There is perhaps no where more suited to lazy days with wide open schedules than the islands of Hawaii. You can plan to take each day at a slow pace while soaking up the sun and letting the next activity be subject to your whim. Pearl Harbor is the one place in Oahu where this easy, breezy attitude just may not work, and although you will certainly not want to miss this historic stop, you will have to do plenty of preplanning to make it work. Don't worry,though: this guide to planning your day will let you go right back to napping indescriminately on the beach as soon as possible.
Arrive no later than 9 am. Your first stop will be the ticket counter for the Pearl Harbor Memorial. Tickets are free and you haven’t reserved them in advance, you will have to pick up a time stamped ticket now. Okay, pay attention. It’s time to make a decision. You can see the Pearl Harbor Memorial now or after lunch. The decision may be made for you, as tickets often require several hours wait. Fortunately, there is plenty to do on the complex and you have a plan.
Next stop: The ticket counter to purchase tickets for the other attractions in the Pearl Harbor. Here are your options: a submarine tour, a tour of the USS Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. There is certainly time to do it all, but here are some thoughts if you need to make choices. Note that you will need to buy a ticket for each attraction and some attractions require a bus ride.
USS Bowfin (Submarine): This tour is only available for children ages 4 and up, so that might instantly make the decision easier for some families. The Bowfin is located next to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Complex, so it is easily accessible. It is worth a visit if you have never toured a submarine before. If you have been in a submarine before, you will find that this one is exactly the same-claustrophobic, smells like engine grease, has substandard facilities-and you can probably skip it. Plan for 30 minutes-1 hour.
USS Missouri: Of the three choices, this should be the highest priority! The USS Missouri holds the past distinction of being the place where the Japanese surrendered to the United States. It is presently known as the setting for the filming of the 2012 movie “Battleship.” Whatever your interest, it is one giant and awesome battleship and is great for exploration. The Pearl Harbor Memorial can be seen a ship’s length away from the “Mighty Mo” so it makes a perfect bookend for the beginning and ending of WWII with Japan. Plan for 1-2 hours on the ship and allow yourself 45 minutes for transit to and from the main Pearl Harbor site.
Pacific Aviation Museum: If you are a vintage airplane buff or enjoy WWII fighter footage, this will be a worthwhile stop, but the real draw here is the restaurant. The Laniakea Café has the only decent food I the Pearl Harbor complex, so you want to plan your day so that you can land here at lunch. The bus from Pearl Harbor Monument to USS Missouri will make a stop at the Pacific Aviation Museum. You can eat at the café without buying a ticket to the museum, but you may enjoy the air conditioning so much, that you decide to purchase a ticket and stay. Plan for 1-2 hours + lunch.
Now, that you have your tickets, you can organize your day. Your timed tickets to the USS Arizona monument will be the determining factor for how you structure your time.
Morning Tickets to Pearl Harbor Monument: Tour the WWII Valor in the Pacific museums while you wait for your ticketed time to enter the theatre. After you tour the USS Arizona Monument, board the bus bound for the Pacific Aviation Museum for a tour (if desired) and lunch. Continue on the bus tour to the USS Missouri. Finish your tour back at the Pearl Harbor Monument to tour the USS Bowfin.
Afternoon Tickets to Pearl Harbor Monument: Head to the USS Missouri first and then stop at the Pacific Aviation Museum for lunch. Give yourself at least 45 minutes to get back to the Pearl Harbor Monument for your timed ticket. After your tour of the Memorial, you can see more of the Pearl Harbor complex or head to the USS Bowfin to tour the submarine.
A morning ticket to tour the USS Arizona gives you the most freedom for your day. If you have afternoon tickets, you will spend the whole day watching the clock and rushing from place to place. The only way to assure morning tickets is to reserve them months in advance on the National Park Website or to get yourself out of bed with the sun and plan for a late afternoon nap on the beach.