museum, and visit the USS Oklahoma Memorial. They even offer a 2 day pass which I’d advise for WWII buffs who want to see everything.

Our day started out a little rocky, as it was hot and the kids were hungry. Our tour was at 11 so we wanted to eat lunch afterwards. My daughter was getting grumpy, so I was worried that she was not going to appreciate the experience. Finally our group was called into the theater, where we watched a movie recounting the events of 12/7/41 and explaining what we would see and memorial protocol. Then we headed to the boat, where we noticed an man wearing a ribbon & medals, and a Pearl Harbor Survivor hat. The entire boat applauded as he & his family were saluted and escorted to the memorial first. I was surprised when the youngest in our group insisted on getting a picture with him, and he was very happy to oblige. And I felt a little sorry for the NPS ranger who had the job of explaining what happened at Pearl Harbor with an eyewitness standing right next to him!

After returning to shore, I braced for complaints from hot, hungry kids that they wanted to leave. But to my shock, my 12 year daughter wanted to make sure we were going in the museum. (That is the first time either of my kids have ever asked to put off a meal for sightseeing!) She was fascinated and wanted to learn more. My second surprise was when we gave them the choice of going back to the hotel to swim or doing another tour, and they chose the submarine.

I was thrilled that my kids enjoyed & appreciated the experience, and I know that one day they will bring their own kids back because of their wonderful memories.
Here are some tips if you plan to visit Pearl Harbor with your family:

1) Read about the memorial so you know the rules and what to expect at the NPS website.
2) Book advance tickets here. (Note crowds are worse on the days when cruise ships are in port.)
3) Any type of bag (purses, backpacks, diaper bags, etc.) is prohibited on the entire site. You will have to leave them in your car or use their baggage storage. Strollers are allowed as long as the bags are removed, so you can leave diapers, bottles, etc. loose in the bottom. Parking is very close so it’s easy to run out to your car to get something.
4) Bring lots of water; you will do a fair amount of walking outside to see all the displays. There is a snack stand with drinks and grab & go items, and a hot dog stand which only accepted cash.
5) Go early to avoid the worst heat of the day, and plan to spend at least 3 hours, though you can easily spend much more if you want to see all the displays and go on other tours.

Stay tuned for more information on our trip to Oahu, including a review of Disney's new Aulani Resort!


Suzy said...

I haven't been to Pearl Harbor but I certainly want to. It's great you and your kids got to meet a survivor.

Dana said...

What a wonderful visit! We've been to Hawaii twice, but only to Maui. Someday, I WANT to go visit this site!

We recently got back from 18 days in Europe where we did a half-day, semi-private tour of the D-Day beaches! It was amazing!!! I hope to start posting... maybe tomorrow.

Suzette Mack, Family Travel Advisor said...

I have not yet been to Normandy. We have a fantastic guide who was a General, I can't wait to hear his stories!

Ireland County Clare tours said...

I hope that your travel of Pearl Harbor is a well enjoyed journey. I myself happened to be there a couple of years ago but I was alone and on a business travel. So there is no comparison between yours and mine travel. And obviously your trip was a well enjoyed one.