Start at Nauticus (www.nauticus.org), the massive exploration center on the Elizabeth River. It’s all about everything on, under, and around water. Stand on the observation deck while watching ships and tugs sail by and learn about maritime commerce. Command a submersible exploration vehicle and collect samples via a robotic arm. Budding meteorologists analyze weather patterns, experience storms in a hurricane simulator and discover the latest in tsunami research. There are shark touch tanks and marine life labs for future marine biologists.
The battleship Wisconsin is berthed here. A self-guided tour is included in the admission fee. For an additional cost, the Topside Tour visits other areas, including the Captain’s Quarters and bridge. It’s a 90-minute tour for those 8 and up.
Norfolk is the world’s largest naval base. See the aircraft carriers, destroyers and subs from the water on a two-hour narrated cruise (www.navalbasecruises.com) or a 45-minute bus tour. If you’re lucky, one of the massive ships will be in the even more massive dry dock.
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Find a complete change of pace at The Chrysler Museum of Art (www.chrysler.org). The most kid-friendly gallery is the Ancient Worlds exhibit with its Egyptian mummies. There’s a create-your-own art studio too. Kids 10 years and older (and their parents) can take a class in glassblowing, flame working, or stained glass and finish with a unique souvenir.
The Norfolk Botanical Garden’s Children’s Adventure Garden (www.norfolkbotanicalgarden.org) is good for a half day. In good weather, get wet with the bubblers, foggers and sprays at the interactive play area. Elsewhere, there’s a “dirt factory” with an oversized treehouse where it’s all about bugs and soil, and a “living wall” edible garden.
There are lots of packages available, including some family-oriented ones which include admissions and lodging, at www.visitnorfolktoday.com.
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• Harborfest: This free festival features a tall ships sail-in, a “build a boat and will it float” contest, a tugboat muster, traditional Chesapeake Bay work boats and Saturday night fireworks. June 5 to 7
• Doumar’s: An ice-cream lover’s shrine, Doumar’s is where the waffle cone was invented. Enjoy ice cream floats and sundaes, hot dogs and burgers, all with curbside service. www.doumars.com
• Chocollage: Near Nauticus, this mother-and-daughter-owned bakery is famous for homemade desserts. www.chocollagebakerynorfolk.com
• Ocean View Pier: Fish off the pier, which stretches out over 1,600 feet into the Chesapeake Bay. You can rent or buy equipment and bait and there’s a restaurant too. Nearby Ocean View Beach has lifeguards, in season. www.oceanviewfishingpier.com
• Virginia Zoo: This zoo puts an emphasis on conservation and natural habitats for animals from Australia, Africa and Asia. www.virginiazoo.org
For more travel advice go to www.insightguides.com.