Pearl Harbor: A How To Guide

When Chris and I started planning our Hawaii trip Pearl Harbor was right up there on the must see list. Yet, as we started to investigate how to visit Pearl Harbor, things started to get a little confusing.  There didn’t seem to be an authoritative website to help plan the visit and, in lieu of this, a plethora of tour websites had popped up to take the place.  Anybody who knows me well will know that I tend to like to do things the right way so this lack of clarity frustrated me.

This is a logistical post covering how to plan an effective day at Pearl Harbor.  If you’re looking for information about the history of the site, that’s well covered elsewhere.  Also consider that this plan is based upon the experience of a young couple without children, and unlikely to be suitable for families with young kids.


So, why isn’t there an authoritative site to help visitors plan their day?

Pearl Harbor is made up of several sites, operated by a variety of different bodies.  You don’t visit Pearl Harbor, per se.  Instead you visit one or more historic sites in the Pearl Harbor vicinity.

The website Pearl Harbor Historic Sites ties all these sites together, yet, still doesn’t provide sufficient holistic information about how to plan a day effectively and with adequate time to visit all sites.  Hence this post.

What to Avoid

  • Avoid tours.  We spent eight hours at the various Pearl Harbor sites.  Most tours provide less than half this time at Pearl Harbor then add shopping centre visits as time-fillers while charging more than double what you need to pay.
  • Avoid bags.  You’ll have to check them as soon as you arrive (a waste of time), so you’re better to take none in the first place.  Take a small camera (without the bag), buy your food and drinks, and follow the below recommendations to avoid the sun and you’ll have no need for a bag.

The Perfect Day

  • Two months before your visit:
    1. Book your Passport to Pearl Harbor.  The Passport gives you access to all four of the Pearl Harbor historic sites.  It’s marginally cheaper than buying tickets for each site separately, and means you don’t have to fuss around purchasing multiple tickets on the day.  You also receive audio guides for most sites.
      Critically, the Passport allows you to pre-register your time for the USS Arizona Memorial.  Time slots become available two months out, and I recommend you book the 9:00 AM program, per the itinerary below.
  • One week before your visit:
    1. Organise your transport to and from Pearl Harbor.  There are plenty of options for getting from your accommodation to Pearl Harbor and back suiting your location and budget.  I’m not going to claim to know which is best for you.  If in doubt, speak to your accommodation.

      As a guide, the drive from Waikiki is around 40 minutes to arrive at 7:30 AM on a weekday, so a 6:45 AM accommodation departure is advisable.

      Ensure the return part of your journey allows you to depart after 4:00 PM. Many transport providers offer final pickups no later than 3:30 PM, which is pushing it if you get delayed on Ford Island.
  • The day of your visit:
    1. Arrive at 7:30 AM.  It’s an early start for sure, but will give you a chance to see some of the busier sites before the crowds arrive and while it’s still relatively cool.

      Have your Passport (to Pearl Harbor) documentation with you and head through security then straight to one of the Tickets and Information desks.  Pick either, as you’ll need to visit both (remember those half-dozen organisations mentioned above).  Having visited both desks you’ll have all the tickets you need for the remainder of the day.

      Google Maps provide a Street View tour of the visitor centre vicinity if you want to familiarise yourself before you arrive.
    2. Visit the USS Bowfin submarine.  Moments walk from the main entrance, this is a great way to start your day and see the Balao-class submarine before it becomes hot and crowded.  Skip the associated museum for now, grab your audio guide and head aboard.

      The self guided tour takes about 30 minutes and you should aim to be heading back towards the USS Arizona Memorial at about 8:30 AM.
    3. Prepare for your USS Arizona Memorial program.  You should aim to be waiting at the program departure point, a short walk from Bowfin, by 8:45 AM (assuming you booked the 9:00 AM program).  Collect your audio guide and wander over whilst listening to some preliminary history about the site.  I’d also recommend a bathroom break at this point, as there are no bathroom facilities once the program commences.

      The program consists of a historic film, a short boat ride to and from the memorial, and time spent paying respects at the memorial itself.  If you booked the 9:00 AM tour, you should be back at the visitor centre by around 10:15 AM.

      Don’t miss your time slot as there are limited places and you’ll most likely be unable to book another time that day.
    4. Break time.  Now is a good time to buy a snack and a drink (something hydrating like water or electrolyte drink).  The time-bound part of your day is complete, so you can visit the remaining sites at your leisure, though I’ll continue to recommend an itinerary order.
    5. Take the bus to Mighty Mo.  When you’re ready, head up to the bus shelter in the northeast corner of the visitor centre where you’ll await the next bus to Ford Island.

      Ford Island is an active military base and accessible only by a shuttle bus which runs every 15 minutes in a loop from the visitor centre, to the USS Missouri Memorial, to the Pacific Aviation Museum, then back to the visitor centre.  You’ll spend the next few hours visiting historic sites on Ford Island before returning by bus.  Confirm with the bus driver what time you need to board the bus to be back at the visitor centre if you have a specific time in mind.  Also consider that the bus may fill up on a busy day meaning you’d need to wait 30 minutes.

      Your first stop is the awe inspiring USS Missouri Memorial.  Swap your ID for an audio guide (don’t forget to collect your ID on the way back) then step aboard the 71 year old battleship and explore at your leisure (an hour or two).  When you’ve explored sufficiently, or your stomach is hinting that it’s had enough of the subtle rolling, it’s time to think about lunch.

      Before jumping back on the bus, I recommend a quick visit to the USS Oklahoma Memorial which is just inland from the bus shelter.  A touching memorial to the 429 who lost their lives aboard the USS Oklahoma, it’s well worth a visit to pay your respects.
    6. Lunch time.  The bus runs in one direction, so hop aboard the next bus which will take you to the Pacific Aviation Museum where you’ll first find Laniākea Café, the self proclaimed “best place to eat at Pearl Harbor“.  Regardless of the quality of the food, it’s certainly the most comfortable eatery so enjoy a bite to eat and rest your legs before continuing on to the last few sites.
    7. Explore the Pacific Aviation Museum.  Have a look at the introductory film in the auditorium, then take your time to wander around the various exhibits throughout hangars 37 and 79.

      When you’re finished, head back to the main entrance and await the bus which will return you directly to the visitor centre.
    8. Conclude with the Bowfin Submarine Museum.  The air-conditioned museum, closest to where the bus will drop you off, is the perfect place to escape the hot afternoon and conclude your day at Pearl Harbor.  Collect your audio guide then explore the exhibits where you’ll see everything from the humble beginnings of submarining right up to the modern, world-ending missile launchers (a chilling way to end the day).

I hope this post helps bring together disparate information in a summary that helps you plan a great day at Pearl Harbor.  I’d encourage you to read further on the individual sites, as some background knowledge will further enhance the experience on the day.

If you have any comments, updates, or differing perspectives, please leave a comment below.

j j j

A Year in Retrospect: Thoughts From a Sushi Train

It’s 2:00 PM on Saturday, 18th August 2007, 53 weeks after I left Melbourne. I’ve recently turned 23, and I’m sitting in Finchley Road at a Sushi Train realising what an absolutely amazing year I’ve had.

In the past year I’ve set foot on four continents, visited more countries than I can count, met many amazing people, reunited old friendships, and lived some of the most incredible experiences of my life. Be it experiences like riding along the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun sparkles off the Pacific, or floating in a hot air balloon as dawn breaks over Egypt; or be it drinking Kölsch at your friend’s favourite beer-hall in Germany, or realising, for the 100th time, as you stroll along the Thames embankment, that you’re actually living in London. It matters little how big or small the experience, it is each of these which have come together to make the past year as amazing as I had ever hoped for.

It has not, of course, been without hard times. Several things have happened with my family which have been difficult to bare from so far away. But the world doesn’t pause for anyone, and I’ve been lucky to have such supportive family and friends to ease the burden of these times.

Today I had an Andy Day (a term coined by Cynthia; credit where credit is due). To digress for a moment, I’d never really discovered the value of ‘self time’ until a few days before leaving Melbourne. I had met Mum and Dad for breakfast in some suburb; of which I’ve forgotten the name. Though it was the middle of winter the weather was beautiful and I decided to take a drive [back in the days of having a car] into the city and see where it took me. I ended up just wandering Southbank and enjoying simply being in Melbourne. I was amazed at how much more I noticed by just being there, alone, instead of always surrounding myself with people and talk. Prior to this I had always felt sad for those people alone in the movies, or eating dinner in a restaurant without company. Suddenly my attitude changed. This is not to discount how much I love socialising, but there’s a time and place for everything and on this occasion I had a better time in my own company. I realised on that day that some things are better experienced with your full attention; a realisation which helped ease concerns about travelling alone and which enhanced many experiences while I was away.

Back to today: I headed down to London Bridge and wandered to the Tate Modern, having had a Starbuck’s breakfast, where I browsed the Global Cities exhibition. It’s what I love, and hate, so much about London – there is always something new to do, but never enough time to do it all. Having spent a couple of hours wandering the exhibition I headed across the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s, then jumped on the tube and walked around Covent Garden and Leicester Square before coming to Finchley Road where this story began. It was a simple day but I had a ball and it got me thinking about what an amazing year this has been.

Just over one year ago I said goodbye to friends and family, boarded a Qantas plane and flew to London. I was meant to transit to Brussels but was caught in the 10th August terror threat and lost my connecting flight (for which I will always hate British Airways and refuse to fly them again). Eventually I made it to Belgium and met my friend Minda (with whom I’d travelled briefly in New Zealand) who I spend the next week with exploring quaint Belgian cities, eating great food and sampling some of Belgium’s wide variety of beers.

In mid August I caught the Eurostar back to Waterloo and, the following day, started my 6.5 week tour of Europe. This took me through France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and The Netherlands. I had an amazing time, but probably wouldn’t recommend spending so long on a tour. If you’re not up for fully independent travel, do several smaller tours with breaks in between.

People often ask the highlight of my European experience. While this is an obvious question to ask, and one I’ve been guilty of posing myself, it’s not a question for which I have a simple answer. Europe is so big, so diverse (both geographically and culturally) and the experiences had in each country are so incomparable that it’s hard to say, “I loved x most.” I loved standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower; for me that was the ‘yep, I’m in Europe’ moment’. Later I saw 3000 year old art in an Egyptian tomb. How can these experiences be compared enough to prioritise a favourite?

Following my tour I spent a few weeks in a hostel in London. I didn’t get up to much during this time, as I had myself a cold, but did manage to book a trip across to Germany to see Janina and Vanessa (more friends from my New Zealand trip). It was great to see these two again and I ended up spending three weeks with Janina, relaxing, exploring and enjoying Düsseldorf and its surrounds.

During this time Chris, a mate from Melbourne, came over and we headed to Prague for a few days. This was a beautiful city and provided some great photography as autumn had set in and the leaves were turning golden and falling.

From Prague we went back to Janina’s for a few more days then set off for Italy and Spain. We started in Rome, a fantastic city which I was happy to see again. Chris was an excellent travel buddy with similar interests and a passion for walking and taking as much in as possible by foot. A definite highlight was climbing the dome of St Peter’s and watching the sun set over Rome.

Twenty-four hours later we were watching the sun set over the Mediterranean from the top of a hill in the Cinque Terre, a beautiful, untouched region in northern Italy where time has stood still and preservd the farming traditions of the past. We spent several days here walking between the little villages and roaming the hills. It was a beautiful few days.

Chris and I then took an overnight ferry (trying to use every possible transport this trip) across to Barcelona where we began a couple of weeks exploration on the east coast of Spain. Barcelona was, again, great fun but it was nice to get out of the cities and see some smaller Spanish villages (albeit slightly over-run by British sun seekers).

After Chris and I spent several weeks travelling, walking, talking and solving all the world’s problems over various beverages, I departed for the United States. This part of my trip was, unexpectedly, amazing. I didn’t have the greatest expectations of America due to the culture, as we observe it externally, being somewhat irritating to me. Upon arriving in San Francisco and exploring this city, meeting real Americans and getting back into big city life, I discovered a new found love for the country.

Wandering the streets of San Fran, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop and fire-escapes lining every building, was thrilling. I had only three days there, one of which I spent in the Yosemite National Park, which wasn’t enough and, as with most places I’ve visited, it’s on my ‘repeat required’ list.

From San Fran I made my way to the surprisingly hot LA where I started my US tour taking me from LA, across the south through Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Dallas, Memphis, Florida, then up the east coast through Washington to New York. On the whole it may have been the best weeks I had away. I think maybe this was because my [negative] expectations were always broken, but also because I was surrounded by a great group of people and I was always learning. I think I obtained a more worldly, historical knowledge there than I did in many years of study.

New York City was amazing. Christmas carols playing where-ever you walked made you feel like you were in a Christmas movie and I felt the festive spirit in the strongest way I have since I was a kid. I had ten days in the city across Christmas and New Years and I had an absolute ball. I was up at 7:00 most mornings, not in bed before 1:00 and pounded the pavement for the hours in between. By all rights I should have been exhausted but the city has an energy of its own which gets in your veins and you feed off it! I instantly fell in love and, within the first days, was already planing my life there (in the semi-distant future, of course).

Sadly, come 3rd January, I had to bid the city farewell and head to London to start a more regulated life. NYC waved me off with a stunning sunrise, the Empire State Building silhouetted in the distance against a glowing pink sky. Eight or so hours later I was checking into my hostel in London, exhausted having not slept the night before I left.

Here began my London experience. I started looking for places for Clare and I to live and investigating the job market. A week later Clare arrived and we started our life together in Willesden Green. Clare started work within days of arrival, and I sat at home job hunting and working on my website management software, Simple Site, for ten weeks. The cash problems started and, while I don’t regret this experience in the slightest, I’m still struggling. On a side note, I would recommend coming to London with a job lined up and plenty of savings behind you; it’s an expensive city to get started in.

Eventually I found a job with the Health Protection Agency, doing a PC rollout for three months, before moving onto St George’s Hospital where I am currently working as a desktop engineer.

During the time in London we’ve made lots of friends, had plenty of nights out, dinners, drinks and fun experiences with great people. We’ve made a bit of a surrogate family with Cynthia and Adrian and have been on a road-trip together to the Lake District.

In April Clare and I went to Turkey for a tour which took us through Gallipoli for ANZAC Day. This was an incredible adventure, I really love Turkey and the dawn service was something that, in my opinion, every Australian should experience. Whether or not you have a direct connection to the campaign, it’s a very moving experience.

As the weeks have gone on we’ve done more London experiences. Whatever your interest London caters for it with galleries, museums, theaters, stadiums, concert halls. The tube is the most incredible transport experience in the world and will get you to anywhere you need to be. It took me a while, but if you open yourself up to London it really delivers, and now I’m attached. While I’m sure I’ll love coming home at the end of the year, I don’t think I’ll quite be finished with this city.

To celebrate my birthday last week, coinciding with my anniversary of being away, I flew to Minda in Belgium for a few days, then to Janina and Vanessa for the end of the week. It was good fun to see them again and have some time away from work and the day-to-day life in London. This is where Europe is so amazing. I left London and within a hour was sitting having drinks in a quaint Belgium town. It’s so easy to get to a completely different world.

I really have been so lucky this past year with what I’ve experienced and hope that anyone else who sets out on an adventure like this can have such incredible times also.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to keep in touch. If you know me well, you’ll know my e-mail address. If not, just post a comment and I’ll get back to you.

j j j

New York, New York

I have to write quickly because I’m in an Apple Store (THE Apple Store) and really shouldn’t be writing travel journal posts… but what the hell.

New York is brilliant! I could so easily live here, it’s amazing.

Christmas was excellent, no snow yet but great weather. New Years promises to be good fun.

I think I’ll be back soon, as there isn’t enough time in 10 days to do all I want.

I will fill you in with more later, when I’m not hogging display laptops!

j j j

I’m Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

I was dreaming of a white Christmas, but according to the locals that was all I could do; dream. They apparently haven’t had a white Christmas in New York in 25 years. All those movies have been having us on. So instead, I had a wet Christmas, not all that different to Melbourne.

This was not a problem however, the whole day was still wonderful.

We all got up on Christmas morning in Washington D.C. and received our Secret Santa presents. I got a Starbucks voucher which came in very handy in New York. Aysha also gave me a box of chocolates, thanks Aysh! Then we headed off towards New York.

We had a couple of stops throughout the day, one of which I got a really nice e-mail from Jen with photos of the Christmas dinner they’d had at home! Thanks sis, it made the day that bit more special!!!

We arrived in New York after dark in the pouring rain. Jerry had arranged a dinner for us all so we headed to our various accommodations to get ready to meet at 8:00. When I arrived at my hostel I received a very pleasant surprise. I went to check in and the reception guy plonked a parcel down in front of me. It contained a card from Mum and Dad and a Christmas parcel from Clare and her parents. I got an awesome shirt and some chocolates. I changed into the shirt (which fits perfectly, thanks Clare) and headed out for dinner.

Dinner was at Dallas BBQ where they serve HUGE margaritas and equally huge meals. The dinner was fun with the group there, not the typical Christmas dinner but great nonetheless. After dinner we went to a bar then back to Jerry’s room for some more drinks. All up, a very fun Christmas day and a great start to 10 incredible days in New York.

j j j

Washington D.C.

This is an incredible city, and an excellent end to my American road trip. Over the past four weeks I’ve been hearing stories and learning about America’s history, much of which is captured and summarised in various forms in the country’s capital.

When we arrived in D.C. our first stop was Arlington State Cemetery, the nation’s huge and very beautiful state cemetery. Here we visited the JFK burial sight and witnessed the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then, soaked from the rain, we headed to our hotel.

Dinner was a pretty nice buffet before jumping back on the coach for the best city tour I could ask for. Jordan gave us a commentary as Jerry drove us via the Washington Monument, Smithsonian Museums and The White House before stopping at the Capitol Building for a photo. Then we headed to the Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln memorials in addition to the Korean and Vietnam war memorials (which, being Christmas time, were fairly sad). Jordan gave an awesome commentary on each of the sites adding even more to this incredible city.

On Saturday morning we headed back in to explore the city in more detail. We started the day with a tour of the Capitol Building. This was brief but very interesting showing and explaining the fresco paintings on the dome and the statue room containing two statues presented by each American state.

Denise, Rodrigo and I then walked down to the Washington Monument but all tickets had been sold so we walked back towards the National Air and Space Museum. Though we had seen many better space exhibits at the Kennedy Space Centre, there were some very interesting exhibits here regarding the history of air travel as well as presentations on satellite imagery and terrain mapping and a brief history of the telescope from its invention right through to today’s uses.

Also housed in this museum was a small collection from the National Museum of American History (closed for renovation). Some highlights here included the [enormous] camera used to film the Wizard of Oz in technicolor. This involved filming with three tapes, one red, green, and blue, then combining these to provide the full colour film. Also on show was the petrie dish used in the discovery of penicillin and Carrie Bradshaw’s laptop.

From there we wandered over to the Archives to view the Historical Documents (Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights) before heading into the Public Vaults which contained some fascinating documents such as declassified Manhattan Project papers and film (nuclear weapons tests) and Nixon’s resignation letter after the Watergate Scandal.

That night we had dinner at TGI Fridays.

On Christmas Eve Denise and I headed back into D.C. to finish our exploring. We first headed to the Iwo Jima Memorial (recognisable from the film Flags of Our Fathers) and the Air Force Memorial overlooking the Pentagon.

Jerry then drove us into the Mall where we got tickets for the Washington Monument then headed to the White House for some photos while we waited. It was, of course, nicely decorated for Christmas.

The Washington Monument was pretty spectacular and offered great views over D.C. Finished in the late 1800s it has provided good opportunities to document the city photographically and comparison pictures from various periods from the 1800s onwards are displayed in the viewing tower.

After the Monument Denise and I wandered around to the Franklin, Roosevelt and Lincoln Memorials then down to the World War II Memorial. The nice weather afforded us some beautiful photos of the city.

As it was getting later we quickly wandered to the Holocaust Museum but discovered there was far too much to see there in the hour that we had so, also wanting to see the Natural History Museum, we headed through fairly quickly – one to focus on next visit.

A similar experience was had in the Natural History Museum where we ran through the exhibits looking at the highlights before it was time to head back to the coach to get ready for our Christmas Eve river cruise.

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