Can you visit Pearl Harbor without a tour or is it better to book a tour? That is probably what you are considering as you plan your visit to Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a must see as you plan your Hawaii itinerary. Hopefully, this post will answer all your questions that you may have when planning a trip to Pearl Harbor.
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History of Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. The attack was a preemptive military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the United States (a neutral country at the time) during WWII.
Japan wanted to eliminate any threats to its plan of invading southeast Asia. Japan thought by attacking the United States it would weaken it’s Navy forces and keep them out of the war. Little did they know that it would be their greatest mistake to mess with the United States.
Lives Lost at Pearl Harbor
2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Battleships Damaged or Destroyed at Pearl Harbor
- Arizona: hit by four armor-piercing bombs, exploded; 1,177 dead.
- Oklahoma: hit by five torpedoes, capsized; 429 dead.
- West Virginia: hit by two bombs, seven torpedoes, sunk; 106 dead; returned to service July 1944.
- California: hit by two bombs, two torpedoes, sunk; 100 dead; returned to service January 1944.
- Nevada: hit by six bombs, one torpedo, beached;60 dead returned to service October 1942.
- Pennsylvania: hit by one bomb and debris from USS Cassin; 9 dead remained in service.
- Tennessee: hit by two bombs; 5dead; returned to service February 1942.
- Maryland: hit by two bombs; 4 dead; returned to service February 1942.
- Utah: Training battleship; hit by two torpedoes, capsized; 64 dead.
All eight battleships were damaged and four were sunk. (All historical information above was from Wikipedia) Remember I am a travel blogger not a historian!
The attack led to the United States formal entry into WWII the next day.
Okay, now you know a little more history about what happened on that horrific day. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said December 7th is “a date that will live in infamy”.
After the United States ended the war, the USS Missouri remained at Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona, which remains in the harbor represents the start of the war, and the USS Missouri was a part of the last battle that ended the war. They are both at Pearl Harbor Memorial to honor those who served.
Can You Visit Pearl Harbor Without a Tour
The answer is absolutely YES! You can visit Pearl Harbor without a tour. My husband and I decided not to do a tour and it was easy peesey!
There are some considerations on weather a tour is right for you or not. Let’s explore your options so you can decide if you want a tour or not.
Transportation to Pearl Harbor
We rented a car so transportation was not an issue. If you do not want to rent a car and still want to visit Pearl Harbor, you will either need to book a tour (tours generally provide transportation to the site from your hotel), or use a ride sharing service to get to the site.
Tickets for Pearl Harbor
With a purchased tour you will automatically have tickets. No worries! Below we will talk about tickets and your options. When you choose Pearl Harbor without a tour you will have to purchase your own tickets. As long as you purchase your tickets well in advance then there shouldn’t be a problem.
The benefits of a tour obviously include the tour guide. Having a person who has a vast amount of knowledge to share about all the historical facts of Pearl Harbor can enhance your experience. Because we did not do a guided tour we opted for the $7.50 headset that informed us all about the museum. It was very interesting and I felt like I learned a lot.
Lines at Pearl Harbor
We visited Pearl Harbor in July, which is high tourist season. We did not experience lines. We reserved our tickets, went straight to the queue, picked them up and did not encounter any lines. A lot of tours suggest that you get to “skip the line”. Skipping the line is a perk of a tour, but for us there was not line when we arrived to skip.
Visit Pearl Harbor
How to Get Pearl Harbor Tickets
I highly recommend you get your tickets ahead of time (you can do so up to 60 days in advance) because slots can fill up fast! Internet searches may give you an array of options and prices, so I recommend going to recreation.gov or to the official Pearl Harbor site (which will take you to recreation.gov).
You do have to pay a $1 per person reservation fee, but admission is otherwise free for general access, which includes the “Road to War” museum, the “Attack Gallery” museum, exhibits along the harbor, and a boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial.
For $7.50, you can get a headset. When you get a general admission ticket, you pick a specific time. This time relates to when you enter into the theater in preparation to board the boat that takes you to the USS Arizona Memorial.
If you pay $72 per person ($35 for ages 4-12), you can also see the Battleship Missouri, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
If tickets are gone for when you want to go, additional tickets are released 24 hours beforehand at the government website.
Where to Start Your Pearl Harbor Adventure
The museums (“Attack Gallery” and the “Road to War”), theater, and boat to the USS Arizona are located near the main entrance area. (This is the free area.) The USS Bowfin Submarine and Museum are located in the main area as well. (Accessed at an additional cost.)
The Battleship Missouri Memorial is another ship that you can tour but you will need to board the boat to the USS Arizona and the boat will have a stop specifically for the USS Missouri. (This is also an additional cost.)
Exhibits and Museums
As you arrive you will be given a ticket with a certain time. This time is when you will view the video presentation in the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater, and immediately following you will board the boat that takes you out to the USS Arizona Memorial.
If you have time before your departure use it to explore the museums. There are two museums that are free with your entry ticket. The museums are adjacent to the theater, and so if you want to play it safe, the museums are probably a better option of how to spend your time while you wait than attractions that are further away.
If you have quite a bit of time before your ticket time, then you may want to start with the USS Bowfin Museum and submarine. The submarine tour takes about 30 minutes to explore. On average people spend about an hour inside the museum.
This submarine is credited with sinking 16 Japanese vessels.
There is a cost of $8 per adult
A self guided tour is included with your admission.
USS Arizona Anchor Memorial
This anchor is one of the three from the USS Arizona. As the anchor of the USS Arizona, which was sunk during the attack, this memorial represents the entry of the United States into WWII. It is located between the museum and the Bowfin.
Video Presentation Before You Board Boat To See The USS Arizona
There is a specific time on your ticket that instructs you when to meet at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater. You will wait in line, and then head into a small theater. There is a about a 24 minute video presentation that explains events leading up to the attack as well as the actual attack on Pearl Harbor.
Boat Ride to the USS Arizona
Once you have viewed the video you will be led outside to the boat. This boat is a transportation shuttle that will lead you to three spots. First, the USS Arizona Memorial. Second, the USS Missouri. Lastly, to Ford Island where the USS Oklahoma and USS Utah Memorials are located.
USS Arizona and Ford Island
This ship was completely sunk; 1,177 sailors and Marines died. Unfortunately, this ship still lies at the bottom of the harbor. A memorial was built on top of the ship. In the observation deck you will be able to look below at the watery grave of some many young lives.
USS Utah Memorial and USS Oklahoma Memorial
One of the stops you will make while one the boat is an access point to Ford Island. You will be able to view the memorials for both the USS Utah and USS Oklahoma battleships. It is a great place to honor those who lost their lives during the Pearl Harbor attack.
Other Information that You Should Know when Going to Pearl Harbor Without a Tour
What Can I Take into Pearl Harbor?
Bags are not allowed at Pearl Harbor. There is a clock room where you can store your belongings for a $5 fee. Small items that fit in your pockets and camera cases are permitted.
How Long Will I Need to Explore Pearl Harbor?
We only did the free portion of Pearl Harbor and we spent about 2-3 hours exploring the area. If you purchase the complete ticket you will probably want to dedicate your entire day to the memorial.
Pearl Harbor opens at 7:00 am and the boats to the USS Arizona run until 3:00 pm. The Battleship Missouri closes at 4:00 pm. The Aviation Museum and USS Bowfin close at 5:00 pm.
Food Options at Pearl Harbor
There is a snack shop in the main area, as well as hot food at both the USS Bowfin and USS Missouri.
Oahu Go Card
If your plan is to do Pearl Harbor without a tour, I recommend that you look into the Go Oahu Card After doing a lot of research, it seems to be a really great price. The card includes most tourist attractions on Oahu. At Pearl Harbor, it includes the USS Arizona entry as well as the USS Bowfin Submarine and Museum (But does not include the USS Missouri).
Pearl Harbor: With or Without a Tour?
Now you know what to expect if you are considering going to Pearl Harbor without a tour. But if you think you might enjoy being with a tour group that is totally okay as well! One option for you is a transportation tour.
Transportation to Pearl Harbor
The Ride to Pearl Harbor Tour is a great option. This option is primarily a transportation option to and from Pearl Harbor.
If you have been on a tour bus, this is similar. On your way back to your hotel, you will drive by a number of sites on Oahu, which the driver will point out to you and tell you about. But your Pearl Harbor experience will still be on your own.
This tour includes tickets for Pearl Harbor (without the added attractions) with a 5 hour time frame to explore. The cost is about $52. You can pay $102 per person and gain access to the USS Missouri Ship with an upgraded tour of Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor Here We Come!
Hopefully, you have enough information to make a good decision that works for you! Hawaii is a great vacation.
With all the beautiful hikes in Oahu and the amazing Snorkeling in Oahu, you are sure to have a blast. Don’t forget to grab your Dole Whip in Hawaii as well as hit up the Polynesian Cultural Center when you head to the North Shore. Good Luck in all your planning!
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