In middle school, I was a bit obsessed with the actor/heartthrob Josh Hartnett. This meant that I also loved the movie Pearl Harbor—despite Hartnett’s character (spoiler alert) dying in the end. I even bought the movie soundtrack, though most of it was instrumental except for Faith Hill’s “There You’ll Be.”
Do you remember the song?
Don’t make me sing every word: “In my dreams I’ll always see you soar above the sky. In my heart there’ll always be a place for you for all my life. I’ll keep a part of you with me, and everywhere I am there’ll you be…”
On a more serious note, ever since that movie came out in 2001 I’ve wanted to visit Pearl Harbor. Tucked safely in the Midwest for much of my life, I always wondered if the naval base would be as moving to visit as most people say.
In short, it is.
As I found out recently while on O’ahu, Pearl Harbor can bring you to your knees. It can gut you, inspire you, exhaust you and energize you—all at the same time.
This may sound like a tall order to fill, but it’s true. Even if you’re not a history buff, Pearl Harbor is a must-experience for any couple celebrating the start of their happily-ever-after in Hawaii.
Here are five ways to make the most of your time at the naval base.
Pearl Harbor is more than the USS Arizona Memorial.
In full disclosure, when my group working with the O’ahu Visitors Bureau stopped at Pearl Harbor, our schedule didn’t actually allow us to take the boat over to the USS Arizona Memorial—what most people envision when they picture Pearl Harbor. Instead, we spent the majority of our time at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, which consists of two museums overlooking the Arizona in the not-so-far-off distance, as well as at the Pacific Aviation Museum.
While some people might consider not visiting the Arizona a wasted trip, it was still an incredibly worthwhile experience. The museums were phenomenal—literally filled with history: remnants of planes and bombs, uniforms still stained with blood from the attack, letters from sailors, newspapers, short videos and so much more.
Opt for the audio headset tour at the Peal Harbor Visitor Center.
More than once during my self-guided tour of the museums, which included an audio headset for an extra $7.50, I heard visitors nearby wondering aloud what significance certain items held in the attack on Pearl Harbor or in World World II more generally. None of these people had the headset, which clearly explained everything.
Since I wanted to know what I was looking at and how it fit into the events that led up to that day that will live in infamy, the harrowing attack itself and all the heartbreak and triumph that followed, the audio tour enriched my visit.
Get the headset. As Nike says, just do it.
Pearl Harbor is an active naval base. As such, no bags are allowed inside. This includes small purses and even fanny packs. When I went, I put my cellphone, ID and some money in my pocket. That was really all I needed. If, however, you forget about the no-bag rule and find yourself holding one at the entrance, there are storage lockers available for $3 per bag. Oh—and you can bring a water bottle with you, which is nice.
Get your tickets well in advance.
If you want to visit the USS Arizona Memorial rather than just the museums at the Visitor Center, you’re going to want to plan ahead. Tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial (and the Visitor Center) are free if you’re not buying the audio tour, but there are only a limited number available every day.
Pearl Harbor is a naval base, after all, not to mention a sacred spot. Limiting visitors is necessary for security purposes, but also to allow visitors to reflect and contemplate in peace—to honor those who died and who are still entrapped beneath the ocean.
This said, you can snag a ticket for the USS Arizona Memorial on the National Park Service website up to 60 days before your visit. (The ticket is free, but there is a $1.50 service charge to get yours online.) If these tickets sell out, as many as 1,300 tickets are held for day-of sales beginning at 7 a.m. In this case, be sure you’re in line bright and early on the day of your desired visit (before 7 a.m.). Day-of tickets almost always sell out as well.
There are some other private and small group tours available that may allow you to visit the USS Arizona Memorial if you aren’t able to get a ticket on your own. Ask your honeymoon consultant for more information!
Check out Ford Island.
As already mentioned, Pearl Harbor is much more than the USS Arizona Memorial. One of the things that most moved me during my visit? Seeing bullet holes from Dec. 7, 1941 in the windows of an airplane hangar that now houses the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island—the piece of land against which the USS Arizona and the other ships that comprised Battleship Row were moored. It was surreal to see those original windows peppered with evidence of the attack.
If you’re not into airplanes, the USS Missouri Battleship also is available to tour on Ford Island.
Both the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Missouri Battleship require tickets, which can be purchased online prior to your visit.