“What about Hampton?” my husband, Mike, suggested. We were looking for a quick weekend getaway with our two boys, and we hadn’t been to Hampton since they were toddlers. It was perfect. Fort Monroe would be great for R.J., our 14-year-old who had recently finished reading The Red Badge of Courage at school and was fascinated by Civil War history. And, Peter, our 11-year-old who is currently into all things space related, would love the Virginia Air & Space Center.
“Let’s do it,” I said, already planning the trip in my mind.
History comes to life
Fort Monroe and the surrounding Old Point Comfort area has served as an important military defense at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay for more than 400 years. From its use by American Indians years before Jamestown was settled to Captain John Smith’s exploration in 1607 to its most recent 2011 post for the US Army’s Headquarters for Training and Doctrine Command, Old Point Comfort and Fort Monroe has had a significant influence on our nation’s history.
R.J.’s eyes widened with interest as we approached the largest stone fort in the country. I could see the wheels turning in his head, trying to imagine what it would have been like in the Civil War era. We had booked a guided tour and started at the beginning in the Casemate Museum, learning about the construction of Fort Algernourne, the first defensive fort built on the site in 1609. When we arrived in the room where Jefferson Davis was briefly held prisoner after the Civil War, R.J. began asking questions that impressed Mike, me, and even the tour guide. And we were all moved as the guide shared the story of Major General Benjamin Butler’s Contraband of War decision that granted refuge to three escaped slaves.
Surf, sun & music
After a full morning packed with exploration and a couple of impromptu battle reenactments between Mike and the boys, we had all worked up quite an appetite. So, we headed to the picnic areas at Fort Monroe for lunch. It was perfect weather, and we unpacked our lunch and enjoyed soaking up some sunshine and tossing a Frisbee around in the open grassy areas around the tables.
With such gorgeous beaches right there at our feet, we couldn’t resist the water. We spent the afternoon swimming, sunning, and relaxing at Outlook Beach, on the eastern edge of the Fort. As the sun started to set, Peter wanted to check out the boats at the marina before grabbing dinner. We made our way to the Paradise Ocean Club, just up the road, where waterfront dining and live music rounded out an amazing day filled with the beautiful natural landscapes and rich historic past of Fort Monroe.
Family fun blast-off
“Will I get to fly a rocket?” Peter asked, beside himself with excitement the following morning. A half hour later, he was standing open-mouthed in front of the Apollo 12 Command Module. America’s space program started in Hampton at NASA Langley Research Center, and the Virginia Air & Space Center is the Official Visitor Center for NASA Langley Research Center. In addition to the Apollo module, there are more than 30 historic aircraft, space artifacts, and exhibits that span a century of flight. And my kids couldn’t wait to see them all.
I watched Peter’s imagination soar as he raced from one exhibit to the next, taking it all in. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe his reaction when we entered the Space Quest exhibit. R.J. got into it, too, even though he was trying to play it cool. We made our way in awe past a giant model of the solar system hanging thirty feet above us. We climbed aboard the Mars Transporter, a simulated space travel experience, and were transported to the surface of the red planet. Next we examined a Martian meteorite as well as a three-billion-year-old moon rock. Even Mike got excited about that one.
After coming back from Mars, the boys trained for a moon landing before trying their hand at descending onto the surface themselves in a lander simulator. Next they took a trip to the International Space Station to explore the space-based laboratories and observe Earth from 250 miles away. Afterward, they said goodbye before stepping into a quirky time machine and traveling back to explore humanity’s journey through time and space.
The ultimate adventure of the day, though, was the MaxFlight simulator. R.J. and Peter were going to get to fly a rocket after all. The simulator is a thrilling ride that allows you to fly, pitch, roll, loop, and spin inside a Virtual Flight Combat program. The whoops of delight coming from inside told me we just might have a future pilot or two on our hands.
Our weekend in Hampton had taken us from centuries-old history to the frontier of the future with an exciting and scenic route along the way. As we drove out of town, we couldn’t stop talking about our adventures and looking forward to returning to explore more of what Hampton has to offer.
Find family fun in Hampton!