When we were planning our trip to Tampa Bay, I am glad we discovered the SS American Victory Ship! I’m a bit of a history buff, so the SS American Victory seemed like a perfect match up of education, exploration and fun! Since we don’t live near Tampa, I actually discovered this attraction by accident when researching the Florida Aquarium. I was glad we planned ahead, but we probably would have discovered it while at the aquarium anyway.
So what is the SS American Victory ship? It’s one of only four fully functional victory ships still from the World War II era. So what exactly is a victory ship anyway? A Victory ship was the work horse of the United States merchant marine fleet. Everyone knows that troops stormed the beaches of Normandy but how were they supplied once they got there? The answer: Victory Ships! These ships carried anything that the military needed overseas. Victory ships ferried supplies across the dangerous Atlantic Ocean dodging German U boats, and other dangers only to turn around and repeat the process over and over again. The journey was treacherous, and many were sunk by the enemy.
The US military thinking was to “build them faster than they could sink them!” These ships were modular and pieced together like huge Lego sets! It’s actually pretty similar to how cruise ships are built today. Pieces were brought to the shipyard for assembly and construction of this vessel took only 55 days to complete! In 1999, the ship was towed from Virginia to Tampa Bay to begin its service as a living, operating museum and memorial. The history of the SS American Victory is absolutely fascinating! Serving in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, this ship has seen some service. It features only two guns: a 3 and 5 inch size that were for self-defense. The SS American Victory wasn’t a war ship, but had some teeth if it needed to use them.
Ok, so what can you expect when you visit the SS American Victory ship? You’ll be immersed in the rich history of the ship and its previous crew members. You are lead on a self paced tour of the vessel where you get to explore almost every nook and cranny of this operational ship! There were only a handful of areas that were off-limits, so it was awesome to roam through the tour. Marked by little yellow arrows on the decks, you’ll climb all the way from the top to the bottom and explore the belly of the ship. You’ll get to experience the crew quarters, engine room, mess areas, and all of the functional compartments that are needed on a ship. As you go through the tour, you’ll get to see many exhibits dedicated to those who served both in the military and the merchant marine service.
It’s important to note that the SS American Victory is by no means handicapped accessible or compliant. Remember this ship was built-in the 1940’s way before the Americans with Disabilities Act was ever conceived. I would not be practical to retro fit the ship for compliance, as it would change the layout and I assume would change the operation of the ship when it’s actually sailing. We had a toddler in tow, and left our stroller on the main deck. Not that big of a deal, but if you are loaded for a day long adventure, you may want to leave the gear behind at the car. There were lots of very steep stairwells, that I had to carry by little guy up and down. Now that was scary! I’m not what you would call a physically fit person by any means, so it was a bit rough to carry him through the tour. Luckily, you generally only ascend or descend one deck at a time and there are multiple places to rest along the way. I was thankful we had lots of water with us because in conjunction with the Florida sun and the added weight of my little guy, it was rough. At one point, I almost gave up, but was happy we completed the tour. My suggestion would be to visit early in the morning, when the weather is cooler. You may want to wait to visit until the little ones are old enough to get under way on their own power. (I just made a maritime reference and didn’t intend to!)
Another fun aspect of the SS American Victory is that they actually have an operational Ham Radio club on board. The American Victory Radio Club actually operates from the radio room of the ship! When we visited, they weren’t operating, but I’m sure they are there on the weekends and during special events. If you’re not familiar, Amateur Radio allows individuals to talk all around the world. How awesome would it be to operate from the SS American Victory when it was under way!
So I have been telling you throughout the write up that the SS American Victory is fully functional. Twice a year this magnificent floating museum actually heads out into Tampa Bay for an afternoon cruise! These trips are used as fund-raising events complete with refreshments, and entertainment. The cost of the cruise seems a bit steep, but since it’s a fund-raising effort, I think it’s well worth the money! They also offer discounted rates for children and veterans. It’s a shame that the SS American Victory wasn’t in operation for tours when my grandfather was around, he would have loved it!
If you visit on Saturdays, the SS American Victory ship offers a “Kids Ahoy” program. Featuring a scavenger hunt, arts and crafts, and more, the Kids Ahoy program is a great way to get younger children involved in history!
Despite a scorching hot day and a toddler in my arms, we had a great visit to the SS American Victory ship. If you have never been you really need to make some time for this very unique experience! The staff was friendly, and we enjoyed the self pace approach, allowing us to explore the ship at our own speed. Being in the ship itself was an interesting experience and certainly gave me a greater appreciation for what our merchant marines experienced. Parking was a bit confusing, but my suggestion is to check out the cruise ship terminal parking across the street. They charge per hour, but there is a visitors center that can validate your parking for a 50% discount. Don’t worry no high pressure sales or anything, they have a small terminal you swipe your parking chip to receive the discount.
If you are planning ahead, be sure to check Groupon for a discounted admission. We were lucky enough to get a 50% off admission which was pretty much buy one get one free coupon for the SS American Victory Ship.
SS American Victory Ship Details:
|Date(s):||7 Days A Week||Time(s):||Sun & Mon 12-5pm
Tues-Sat 10am – 5pm
|Address:||705 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL
Under 4 FREE
|Estimated Cost For A Family of 4:||$30|