When did you learn there was a World War II ship in Tampa, Florida? Because I even lived there and never knew it existed, let alone that visiting the SS American Victory was something an everyday tourist could do.
In fact, Florida has more than its fair share of hidden gems—probably because most visitors are so focused on Disney World and Universal and Busch Gardens and the beach. So it wasn’t until I was specifically researching WWII sites in Florida that I discovered the SS American Victory Ship and Museum. And I’m really glad I found it.
What is the SS American Victory?
The SS American Victory is a cargo ship that participated in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Today, the still-fully-functional SS American Victory is one of only three working WWII-era cargo ships in the world.
The ship’s main purpose was to carry ammunition, equipment, and other cargo from West Coast United States ports to Southeast Asia and back. After the war, they added troops to that list. The ship was slated to become scrap metal in the late 1990s but was saved by preservation efforts.
SS American Victory arrived in Tampa, Florida on September 16, 1999 where it would operate as a museum ship, undergo extensive renovations, and eventually be included on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, visiting the SS American Victory Ship & Museum is a great way to learn about WWII cargo ships and experience life aboard one for yourself. Also, they often host what must be really interesting parties.
SS American Victory was named after American University in Washington D.C. (Of the 531 ships that were built around 1944, they named 150 of them after schools and universities. The rest they named after countries and other geographical references.)
Visiting the SS American Victory
Upon (finally) learning about the existence of this ship, I was excited to discover visiting the SS American Victory is something you can do all year long, seven days a week.
It’s an affordable and unique way to spend a little bit of time while visiting the Tampa Bay area. It’s the perfect way to split up a trip dominated by theme parks, animal parks, sand, and sunburn–especially if you’ve just arrived on a cruise ship. Time to get your learn on, kiddos!
I had a great time visiting the SS American Victory Ship and Museum and I know you will too. And to help you during your visit, here are 9 tips for visiting the SS American Victory I learned firsthand:
1. Be conscious of when you go
It’s no secret it gets HOT in Florida in the summer. In fact, during my visit in January the temperature was over 80°F. This is an important bit of information to keep in mind when visiting a 1940s cargo ship devoid of air conditioning, cover from the sun, and adequate airflow.
If you’ll be visiting the SS American Victory in the summer (or any other extremely hot and sunny day), consider visiting early in the morning.
Deck areas of the ship are exposed to the elements (i.e., the Florida sun) and the rooms you’ll visit inside the ship are small and enclosed. There is no A/C inside the ship (except for a few areas) and airflow is at a minimum. It would be very, very easy to overheat here. Additionally, be sure to always stay hydrated on hot days, especially if you have to visit in the afternoon.
During my 4:00 pm January visit (that’s 16:00 to you, sailor), the sun wasn’t at its strongest and temperatures inside the ship weren’t terrible. Though the air inside the ship was noticeably stagnant, it wasn’t uncomfortable. However, summer visitors report very different circumstances.
2. Weigh the tour options for visiting the SS American Victory
While visiting the SS American Victory, you have two choices: a guided tour or a self-guided tour.
The self-guided tour of the SS American Victory Ship & Museum is just that—you’re given a map, a few instructions, and then you’re free to explore the ship on your own, at your own pace.
They give you free reign of 7 of the 9 levels of the ship and can learn about each of the areas from information sheets posted all around the ship. This is the most common and most popular way to visit.
However, if you know you’ll be visiting ahead of time, you can schedule a guided tour of the ship led by one of the museum’s volunteer guides. This is best for larger groups and those with a deeper interest in the history of the ship.
These are available only by directly contacting the museum and you can find that information on the American Victory tour page.
3. Know a little before you go
Before visiting the SS American Victory, I thought a battleship was a battleship. Even when, in this case, it wasn’t a battleship at all. What I didn’t know at the time, was this was to be my first cargo ship.
Knowing a little about American Victory before you visit will help you to understand much of what you’re seeing onboard.
I’ve already told you some stuff—like how this was a cargo ship used to transport ammunition and equipment, not a ship intended for battle. Some other fun facts you might like to know may be:
- They built it in just 55 days for $2.5 million.
- They named it for Washington D.C.’s American University in honor of their contributions to war training and weapons research during World Wars I and II.
- American Victory’s inaugural trip was to Manila in the Philippines followed by Shanghai, China in 1945.
- This ship has circumnavigated the globe… twice.
- Today, besides a museum and memorial, it also serves as a training facility for firefighters, police officers, other first responders, active military, training dogs, the FBI, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. See? There’s so much life after 75!
4. Check Groupon first
I want to preface this by saying… the SS American Victory Ship & Museum needs your money. The admission price is a low $10 ($8 for seniors!) and that money goes to keeping the ship afloat and operating the museum, among other things. It’s really a small price to pay but the funds do a great deal of good for this cause.
HOWEVER, it would be awful if the accumulating costs of travel kept you from seeing some of history’s best surviving exhibits. And for that, there’s Groupon.
Groupons for visiting the SS American Victory Ship & Museum are often (but not always) available and it’s worth doing a quick search before your visit to find out. Happy bargain hunting!
5. How long will visiting the SS American Victory take?
Visiting the SS American Victory took me an hour from start to finish. I didn’t rush through the ship, but I didn’t take as long as I could have either.
The ship itself isn’t incredibly large (relatively speaking, that is) and many of the areas repeat. However, there are a lot of posted informational sheets around the ship to read, many artifacts to look at, and a good number of things to see in the museum. (Add in some time in the small gift shop if that interests you.)
My friends and I visited during the last hour of the day, but we could have spent more time had we had the option. However, we also don’t feel like we missed anything. Budget an hour for visiting the SS American Victory and you should be totally fine.
6. Don’t rely on the arrow
Upon starting our self-guided tour, the staff member at the desk told us we could follow the arrows on the ground around the ship as an idea of where to go. I think I saw a total of three arrows throughout the whole tour? Either I’m not incredibly observant (guilty!), easily distracted (ok, also guilty) or the arrows aren’t as helpful as they think.
Regardless, though the ship does have a maze-like quality to it, it’s really best to just wander. Even without maps or a general idea of where we were going, we still saw all there was to see and never got lost. (Knowing you have to sign in when you arrive and out when you leave is comforting. I really appreciate their policy of No tourist left behind!)
7. Don’t miss some great photo ops
Yes, this tip goes against one of my biggest grievances. I usually don’t encourage snagging “great photo ops” at World War II sites, an act that can often be construed as disrespectful, tone deaf, and outright inappropriate. However, I feel that’s not always the case.
Snapping sexy selfies at cemeteries? Horrible idea. Getting a smiling shot of yourself behind the gates of Dachau Concentration Camp? Please just don’t. Jumping for photos on Omaha Beach? What is wrong with you!? (All things I’ve seen happen)
However, and in my opinion, photo ops at World War II sites are not all created equal. Use your best judgment (or at least, any judgment at all) to decide if it’s appropriate for each situation. Always be respectful, always take into consideration the history behind where you are and what you want to photograph, and do so with an appreciative heart.
That being said, you can find some great places for photos while visiting the SS American Victory. Next to one of the massive anchors, in the gunner’s seat, while steering this enormous ship, for some examples. It’s a museum built for inserting yourself into history.
8. Wear the right stuff
Because this museum is, more or less, in situ, your visit will be as authentic to World War II as you can get. You’ll be climbing up and down many steps and lots of awkward ladders.
You’ll be walking over barriers, on ship decks, outside in the sun, and up and down steep ramps. Needless to say, sturdy shoes are in order. (But since this is Florida after all, don’t let your flip-flops deter you from visiting.)
Personally, I wear my Chacos sandals everywhere. They’re extremely sturdy and comfortable in all situations. Even hiking. Even on the beach. Even in water.
Additionally, you’ll also want to remember:
- A sun hat – for those exposed ship decks and because Florida.
- Sunscreen – see above.
- Sunglasses – again, see a theme here?
- And I feel I should mention again: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Snag yourself a refillable water bottle and just bring with you everywhere in Florida.
9. Where should you park when visiting the SS American Victory?
Depending on how busy it is the day you visit, you may be able to park in one of the few spots available right in front of the ship. (It’s worth a try!)
Otherwise, they typically encourage visitors to park in the Florida Aquarium parking lot at 864 Channelside Drive. This costs a flat $6 (but no one was manning the gate when I visited and I was let in and out free of charge).
However, should you be out exploring Ybor City earlier in the day, you can also take the TECO Line Streetcar System from Ybor to the Cumberland Avenue Station (stop #7), just a short walk from the SS American Victory.
More info for visiting the SS American Victory
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