On the morning of December 7th, 1941, 353 Japanese planes came in and committed a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, bombing and destroying 19 US Ships. The USS Arizona sunk and took with it 1,177 souls. When we planned a trip to Oahu, I knew that we had to pay our respects to this sacred ground. My sister worked for the FDR estate, so my kids have heard stories of FDR, World War II, and the importance of this day their whole lives. I didn’t want to rent a car and wanted minimal planning, so I found my savior in Aloha Hawaii Tours. They proved to be a great tour company that took us to Pearl Harbor, made sure we had the tickets we needed, provided a little history, and dropped us back home where we wanted. It was the perfect way to see this historic site and give my kids this unique experience.
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Aloha Hawaii Tours picks up from 6 locations in Waikiki Beach. They generally start from the Northwest most tip of Waikiki and work their way down the strip. There were several stops, and we found the stop closest to us was also one of the last so it worked to our favor. We picked the Marriott Waikiki stop and were able to walk there in less than 10 minutes. Make sure to be there on time. The bus will stop for 5 minutes and check your name off as you load. Once all in their sight load, they take off.
The main reason we bought this tour was to be taken to Pearl Harbor. I didn’t want to rent a car, and I wanted to be taken to Pearl Harbor. As you are riding to Pearl Harbor, you’re given information about Honolulu and the history of the community right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In about 30 minutes we pull into the parking lot. Here we’re given our vouchers for our timed entry to the Arizona Memorial. You’re given about 30 minutes to explore around the park. There is a lanai with a 10-minute movie that we watched to learn a little bit more about the day. Here you hear Roosevelt’s speak his famous phase, “The day that will live in infamy.” (My son took offense to a date so close to his birthday being called infamous 😂) Then we walked around the memorials that told us some more of the history of Pearl Harbor.
About 10 minutes prior to our assigned time, we headed over to the shuttle launch to present our tickets for our boarding time. We were warned that you must be there on time, or they would not let you board the boat, and you would miss your chance. At 8:30 am on the dot, they closed the chain, and the ranger discussed a bit about that fateful day. He also mentioned some key facts including:
- The average age of the person searing at Pearl Harbor at the time was 23 years old
- 1,177 died and were buried in the USS Arizona
- Those who served on the USS Arizona are allowed to have their ashes buried at sea with their friends
Once some ground rules were laid, we were invited to board the ferry over to the USS Arizona memorial.
The Memorial Bridge was built in 1962, over the remains of the USS Arizona. It’s a solemn place and should be treated as a burial site. The ferry ride over is a short 10 minutes, and the day we were there the weather was simply beautiful with a clear, cloudless sky, similar to that fateful day in 1941. As you come over, you are to get off the boat and go directly to the bridge, and are not allowed to stop to take photos (you are allowed to stop when boarding on the return). Once the entire ferry enters, you have around 30 minutes (as the other group is taken back and the ferry reloads and turns around) to walk around the memorial bridge.
As you walk on the bridge you feel the great weight of the tragedy that day. Look over the side and down the middle, you can see what remains of the great ship that was sunken that day. It’s common to see ghost tears, rainbow spots that appear due the oil that is still slowly leaking from the engine.
At the back of the bridge is the memorial wall. This lists the service members who gave their lives that day and went down with the USS Arizona. It’s scale and the number of names is overwhelming. Especially when you realize how young most of these men were.
Soon it’s time to go back, and you line up on the right side of the bridge, to get ready for board. Once the other ferry has unloaded, those to the right load onto the ferry to return. You are asked not to stay extra time as each ferry is filled to capacity, and there would be no room for you on the next ferry. You’re able to board in a more leisurely fashion and stop and take pictures of that iconic entrance to the memorial.
As our ferry headed back, we got a special treat. The USS Essex was coming into port. Our tour guide explained that as ship comes into port and leaves port at Pearl Harbor, they are all required to stop and pay respects to the USS Arizona. When we looked, every single sailor on that ship were on the deck, saluting their fallen ancestors, in a stark reminder of the risks they take while they serve.
Once back on Land, we only had about an hour before we were due to meet back at the bus. We choose to spend it checking out the Remembrance Circle, and then at the gift shop to buy souvenirs for ourselves and others. Then we headed back to the bus to continue our tour.
While Pearl Harbor was my main reason for purchasing the tour, it came with quite a bit of Honolulu history. Our tour guide grew up on the island with uncles that served in the war. He was able to give us tons of colorful information about the trials people went through during the war, especially anyone who was suspected of Japanese descent (for which there were many on the island), the effect of the war on the residents, and it changed the island. We were able to go through and see some major sites including:
- Hawaiian Homestead: In 1921 the government promised land to those who could prove they were at least 50% native Hawaiian. These homes were built on these lands and look similar to the homes and neighborhoods you might see in Central America or Puerto Rico. Small houses, older homes, close together, with a lot of color and flair.
- National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific: This famous cemetery holds military remains. At the end is a monument to the dead of the Pacific Theater in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. It had a statue of Lady Columbia, who is there to represent the grieving mothers of the deceased. Along the sides of main thoroughfare are native trees and shrubbery to add to the esthetic.
- Downtown Honolulu: We drove through downtown Honolulu and listened to our tour guide explain the many buildings from the 1800s, that were built and used by the Hawaiian monarchy government, then later by the United States after they annexed Hawaii.
- King Kamehameha Statue: The one other stop we made was the King Kamehameha Statue. We were allowed to get down, take some pictures, and take a quick look at the building and architecture around. At this point the kids were tired and asked to stay on the bus. We decided that was fine, and just my husband and I came down to see the statue. It was beautiful.
After the statue, the bus started its return to Waikiki, and it’s stops to drop off passengers.
Where to Buy
We bought through a 3rd party tour website called Viator. It was easy, and we were able to reserve our preferred dates and stop no problem. It also held our credit card and allowed us to charge the day before, allowing for cancelation up to that point.
We did, however, need to change our date and that proved to be difficult through Viator. We decided to call Aloha Hawaii Tours directly, and they were able to find our reservation, and make a change on our behalf. Viator never updated, but I had new email confirmation from Aloha Hawaii Tours.
You can call and directly book with Aloha Hawaii Tours which would allow more flexibility if you needed to change your dates or times. And they are great to work with and called the day before to confirm the time and place of pick up.
Here are a few tips when booking the tour:
- There is no bathroom on the ferry to the USS Arizona or on the memorial bridge. The whole thing takes 45-50 minutes, so make sure to go to the bathroom BEFORE you board the ferry.
- The stops are not that far apart from each other. And the stop at the Marriott is the last stop at the pick-up, so you spend less time shuttling picking people up. However, it is also the last stop during the end drop off. We choose to get off earlier and find some food for lunch, then walk back to our hotel.
- Some of the stories from the tour guide were a little rough about some of the real realities of what war did to the ones who survived. Most of the darker stuff went over my kids’ heads, but I noticed my son catch one or two items. If you are super sensitive to your kids hearing some things, keep that in mind. Also, it’s dependent on each tour guide and it’s possible it was just mine who was this colorful. (No bad language, just some discussion of alcoholism and PTSD)
- Unless you are really into Hawaiian history, or you need to stretch your legs, there is not much of a need to get out at the King Kamehameha statue. Both my husband and I were saying we kind of wish that the stop had been at the Cemetery to get better pictures of the Lady Columbia memorial.
- Take the morning tour. It’s the perfect length to then get lunch and then enjoy the beach for the rest of the day.
- Pearl Harbor does not allow bags of any kind. Being on a bus tour, we were allowed to leave our stuff on the bus. I put my ID, a credit card, and my cash in my back pocket, and carried my phone in my hand. I left on the bus my bag with the hand sanitizer, extra snacks for the day, and most importantly, our extra masks. This was important because…
- At the time we went, February 2022, Pearl Harbor was requiring masks and did NOT allow masks with vents. We learned this the hard way when they stopped my daughter, and I did not have an extra mask on hand. A saint behind me had two kids and extra disposable kids sized masks and gave me one. Without her, I would have lost a lot of time running back to the bus to get my daughter a disposable mask. Check the current requirements.
- You unfortunately on this tour won’t have time for any of the other museums such as the USS Missouri or the other museums. If you wish to do those, it would be better to rent a car and come for the day.
- We decided to prep the kids before seeing the site. We read as a family I Survived Pearl Harbor to let the kids know more about that day and what it must have felt like as a kid during that day. The book also suggests Remember Pearl Harbor, by Thomas B. Allen (A National Geographic Book), Attack on Pearl Harbor: The True Story of the Day America Entered World War II, by Shelly Tanaka, and Pearl Harbor Child, by Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson as other options. Most can be found at your local library.
- The memorial is not interactive. There is some reading, but it’s mostly a place to reflect. My kids were kind of on the tail end of old enough for this exhibit. I do not recommend it for children younger than 8 who cannot give the place the respect it deserves.
I always knew we would one day make it to see the famous burial ground and learn more about “The day that would live in infamy”. The kids understood the solemnness of the site and were able to be respectful. They learned a lot about what happened and were subdued on the ride back taking in what they learned. Sometimes war isn’t pleasant, but it’s important to learn about. That way we can learn from our mistakes of the past and learn to keep from repeating them.
* Photos taken by Atma Photography
Editor: SKS (Son)
Photo Editor: IES (Daughter)