The state of Maine holds the record for building the most ships in the country and Bath, located a half hour north of Portland and just over a half hour south of Augusta, has built more ships than any other area in Maine since the 1740s. It is fitting, then, that Bath is home to the Maine Maritime Museum, which showcases the history of the ship building, boating, fishing, and lobstering industries. The complex is spread over 20 acres on the banks of the Kennebec River, one mile away from Bath Iron Works.
The museum is open 363 days a year from 9:30am-5pm and has plenty of free parking in front of the main entrance. Hours are extended during summer months. Check here for more information.
Find admission information here. Admission tickets are valid for two consecutive days.
Restrooms are located in the main museum building and outside by the Pirate Play Ship. There is a small coatroom next to the restrooms in the main museum.
Most of the complex is handicap accessible (some of the shipyard buildings have a second floor that are not handicap accessible). I would bring a stroller for the toddler crew for the shipyard, although it is easily walkable for most kids.
There is a gift shop located in the main museum.
The Even Keel Cafe offers lunch items and throughout the day, but is not open during summer 2020. Other options for dining can be found here.
The museum traditionally offers lighthouse and nature cruises, sails aboard the Mary E, and daily tours. Check here for up to date information on tours.
Plan on 2.5-3 hours to fully explore the museum and shipyard buildings. Leave additional time for a boat cruise.
Disclaimer: We visited during the pandemic and took all possible precautions. The museum did a great job of guiding visitors in a one way direction throughout the complex and encouraged social distancing (note the clever nautical themed reminders!). Some parts of the complex (that would typically involve close contact) were closed but we have included them for future visitors.
10 Things to Do at the Maine Maritime Museum
1. Watch a 13 minute film in either the Whitaker or Bath Savings Orientation Theaters. The short films provide overviews of the museum and exhibits.
2. Count all 16 sides of the Fresnel lens of the full size reproduction of the 1874 lantern that sits atop of the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse inside the Maritime History Building.
3. In the permanent exhibits in the Maritime History Building, kids will especially enjoy choosing a favorite winter activity in the Frozen Kingdom exhibit, pretending to inspect cargo coming into port and navigate a tugboat in the Tugboat exhibit, and learning to speak maritime language.
4. Walk through the Mould Loft and learn the various steps to crafting a schooner, from design to fairing the lines to making the moulds.
5. Marvel at the massive size of the Wyoming, the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built in America in 1909 on site. The museum recreated the outline of 6 mast schooner- to scale!- in the shipyard.
6. Watch a blacksmith demonstrate techniques in the Blacksmith Shop. In the nearby Paint & Treenail and Mill & Joinery Shops, visitors can also see where sawmills were used to craft various tools and the framework of the ships. Note: hold on tight to the toddler crew in these buildings!
7. See how a famous shipbuilding family lived in the late 1800s inside the Donnell House. Docents share personal stories of the family and visitors can tour the first floor rooms. Note: This exhibit is closed for summer 2020.
8. Learn about the lobstering industry in the Lobstering and the Maine Coast exhibit in the Shipyard. The building includes collections of lobster traps, buoys from around the state, and lobster boats. Check out the display of names of 5,000 licensed lobster boats.
9. Climb aboard the Mary E Schooner, the last of the 850 Bath–built fleet of Schooners still afloat. The Mary E was built for fishing in 1906 and sailed for over 50 years. Today, guests can explore he schooner and even set sail (when it fully reopens). Find sail information here.
10. Kids will surely want to “board” the Pirate Play Ship and pretend to set sail. While it wasn’t accessible during our visit (it looked so fun, even my preteen was disappointed!), we imagine when it does open, kids will be entertained for a long time!
Bonus: Take a short walk from the main building to the Orem Kennebec Riverwalk and learn about the ecology of the area.
Looking for more nautical fun in New England? Check out my City Guides for New Bedford, Massachusetts; Gloucester, Massachusetts; Salem, Massachusetts; and Newport, Rhode Island for more family fun with lots of maritime history. And check out this post of 15 places to see boats on the East Coast
Disclosure: My family was given a media pass to explore the museum; All opinions expressed are my own.