Has anyone been to any Museum Ships? Thoughts on best ones?

I’ve been to a number of museum ships in the United States both military and commercial. The absolute best one I’ve ever been to is the Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington North Carolina. It’s the best preserved and most open battleship I’ve ever visited and I’ve been to a number of US Battleships (Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Texas). Since then whenever I go to a new museum ship and talk to their staff they’ll always ask me “Which was the best museum ship I’ve visited?” and when I tell them North Carolina they ALWAYS will get angry I didn’t say theirs but hey you asked me an honest question.

I plan on going to Boston next year and will stop by the USS Massachusetts if I manage to get time to go there, the only good US Museum ship review rates that #1 compared to North Carolina #2 so it must be pretty impressive.

Anyone else have good museum ship reviews/rankings?

The Balclutha in San Francisco is a wonderful ship, and is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. It’s a civilian ship. While visiting that museum, you should also check out USS PAMPANITO (SS-383), itself one of the stars of Down Periscope.

I went on the USS Alabama which we made a special turn off from our Florida trip to go see
I especially liked the visitors center which had an awesome gift shop and had an original star wars arcade game to play … the champ was a WW2 ball turret gunner on one of the bombers who volunteered there and he could move the sight faster than the game … ironically he’d never seen any of the movies

I’ve only been to five, but the best one was the USS Midway in San Diego.

USS Razorback at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Razorback is a WWII era submarine that was comissioned in the Turkish navy before it was decommissioned in 2001 and sold to the city of Little Rock in 2004. I went to the museum in the summer of 2005, and the sub tour was easily the highlight. We were able to look at almost every part of the boat, and our tour guide was a retire submariner who served aboard a similar boat and was able to describe what life was like.

USS Turner Joy in Bremerton, Washington. This was a destroyer commissioned in the 50s and decomissioned in the early 80s. The winds were high and the sea was rather rough, and when I bought my ticket, they warned me that should the power fail that I should just tight until it was restored. There were hardly any other visitors there, and my wife and I pretty much had the ship to ourselves.

USS Midway at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California. In service from 1945 through 1992, the Midway saw a lot of change over the decades. You have the time to tour a large portion of the ship seeing how sailors lived, some of the areas are restored to what they looked like in different eras, and since it’s an aircraft carrier there are tons of aircraft ranging from WWII fighters planes to Vietnam era helicopters and even more modern aircraft. It was the most expensive musuem, $20+, but it was worth it.

USS Wisconsin in Norfork, Virginia. When I visited, it must have been around 2005 and the ship still belonged to the US Navy and was technically part of the mothballed fleet meaning we could only access the weather decks. And even then, it was a particularly cold windy day and we were further restricted from where we could go while on deck.

The USS Cairo at the USS Cairo Museum in Natchez, Missippi. The Cairo has the distinct honor of being the first ship ever to be sunk by a mine detonated remotely by hand. This ship sat covered in mud at the bottom of the Mississippi River until the 1960s. When they recovered the ship, they also recovered a lot of personal artifacts from the sailors who served. I got a kick out of the 1860s bottle of Lea & Perrins worcestershire sauce they recovered.

In Baltimore, the NS Savannah is the only one of its kind. Just sayin.

The setting for USS Missouri, in Pearl Harbor, is extraordinary.

We took a tour of a WW2 sub in Michigan somewhere, when the kid was about 2 or something. There is NOTHING like a shrieking toddler in a sealed tube (Well, except maybe the actual war it was in, but you get the idea). I had to leave with him and wait outside. Much like the Robert Plant concert in San Francisco. And several rides at DisneyLand. And other places.

He did text me “Happy Fathers Day” today. So, there’s that…

My vote would go to the Vasamuseet, dedicated to a ship that made its first (and only) voyage in 1628.

The Vasa lay submerged near Stockholm for hundreds of years until salvaged in 1961. It’s now the star of what is surely one of the best museums in the world. The quality of the displays and the research underlying them is astonishing. Easily worth a special trip to Sweden.

The USS Hornet, CVS-12, in Alameda CA is quite good. But I have not been to any others to compare it to.

ETA — I’ve been to the Vasa in Stockholm and that is a fantastic museum. One key difference is that you never get to board the Vasa while the other ships you can.

I really, really enjoyed exploring the HMS Belfast, which is moored permanently in the Thames in the middle of London as a floating museum. Nearly everything in the ship is open, and they’ve populated most of the spaces with informational exhibits and period gear, much of it hands-on. It’s really well done.

I also really liked the maritime museum in La Rochelle, France. They’ve got half a dozen retired boats you can poke around in. None of them is as individually impressive or carefully appointed as the Belfast, but the variety of vessels makes up for it: working boats like tugs, a small passenger liner, and so on. Definitely worth a visit.


Finally, I liked the maritime museum in Amsterdam a whole lot. This one has a more historical focus, given that the Netherlands were considered masters of the sea for many decades. What’s interesting is that they don’t shy away from their darker past; a large part of the museum is devoted to reckoning with their involvement in acquiring and transporting slaves. It’s quite exceptional. And, yes, they have an Age of Sail boat moored alongside which you can thoroughly explore.


The Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth is excellent.

HMS Victory (Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar and the oldest Naval vessel still in commission)
HMS Warrior (The fastest and most powerful of Victoria’s fleet)
Plus the Mary Rose, plus many other ships and submarines. When we visited in February the whole museum had the towering backdrop of two new UK aircraft carriers alongside which made for a wonderful contrast

My parents visited me here in San Francisco around 1988 or so, and we toured the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a liberty ship. It’s the only ship tour I’ve ever been on. It was meaningful to us because my father was a merchant seaman in WWII and served on some very similar ships. I don’t have anything to compare it to, but it was fascinating and I’m glad I saw it.

I gotta second Cervaise’ mention of HMS Belfast. It’s in excellent condition, there’s lots of access, and it actually fought a German Battlecruiser.

The Cutty Sark in Greenwich, London is very cool, not only because the ship was designed and built by wife’s great-great-grandfather.

In Boston is the USS Constitution, not technically a museum ship, but a must visit if you’re in the area. Flagship of the Greatest Navy in the history of the World. The current US Navy.

In New London Connecticut is the USS Nautilus and Submarine Force Museum. Pretty good one to visit. Close to Mystic Seaport and all the attractions there.

Mystic Seaport has a bunch of boats and is a seaport museum. This might be the best place to learn about historic boat building in the US.

USS Intrepid in NYC on the Hudson is incredible. I highly recommend it. It is sea, air and space. Includes the Space Shuttle Enterprise, usually there is a non-nuke sub next to her. The Intrepid served in WWII. One of the 24 Essex class carriers. She also did recovery in the 60s into the 70s for NASA missions.

South Street Sea Port on the East River in NYC is also a good place to visit. I think they still offer tours of the Wavertree, one of the largest sailing ships built. The old Ambrose Light Ship is also there. I think the China Sea has moved on, but not sure. I think many tall ships have called South Street Seaport home for a time and then moved on, I’m not honestly sure how that works.

Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum on the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey has some wooden boats but not ships. Very nice museum though. Includes a boat, The Adam Hyler, that I use to skipper and ran the maintenance on for years.

The Battleship New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey. The most decorated ship in US History. A great museum ship. Can look for the Fish & Ships deal that gets you onto the New Jersey and into the nearby Aquarium. I served in a combined fleet with the New Jersey one sea period. It is probably the greatest Battleship in the history of the world.
(Please note, the USS Enterprise CV-6 was the most decorated ship in WWII and perhaps the most important ship in Navy History, but she was decommission and turned to scrap very sadly.)

USS Constellation in Baltimore is a fairly good museum ship. The ship is of no actual historic importance, it is not one of the original Frigates. This is an 1854 warship named for the famous Frigate. The Inner Harbor also has the Lightship Chesapeake, a Coast Guard Cutter and a submarine. They use to have a destroyer, not sure what happened to it.

I think that is all my museum ships. I might have missed one or two.

Two on my list to go see:

USS Yorktown CV-10, very near Charleston, SC. Another Essex class carrier, named for CV-5 sunk at Midway. I hear it is great.

In Philly, across the Delaware from the New Jersey is USS Olympia and sub, Becuna. The Olympia is the last ship of the Great White Fleet and was for a time the flagship of said. It was also the flagship of Commodore Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. It is open for ship tours again.

SS Great Britain, once the largest passenger ship in the world, currently dry docked as a truly impressive museum in Bristol, where it was originally built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The Constitution has already been mentioned, but not that far from Boston you can find

The Albacore in Portsmouth NH. An experimental submarine, used for testing fin and propeller designs, it was rebuild several times. You go through on a self-guided tour with push-button speakers throughout. A very cramped and fascinating ship.

The USS Salem is docked at the former Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA (not in Salem). It’s the only preserved Heavy Cruiser. A huge ship, and well worth the visit, but it’s really starting to deteriorate. I hope they fix it up. They filmed scenes from the very overlooked movie The Finest Hours (2016)here.

Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA (better known as the place where Lizzie Borden may or may not have murdered her father and stepmother with an axe in 1892) has “the world’s largest collection of WWII vessels”. And some from later on

Cleveland has two:

The Mather is a bulk freighter, and is currently part of the Great Lakes Science Center (same admission). One of the cargo bays has been converted to a visitor’s center/gift shop with museum-like exhibits about the Great Lakes, but most of the rest of the ship has been left as-is. You need a guided tour to tell you what everything is for; there aren’t plaques or the like (but I think you’re allowed onto the ship without a tour guide; there are usually museum staff stationed in the bridge and engine room).

The Cod is a WWII submarine, mostly a commerce raider. I’ve only been there a couple of times. Being a submarine, there really isn’t any room for what you might call “exhibits”, but there are pictures on the walls of how it looked when it was working. The guides will tell you about some of its storied history.

I’ve been to this one as well.

i went to a wedding once at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, and while it was cool to explore the half-dark museum after hours (my wife and I climbed in the cab of a big farming combine and did a little light making out) I was disappointed that the U-505 display was off limits.

So a year or so later when I had a work thing to go to in Chicago I made a point to visit the museum first, right after they reopened the U-505 exhibit in a huge indoor space where you can walk around the entire sub. It’s quite a great display- well worth a visit to the museum just for the U-boat alone. Inside, the U-boat is amazingly claustrophobic- skinny little bunks along main corridors where one shift would sleep while another shift would be walking back and forth right by. Not a place I’d want to be trapped in 100 feet underwater while depth charges are going off nearby!

First, if you are interested in the U-505, haunt used bookstores until you find a copy of Daniel Gallery’s Away All Boats. Gallery was the commander of the task force that captured her. Boy, they they get into trouble for that! He went on to be a moderately successful novelist whose books are sadly out of print and have been for decades.

As for museum ships, thirding the USS Midway in San Diego. The advantage there is that the Midway is docked near not only the Star of India, but also HMS Surprise, San Salvador, Californian, and Berkeley at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

A bit north, you’ll find the SS Jeremiah O’Brien and the USS Pompanito docked at Pier 45 in San Francisco. Both are worth your time. One pier to the west you will find the Eureka, a retired 19th century paddlewheel steamboat. Also worth your time.