We went to the Mariners' Museum last week with our three sons, ages 15, 14 and 10. They are all into everything maritime, so this was right up their alley! There is no shortage of things to see at this museum, and the coolest part is the restoration work they're doing on pieces of the USS Monitor, the Union's first ironclad, put into service in the Civil War. Also featured prominently is the USS Virginia, the Confederates' ironclad, which they repurposed out of the USS Merrimac, a wooden ship. The creation of these two ironclads meant the end of wooden warships, which were incredibly vulnerable to these nearly impenetrable ships.
On December 31, 1862 I believe, the Monitor sank off the coast from Cape Hatteras in a vicious storm. It took 120 years for it to be found, and the first item brought up was the last item seen as it sank: the distress lantern that glowed red as the ship was tossed about by the sea. The museum is working on restoring several metal pieces of the ship to remove more than a century of marine deposits and to stabilize the metal so it won't dry out and decay. Monday through Friday, visitors can watch the work they're doing, especially on the huge gun turret, which is filled to the rim with saline water to protect it at all other times. We went on a Saturday and would have gone the day before had we known, so plan ahead!
The Mariners' Museum has a LOT of info about ships used before and during the Civil War, with both placards and interactive displays. I found the running vignettes broadcast overhead through ceiling speakers to be very distracting; it was hard to concentrate to read detailed info about the ships and the engineers who designed them. You can turn off the screen videos, but not the overhead audio, and I really, really wanted to. It was bothersome enough to drop my rating of this museum by 1 star. My husband, an engineer, was the only one able to concentrate well enough to read it all!!
There are some interesting films about the clash between the Monitor and the Virginia, and the films do a better job presenting the information. It is repetitive compared to the written placards, so if your kids aren't readers or you get bogged down with all of the placards, watch the films instead.
There are also some interactive features, including a really cool computer game where you build your own ironclad to see if it's seaworthy and formidable. One of my boys built a "USS Adequate" and eventually created a "USS Awesome"! You can choose your build structure and materials, your armament, etc. Very cool.
Because of the heat we tired out before exploring everything, even though it was all indoors (this was during the daily 100+ degree heat wave), but there's another hall my husband explored with more modern ship models that he said were spectacular. We were there for 3 hours and still didn't see everything, but had we realized how much the films repeated what was in the placards, we would have skipped reading so much and would have seen more.
You can find 2-for-1 coupons in the Hampton Roads Entertainment book! We paid $29 for the five of us with the two coupons in the book.