Pearl Harbor: Bring History to Life

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As I get older, so do my parents and grandparents. Soon my live connection to my history will either start to forget or pass away. As a parent who has never experienced the affect of war personally, I worry about adequately explaining to my kids the devastation and destruction that makes our history, especially when referring to the World Wars. So when visiting Hawaii we decided to take time out of our vacation to visit Pearl Harbor, the place of attack in December 7, 1941.

When you’re on vacation it can be hard to convince kids to visit historic sites. And if parents know their kids won’t be all that enthusiastic about going, it can be hard to justify the cost. The tour we booked through the Outrigger Activities desk at our hotel, Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, offered us one free child for each paying adult. I think this a great idea to encourage families to visit Pearl Harbor. Hopefully they keep this cost feature.

Our tour included access to Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Oklahoma Memorial and the USS Missouri, plus a few other stops. The newly expanded facilities at Pearl Harbor offer a great peek into the events leading up to, during, and after the attack. Some of the exhibits were hands on too making them great for kids. My six and eight-year old liked using a scope to find enemy ships and planes on a map. Listening to live accounts of the attack and the moments afterwards was pretty impactful too; even my two older kids walked away realizing how big of an attack this was.

family travel pearl harbor arizona memorial view

Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial had the most impact on all of us, kids included. Seeing the wall of names was humbling but looking at the wreckage of the Arizona, still submerged below the water, many buried within in it, hit me harder than I expected. Many visitors were looking at the memorial wall at the USS Arizona Memorial and the stakes that make-up the USS Oklahoma Memorial, trying to find family names. Not necessarily someone they knew but someone with the same family namesake. I found myself doing this too, imagining that this person was somehow connected to me in my distant past.

family travel pearl harbor arizona wreckage

family travel pearl harbor arizona memorial crowds

family travel pearl harbor oklahoma memorial

Along with visiting the various monuments erected to commemorate the attack, we also visited the USS Missouri Memorial. This is the ship where Japan signed their unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces on September 2, 1945, ending World War II. Our tour included a guide but with kids in tow we decided to walk it alone. The kids loved this because they could explore a battle ship, seeing the bunks and showers the servicemen used, the mess hall, the engine room, bridge, deck and more. We spent an hour exploring with the map given to us but we could have spent more time. When below decks you easily lost your sense of direction but not to worry, the accessible areas are well marked and there are arrows marking exits so you don’t need to worry about getting lost.

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family travel pearl harbor missouri memorial deckjpg

family travel pearl harbor missouri memorial 2

Although you can visit the Pearl Harbor historic sites on your own, there are many advantages to doing it through a tour, like the one offered by Outrigger Activities:

  • Visit all the sites on one tour bus and avoid driving and parking issue in town
  • Admission to the USS Arizona is free but tickets are limited and availability is on a first come, first served basis. Our guide was able to make arrangements for us ahead of time.
  • Access to Ford Island (where you’ll find the Pacific Aviation Museum, USS Oklahoma Memorial and the Battleship Missouri Memorial) is restricted to their shuttle buses and some tour buses, like ours. This meant we didn’t have to change vehicles. You should note that you are not allowed bags of any kind, including purses on Ford Island. There is an unsecure locker area but I would recommend not bringing anything that can’t fit into your pockets.
  • Our guide provided us with interesting and informative information throughout our tour. Even on the bus ride to Pearl Harbor he pointed out the mountain pass where the first and second attacks came in.

If you are taking the kids on a tour of Pearl Harbor, some elements not to miss for kid appeal:

  • The Pearl Harbor museum has some interesting scale models as well as a few hands on activities to interest kids.
  • The USS Bowfin Submarine gives kids a first hand experience of what it would be like on a submarine. This wasn’t part of our tour but I’m sure the kids would have loved exploring a submarine.
  • Near the USS Bowinfin Park there are many artifacts like a periscope system, guns and torpedoes kids will be fascinated by. Some are hands on that they can actually sit on or in.
  • The boat shuttle over to the USS Arizona Memorial and seeing the remnants of the USS Arizona in the water.
  • Exploring the USS Missouri to get a sense of what being on a battleship was like.
  • Print the Junior Ranger Activity book as a fun way for kids to learn more about the USS Arizona.

family travel pearl harbor museum2

family travel pearl harbor museum

Although visiting the various historic sites of Pearl Harbor is probably not something I would visit multiple times, it is definitely worth a visit at least once, especially if you’re visiting with kids. Being at Pearl Harbor in person, hearing live accounts, seeing the actual wreckage and watching the footage, really brought something only seen in movies to life, making it very real.

FREE Souvenir Tip: Before mailing your souvenir postcards from your Pearl Harbor visit, be sure to visit the gift shop and get the cancel stamp added. You can choose from a number of the different historic sites and it’s FREE. We mailed postcards to the kids’ classrooms and had the USS Arizona cancelation added. This made a great conversation starter at school when the postcards arrived.

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