The Lantern Floating Festival Hawaii is an emotional revelation only experienced on Memorial Day in Waikiki, specifically at Ala Moana Beach Park. As the website says, Memorial Day in America is a day when people remember and honor those who have fallen in service to their country. But this Shinnyo (Japanese) event is more about remembering passed loved ones, commemorating the dead, finding closure from people they have lost, and sending well wishes to those gone. The ceremony had a sensible mix of Hawaiian and Japanese traditions within the program, with the sounding of the pu (Hawaiian conch shell) to mark the commencement of the ceremony, to Her Holiness Shinso Ito’s bell ringing that signifies its time to float the lanterns.
I highly recommend that you attend, and if you do, this is what I would recommend for the day of the free event:
Get your floating lanterns sometime in the morning at the same place you’ll be attending the event later that night, Ala Moana Beach Park. There is a shopping mall across the street that you can park at so that you can walk across the street and get in line. Some people wait the day before or super early in the morning to get a lantern, but you definitely don’t need to go to that extreme. The times for getting the lanterns are from 10 am to 3:30 pm, and I arrived around 10:30 am to see a massive line that snaked throughout the park. Don’t worry, the line moves much faster than you think. I was told by one of the attendants that by noon there is no line and that there’s still plenty of lanterns left to pick up. So up to you if you want to wait it out a little bit.
Once you get to the pickup tent, they aren’t really strict about how many lanterns you get. But me mindful that there are other people that would like the chance to float a lantern as well. There are 3 sides of the lantern you can write messages on, so for us one lantern was enough. Actually, our group of 6 were able to fit all our notes onto one lantern. Right after you receive your lantern, there are guides and stations that can help you build your lantern. You should think of it as a mini-Ikea project, and it’s very simple to setup.
When you return later that night, you have a few options in terms of parking. You can park again at the shopping mall across the street, but as we were leaving the event later that night, it looked pretty bad getting out. The Hawaiian Convention Center, which is 0.5 miles away, was a better option I thought. The parking is free that day, and there are small shuttles that go back and forth before and after the event. But after the event, you might as well walk back because the shuttles looked like they were in gridlock.
I would recommend getting to the event around 6:15 pm at the latest. By the time we got there, which was close to the 6:30 pm show time, it was packed. There were some people camping out with grills, some had picnic blankets, and some had canopies. However, don’t let the crowd intimidate you from walking in further into the crowd. This event starts and gets broadcasted from 6:30-7:30 pm, and people don’t float the lanterns until closer to 7 pm. Everyone is very respectful and polite when it came to floating the lantern. For the most part, a majority of the people that came were there to be viewers of the event. Just be aware, it’s a very emotional experience. It’s a time when people remember loved ones that have passed. Be kind and polite to others around you during this time.
When floating your lantern, make sure you are wearing swim shorts or clothing you don’t mind getting wet. You have be at least knee deep in the water to be able to have your lantern float out.
If you would like to be a bystander and just view the floating lanterns, there is a viewing area behind the stage. It gave a nice angled view of the floating lanterns from afar, but it also felt like an overflow area where people can go and not be in the bulk of the crowds.
Overall, this experience was surreal. It really becomes heartfelt when you see people sending messages off to their loved ones as a form of therapy or a way to finding closure. For more information about this event, go to Lantern Floating Hawaii.
If you are looking for a place to stay during this event, we stayed at the Westin Moana Surfrider. It’s a historical building in the heart of Waikiki Beach, known as the “First Lady of Waikiki”. I’ve stayed at this hotel twice now, and I’m never disappointed with the oceanfront views. If you’re looking for amazing views of the beach and ocean from your room, I’d recommend requesting Room 224. The beach and ocean views were insanely picturesque! If you also love afternoon tea, the Moana Surfrider is known in Waikiki for their beautiful tea service on their terrace. If you’re more of a coffee person, there is a Honolulu Coffee Company right next door to the hotel that serve delicious iced lattes. For the most part, the beach is public. However, there is a sliver of private beach with lounge chairs designated for Westin guests that are a few feet from the hotel. But these lounge chairs do get taken up real fast. The pool is also small and was packed when I would walk by it everyday. If you are a Platinum Marriott member or higher, don’t expect much in terms of status recognition here. And the entire staff is very stringent on rules and policies of the hotel’s rewards program, with rarely any leniency in deviation from it. I’ve tried and failed many times at this hotel. This hotel also has a club lounge available to Platinum members and higher. But again, they’re very good at monitoring who comes and goes in there, so set your expectations appropriately if you’re trying to bring in more than one guest. This could have been because we were there for Memorial Day, since it was a zoo at the hotel (there were 4 weddings, tourists all over the place, etc). So you might have better luck during the off-season.