The next time you’re in the Southern Bay, you’ll want to put these three Virginia maritime museums on your list. If you start in Deltaville, you could even hit all three museums in one weekend.

virginia maritime museums
Put these three Virginia maritime museums on your bucket list. You can even visit all three in one weekend. Photo courtesy of the Deltaville Maritime Museum

Deltaville Maritime Museum

Located in Deltaville, VA, the Deltaville Maritime Museum is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022. Its exhibits reveal the maritime history of the Deltaville area beginning with the catastrophic impact of the DelMarVa meteorite 35 million years ago and chronicle the more modern period of wooden boatbuilding in the area beginning in the late 1800s.

The museum and Holly Point Park was established in 2003 through the efforts of a dedicated and visionary group of local volunteers. In 2012, a fire destroyed the existing museum and events pavilion. Through a combination of insurance payments, grants, incredibly generous community support, and countless hours of volunteer labor, the museum and events pavilion were totally rebuilt in their current configuration. The new events pavilion opened in 2013. The museum re-opened in 2014 and was built in the style of Deltaville’s old Stingray Point Hotel (also known as the Old Red Barn).

If planning a visit to the museum, make sure you time it to coincide with one of the monthly Discovery Cruises. We recently caught with Capt. Pete Cardozo, who started the program back in 2010. 

Capt. Pete, who has held a 100-ton master’s license for 48 years, says, “I walked into the museum one day and they said, ‘Who are you?’ I said ‘I want to run your boat. Let’s bring the museum to life!’”

virginia maritime museums
The Deltaville Maritime Museum's Discovery Cruises program aims to "bring the museum to life." Photo courtesy of Pete Cardozo

The cruises are designed make the history of the museum more accessible by allowing people to experience it for themselves. They are held in conjunction with the Deltaville Farmer’s Market on the fourth Saturday of the month from May through November, except in October when it is held on the third Saturday of the month to coincide with the Deltaville Seafood Festival. 

The latest boat to join the museum fleet is the Jennie May, which was built in 1986 by David Rollins in Poquoson, VA. She was designed to look like a classic Virginia workboat of the 1950s and is powered by a Perkins 85-hp diesel engine. She’s 35-feet long and has a cruising speed of seven knots. The Jennie May was donated to the museum about two and a half years ago. 

When we asked Capt. Pete about his work, he said the best part is “meeting people from all over.” The cruises are about 30 minutes long and he gets to bring history alive for some people who have never really been out on the Chesapeake before. “I try to keep it informative,” he says. “I really enjoy it. Deltaville is known the boating capital of Virginia. There are other maritime museums nearby and we’re all trying to do the same thing—preserve the history of the Chesapeake Bay.”

Discovery Cruises are free of charge, but to help offset expenses, passengers are encouraged to join the museum or make a donation. No reservations are necessary, and cruises will depart from the museum from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

Mariners’ Museum and Park

Next stop: The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, VA, just a little over an hour south of the Deltaville Maritime Museum. The mission of the Mariners’ Museum is to “connect people to the world’s waters, because through the waters—through our shared maritime heritage—we are connected to one another.”

virginia maritime museums
The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, VA, is one of the largest maritime museums in the world. Courtesy of the Mariners' Museum

Founded in 1930, the Mariners’ Museum is one of the largest maritime museums in the world. Today, the museum sits in an urban oasis. The 550-acre park is now home to the 167-acre Mariners’ Lake and the Noland Trail—a five-mile shoreline trail with 14 bridges. Within the museum itself you will find 90,000 square feet of exhibition galleries including the prestigious International Small Craft Center, and the award-winning USS Monitor Center. This state-of-the-art exhibition and conservation lab houses 210 tons of artifacts from the Civil War ironclad Monitor, which were recovered from NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

The Mariners’ Museum Library and Archives is home to nearly 110,000 books; 800,000 photographs, films, and negatives; and over one million pieces of archival material, (including the archives of Chris-Craft Industries, which were acquired in 1986), making it the largest maritime library in the Western Hemisphere.

Current exhibitions include: The Miniature Ships of Winnifred and August F. Crabtree, which depicts the evolution of boatbuilding by artist/carver August F. Crabtree; Defending the Seas, which tells the story of the navy’s important role in our nation’s past, present, and future; Seizing the Moment – the Evolution of Action Photography; Speed and Innovation in the America’s Cup; and more. 

The museum also has a full event calendar throughout the year, including Hampton Roads History Lectures and a Civil War Lecture Series. Museum admission is only $1 per person. For more information on upcoming events, current exhibitions, to peruse the online archives, or to purchase tickets, visit the Mariners' Museum website. 

Nauticus and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum

The final stop in your weekend Virginia maritime museum tour is just 30 minutes south of the Mariners’ Museum and Park. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum, located inside Nauticus, is an accredited museum operated by the United States Navy that celebrates the history of the fleet in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.

virginia maritime museums
The Battleship Wisconsin located at Nauticus in Norfolk, VA. Photo courtesy of Nauticus, Norfolk, VA

Nauticus is a maritime discovery center located along the waterfront in downtown Norfolk, offering a unique form of experiential learning for all ages. Through interactive exhibits and STEM to STERN programming, Nauticus uses the museum, Battleship Wisconsin, sailing center, and Schooner Virginia to tell the story of the maritime environment, industry, and the military.

Berthed at Nauticus, the Battleship Wisconsin is one of the largest and last battleships ever built by the U.S. Navy. Guests can explore its deck through a self-guided tour or, for an additional charge, take a guided tour.

Currently on display at Nauticus is the traveling exhibit “Drones: Is the Sky the Limit?” On display through October 9, guests will explore the history of drone technology from the earliest unmanned flying machines to advanced systems of the 21st century. The exhibit includes a birds-eye view of the aeronautics, engineering, science, technologies, and innovations of one of the most intriguing topics dominating our current culture.  

Nauticus tickets cost $15.95 for adults (ages 13-55), $14.95 for seniors (ages 55+), $11.50 for children ages 4-12, and free for ages 0-3 (but a reserved ticket is still required). There is no fee to visit the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, simply take the stairs or elevator to the second floor of the Nauticus campus.