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What’s the only submarine museum operated by the United States Navy? The Submarine Force Museum, located in a beautiful spot along the Thames River in Groton, Connecticut. Families can experience life aboard the country’s first nuclear powered vessel, the USS Nautilus, at this entertaining and educational CT day trip destination.
An Historic, Educational AND Entertaining Submarine Museum
Days are busy. So fun outings with my boys mean the world to me. Our recent trip to the Submarine Force Museum gave us a chance to talk, laugh and learn together. We stepped onto a ship that traveled under the polar ice cap! How cool is that?
Admission is free at this museum, filled with 33,000 artifacts, 20,000 significant documents and 30,000 photographs. We walked into the light-filled space and saw striking images and interactive exhibits. Don’t miss these five activities, sure to intrigue all members of the family:
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1. Try Out Actual Periscopes Used on a Submarine
The spacious 27,000 square foot facility includes a recreation of a World War II attack center, featuring actual periscopes. These “eyes of the submarine” allow sailors to see objects when the vessel is submerged. The parking lots are visible through these instruments. My sons had a great time looking through the periscopes and attempting to spot our car! Next door, folks can sit in a mock control room and experience what it’s like to captain a sub. As we parents know too well, buttons, levers and screens never disappoint!
2. Study Fascinating Models of Submarines
Enter the museum’s main gallery and see a replica of The Turtle, the nation’s first submarine. Then spy a vast array of actual torpedoes. Survey the scene from an upstairs mezzanine, featuring a fascinating model of a Gato Class Submarine. It shows the engine room, the maneuvering room and the crew’s quarters. This mini-replica helps kids appreciate the many layers of a submarine: a “city beneath the sea.”
3. See the Real Thing: The USS NAUTILUS
After exploration inside the museum, visitors walk a short distance to the actual USS NAUTILUS, launched in 1954. It was the first ship to cross the geographic North Pole. Each entrant receives a hand-held device with an audio tour. Learning about the ship is incredibly easy and convenient.
Opened to the public in 1986, the NAUTILUS is a National Historic Landmark and Connecticut’s State Ship. The submarine carried 11 officers and 105 enlisted men on missions that lasted for months at a time. It could dive 700 feet and remain underwater for two weeks or more.
Experience Life Under Water on a Submarine
The Torpedo Room and the Attack Center, filled with controls and alarms, wowed my boys, ages 11 and 13. They stepped through small, rounded doorways and walked down a steep staircase, the first stairs ever installed in a submarine. They were particularly interested in the Captain’s Quarters, the crew’s bunks and “the mess,” a cafeteria area with an ice cream maker! We learned that submarines typically sport the best food in the military. Crew members often enjoyed cheeseburgers and bug juice!
4. Recognize a Classic Book
The museum is a place you can visit several times as the kids grow. They will experience it in different ways, depending on their age. When we first visited the NAUTILUS, we had just read “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne. The boys were very excited to see a copy of the book in a display case on the wall of the submarine. It was presented to the crew by the French Navy during the sub’s visit to France, following the successful voyage under the polar ice cap.
At the end of our visit, we bought a DVD of the movie in the museum’s lovely gift shop. We flopped down and watched it together when we got home. What a great conclusion to our self-proclaimed “unit” on submarines!
5. Learn About a Secret Spy Ship: NR-1
The NR-1, a nuclear powered, deep submergence submarine, intrigued my boys. When in use, the small sub sported retractable wheels, viewing windows and special lighting used during recovery of objects off the ocean floor. This advanced, sophisticated vessel was used for shipwreck discovery and oceanographic research. Interestingly, it was also utilized during the investigations into the Space Shutter Challenger disaster and the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990. After 39 years, it was retired in 2008. Salvaged pieces of the submarine are now on display outside the Submarine Force Museum.
A Fun CT Day Trip
This day trip allows families to talk about the sacrifice of sailors who spend an enormous amount of time at sea to keep our country safe. Kids will understand that this way of life is still very relevant. Three miles south of the museum, the Electric Boat Company is the builder of both USS NAUTILUS and NR-1. Expect to spend about an hour in the museum and a half hour aboard the submarine. If you’re looking for CT day trips, this excursion is interesting, fun, full of pretty views and near good restaurants. This trip provides a great history lesson while also giving families the opportunity to talk, bond and simply enjoy each other’s company.
Craving More Maritime History?
What are your favorite nautical museums? Learn about the Maritime Museum of San Diego and the Intrepid Museum in Manhattan.