Pensacola, at mile 185 EHL, is the end of the line for our Gulf Coast cruise. A cosmopolitan city and deep-water port, Pensacola offers many marinas, repair facilities, motels and restaurants and is easily worth a layover for there is so much to do and see.
That follows, since Pensacola is the first place where the Spanish tried to found a North American colony, back in 1559. They were followed in order by the French, the British, the Spanish again, the Confederacy and the United States, which is why Pensacola is now known as “The City of Five Flags.” The legacy of each flag is a lesson in American history and architecture. Of note in this regard are Fort Pickens, Fort McRae, Fort Barrancas, the Pensacola Lighthouse and the Seville Square Historical District. Here you'll see the same sort of balconies and ornate ironwork you find in the French Quarter of New Orleans. That's not too surprising when you consider that under both the French and the Spanish, Pensacola was an outpost of that historic Louisiana community.
Downtown Pensacola — a National Historic Landmark, with some buildings more than 200 years old — is beautiful. Marinas, restaurants and shops welcome visitors whether they come by land or sea.
Museums, galleries and many historic buildings are here to enjoy. If you want to easily check it all out, take a cab (or your rental car) to the Pensacola Bay Area Convention & Visitors Information Center at the Pensacola end of the Pensacola Bay Bridge. The facility — like the one in St. Augustine — has information on everything. They even give out a very well-done two-sided, big (approximately 12 x 18 inches) map of the city which nicely shows just about anything you'd want to see. The center, of course, has brochures and more information on it all and their folks know about historic district walking tours, schedules and so on.
Actually, you can get a glimpse of history, albeit of a more recent vintage, while you're still on the water. If you traverse the inlet to the Gulf (though we're getting ahead of ourselves: the inlet, with its all-weather ship channel, is west of the city), you'll see the turrets of the battleship Massachusetts still-awash near Caucus Shoal by the east end of Perdido Key. Marked with a “wreck” buoy, the old battlewagon was purposely sunk back in World War II to serve as a practice target for naval aviators.
Which brings us to a “must see” for anyone visiting Pensacola: the world famous National Museum of Naval Aviation at Naval Air Station Pensacola, one of the three largest aviation museums in the world. The museum's display of more than 170 vintage aircraft chronicles more than nine decades of naval aviation. Many training cockpits of real airplanes are there for the junior set to climb into, sit, play, and dream in. Kids are very welcome and there are a lot of "hands on" exhibits for them to enjoy. Many new displays have been added and one of the most popular is reality air combat where you can use actual computerized cockpits against other participants under simulated combat situations. A real blast, we're told!
It's also the site of the only IMAX theater in the area, which now shows two or more features each day. Admission to the museum is free, IMAX admission varies by what's playing. For museum and IMAX info, call 850-452-3604 and follow the prompts. To reach IMAX administration, call 850-453-2025 or 1-888-627-4629. For movies, times and prices get the recording at 850-453-2024.(Groups can arrange tours or special showings through IMAX as well.)
NAS Pensacola is often called “The Cradle of Naval Aviation,” because this is where so many navy pilots are trained and is where they've been trained since the earliest days of navy flying. It's also the home of the Navy's flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, who practice here during the air show season — generally from March through November. Visitors should call the museum about attending their practice sessions. They are exciting and often include personal visits with the pilots. Admittance to the air shows and the museum are free and fascinating.(Continue...)