It’s safe to assume that many of your group members have traveled by plane. But how many of them have flown in an authentic World War II aircraft?
If you’re looking to create some fantastic, over-the-top experiences for your group, coastal Virginia has a surprising wealth of wonderful offerings. From the historic aircraft flight to eco-safaris, glassblowing classes and insider access to military bases, the quartet of cities in the southeast corner of the state can provide a host of moving and memorable activities for groups.
In Virginia Beach, military history and coastal environments pack a powerful punch of great experiential opportunities for groups. Just down the road, Norfolk is the cultural center of coastal Virginia, with a variety of impressive art and history institutions. Across the bay, Hampton has more military heritage and beachfront attractions to explore, as well as a high-profile annual pirate festival. And Newport News invites groups to explore the maritime and ecological history of the Virginia coast.
Fly Over Virginia Beach
The opportunity to fly in a restored World War II aircraft is one of several experiential programs offered at Virginia Beach’s Military Aviation Museum, an institution that boasts the county’s largest collection of flyable World War I and World War II planes in the country.
“You can actually arrange for members of the group to go up in a vintage World War II aircraft,” said Jim Coggin, tourism sales manager at the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s about a 45-minute flight.”
Groups can also arrange to have a tour of the museum led by an interpreter dressed up as Rosie the Riveter who talks about her experiences helping to build aircraft for the war effort in the 1940s.
After learning about historic military aircraft, groups can see the wonders of modern naval aviation on a tour of Naval Air Station Oceana, the Navy’s master jet base on the East Coast.
“Groups can get a tour of the base with a step-on docent,” Coggin said. “They take the motorcoach out on the flight line, and you can sit there for 20 minutes or so and watch these billion-dollar planes take off and land. Sometimes the docents will stop the motorcoach and get one of the pilots to step on and talk to the group. It’s a cool way for people to say thanks to the men and women who serve in the military.”
There’s more military history to discover at Virginia Beach’s Old Coast Guard Station Museum. This institution sits inside the 1903 headquarters of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, the precursor to the Coast Guard, located right on the city’s iconic oceanfront boardwalk.
“The museum is dedicated to the Life-Saving Service and the Coast Guard,” Coggin said. “It talks about shipwrecks off of our coast and shows how they protected the shoreline in the early days before they had all of our modern equipment.”
In addition to its military heritage, Virginia Beach has a number of attractions and activities that capitalize upon its location and natural surroundings. The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center is one of the largest aquariums on the East Coast, with 800,000 gallons of water in its exhibit tanks. The aquarium also operates nature cruises in the waters around Virginia Beach, giving passengers opportunities to see the populations of bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales that feed off the coast.
For a closer encounter with dolphins, adventurous groups can arrange for an eco-safari through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Guided kayaking tours there take travelers into the waters where dolphins live, offering unparalleled views of these fascinating animals.
Finally, groups shouldn’t leave Virginia Beach without sampling some of its culinary bounty. The Coastal Harvest Feast Tour includes visits to some of the 126 working farms in the area, and the Boardwalk Food Tour highlights restaurants on the coast that serve famous hush puppies, oysters and other local seafood.