With only one month left of the school year, we were long overdue for a field trip. Two years overdue to be exact. Wilmington is the perfect place to learn about nature, history, and a double dose of the unusual.
Wilmington, NC is known for it’s rich antebellum and Civil War history, beautiful beaches, and it’s role in film and TV production. It even carries the nickname “Wilmywood”, as it is home to the largest television and movie studio in the U.S. outside of California. Situated between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, it is just under 100 miles south from my home. With several tourist attractions and educational opportunities, it’s hard to decide what to do in a day and be back home by dinnertime! I narrowed it down to three points of interest that I knew my teenagers would love on a day trip to Wilmington.
There are many things I love about our state, and carnivorous plants are one of them! The Venus Flytrap can only be found within a 75-100 mile radius of Wilmington, North Carolina. I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon Pitcher plants along a ditch bank several years ago, but have never seen a Venus Fly Trap – except at Wal-Mart. One place to find them is tucked behind an elementary school at the Piney Ridge Nature Preserve. The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden is a small park paved with a trail of stepping stones that winds through nearly an acre of unique plants. Educational signage guide the way to the garden, where you will find Venus Flytraps, Sundews, and Pitcher plants.
While you will see the Yellow Pitcher plants right away, you will have to look a little closer to see the Venus Flytrap. If Little Shop of Horrors comes to mind, think again. The plants grow in 5-6 inch clumps, and the “trap” is only around an inch long. A wonder to admire, but don’t even think about picking any – it’s a felony in NC! We spent around 30 minutes examining the unusual plant life. It’s definitely a hidden little gem, and if you’re ever in the area, it’s absolutely worth stopping. Where else can you see these amazing carnivores in the wild for free? Nowhere else on the planet!
Battleship North Carolina
Our next stop was the historical WWII landmark, USS North Carolina. Known as The Immortal Showboat, the USS North Carolina survived every major Pacific naval offensive of World War II and earned 15 battle stars. The ship was brought to Wilmington, NC and the Cape Fear River in 1961 by the citizens of NC as a memorial to all the men and women who served in WWII. I remember visiting the ship in elementary school, and it was so big – guess what? It still is!
Although much of the upper decks are closed due to maintenance and renovations, there is still plenty to see. There are more nooks and crannies in this thing than a Thomas English Muffin! It seems at every turn there was something new to see. I’m not a huge military or war history buff, but was fascinated with the vessel nonetheless.
Inside the Battleship
You really get to see what everyday life was like on the ship – from the bakery, to the galley, the mail room, medical areas, engine room, and so much more. I especially liked reading the sailors’ excerpts posted in the different areas. Officers were allowed to keep journals, but no one was to keep a personal diary, (although a number of them did), and that’s where many of these excerpts come from. Reading these short stories scattered abroad the ship gave a personal connection to what life was like for these sailors.
The tour is self-guided, and takes a couple of hours (or more) to visit. There is a lot to explore. I noticed a few guests on guided tours, but I think you have arrange that in advance. There are stairs and ladders throughout, and several tight spaces. You will need good shoes. There is also a nice gift shop, as well as a picnic area. Cost is $14 for ages 12 and up, less for younger visitors. Group rates are also available for 10 or more in a group. There is a substantial discount for homeschoolers with ID that I did not see until the writing of this blog post. Bummer. I usually always check for that too. It really has been a long time since I’ve planned a field trip, but now you know!
Our next stop was lunch at Anne Bonny’s. It is a floating restaurant on the Cape Fear Riverwalk – how cool is that? It is an open-air barge that serves seafood, burgers, and pub food. The view is spectacular, and the food and service are great too!
Much of the Riverwalk is under construction, but still accessible. It is nearly two miles of restaurants, shops, and green space. We took a short stroll while waiting for lunch, and a sweet aroma led us to Kilwins. Chocolates, fudge, ice cream, and caramel apples made on site are a delight the senses! Not to spoil our lunch, we got a few specialty chocolates to carry home.
The planned surprise of the field trip was a visit to the Museum of the Bizarre. Bizarre describes it alright! It was the perfect stop for my horror flick loving teens. There are so many oddities packed into this small space! It is a very interesting, somewhat weird, very affordable, and perfect for teens. They do not allow many pictures, so I’ll let the sign below tell all you need to know. There is also an add on option to try the mirror maze and a laser vault room. We just toured the museum this time.
If you have little ones, this place may or may not be for them. For a fun alternative, there is a children’s museum literally just footsteps away. We visited many years ago. I don’t remember many details except for a pirate ship the kids loved to play on.
I couldn’t leave Wilmington without a little souvenir for myself. A parking citation. Yep, my first one ever! Tip: When using the paid parking lots in the downtown area, pay close attention not to take up more than one space. I am obviously taking two spaces, but in all honesty, the parking lot is gravel with no lines. I didn’t even notice the parking block, as the lot was only about 2/3 full. If you do happen to get a parking citation, there is a discount for paying quickly and online.
If you are visiting and have more time, I highly recommend continuing on to Myrtle Beach. It is about an hour and a half south, and there is plenty to do for a memorable vacation. Make the most of the time on the road with ideas from another post, Road Tripping Fun with Teens. You can grab a free printable in the Free Resource Library to keep in the car. Happy traveling!