On the Hampton Waterfront

hampton queen

Here are three ideas for enjoying our historic waterways from Downtown Hampton this summer

By Susan Smigielski Acker | Photos Courtesy of Hampton Roads Harbor Tours, Shored Up And Blackbeard Pirate Festival

Hampton Roads Harbor Tours

Whether you are looking for a local history lesson or a relaxing evening on the water, the 84-foot-long, two-story, Hampton Queen offers three types of cruises that start on the Hampton River.

“It’s a chance to see Hampton from a different perspective,” says Mary Fugere, Director of the Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau.

For the history lover, the sight-seeing cruise takes guests on a two-hour narrated cruise showcasing the Hampton Harbor with 20 points of interest along with a unique view of the Naval Station Norfolk. 

The tour covers how Hampton played an important role in America’s founding starting in the early 1600s, says Kimberly Cassioppi, General Manager of Hampton Roads Harbor Tours  aboard the Hampton Queen. 

The cruises are at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. However, times could change if a large group schedules the vessel for a private event far in advance, Cassioppi notes.

The sunset cruise, on Fridays and Saturdays, has a relaxed feel. Unnarrated, it features music instead.

“The only time they get on the speaker is to point out dolphins, because people love to see the dolphins,” Cassioppi says. 

The cruise takes passengers toward the James River Bridge.

“That spot has a nice sunset,” Cassioppi adds.

Wine Down Wednesdays for the 21 and over crowd, has light refreshments and wine tastings on one level and musicians playing tunes on the other level. 

The snack bar, opened during all cruises, serves hot dogs, cookies, chips as well as beer, wine and cocktails. 

The Hampton Queen is also available to rent for parties and weddings. The cruises run from mid-April to Nov. 3. 

Shored Up Eco Kayak Tours

If getting close to nature is your goal, Shored Up gives eco-friendly tours via kayaks and shore-based programs for the public and groups. 

Founded five years ago by friends Claire Neuburt and Linda Hamm, Shored Up aims to connect people with nature while having a good time. 

“We have an urban oasis here and we love to show the environmental pearls,” says Neubert.

They do so on their fleet of eight kayaks with Certified Virginia Ecotour Guides who have received training in wildlife, habitat protection, interpretation and planning. Many people bring their own kayaks, Hamm notes. 

Shore Up partner with the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance to offer oyster roasts and share the essential ecological role the mollusk plays in the ecosystems. 

The tours also include Hampton River’s history.

“The river is rich in history, and paddling on the water gives a better opportunity to learn the history of Hampton,” Hamm says.

In addition to exploring in a kayak, Shored Up offers programs on the shoreline for any age group. They have several education programs set for the summer and plan to offer programs in other locations, including a paddle in Phoebus, Neubert says.

Blackbeard Pirate Festival

Join the pirate invasion in Downtown Hampton with the 23rd Blackbeard Pirate Festival set for May 31-June 2, 2024.

“It’s based on Hampton history, which for 400 years has been American history,” says Mary Fugere, noting that Hampton is America’s oldest continuously English-speaking settlement. “It’s a way to bring history to life.”

The swashbuckling festival celebrates the infamous pirate Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach) and his connection to the city of Hampton. Legend has it that Blackbeard terrorized ships off North America’s East Coast and the Caribbean for years in the early 1700s. 

Blackbeard was killed in Battle of Ocracoke Inlet, NC, by a small fleet commanded by the Royal Navy’s Lt. Robert Maynard in 1718. Maynard hung Blackbeard’s head on the ship’s bowsprit to prove the pirate’s demise. They sailed to Virginia, where the head was displayed for many years on a pike at Old Point Comfort to warn off future pirates.

The festival begins with the Grand Pirates Bash on May 31. The ticketed event features dancing to piratical entertainment. 

On June 1 and 2, Blackbeard’s pirate encampment in Mill Point Park, is living history with interpreters teaching sailor skills of the 1700s. Re-enactors show visitors how to use a cutlass, load a cannon, and sing a sea shanty. In the afternoon, the pirates will walk through downtown to the waterfront to cheer Blackbeard as he leads other pirate ships into battle with Lt. Maynard. The evening closes with fireworks on the Hampton River. 

For those who want to get in the pirate spirit with their wardrobe, the pirate marketplace has 17th and 18th century historical merchants selling piratical clothing, hats, shoes, jewelry and leather accessories. Concessions are also sold.

While you’re along the waterfront, be sure to check out the historic Hampton Carousel. It was recently re-opened after two-years of extensive repair. Built in 1920, it’s one of 170 antique wooden merry-go-rounds in the United States.

Susan Smigielski Acker

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