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In the Navy: A Night on the New Jersey

Need a hotel in Philly? "Try a decommissioned warship in New Jersey," suggests senior editor Norie Quintos, who recently returned from a trip with her kids. She explains:

I never was a Girl Scout. Not much of a joiner, I guess, or maybe the cookie quota demanded too much capitalist enterprise. However, a part of me always envied the gals in green who got to go on field trips and earn those merit badges. Well, I sort of got my wish last weekend, when I, my two tween-aged sons, and about a dozen scouting troops boarded the permanently docked Battleship New Jersey (in Camden, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia) for an overnight encampment. After seeing service in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and other sundry international battles, the massive warship—eventually made obsolete by smaller, nimbler vessels—retired and became a floating museum. Think of it as a cruise, but without the chocolates on the pillow, yoga on the pool deck, or midnight buffet.

Walking up the gangway on a frigid Friday evening, sleeping bags in hand, we were met by volunteer docents—all retired U.S. Navy salts, some of whom served on this very ship. The accommodations were spartan; we each got a locker and a berth (with an 18-inch vertical clearance, i.e., don’t get up too quickly). The cabin we were in had 12 bunks stacked three-high. No bathroom en suite, no balcony, not even a porthole. The evening’s schedule—this is the military after all—included roll call, an exhaustive tour of the ship, a simulator ride depicting the attack on Iwo Jima, and dinner in the mess hall (where the only food choice was to eat or not to eat). Some 300 participants and staff roamed a ship that at full capacity hosted about 3,000 sailors. Lights out was at 11 p.m., followed all too soon by early-morning reveille, flying of the colors (flag), and breakfast. Our night proved to be a quick, instructive, and ultimately humbling lesson in what our Navy boys (and in those days they were boys) endured. And what 21st-century middle-class American kid—or parent, for that matter—doesn’t need to learn that lesson every once and again?

Overnight encampments are scheduled throughout the year. Cost is $49.95 per person, including dinner and breakfast. The ship is permanently berthed. Bring a sleeping bag, pillow, flashlight, and a change of clothing. Sinks and toilets are available for use, but not showers.

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