In vibrant downtown Norfolk, a city that has transformed itself into a lively destination for travelers, boatloads of fun and entertainment center around the Elizabeth River. You can help hoist the sails on a schooner, catch a paddle wheeler to a baseball game, or ship out on an ocean voyage from a stylish new cruise ship terminal. Designed to mirror the crescent shape of a 17th-century fort that guarded Norfolk's fledgling maritime industry, the $36-million Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center expects to host more than 60,000 passengers for Royal Caribbean International, Carnival, and other cruise lines annually.
At Nauticus, a maritime science museum that neighbors the ship terminal, you can view the sea life of the Atlantic and the Chesapeake Bay. You can even pet a shark, if you're brave enough. Nurse sharks swim in a touch tank, one of the most popular activities for children. Dozens of hands-on activities and exhibits fill the waterfront center that's as lofty as an ocean liner. A webcam offers a view of ships traveling the Intracoastal Waterway (mile marker 0 is in Norfolk). You can see it at www.nauticus.org.
Cross a walkway from Nauticus, and step out onto the deck of the USS Wisconsin, the centerpiece of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. "The Whiskey," one of America's largest battleships, served from World War II through Operation Desert Storm. Her mighty 16-inch guns, able to lob shells as heavy as Volkswagens more than 26 nautical miles, helped support the landing on Iwo Jima. A nearby park features a bronze sculpture of a sailor that honors fallen Navy heroes and stands as a touching memorial.
Left: The tall ship American Rover sails the waterfront in Norfolk.