Walking across the dock to Nauticus, visitors' eyes are inevitably drawn to the sleeping giant nestled up alongside it: the 850-foot battleship Wisconsin. One of the largest battleships ever built by the United States Navy, its massive, 16-inch guns lent their firepower to WWII, Korea, and Operation Desert Storm. The hulking warship is now retired, its gigantic mass a testament to both its immense power and the strength of the open ocean whose waves it once plied.
This dichotomy between peaceful repose and thundering wrath is fully embraced by Nauticus, immersing visitors in exhibits that explore the ocean and man’s use of it at their most peaceful and destructive. On the Wisconsin, visitors can tour crew messes and officer lounges, getting a taste of naval life. Inside the center, permanent exhibits include Our Mighty Seaport, which delves into Norfolk's busy maritime commerce, with real-time updates on ships sailing past and an observation deck overlooking the port. Turning to nature, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Science on a Sphere exhibit simulates extreme weather conditions on a 6-foot video sphere. In Horseshoe Crab Cove, visitors can pet starfish, crabs, and sea urchins without having to take turns with nearby seagulls.
Following Memorial Day weekend, the Nauticus will host new features to their exhibits such as access to new interior areas of the battleship [Wisconsin], including the chapel, post office, a section of enlisted berthing, and dental office, a WWII era song and dance revue, and an interactive top secret mission on board the ship.
Twelve acres of lush greenery welcome guests to the Hermitage Museum and Gardens' graceful grounds and turn-of-the-century Tudor mansion, which hosts an eclectic collection of arts and crafts spanning more than 5,000 years. Your membership permits unlimited exploration of William and Florence K. Sloane's vast permanent collection, scattered throughout 42 of their home's elegant walnut, oak, and teak rooms. Take a look at a treasure trove of ancient Chinese ceremonial bronzes and mingqi (tomb figures), Indian Chola bronze statues, European ceramics and paintings, or needlepoint representations of the Little Rascals as adults. Avid art collectors, the Sloane family dedicated 50 years to spreading their passion for craftioneering to the community and helped break ground for the nearby Chrysler Museum.
Before visitors to the AZA-accredited Virginia Zoo see any of its live animals, a life-size statue of an African elephant greets them. The zoo's 53 acres of landscaped grounds have welcomed new sculptures, enclosures, and eco-friendly innovations in recent decades that build on a 100-year legacy of conservation.
Mammals such as African lions and kangaroos, birds such as rhino hornbills and African crowned cranes, and a variety of snakes and amphibians roam themed habitats—some of which are interactive or equipped with viewing bubbles that protect visitors from any monkeys with paintball guns. Visitors can view these protected creatures by walking or by taking a narrated ride on the Zoo Train, a one-third scale working model of a C.P. Huntington steam engine. Zoo staffers work to preserve 16 of the resident species through cooperative breeding, field projects, and reintroduction initiatives as part of the AZA's Species Survival Programs.
Each year, Virginia Zoo staff and volunteers work together to design and plant 10 themed gardens filled with colorful exotic plants, many of which are given as treats to their 400 animals. In the garden, visitors can learn about composting, using rain barrels, and ticketing littering garden gnomes. Projects, such as recycling old tires into planters and industrial spools into stepping stones, teach children about reuse, too. The zoo also builds on its conservation efforts with an array of environmental conservation programs. Staffers use only natural rainfall and drip irrigation to water the gardens, establish rain gardens to absorb runoff, and educate visitors on environmentally friendly gardening practices in the eco-garden—earning the zoo a designation as a Virginia Green attraction.
The Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in Portsmouth showcases 20 varieties of sport in a kid-friendly interactive environment. Spar with offspring in imbibing information about national pastimes such as basketball, baseball, football, soccer, auto racing, and auto racing-soccer. The exhibits focus on game-changing people, moments, and events in collegiate athletics, Olympic contenders, infamous moments, medicine and health, and the media. Admission for children aged 2 and younger is free.
Peninsula Fine Arts Center isn't a passive art museum where guests stare silently at paintings and statues. Instead, the center uses rotating exhibitions of paintings, photographs, and pottery to inspire visitors to create their own artwork. To that end, the exhibiting artists often teach in the center's Studio Art School. Classes range from single-day workshops to 10-week sessions, during which instructors might teach small groups to paint with watercolors or change out a flat pottery wheel. The instructors keep their schedule balanced, leading classes that suit all ages and skill levels. Other classes, such as Little Helping Hands Adventure in Clay, let kids and adults create artwork together.
Kids don't need to sign up for classes to try out their art skills, however. In the Hands On for Kids interactive gallery, young patrons draw on a chalkboard wall, build with blocks, and complete various projects inspired by the exhibitions.
The Mariners' Museum puts nautical adventure on display with a treasure chest of oceanic artifacts. With either deal, you'll get unlimited admission to the museum. Tickle your grey matter with its outstanding exhibition: artifacts from the USS Monitor, an ironclad ship that battled bravely and sunk during the Civil War’s Battle of Hampton Roads. Or, see exquisite sea-inspired art and thousands of meticulously crafted ship models, which were occasionally used in the Keebler Elves' royal navy. Visitors can also stroll through The Mariners’ Museum Park, which is one of the largest privately-owned and -maintained public parks in the country. Members also receive the following benefits: