Stumbling through the Mariners Museum

Sometimes, in our travels, we are fortunate enough to revisit places where we have been before. It’s always interesting to come back to a place we remember. It’s even more interesting to visit a place we visited but don’t remember. Elizabeth, who was born at the Portsmouth Naval Base in Virginia, doesn’t recall her first visit to the Mariners’ Museum at Newport News, but our family visit  in 2015 was a memorable and educational trip that we all enjoyed, and we highly recommend the site to anyone who  gets the chance to visit.

It is a good idea to plan plenty of time to visit the Museum, as it encompasses several different areas that are in-depth and educational for the whole family. The Monitor Center is certainly a highlight. This section is dedicated to the USS Monitor, the famous ironclad ship whose Civil War exploits are featured in this amazing center that is an entire museum in itself, including numerous artifacts and both the actual turret of the ironclad, in the process of being conserved, and a full-scale replica of the piece as it appeared when it was found. There is also an exciting  multi-sensory experience depicting the famous ironclad battle against the CSS Virginia.

In addition to this section, though, the museum also features an incredible array of model ships, nautical artifacts, and actual vessels that tell the story of seafaring from its earliest days to the present. The museum is beautifully organized, so that one can visit the heydey of the British Navy with Lord Nelson in one area, travel back to the earliest days of exploration and discovery in another gallery, and then learn about the incredible history of the U.S. Navy in yet another gallery. And those are just a few of the museum’s beautifully presented subject areas.

At the time of our visit, there was a great traveling exhibit on the coffee trade (Elizabeth still has the coffee sachet that we made as part of the hands-on program), as well as a wonderful section dedicated to the experience of being shipwrecked. In this area, Elizabeth particularly enjoyed getting in the Titanic replica lifeboat, though she was also very taken with the personal items, artifacts that once belonged to sailors, that were collected from the Monitor (and yes, the coffee section. Yay, coffee!). Isabella enjoyed the deep-sea exploration activities and beautiful ships’ figureheads, and Nate liked the model ships and the ancient navigational tools. Michael was, of course, very impressed with the Monitor exhibit, though he was disappointed to learn that only a week after our visit, the conservation tank was briefly drained, so that lucky visitors who were there that day were able to see the actual turret out of its watery cocoon. We could only squint at it through the water instead of seeing it “up close.”

There is something at the Mariners’ Museum for everyone, and it’s a full day’s worth of museum, so pack a picnic (there is a park if weather permits enjoying it). The cafe is currently not open, so bring your provisions with you, Matey! To learn more about the Mariners’ Museum, including hours and current exhibits, visit

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