Pack Up the Family and the Dog
By Mary Bird
Hampton Roads, aka the Tidewater region of Virginia, provides multiple diversions for the entire family and the family pet.
A recent trip coincided with the 80th Annual Hampton Cup Regatta at Fort Monroe where more than 100 US and Canadian hydroplanes and runabouts compete in Mill Creek at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour. Think of NASCAR on the water.
Easily accessible from Washington, our visit began at the Hampton History Museum. Permanent exhibit galleries trace Hampton’s past from the Kecoughtan Indians to the arrival of Captain John Smith and the first English settlers, the demise of Blackbeard the Pirate, decisive moments in the Civil War, the growth of the seafood industry and the region’s role as the original home of NASA and training ground for the Mercury Seven astronauts.
The Virginia Air & Space Center houses a spectacular collection of flight and space-related artifacts. A new gallery highlights commercial, civil and military aviation as well as the origins of flight. Numerous interactive exhibits will delight children with a play area where young visitors can build a plane, ride in a simulator and climb into a cockpit to investigate flight. There is also a giant-screen 3-D IMAX theater.
The family can continue with a visit to the adjacent Hampton Carousel built in l920 and one of only 170 working antique carousels in the country. It has been fully restored and enjoys its own pavilion where all can hop aboard for a nostalgic ride.
Steps away we found the Cousteau Society US Headquarters which showcases world-renowned underwater photographs, models of the famous Cousteau research vessels Calypso and Alcyone, as well as past and present diving equipment. Other highlights include a shark cage, dauntingly small decompression chamber and Fiat jeep bearing enduring dents from a rhinoceros charge.
The waterfront is also the departure point of the doubled-decked Miss Hampton II tour boat that offers narrated cruises of the Hampton Roads Harbor passing historic points including an up close look at the awesome ships and submarines berthed at Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base.
On the return portion our guide gave an in-depth narrative of the historic sea battle between the Monitor and the Virginia.
A must-see is the Hampton University Museum founded in l868 at this historical institute of higher learning for newly freed people. The grounds include the Emancipation Oak, where it is believed that President Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation was first read to the residents of Hampton. The museum houses the largest African-American art collection in the Southeastern US and much more.
Restaurants feature local seafood but unfortunately favor deep frying which tends to mask the flavor of the fresh catch for which the region is famous. We sampled the Bay View Raw Bar & Grill, Surf Rider, Marker 20 plus Pier 21 and Oyster Alley at the Radisson Hotel.
And now for fido’s travel with the family. In addition to a number of motels that roll out the canine welcome mat, Hampton offers two “bark parks” designated for four-footed exploration as well as Doggy Dayz Academy and Waging Tails Pet Nanny Service, a “Mutessori model” for doggy day care & training.
The Hampton Roads Convention and Visitors Bureau
Hampton Visitor Center
1-800-800-2202 toll free or
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Daily