See Norfolk the Way Nature Intended: From the Water
When you factor in the confluence with the Elizabeth River, a sizeable part of its total area is shoreline – 144 miles of it, to be precise. And, as a port city with about 400 years of history behind it, it’s not short on history. From a military perspective, Norfolk endured a marathon naval shelling (during the Revolution) and was the site of an ironsides-vs-ironsides battleship conflict (in the Civil War).
Today, things are rather less stressful, with much of the tourist’s Norfolk coastline being occupied by parks, beaches, museums and other travel opportunities. So what better way for student groups to experience this historical spot than by doing something water-related?
Norfolk Travel and Rooming Details
Before we present Norfolk’s various aqua-filled attractions, let’s first tackle some of the basic details of travel planning. Whether you’re coming in by air, land, or sea, it’s easy to get a group to Norfolk.
Norfolk has its own international airport, which handles flights from US Airways, American, Southwest and Delta, among others. Flight destinations include major East Coast cities as well as Dallas-Fort Worth and other main air travel hubs.
By car or bus, groups can reach Norfolk from either I-64 or I-95. In town, there is a light rail system that covers the downtown area and a free bus service that runs from various downtown landmarks.
You’re not likely to run short of rooming options, either. There are 5,000 hotel rooms,with a fair proportion being in the downtown area.
Once your student travel group arrives and gets settled in, they can venture forth to explore Norfolk’s many educational and entertaining activities.
Norfolk’s Top Water-Related Attractions
A good itinerary for student travel mixes the fun and the educational; a great attraction allows you to have both experiences in one place. As Norfolk is home to the world’s largest naval station, both military and commercial shipping have a long history here. And that’s something that the first attraction in our list highlights.
Nauticus National Maritime Center is one of Norfolk’s top-ranked activities. Part science lab, part history exhibit and part battleship (we’ll get to that in a moment), it provides students of all levels with a comprehensive examination of how the ocean affects life – and how humans have used the ocean in warfare, travel, and business. It also discusses the ways scientists are striving to understand the ocean. Your group can choose from numerous exhibits on maritime commerce, ocean research, weather, natural life in the Chesapeake Bay and Naval history.
Nauticus also contains a 3D movie theater and the Battleship Wisconsin. One of the Navy’s largest ships, the Wisconsin was launched on the second anniversary of Pearl Harbor. After serving in several major wars, it was decommissioned in the 1990s and now permanently functions as a museum ship. A self-guided tour of parts of the vessel is included in the ticket price.
American Rover Tall Ship Cruises uses craft that call to mind an earlier period in history. Student groups of at least 60 (and no more than 120) can rent this tall, three- masted topsail schooner for a tour of the Chesapeake Bay. Part of the 1.5- hour event features lessons in navigation and sailing as well as maritime history. The ships can be used for public and private cruises, and there are standard amenities on board.
For a little coastal relaxation on dry land, Ocean View Beach Park is a popular choice. This 6.5-acre park has lifeguards, a boardwalk, room for gatherings and a bandstand, if music and dancing are part of the program. However, while it is classified as a festival support site, it does require all events to be open to the public. Any planned private gathering, large or small, requires a permit. For a simple day spent enjoying the beach, it’s a local recommendation.
As a slight change of pace, our final choice is the Virginia Zoo. While it’s not exactly water-filled, it is one of the area’s most well-known attractions. With over 400 animals and a program that supports animal enrichment – a more humane and naturalistic approach to zookeeping – it ranks high on student-friendly sites. The zoo covers a total of 53 acres, so there’s plenty of room for groups to stretch their legs. It also recently completed an animal wellness center, an additional feature of interest for high school and college groups.
A city that’s lived for 400 years in a vital coastal location is bound to have some interesting times. Norfolk certainly has played an important role in American history, and so have its waterways. A student group tour of the area’s water-themed attractions and museums will provide the educational heft; the sunny beaches will take care of the fun.
Have you recently visited any of our Norfolk attractions? Did you plan student travel to the area? Tell your story in the comment section below. We’d love to hear from you!