On our most recent visit to Charleston we spent some time in Mt. Pleasant, the suburb that bore the brunt of the massive rain and flooding event just one week later, closing many of the highways leading in and out of Charleston. Although we saw a drizzle while on the Mt. Pleasant pier under the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, it luckily held off on our visit to Patriots Point, home to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
One of South Carolina’s largest tourist attractions with more than 270,000 visitors per year, Patriots Point is located at the mouth of the Cooper River on the Charleston Harbor. Established in 1975, the 350-acre complex includes not only the National Historic Landmark ships, a Cold War Memorial, a Vietnam Support Base Camp, and the headquarters to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, but also leases property to a golf course, a hotel and a collegiate athletic complex. With 29 aircraft on display from conflicts ranging from WWII to present-day operations, Patriots Point advertises as being the only aircraft carrier museum in the US to have all of the top ten most significant aircraft types in U.S. carrier aviation history.
For the price of parking and admission you are allowed access to the Aircraft Carrier USS Yorktown, the Destroyer USS Laffey, Submarine USS Clagamore and the Vietnam Experience. Once you’ve paid and entered this area, my suggestion would be to start with the Yorktown; the National Historic Landmark ship is also home to the Medal of Honor Museum, the Apollo 8 Mission Exhibit and dozens of historic aircraft.
Nicknamed “the Fighting Lady,” the Yorktown is the 10th aircraft carrier to serve in the US Navy. Named for the Yorktown CV-5 lost in the Battle of Midway in 1942, the ship played a significant role in the Pacific offensive and received the Presidential Unit Citation. During WWII the Yorktown carried 90 planes, but later was modified with an angled flight deck for jets, and finally converted to an antisubmarine carrier which is how it served in the Vietnam War.
An information desk is located at the main entrance staffed with personnel available to help answer any questions, but the booklet you will have received has 5 self-guided walking tours to make the most of your time on the ship. We started with Tour 3, as it includes the flight deck and bridge, the two areas of most interest to the boys. Following the guide we wound our way through operations and control rooms before emerging onto the flight deck, where various aircraft were situated with a grandiose view of Charleston and the Harbor.
Climbing the Bridge we toured a few cabins, the pilot house and radar rooms before descending back into the bowels of the ship. We chose to continue with Tour 1: Living and Working, but elected to take a few shortcuts as Lauris and Mikus weren’t as interested in all the displays. We skipped the rest of the tours, which take visitors to the engine/fire room, to the WWII Carrier rooms and to the wardroom and brig.
Having returned to the hangar deck we took a closer look at the exhibits there, including the Medal of Honor Museum and the Apollo 8 Mission model capsule. In 1968 the Apollo 8 was the first capsule to orbit the moon, and Yorktown recovered it upon its return to Earth.
We disembarked and headed along the pier to the USS Laffey. Named for the Civil War Medal of Honor recipient Seaman Bartlett Laffey, the Destroyer was targeted off Okinawa by a massive air strike. Five kamikazes and three bombs struck the ship killing 32 and wounding 71, but the crew kept the boat afloat and once decommissioned, the Laffey arrived at Patriots Point in 1981.
Furthest along the pier adjacent to the Resort and Marina is the submarine USS Clagamore. The 322-ft sub was commissioned only a few weeks before the end of WWII and spent thirty years in service before being replaced by a nuclear submarine. The only ship of its type to survive as a museum ship, the descent into the ship is tight and slightly claustrophobic so the boys sat this one out while I had a quick look.
Having returned to mainland the next exhibit is the Vietnam Experience. Exhibits and artifacts are accompanied by the sights and sounds of the Vietnam War, and although educational and interesting, it was overwhelming to the children.
Once you’ve exited through the ship store you could cross over to the Cold War Submarine Memorial which is located across from the Patriots Point’s main entrance, examine the various cannons and the view of Yorktown or, for an additional fee, take a 5-20 minute aerial tour of Charleston and Patriots Point via helicopter.
Patriots Point is also a departure location for one of the Fort Sumter ferries, and just minutes from the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park and the Ravenel Bridge. While the museum does have a few food options, we elected to head to Mount Pleasant to eat, although you can just as quickly make it to downtown Charleston. And finally, while the ticket price can be steep for a large family (adults $20, seniors $17 and children 6 to 11 $12 plus $5 parking), this weekend is “Pay What You Can Weekend” at Patriots Point; visitors are asked to name their own admission price January 9-10, to help celebrate their 40th anniversary. If this weekend isn't the optimal time to visit keep your eye out for groupon deals - the current one is a 2 for the price of 1.
The Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is open daily from 9:00am to 6:30pm, and active military in uniform and children under six are free. See website for details on educational programs, event rentals and camping programs as well as all the details on the ships, aircraft and exhibits on site. This fact sheet was a handy reference during our visit, and the map/tour guide that comes with admission was essential in prioritizing and planning our visit.