Alameda's aircraft carrier museum offers the chance to sleep over in real sleeping quarters just like the crew did — but without all that hard work!
I thoroughly enjoyed both the behind-the-scenes tour of the USS Hornet and sleeping in a berth with 48 bunks stacked three high. If your child would get a kick out of experiencing a slice of military history, then sleeping aboard the USS Hornet aircraft carrier forever-docked in Alameda with Live Aboard is a must-do.
What to expect when you stay after hours on the USS Hornet:
The Live-Aboard Program is conducted in a fun-spirited but organized manner. You will not be given free time to wander the decks but you will visit places that are not on the daytime tour. Falling in, stowing your gear, and following orders are all part of this unique and memorable experience. After an orientation, visitors will stow their gear in one of many bunk rooms. Because the ship has a capacity of more than 3,000 sailors, you will have plenty of space to spread out. Dinner in the mess hall was tasty enough for me, but my children had mixed feelings.
Your ticket will also give you admission to the museum the day following your sleepover and a turn on the flight simulator.
What we loved about Live Aboard:
Behind-the-scenes tour. Our guide had been stationed on the Hornet in the 1960s and was a real expert. He took us to parts of the ship I had never seen and gave us an overwhelming amount of interesting facts.
Sleeping in three-high bunks. Though I'm not about to redesign my bedroom, I was in awe of the bunking situation and kept trying to picture the rooms full of crew. Like whoa.
What we didn’t like about sleeping on the USS Hornet:
Late bedtime. Holy cow! Kids will be awake getting pumped full of history and trivia without access to their bunk until 11:30 lights out. Parents and children stick together and the programming runs until 11pm. My kids are used to sleep around 8pm, so being on a walking tour until 10pm was a challenge. Pair the 11:30 pm bedtime with the 7am reveille (see my video) and we were all too worn out to stay and explore. Our youngest went home around 10pm in an exhausted tantrum.
The food. I hate to bring this up, because I enjoyed my two meals in the mess hall, but my children didn't. Food choices are limited to what the kitchen is preparing. Adults will totally appreciate that these meals are superior to what the real crew ate during 15 months at sea, but your kids won't care. Picky eaters, beware.
What's it like to wake up onboard a huge ship? Behold the 7am reveille. At 7am on the dot, you can expect a loud-speaker announcement with whistles and a flashlight entering your bunk room as night watch security turns on the lights. Again, I was grateful that we didn't have to do a full day's work aboard the ship. My kids just wanted to sleep.
What to pack and what to leave at home:
Gear to grab. The berthing compartments are equipped with covered “racks” with foam mattresses. Each guest should bring a sleeping bag, pillow, flashlight, toiletries, hand towel, and a jacket and hat in cold weather. Next time, I'd bring a bottom sheet, too.
Come with curiosity. Bone up on some history first and you will have more questions and appreciation for the space.
Leave your whiners at home. Am I describing this experience well enough? It was super fantastic for the right kind of kid or adult (and way boring for the other kind). You know your family best.
Keeping it real: who does this?
My recommendation would be for small family groups where both parents and children are very interested in the USS Hornet and its place in history. We saw a number of highly engaged children as well as some bored ones on the tour. The price at about $100 a head is steep for families. We saw a few other families and a ton of Cub Scouts.
Plan your overnight visit to the USS Hornet:
- Children ages 5 and up are allowed. I would suggest at least age 9 with interest in the topic and the stamina to stay up until 11pm.
- Price: $75 museum members/$100 per non-member / further discounts for scout groups (includes two meals, next day's admission, simulator ride, and overnight parking)
- Many dates are offered, you can register through the website.
Thank you to the USS Hornet for providing me a media visit to the program; our admission was covered (Gulp, $100 per person). All opinions are my own.