For most people, coming to Oahu to visit Pearl Harbor is something that requires a lot of planning. It’s also not cheap. The flights tend to be long and costly; preparations and packing can be time consuming; and scrolling through dozens of different tour options can feel like a full-time job. Given all that, you can imagine how disheartening it can be when you do finally embark on a new experience only to find it’s not at all what you were expecting. Unfortunately, this sort of disappointment can easily happen if you opt for the wrong kind of Pearl Harbor tour. Let’s look at some of the Pearl Harbor “tours” to avoid. We’re using the term “tour” loosely, and want to ensure you don’t get hoodwinked into any one of these too-good-to-be-true traps.
Pearl Harbor Shuttles
Beware of operators who show up in Waikiki offering round-trip shuttle service to and from Pearl Harbor. While some are legit, many Pearl Harbor shuttles have been known to drop off their passengers and never come back for the return trip. This, of course, is despite guests arranging—and paying for—a pick-up at Pearl Harbor. You might save a little money by opting for a shuttle service, but there are many things you don’t get. High on that list? Tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial Program and the other attractions. You also miss out on one of the biggest benefits of an official Pearl Harbor tour: a guide who provides a wealth of information and clear directions on how to get the most out of your time at Pearl Harbor.
Going on a Pearl Harbor tour that offers live narration in multiple languages is basically cheating yourself out of at least half the amount of information you’d get on a tour presented in only one language. The drive to Pearl Harbor from Waikiki is only about 25-30 minutes, so if half of that time is spent listening to a language you don’t understand, you’re clearly missing out on a lot of information!
Imagine embarking on a tour with 65 other people. At first glance, that might not seem so bad. A large motorcoach offers plenty of space, and you’re sure to be comfortable. But then comes the time to disembark. The single-file line slowly creeps down the center aisle, eating into your precious tour time. The same happens when you’re done with that site and have to get back onto the bus. With our minibuses and smaller groups, everybody is on and off within just a couple of minutes, if even that. If you’re spending too much of your time waiting for a bus to be loaded or unloaded, you’re not getting your money’s worth.
As they say, nothing in life is truly free. Though the bottom line may show a zero, you’re going to pay for that tour one way or another. Do you really want to spend any portion of your time in Hawaii sitting through a timeshare presentation? Of course not, but that is one way you’ll pay for a “free” Pearl Harbor tour. Do you want waste time on a stop at some cheesy—sometimes shady—souvenir shop? “Free” is usually just a marketing ploy. Don’t fall for it. In every case, you’re paying one way or another. This is one of the worst “tours” to avoid.
Another of the “tours” to avoid are those offered by unscrupulous taxi drivers who make a living by knowing exactly what to say in order to maximize their tips. It’s usually not a good idea to listen when they say they can give you a tour of Pearl Harbor. Sure, any taxi can pull up to Pearl Harbor and drop off their passengers, and if you opted for the Passport to Pearl Harbor, a taxi isn’t a bad way to get yourself there. But beyond simple transportation, it’s highly unlikely that a taxi driver can give you a real Pearl Harbor tour. You still have to secure your own tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial program, for example, and very few—if any—taxi drivers are authorized by the US Navy to drive across the Admiral Clarey Bridge to Ford Island.
The Advantages of an Official Pearl Harbor Tour
When you book an official Pearl Harbor tour—and we definitely urge you to—you’ll enjoy these benefits:
- Round-trip transportation
- Knowledgeable tour guide
- Guaranteed access to the USS Arizona Memorial program
- Tickets for all memorials, exhibits, and museums included in each specific tour
Other offerings differ depending on the tour. Some may offer a lunch upgrade while others may have a luxury option with upgraded transportation. What you won’t get with an official tour is the headache and regrets that come with any of the above-mentioned Pearl Harbor “tours” to avoid.