For all Hawaii has to offer, nothing is more iconic to the state than Pearl Harbor. From all of its various Memorials to the exhibits and Remembrance Circle, Pearl Harbor is a remarkable sight of historical significance. Catching its true wonder, however, is a two stage process requiring both the foot tour at the site, and an aerial tour with us.
One of the first Memorials you can directly interact with upon arrival, is the USS Bowfin, which has a nominal fee to enter. You get a guided audio tour
on headphones to inform you about the sections of the ship, and overall it really did help with the immersive experience. Slinking around the cramped submarine can be slightly claustrophobic, but walking around outside on the deck you almost forget how small the inside actually is.
Speaking of perspective, if your next stop is the USS Battleship Missouri (with a slightly more nominal fee), prepare to be blown away. The size of the deck and cannons on the USS Bowfin were impressive, but nothing can compare to the 15+ floors/levels of the USS Battleship Missouri, replete with a veritable armada of cannons and gunnery. It is easy to get lost in and lose scale of where you are while in the USS Battleship Missouri, opposite to the case of the USS Bowfin, but the real magic is when you can see these two things, in comparison, from the sky. While you can sort of understand the size and scale of the warships from the ground, seeing them from above, in contrast to the land around them, staggers the mind.
Getting to the USS Battleship Missouri, among a couple other attractions, requires taking a free and well-paced bus over to Ford Island. This islet was used as a fertility ritual site by the native Hawaiians until missionaries put a stop to it in the 1830s. By the 1930s, the islet had converted into a strategic center of operations for the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Ocean, and was the focal point of attack during the assault on Pearl Harbor. Knowing this information, and then being able to see it from above and realize the scope of the entire situation and compare the sizes of the islet, to the battleship, to the submarine, was an unforgettable experience.
As a final Memorial to note, the Arizona Memorial, which commemorates the USS Arizona and its crew as they received the brunt of the attack during Pearl Harbor (it was launched out of the water and fell back in on its side), is definitely worth seeing. However, from sea level, even going out on the boat (which is a not-so-nominal fee), it’s a bit hard to see the whole picture as you have such a shallow angle to the water; when you shift angles and view it from the sky, everything changes. From above you can clearly see the outline of the USS Arizona, as well as the outlines of multiple other sunken ships and wrecks. The contrast between the two points of view cannot be understated, as a ballpark figure, you see about 80% more approaching the site from the air.
Overall, the combination of the land and air tours is akin to a meal of complementary parts. While each on their own are fine in their own respects, the melding of the two creates a unique experience that most simply will miss out on.