Pearl Harbor’s #1 attraction is a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial. The Memorial straddles the original USS Arizona, sunken in the harbor’s depths ever since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Since the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is run by the National Park Service, the movie and boat tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial are free.
The only downside is that getting the free tickets is a confusing and difficult-to-understand process that I’ll explain in detail below. By the end of this post, I hope you all become experts!
Aloha with love,
Local Tip: There are a lot of blog posts out there about how to get free tickets to Pearl Harbor. In reality, the free stuff is a very small fraction of all the activities and attractions available. To make sure you’re getting the right tickets, tours and information, read my Visitor’s Guide to Pearl Harbor so you don’t miss out.
- What’s free at Pearl Harbor?
- Rules for free tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial
- Paid Pearl Harbor tours that are worth your money
- What to expect from your free tickets
What’s Free At Pearl Harbor?
When you first enter Pearl Harbor, you’ll be entering into the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, AKA Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which is run by the National Park Service. Most everything that falls under the Pearl Harbor National Memorial jurisdiction is free:
- Parking is free. There are several parking spaces, but it does fill up fast during peak hours. You can park here even if you are visiting the other Historic Sites – USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, USS Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
- Admission into Pearl Harbor National Memorial/Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is free. You won’t be asked to pay an entrance fee when you walk in.
- 2 free museums. These museums are right next to each other near the theatre and you’re free to read and explore at your leisure.
- Walking through the Visitor Center is free. There are a variety of plaques, information boards, maps, statues, etc. scattered about the area. All of this background information allows you to visualize the Pearl Harbor attack as you walk along the harbor shoreline.
- The free movie and boat ticket to the USS Arizona Memorial is limited and highly recommended. You can only obtain these tickets in advance online or on the day of your Pearl Harbor visit on a first-come, first-served basis.
- The USS Oklahoma Memorial and USS Utah Memorial fall under the Pearl Harbor National Memorial umbrella; however, both Memorials are located on Ford Island. If you are visiting the USS Battleship Missouri Memorial, you can walk over to the USS Oklahoma Memorial in about a minute. The Utah Memorial can only be reached if you are driving into Ford Island in your own vehicle (requires a Military ID). Both are free to visit and view.
Rules For Free Tickets To The USS Arizona Memorial
There are 3 ways to obtain the movie and boat tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial for free:
- Online 60 days in advance of your Pearl Harbor visit.
- Online 1 day in advance of your Pearl Harbor visit.
- First come, first served on the day of your Pearl Harbor visit.
If you’d like to book your tickets in advance online, go to the “Pearl Harbor Historic Sites (USS Arizona)” tour page on Recreation.Gov. On this site you have 4 tour choices:
- USS Arizona Memorial: Free movie and boat ticket
- USS Arizona Memorial + Narrated Headset: Free movie and boat ticket + Narrated Tour
- USS Arizona Memorial + Passport Package: Free movie and boat ticket + Passport to Pearl Harbor
- USS Arizona Memorial Deluxe Tour: Free movie and boat ticket + Narrated Tour (deluxe version) + Virtual Reality Center
If you need step-by-step instructions for reserving your free movie and boat tickets from Recreation.Gov, this video will show you how to do it:
Local Tip: Although these online tickets are “free,” be aware that you will be charged a $1.00 “service fee” per guest. This service fee and any additional tours that you choose to purchase on Recreation.Gov is nonrefundable. It’s also good to know that 100% of the money you pay here goes back to support the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and National Park Service.
Option 1 – Booking 60 days in advance
Let’s pretend that you’re going to Pearl Harbor on November 30, 2019. The first round of free movie and boat tickets are uploaded to Recreation.Gov on October 1, 2019 7 AM Hawaii Standard Time – exactly 60 days earlier. So if you’re going to Pearl Harbor on December 1, 2019, the tickets will be uploaded on October 2, 2019. On December 2, 2019, you’ll check back in on October 3, 2019, and so on.
If you miss the 60-day mark, check Recreation.Gov anyways because some tickets may still be available to reserve. Any remaining tickets will remain available until sold or the day of your visit (where they’ll become walk-up only tickets).
Option 2 – Booking 1 day in advance
The second round of free movie and boat tickets are uploaded to Recreation.Gov the day before your intended Pearl Harbor visit date. For example, if you are going to Pearl Harbor on November 30, 2019, the second batch of tickets will be uploaded November 29, 2019 7 AM Hawaii Standard Time. These sell out much more quickly than the 60-day tickets, so set your alarms.
Option 3 – Walk-up tickets (my preferred method)
The 3rd and easiest option that I personally prefer is to just walk in and get your movie and boat tickets. The entrance opens promptly at 7 AM so at 6:45 AM I’m in line. Once they start letting you in, the line moves quickly and the free tickets are passed out chronologically, first come, first served. Also, the $1.00 service fee does not apply here.
There are several reasons why I prefer coming early to get my free tickets:
- The National Park Service staff pass out those early 7:30 AM, 7:45 AM, 8:00 AM, etc. movie and boat tickets first. That means if I’m walking in at 7:00 AM, I get to do the 75-minute USS Arizona Memorial movie and boat program right away. Then I have the rest of the day to do whatever I want. It’s extremely stressful if you’re on Ford Island visiting the USS Battleship Missouri Memorial or Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum knowing that you need to skip a few exhibits in order to get back for your designated movie and boat time.
- Although uncommon, I’ve been in the situation where the boat rides have been cancelled the rest of the day due to high winds or bad weather. The morning boat rides tend to be much more calm.
- It’s highly possible that you’ll still get a free movie and boat ticket if you walk in at 10:00 AM. However, it’s also highly possible that your free movie and boat ticket will be later in the day at 2:00 PM or even 3:00 PM. That’s a really long time to wait.
Local Tip: Another way you can possibly get a free movie and boat ticket is to wait at the movie theatre. Once they’ve let everyone with a ticket in, they’ll start to let standby visitors inside right before the movie begins. This works best later in the afternoon.
Paid Pearl Harbor Tours That Are Worth Your Money
There are so many Pearl Harbor tours out there that it’s hard to know which ones are worth your time and money. Here are the two that I personally recommend:
Narrated Tour for $7.50: This is a National Park Service-approved audio tour that you can take with you and listen as you walk through the 2 museums, around the Visitor Center, into the theatre, on the boat and into the USS Arizona Memorial. The narration is packed with real survivor and witness interviews and you understand so much more of what happened on December 7, 1941. Basically, if you do the free things at Pearl Harbor, you’ll get a brief history lesson. But with the Narrated Tour, you’ll get transported back in time to 1941.
I’ve done the Narrated Tour maybe 3 times so far and I can say that it truly enhances your Pearl Harbor visit and I think most people are glad they chose to invest the $7.50. You gain so much from it. Plus, 100% of the proceeds goes back to support the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and National Park Service, so it’s a win-win.
Pearl Harbor Passport for $72: If you plan to spend the whole day at Pearl Harbor visiting all 4 of the Historic Sites, then this package is the one you want. Admission to the Bowfin, Missouri and Aviation Museum are included as well as the Narrated Tour and admission to the Virtual Reality Center (also approved by the National Park Service). It’s cheaper than if you were to purchase everything individually.
Book A Tour: Official Pearl Harbor Tours
What To Expect From Your Free Tickets
I cannot stress this enough – do not miss your assigned movie time. There is no possible way for the staff to fit you into the movie theatre when there’s a limited number of seating. The only possible resolution they can offer is a later showing if any tickets are still available.
Outside of the theatre, the staff will start lining people up based on their movie times. There’s no need to guess where you’ll be seated. You’ll file in from the back of the theatre and fill up seats in the same order that you were standing in line, front to back. There’s a good view of the screen no matter where you sit.
You’ll exit the theatre at the front and follow the path to the boat ferries. There’s a short safety speech, but the ride will be over before you know it. The visitors ramp leads up into the Arizona Memorial and from here you’re free to explore and take pictures at your leisure. You can spend as much time as you want here – just catch any ferry back to return to the visitor center.
Local Tip: Many people choose to bring a fresh flower lei or loose flowers with them to the Arizona Memorial. You can toss them into the water and watch the flowers float away.