I know how hard it is to get young kids out of the house to go somewhere - even quick outings require you to pack enough snacks, diapers, and toys to make you think you’ll be gone for a week. And who wants to wrestle kids in and out of carseats just to find out that your destination isn’t kid-friendly? That’s why I’ve decided to visit Triangle area sites to see if they’re worth your trip. I won’t use a rating system but I’ll try to describe what you’ll see well enough for you to decide if your kids would find it interesting. I’ll also give you the heads up on bathrooms, stroller accessibility and any other SNAFUs I encounter.
ROAD TRIP - Washington, Bath, and Swanquarter NC
Routes: 264 to Washington, 92 to Bath, 306 to Swanquarter, 32/45 North back to 64 West to Knightdale
We wanted to try out traveling in our new and first ever minivan so we put the kids in the back, set up the portable DVD players, turned on the GPS and hit the road.
First Stop: Washington, NC
This town claims to be the first town in the nation to be named after our first President. I am willing to bet that a few other 'Washingtons' also claim that distinction. Coming into town you get the sense that this place is stuck in time - circa 1950. There are a lot of social service offices in the town which leads me to believe that an aging population is this town's greatest concern. The waterfront is worth seeing so you should drive into downtown just to see it. If you want, get out and walk the extensive boardwalk along the water.There are a couple of historic houses down on the waterfront as well that we didn't go in.
Do not, however, waste your time going to the Estuarium. The admission is $4 per adult and free for kids four and under. There is an overrated sculpture in the lobby created by a local artist to illustrate the water cycle; our guide spent way too much time explaining this to a toddler and a preschooler. Next, we were ushered into a small theater for a 15 minute film. I have seen countless numbers of these types of orientation films at different tourist sites from Virgina, N.Carolina, Florida, S.Carolina, Arizona, and Montreal. Some of the films have been cheesy, some are just dated, but never have I seen a film as bad as the one at this Estuarium! I walked out of the theater after about 8 minutes. There was no educational content delivered! The film was a glorified screen saver showing beautiful views of the NC tidewater region with a pleasant soundtrack. Every so often a voice over would break in to tell you something quick and totally inconsequential. It was like a really long commercial. My kids have developmentally appropriate attention spans that give me a small window of time to work with; I will not waste that window on something that doesn't even engage my interest.
The rest of the Estuarium is not much to see either. The historical exhibits lack any specificity or academic research. Case in point: the gist of one placard simply tells me that Native Americans once inhabited this area. Well, duh! But which tribes? What were they known for? How did they make use of the specific natural resources of the estuary habitat?
The only thing the Estuarium has going for it is a tank with a small live alligator and another tank with live blue crabs. Admittedly, the latter could probably be found in an upscale grocery store. My kids enjoyed seeing the alligator - my toddler remembered a song we sing about alligators, my preschooler wanted me to reassure her that it was behind glass and couldn't get to her. Unless seeing a live alligator is worth the $4 admission to you, skip this attraction.
Second Stop: Bath, NC
With an incorporation date of 1705, this town claims to be the oldest town in NC. It's a very small, but picturesque town with water surrounding it on three sides. Of course, Blackbeard is its' most famous former resident. In an effort to emphasize the town's connection to its' English predecessor, most of the signs in town carry an extra 'e' to use the olde English spelling for everything, including "Ye Olde ABC Package Store" (probably not where Blackbeard bought his spirits). There are only 2 places to eat in this town, neither of which are franchise establishments. We ate at Old Town Country Kitchen, instead of Blackbeard's Slices and Ices. The kid's meals were $4 at Old Town, which my wife and I thought were a little pricey. My wife and I had the specials - barbecue plates with slaw and potato wedges. The food wasn't terrible, but I can't say it's the best I've ever had either.
In town, you can see the site of the first library in NC; a couple of historical houses - Bonner and Palmer-Marsh; the oldest church building in NC - St. Thomas' Episcopal 1734; and a visitor's center with adjacent small museum house.There is an orientation film in the visitor's center but you'll forgive my reluctance to see it after the day's earlier matinee. You can see most of what this town has to offer by simply riding around a couple of city blocks and reading the historical markers.
Third Stop: Ferryboat to Aurora, NC
We intended to go to Aurora to see the Fossil Museum and let my kids dig for their own fossils, but we needed to take the ferry to get there. Would you believe that we missed the ferry by one minute? We literally stopped long enough to read the sign of the ferry's scheduled times only to see the ferry disembarking and the dashboard clock reading 3:16. The next ferry wouldn't leave until 5:30 which would have us too late getting to the museum and definitely too late getting home. I definitely plan to try this trip to Aurora again sometime in the near future.
Fourth Stop: Swanquarter, NC
My wife was really set on taking a ferryboat ride so we drove to the next town that had a ferry - 25 miles away. Swanquarter is a smaller town than Bath with less historical significance. The slogan of this town should be: "All our major roads are detoured." If you're using a GPS, like we were, to find the ferryboat dock, beware, it will have you driving into the river via a private driveway. Follow the state ferryboat signs instead. The ferry at Swanquarter takes you to Ocracoke Island - a two hour trip one way. The last ferry of the day departs at 4:30pm.We didn't take it because we hadn't planned on an overnighter.
Instead, we headed back home.
As I mentioned, I do plan to head this way again soon; not only to see the Fossil Museum at Aurora, but also to take a look around New Bern.