Fun at Fleet Week

If you want to hang out with men and women in crisp, white uniforms, poke around inside well-armed warships, and witness the spectacle of aerobatic airplanes, then get yourself to Fleet Week, a US Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard tradition that reaches back to the early 20th century. At Fleet Week, active military ships normally deployed overseas dock at a variety of major cities for 1 week. When the ships enter port the crews take shore leave, trailing celebrations, festivals and parties in their wake.

Fleet Week originated in San Diego at the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition, when 114 warships and 400 military planes paraded into port. The fleet included 48 battleships, cruisers and carriers with more than 3,000 commissioned officers and 55,000 enlisted men. Most of them visited the fair, and, in turn, thousands of San Diegans and fair visitors were guests on the various ships.

Several cities on both US coasts hold annual Fleet Weeks. The US Navy also takes its show on the road to inland cities each year. Fleet Week festivities usually include military demonstrations and airshows with the likes of the Blue Angels, as well as guided tours of the ships.

NYC Fleet Week: May

NYC has hosted Fleet Week nearly every year since 1984. Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen show off the latest capabilities of today's military. Many events, including military band concerts, films and Broadway show performances, are held in and around the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on the Hudson River. This celebration ends on Memorial Day with a military aircraft fly-over honoring those who lost their lives in service to the US.

Seattle Seafair: June

Seattle celebrates Fleet Week during its annual Seafair, a tradition since 1950. Sailors come ashore to sample some of the flavor of the Northwest’s alternative lifestyle, while locals get a taste of life at sea. Seafair activities and events include the Blue Angels airshow, Navy band performances and tours of the visiting ships, as well as the Milk Carton Derby, crowning of Miss Seafair and vintage hydroplane racing.

Portland Rose Festival: June

Navy ships have been docking in Portland, OR, during the city’s annual Rose Festival for 80 years. The multi-week urban fair includes 4 parades, movie screenings, garden tours, a dragon boat race and, of course, the annual Spring Rose Show. The battleship USS Oregon visited the Rose Festival on its final tour before decommissioning in 1925. The mast of the ship now sits in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

San Francisco Fleet Week: October

San Francisco Fleet Week has been held in and around San Francisco Bay annually since 1981. The week’s highlights include an airshow featuring the Blue Angels, as well as a parade of ships and a high school band challenge. The city’s Fleet Week mission focuses on humanitarian assistance and disaster response preparations by hosting such events and activities as urban search and rescue training with the San Francisco Fire Department.

San Diego Fleet Week: September/October

PH2 Scott Taylor.
As the home of the original Fleet Week, San Diego celebrates with gusto with a concentrated party in the bar-dense and historic Gaslamp Quarter in the city’s downtown. The week’s signature events include the Big Bay Family Festival, where visitors can find ship tours, food and family activities; Operation Liberty Call, where sailors and civilians alike mingle at the bar, Dick’s Last Resort; Coronado Speed Festival, a vintage car race and the Miramar Air Show featuring the Blue Angels.

Fleet Week Port Everglades: April

South Florida has been welcoming military sailors annually since 1990. Signature activities include the Galley Wars Competition and the Damage Control Olympics, which calls for teams of sailors to compete in mock-emergency events, There’s also the Hero Fishing Tournament and the McDonald’s Air & Sea Show.

Annual Navy Weeks

About 20 Navy Weeks are held each year in different cities throughout the US. The US Navy designs the events to educate Americans about naval service and to increase awareness in cities which might not regularly see the Navy at work. Navy Weeks are organized around an "anchor event" or large community event, such as a state fair or a public holiday celebration, and can include the Blue Angels, Navy Leap Frog parachute team demos, Navy Band performances, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) dive tanks, flight simulators and SEAL fitness challenges.

Travel writer Trisha Creekmore has enjoyed Fleet Weeks in NYC and Seattle.
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