One of the highlights when visiting Annapolis, the capital of the state of Maryland and only a short drive from Baltimore, is the campus of the United States Naval Academy. Once you enter the premises, known locally as the “Yard”, you’ll get the first glimpses of the future naval leaders of the United States. In some cases, you’ll also be stepping back in time, reliving American history as you roam around the grounds. In order to make the most out of your United States Naval Academy tour, plan to arrive early so you can take advantage of guided tours and attractions available, many of which are free. Below are some of the highlights of a United States Naval Academy tour.
United States Naval Academy Tour
United States Naval Academy Museum, Preble Hall
If you only have time to stop by one of the attractions within the Yard, my recommendation is to visit the United States Naval Academy Museum, located in Preble Hall, just a block away from the Gate 3 entrance to the Academy. The museum chronicles the development of the Naval Academy and provides a chronological look at American naval and maritime history beginning with the American Revolutionary War. The most interesting exhibits (at least to me) sit on the second floor, where models and antique displays of ships dating from the 17th until 19th centuries are encased for viewing. Make sure you check out the handful of ship models created by French prisoners of war that were made from animal bones.
The museum is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance is free.
Sitting in the heart of the Naval Academy grounds, Bancroft Hall is known to be the largest single dormitory in the world. Built in Beaux Arts architectural style at the turn of the 20th century, it features over 1,700 rooms and 33 acres of floor space. In addition to the cadets’ living quarters, Bancroft Hall also houses a gymnasium, several officer quarters, and a full medical, dental, and optical facility. The building is so huge that it even holds its own zip code! It was named after George Bancroft who established the U.S. Naval Academy while serving as the Secretary of the Navy. Students refer to it as “Mother B” or “The Hall”.
As you exit Bancroft Hall, you’ll walk right into Tecumseh Court, the location of the daily Noon Meal Formation where you can watch students of the academy known as Brigade of Midshipmen line up for inspection in their crisp blue uniforms. The court is a popular gathering place for students and where most formal parades also take place. It got its name sometime in the 19th century, when midshipmen came to refer to the Delaware chief Tamanend’s statue that stand guard on the north side of the court as “Tecumseh”, the Shawnee warrior chief and ally of the British who was killed in the War of 1812. The statue gets a yearly paint makeover from the 9th Company during key events, a long-standing tradition that goes back almost 100 years.
Main Chapel and the Crypt of John Paul Jones
The dome of the Main Chapel is likely the first thing you’ll notice while on your United States Naval Academy tour. The 200-foot cupola towers over the historic center of Annapolis and can be seen from miles away on a clear day. Stop by to see the recently restored dome and admire the beautiful Tiffany designed stained glass windows. You can also pay your respects to John Paul Jones, considered the father of the U.S. Navy, whose remains lay underneath the main chapel entry. The chapel is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. except during services, funerals, and special events.
Commissioning Week and Blue Angels Demonstration
Every year in late spring, the Naval Academy hosts a Blue Angels Demonstration to celebrate Commissioning Week. Selected servicemen make up a squadron that flies six planes including five Navy F/A-18 Hornets and a C-130 Hercules performing a number of high-speed, aerobatic, and precision-maneuvers to honor the graduating class for that year. This two-hour narrated air show is one of the most sought after events in Annapolis.
For 2016, there are two opportunities to watch the Blue Angels Demonstration. Weather permitting, visitors stay in Annapolis can watch the jets swoop the city during practice on May 24 or stick around for the actual show on May 25 that will begin exactly at 14:00 EST.