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 by: Princess Diva

American Flag on USS Arizona Memorial
When you book a vacation at Aulani, there are tons of excursions and tours that you can schedule during your stay.  We had to choose carefully because we were bringing our 2 year old with us.  An all day hiking or scuba diving adventure just wasn’t going to fit for this trip (these are outside companies for the most part…we found that some of them had different rules than were stated on the Aulani site…check the company’s site too…more on that later).  

We knew that while we were in Hawaii, we wanted to see Pearl Harbor (it’s the teacher in me…we have to do something educational on just about every vacation).  I was SO glad that we took the time to do this excursion; I could never have imagined the effect Pearl Harbor would have on my children.

The tour I booked picked us up bright and early on a Friday morning (the only day we intentionally woke up early).  Get there early…when we arrived, we were one of the first groups there and during the summer months, there are only a limited number of tickets available.  When we left, it was packed!  We had the greatest driver who insisted we call her Auntie…this is a custom of calling elders Auntie and Uncle.  It was about a 45 minute drive which passed quickly.  

We went around the small bus and introduced ourselves and told why we were at Aulani.  Our driver was full of great information and facts about the island and Pearl Harbor…did you know that 23 sets of brothers died aboard the USS Arizona and that 9 quarts of oil spill from the ship every day…70 years later!  She told us how our tour would work once we arrived.  She also gave the boys Jr. Ranger activity books to complete during their visit to Pearl Harbor (bring pencils…we had to search high and low to find some for the boys).  Our bus parked and our driver walked in with us and gave us our tickets.  You cannot bring in any bags or purses…including diaper bags.  There are lockers available if you need them.  We would have two hours before we needed to be back at the bus (this is not nearly enough time to see everything). 

Disney Brothers filling in their Jr. Ranger guides
We began our self guided tour thanks to the Jr. Ranger guides right in front of the gift shop.  There are audio tours that cost a bit extra that we would have loved to do if time would have permitted.  Of the two hours that we had at Pearl Harbor, we only had an hour for the boys to finish their books.  We quickly made our way through the exhibits and got in line for our movie.  

The movie (about 30 minutes) explains what was happening in WWII and how the attack on Pearl Harbor drew Americans into the war.  Use your judgment with your children (Disney Baby started to get antsy, and this hits on some sensitive materials…we thought that it was important for the Disney Brothers to see).  As we left the theater and boarded our boat to take us to the memorial, I noticed that Oldest Disney Brother was crying.  We asked what was wrong, and he told us that he couldn’t understand why someone would do something like that to other people.  He said he couldn’t imagine having his family experience something so horrible.  This turned into such a great teaching moment…not to mention a proud mommy moment).  

USS Missouri and USS Arizona Memorial
What is left of one of the USS Arizona gun towers
A short 5 minute ride is all it takes to get to the actual memorial.  Diva Tip: Wait until you are leaving to get your pictures at the entrance of the memorial, otherwise you clog up the doorway for everyone AND on when you are leaving, grab a seat in the back of the boat for a shot of the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri together…this is called the bookend shot.  I wish that my pictures could do this place justice or that my words could fully describe the feeling and emotion that you feel while here.   
One of the things I heard over and over was how small Pearl Harbor really is.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was hard to believe that so much devastation happened in such a small area!  

Remind children to whisper on the memorial…this is a very emotional and solemn place.  We slowly walked through the memorial, trying to take in all that we could.  We read the wall of names of each person that lost their lives that day.  Did you know that survivors of the USS Arizona can choose their final resting place along side their shipmates…divers will place their ashes beneath on of the Arizona’s gun turrets?

Names of servicemen that lost their lives
After a few more pictures, we made our way back to the boat to head back to the bus.  The boys took their completed ranger journals to the ranger’s desk where they were checked and there they were sworn in and given their own badges. 
The whole family agreed that this was one of our favorite parts of the trip!  This is a must do.  

I believe that everyone needs to experience this place, but do NOT take a tour (there has been a second tour that was added to the Aulani excursion options that allows a little more time); explore it on your own.  This means that you will need to take a cab, rent a car, or call a car service to get there and back.  The Battleship Missouri Memorial is available to tour, as well as the USS Bowfin Submarine.  Neither of which we were able to see because we didn’t have time.

There is a snack shop that offers snacks, drinks, and sandwiches which is nice since the park encourages guests to pack light.  Strollers are also allowed within the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (the name of the national park where the memorials are all located), but they have to be left outside of the theater.  They are not allowed in the theater or on the boats to the USS Arizona Memorial.

I am so glad that the kids wanted to do the Jr. Ranger program.  I think that with the short amount of time that we had, we were able to see some of the most important things.  
Disney Brothers after getting their ranger badges
There are still some Pearl Harbor survivors that you can find there on a daily basis and they LOVE to talk!  Find one and talk to a real life hero!
Do you like to incorporate educational activities into your Disney vacations?