Planning ahead for a USS Arizona Memorial visit

The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.
The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Photo Credit: Everett Historical/
Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Oahu visitors planning a trip to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor have long been warned about lengthy lines and wearisome wait times, but an Internet system introduced a few years ago, enabling travelers to reserve tickets online before their visit, has helped those in the know avoid some of the attraction’s crowd-related frustration.

That online ticketing system, accessible through, has become so popular, however, that reserving a seat on the boat taking folks from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center out to the Arizona should probably now be done a couple months in advance.

“The tickets for reservation go up [online] two months in advance, and they are often reserved quickly,” said Julia Clebsch, the acting chief of interpretation for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Pearl Harbor.

“If you know two months in advance that you’re coming, and you want to visit the USS Arizona Memorial,” she continued, “then I’d try to reserve right then.”

Clebsch noted that the timing of an Oahu visit will play a significant role in the online availability for tickets to the Arizona Memorial, which has averaged about 1.2 million annual visitors in recent years. Peak summer months and the holiday season around Christmas and New Year’s are typically the destination’s most busy travel periods, so planning ahead for those dates makes great sense.

But even shoulder-season online reservations options can be limited. I checked the site last week and found that the earliest online reservation I could make for a boat trip out to the Arizona Memorial was for late afternoon on Oct. 10.  

It’s important to remember, of course, that each day National Park Service officials keep 1,300 Arizona Memorial tour tickets available to distribute on a first-come-first-served basis, starting at 7 a.m. when the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center opens. But during peak seasons, people typically start lining up for those as early as 6 a.m., according to Clebsch.

“During the busiest season during the summer, we might be out of [walk-in] tickets at 8 a.m. or 8:30, 9 o’clock,” she said. “They go really, really fast.”  

Shoulder-season walk-in tickets usually don’t disappear at that rate, and visitors arriving later in the day may well have no problem getting a seat on one of the afternoon boats.

“Contrary to popular rumor, you don’t have to be there two hours in advance and wait in line year round,” Clebsch told me last week. “That’s during the busiest season. This time of year at the end of the day, we still have tickets available.”

Travelers keen to get on a morning boat trip out to the Arizona during the shoulder season may be out of luck, though, if they sleep in.

“One of the things that happens this time of year is people will stroll in at say 10 a.m., and they won’t be able to get a ticket until the 1 p.m. boat,” Clebsch explained. “So there is the need to plan for the possibility that you’re not going to get right on the boat.”

There’s certainly plenty to enjoy out at Pearl Harbor, including exploring the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine and the Pacific Aviation Museum — all of which are accessible via a free shuttle leaving regularly from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. And the visitor center itself offers two wonderful museums loaded with first-rate exhibitions, interactive experiences and gripping first-person video accounts about the events leading up to and occurring on Dec. 7, 1941.

Oahu visitors considering a last-minute trip out to the Arizona should also know that National Park officials make 300 next-day tickets for the boat trip out to the memorial available starting right at 7 a.m. daily through the online reservations system. So travelers can scoop up last-minute tickets if they can get online early and book at the site the day before they want to head out to Pearl Harbor.  

“Those go really, really quickly,” Clebsch said of the next-day Arizona Memorial tickets available online. “But if you’re on at 7 a.m., you stand a good chance.”

Tickets are free for the USS Arizona Memorial tour, which takes an hour and 15 minutes and includes an extraordinary 23-minute documentary about the events of Dec. 7, 1941. There is a $1.50 service charge for reserving a maximum of six tickets online, which need to be picked up a minimum of one hour prior to the scheduled tour start time at the visitor center.

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