One of the must see destinations on the east coast is Nauticus, featuring the Battleship Wisconsin. Located on the waterfront in downtown Norfolk, Virginia where every year (except during the pandemic), hundreds of thousands of people have visited and continue to visit year round this work of art, contemporary, maritime themed, science center and museum. How appropriate that Nauticus and the Battleship Wisconsin are located in Norfolk, the home of the world’s largest naval base.

The holiday season at Nauticus also means the return of WinterFest on the Wisconsin with this year being better and brighter than ever before. It is a true celebration of the Battleship Wisconsin, decorated with more than one million Christmas lights. Once aboard the Battleship Wisconsin, be prepared to explore all-new interior spaces, enjoy two new shows nightly by everyone’s favorite green grump, have fun aboard a polar train journey while tasting sweets and treats and even shopping for last-minute gifts.

New this season is The Santa Experience, available for an additional fee, during select times Fridays - Sundays and will be open Wednesdays - Sundays starting December 14th - 24th. You will go inside the Battleship Wisconsin’s historic Wardroom for a reserved meet-and-greet with Captain Claus himself. Feel free to take selfies, enjoy delicious hot chocolate and cookies and everyone young and old can write a letter to Santa and even post in the original mailbox of the Battleship Wisconsin. With this year marking the 400th anniversary of the classic poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,’ there is a special treat as a talking book and bookworm recount this magical poem.

There is also the Mistletoe Marina, presented by The Perry Family Foundation with many adventures to keep you entertained throughout the night. You will be surrounded by thousands of dazzling lights, beautifully decorated boats, while indulging in hot and cold beverages and bites of sweet snacks by the fireside while you take in nightly shows by the grump himself and the Holiday Hoobie-Whatty Show. It’s the Whoville circus, the tiniest little big top you’ve ever seen with the shows running nightly at 6 and 8 PM.

Also at the Mistletoe Arena is the Elf Door Discovery, a seasonal scavenger hunt that takes you on a magic journey to unlock the mystery of Santa’s elves. There are 15 tiny entrances decked out for the holidays with 15 elves and your job is to find them all.

There is also a Tree Lighting Ceremony nightly Wednesdays - Sundays at the fantail of the Battleship Wisconsin that you can be a part of hosted by a grouchy green grump and his dog, Max.

Also not to be missed is the Lighted Sailboat Parade to be held December 3rd and 10th from 6:00PM - 6:30PM hosted by Sail Nauticus. The parade will take place along the Elizabeth River adjacent to the Battleship Wisconsin that is free and open to the public along the boardwalk.

For tickets, times, dates and more info, go to https://www.winterfestonthewisconsin.com/

Yiorgo: To tell us more about it, is proud local Maury High School Alumni Rehn West, Development Director at Nauticus. What is WinterFest on the Wisconsin at Nauticus and what will the people who attend experience when they come to see it?

Rehn West: WinterFest on the Wisconsin is a holiday celebration. We deck out the Battleship with over a million holiday lights and guests are able to walk our Battleship, enjoy our live entertainment, holiday music, a tree lighting ceremony, as well as a very special one-on-one experience with Santa. We also have great food and drinks and the grouchy green grump who is here walking our decks, meeting the guests and making it both unique and different.

We also have a lighted sailboat parade on December 3rd and 10th. Nauticus is home to Sail Nauticus, established for at-risk youth in Norfolk Public Schools. We have a fleet of 20 sailboats and we deck them out in Christmas lights and on December 3rd and 10th at six pm they leave our harbor and head down to the Whiskey Basin next to the Battleship Wisconsin on the other side by the Pogoda. At the very end of the parade, Santa is brought in by the Norfolk Police Chief boat. It is super exciting and brings our community together. It brings a lot of new people downtown. It is also a fundraiser for our Nauticus Foundation which is a non-profit with all proceeds going directly back into the Battleship Wisconsin. We are able to restore her to her glory and provide interpretations throughout her deck for many students and visitors year round.

Y: How long has the WinterFest on the Wisconsin been in existence?

RW: This is our third year. Pre-Covid we hosted Christmas Town. It was all indoors, a great event, very popular with the public. With Covid, we knew we couldn’t bring our usual 25,000 people indoors, so we decided to try something new and use this great vessel that we have. The Battleship was a silver lining during the pandemic. You can walk outside on the deck, spread out, so what better way to have her serve during the holidays than by decorating her with lights and help to bring joy to people and revenue to our foundation.

Y: Marie Osmond was in town last year with her Marie Osmond A Symphonic Christmas concert and she visited Battleship Wisconsin. She mentioned that Bob Hope called her and asked her to do his very last USO tour with him. She remembered fondly performing on the Wisconsin. She said she sang right before the last shells were shot in Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia.

RW: Whenever celebrities visited the Wisconsin when she was out to sea or wherever they were stationed, the celebrities signed the ship. We actually still have Marie Osmond’s signature very near the bow of the ship. One of our staff members, Keith Nitka is the Battleship Manager. He served during Desert Storm on the Battleship Wisconsin and was one of the crew members that was there for her performance.

Y: How would you describe Nauticus and what can people expect to see and do when they visit throughout the year?

RW: Nauticus is a Maritime Discovery Center and we are home to our Nauticus museum, which focuses on a fun and engaging stem to stern curriculum for all ages. We are also home to our pride and joy, the Battleship Wisconsin. She is a great teaching tool for everyone and a great representative of our navy. We are home to the Nauticus Sailing Center that supports local students and an adult membership program. Uniquely, we are the home to the Half Moon Cruise Terminal, Virginia’s only cruise terminal. Our campus is very big and we offer something for everyone here.

Yiorgo is an arts, entertainment and sports writer. A stage, TV and movie actor, he is also a sports entertainer, educator, motivational speaker, writer, storyteller and columnist.

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