Experience Excitement for All Ages at Patriots Point

By:Kerry Egan


If you’re a woman of a certain age, it’s quite likely you saw the movie "Top Gun." In fact, you might have seen it more than once, or even twice or more.

OK, I’ll admit it, maybe it was close to ten times.

And if so, there’s probably some deep fascination in your heart with aircraft carriers and the sailors who risk their lives on them every single day. Now how many museums out there allow you to indulge your teenage crushes and fascinations while at the same time engaging and enthralling your kids?

Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant is just that unexpected museum. Patriots Point is probably best known as the home of the USS Yorktown, a World War II-era aircraft carrier. Sitting in Charleston Harbor at the foot of the Ravenel Bridge, the Yorktown is a striking sight to any visitor to Charleston. But Patriots Point is so much more than a pretty photo op.

The museum is comprised of the Yorktown and more than two dozen aircraft, ranging from World War II to present day that sit on her runway or on the hangar deck, the World War II-era destroyer the USS Laffey, the Cold War-era submarine the USS Clamagore and the land-based Vietnam Experience.

Each of these exhibits gives visitors the chance not just to read what life would have been like in the service on this ships, but to see, hear, touch and smell the experience.

The immersive experience at Patriots Point is aided by the amazing docents and tour guides. These veteran guides include professors at the nearby Citadel, enlisted men, officers and Bill Watkinson, a 95-year-old pilot from World War II who flew off the Yorktown in the Pacific.

The museum aims to appeal to young and old alike. While there is the possibility for a lot of nostalgia for adult visitors, there are lots of great interactive exhibits to keep the kids enthralled.

The USS Laffey's fantastic Combat Information Center (or CIC) allows kids (and their parents) to sit in a 1960s-era command center on a ship and really imagine what it would have been like to have make split-second a decision during the Cold War. The long climb up the stairs to the very top of the ship is well worth it, so don’t skip it.

The remarkable and immersive Vietnam experience allows visitors to walk through a recreated encampment during the Vietnam War, complete with barracks, canteen, patrol boat and the never-ending sound of helicopters overhead. It's an enormously moving and intense experience as you imagine (and remember) the lives of the soldiers and sailors who served in that war.

The flight simulator on the hangar deck lets visitors of all ages experience some of the thrills of a combat pilot in the skies. And in the Yorktown’s engine room, the throttle board exhibit lets visitors take commands from the bridge to get the ship moving in a crisis.

If you really want to get inside one of the planes on the flight deck, make sure to visit during an “Open Cockpit Sunday.” You can find dates on the website as well as information about other upcoming events.

If you’re part of a scouting or other group, look into the possibility of scheduling a sleep over on the Yorktown, an experience children will never forget.

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