October 16, 2022

Museum Review - Midway Redux

While in San Diego, I made a return visit to Midway, which I have previously reviewed based on my visit six years ago. But that was written almost two years after said visit, and I will take the opportunity to write a more detailed one.

Type: Preserved aircraft carrier
Location: San Diego, CA
Rating: 4.5/5, A historic ship with lots to see, beautifully done on most levels. A bit overwhelming.
Price: $26 for normal adults


Midway is in the heart of downtown San Diego, a block or so from the San Diego Maritime Museum. I would not recommend trying to see both on the same day, particularly if anyone in your group is the type of person who is tempted to read all of the signs. The Fatherly One and I moved quite quickly, and we didn't quite get to everything in the five hours we were onboard. She could easily absorb an entire day for someone who is moving moderately slowly, and I think they even offer reduced-price admission the next day, which suggests that some people don't find that sufficient. I was also struck by how busy the ship was. She wasn't the busiest museum ship I'd ever seen, that honor instead falling to Iowa during Fleet Week 2016, but for a fairly ordinary Friday in September, she was both busy and well-crewed, certainly more so than Iowa was when I visited the following Sunday.

The Flag Bridge

On the whole, Midway is a very, very nice place to visit, particularly if you are an enthusiast of naval history and aviation. She was commissioned only 8 days after the end of WWII, and her career spanned the entire Cold War, with refits to accommodate the massive changes in aircraft that took place during the period. She's set up to be in more or less the state she was in when she decommissioned in 1992, with the CIC and flag bridge reflecting her role as flagship of the carrier force in Desert Storm, although there are exhibits that talk about her earlier service, most notably in Vietnam.

A view from the flight deck

Like most large museum ships, a great deal of the ship is open, and you're free to wander more or less as you please. From the top, the island is accessible through free guided tours, run fairly regularly, while the flight deck is full of various planes, mostly jets from the Cold War. The docents (the vast majority of whom are Navy veterans) give regular talks about catapults and arresting gear, something I believe that most of them have personal experience with. We encountered one who had 200 combat missions as an F-4 RIO over Vietnam, although it took a while to get that fact out of him. Like everyone we met, he was very nice, even before he realized that I was a fellow tour guide. There's also a loop through officer's country and the flag spaces. Down below, the hangar deck has a mix of equipment, ranging from a few WWII-era planes to exhibits on the Battle of Midway (including several replica planes made for the movie of that name) to a bunch of simulators and VR stuff you can pay extra to use. There's also a cafe, which is reasonably priced, and the inevitable gift shop. Forward is a loop that accesses the air group spaces and the CIC, which is very pretty. The lower deck has access to various crew spaces, like the mess deck, brig, chief's quarters and so on, as well as an open turbine room, which looked very familiar because the turbines are identical to those aboard Iowa.

The animatronic Captain

Signage throughout the ship is good, and there's been a very deliberate effort to cover ares that are often overlooked, encapsulated in a very nice display on the ship's supply system. Glass and mannequins were both used effectively, even if they're both things I'm not terribly fond of. The mannequins were mostly not horrifying (except the animatronic Captain in his in-port cabin, which straddled the line between "that's a cool idea" and "this is something out of a horror movie") and some were used to subtly tell the human story of the ship, like a group of sailors cleaning a passageway. There's also an audio tour, which comes from a device they hand you (so no messing around with phones if you don't want to). I tried a couple of the stations, and it seemed well-done, with integration of people who had connections to the subject under discussion.

"Sailors" man consoles in the CIC

If you are a regular reader, I cannot recommend Midway too highly. There's a ton of stuff to see, and it's all done very well. The only downside is that the scale might be overwhelming for someone who isn't that interested in naval history. For someone whose interest is more casual, I'd recommend a visit to Iowa instead, and not just out of self-interest. The choice there for a dedicated tour route both means that a visit for a normal guest should run about 90-120 minutes instead of 5 hours, and means that there's going to be a lot more coherence to said visit.

There's also a chance to see ships operating from the various naval facilities in San Diego

On the less regular side, I discovered during this visit that Midway is home to what the curator claimed was the largest naval aviation history collection west of Pensacola. I certainly had no reason to doubt him, and he was kind enough to let me in, and I managed to restrain myself from drooling. Visits are appointment-only and they don't really allow browsing, but it's surprisingly well-staffed if you're looking for a specific piece of information on the history of naval aviation.


  1. October 16, 2022Philistine said...

    Yeah, that definitely sounds like an all-day trip now. When I was there the only places open were the flight deck, the hangar deck, Pri-Fly, and a very short route through some of the living areas, with minimal signage for any of it. But at least there weren't any creepy mannequins!

  2. October 16, 2022The Fatherly One said...

    Have you stopped giving credit for photos?

  3. October 17, 2022bean said...

    More or less. If it matters to you, I can sort out which ones were yours and give you credit.

  4. October 20, 2022AlanL said...

    This seems as good a place as any to drop in a mention that I was one the Georgios Averof in Athens last weekend. My understanding of a lot of things was limited by inability to read Greek, and what one can see is rather limited compared to Belfast - no engine rooms, no turret interiors, tertiary armament absent - but still it was striking how very much changed between 1900s and 1930s state of the cruiser art.

    Also: trireme!

  5. October 20, 2022AlanL said...

    She could easily absorb an entire day for someone who is moving moderately slowly, and I think they even offer reduced-price admission the next day, which suggests that some people don’t find that sufficient.

    I think it was lunchtime on the first day at Portsmouth that my son & I decided to go and buy the extended ticket for the second day

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