Nautical Nights in Massachusetts
“Is this awesome or what?” my son asks, his eyes shining. “I wish we lived here!”
We are in the engine room of the battleship USS Massachusetts, smack in the nerve center of this massive, 35,000-ton vessel, and my kids are in heaven.
The Nautical Nights program at Battleship Cove, in Fall River, plunges your family, full throttle, into seafaring life. A step beyond touring the battleship during the day, this on-board camping trip has us lining up for chow, sleeping in canvas bunks and waking up to reveille; the experience transforms a “museum” visit into the opportunity to embark on a unique family adventure.
Life at Sea
Check in, receive your bunking assignment and start exploring this fascinating steel maze with educational surprises around every corner. Kids love scaling ladders, navigating gangways, exploring compartments and popping through hatches to discover cool features on every deck. The 680-foot battleship, which held 2,000 men during her service in World War II, was a floating city with a bakery, a brig (jail) and a newspaper.
Its history is palpable, sparking interest in and appreciation of World War II events and what the sailors experienced. An original crewmember, 93-year-old Armand Vigeant, is on hand to answer kids’ questions like “Is this ship bigger than the Titanic?” (yes) and “What was the ‘funnest’ part about being aboard?” (the camaraderie of the crew).
After dinner, when you can glimpse the night sky through the portholes, this big battleship actually feels cozy. First, we got up to speed with a fast-paced film on the history of the ship, then chose from classes like knot tying, navy lingo bingo or flag folding classes (class offerings do change so check the schedule). A World War II reenactor kept kids spellbound by talking about day-to-day life in the service.
Taps doesn’t sound until 11 p.m., so there is a load of time for fun. You can opt for a retro movie, buy some goodies at the well-stocked snack bar, or explore every nook and cranny of the ship.
Of course, this is no luxury liner. The staff is gracious and knowledgeable, and the ship is, yes, shipshape and clean. But meals are mess-hall-style, sleeping is on “racks” or bunks just as the sailors did, and reveille awakens everyone at 6:30 a.m. Still, it’s fun to just give in to the experience and rough it together for the night.
The overnight stay is $65 per person and includes dinner, breakfast and classes. This year’s Nautical Nights for families are May 28, July 9, August 6 and September 3. Minimum age is 6. For more information call 800-533-3194 or visit battleshipcove.org.
Michelle Abrams is a freelance writer.
More Nautical Adventures in Massachsuetts
USS Salem, 739 Washington St., Quincy. Visit this heavy cruiser and the United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum. Hours: Weekends, 10am – 4pm. Admission: Adults, $8; children ages 4-12, $6; children 3 and under, free. 617-479-7900; uss-salem.org.
USS Albacore, 600 Market St., Portsmouth, NH. This Cold War submarine was a floating laboratory to test sub technology. Hours: Thurs. – Mon. 9:30am – 4pm. Admission: Adults, $7; children ages 7-17, $3; children under 7, free; families with up to two children, $14. 603-436-3680; ussalbacore.org.
USS Constitution, Dry Dock 1, Charlestown Navy Yard. “Old Ironsides” is currently in dry dock and being restored, but you can still visit it – and its nearby museum includes many hands-on exhibits for kids. Check the website for hours of operation. USS Constitution, FREE; museum, donation suggested. 617-242-5670; navy.mil/local/constitution/visitors.asp or ussconstitutionmuseum.org.