From a World War II ship to the experience of motherhood, and from the Beatles to the history of pinball, there are some amazing museums that are hidden right in our own backyard!
American Victory Ship & Museum
Location: 705 Channelside Drive, Tampa
Cost: Adults $10 | Kids $5 (plus discounts for seniors, veterans and students with ID)
The American Victory was a cargo ship that was built for WWII and also served in the Vietnam and Korean wars. It's one of five fully-operational WWII ships left in the country. It was built in 1945 then brought to Tampa in 1999 to be converted into a memorial and mariners museum.
"We really let folks explore the ship," said Bill Kuzmick, president of Victory Ship Inc. "You can go into almost any kind of space and just explore everything...and they love that."
Guests can take a step back into the 1940s as they look through artifacts, see the soldiers sleeping quarters and even play at the ship's wheel. Choose to do a self-guided tour or set up a docent tour, usually led by one of the museum's knowledgeable volunteers. But make sure to wear comfortable shoes—there are a lot of steep steps to climb!
"I like to say (the ship) still serves today," said Kuzmick. "We do a lot of training with FBI, law enforcement, firefighters."
American Victory also offers events throughout the year, like private rentals during the 4th of July and Undead in the Water, a haunted ship experience for Halloween. The ship hopes to go into dry dock by early next year so that it can be ready to go for its Relive History cruises, where guests can experience the American Victory out on the waters of Tampa Bay.
The museum is open from 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. on Monday and 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
"It's a phenomenal step back in time and...we have to embrace what we have," said Kuzmick. "We lose elements like this of our nation, and I think that's something that we need to keep...close to our heart."
Museum of Motherhood
Location: 538 28th St N, St. Petersburg
Cost: Suggested donation
Museum of Motherhood explores the art, history, science and experience of motherhood.
In the 1990s, museum director and founder Martha Joy Rose became interested in the topic of motherhood. "As an artist in New York City who was a musician and singer, I noticed there was no artistic venue, or no artistic expression for mothers at the time."
From there, she aimed to create a genre of art and music about motherhood with her big music festival called Mamapalooza and opened her first motherhood exhibit in her store in New York. She now runs the museum out of her home in Historic Kenwood.
The Museum of Motherhood is all about education. Guests can sit in the library and choose from almost 800 books to read, play an educational board game about what to expect during birth, try on a weighted pregnancy belly and browse art showcasing the highs and lows of motherhood. There is also additional literature on studies of the motherhood experience and mother activists.
"We're small and mighty, people always love it," said Rose. "Half of the exhibits here are over at USF Women and Gender Studies Department right now in a pop up over there, so we get around."
The museum is open for appointment only—call 877-711-6667 or email Info@MOMmuseum.org to schedule a visit. Rose is usually on site to answer any questions and to provide some unique insight into the history of mothers.
"Women have not seen their day, and...I want them to," said Rose. "I want everyone to. I celebrate the women and mothers everywhere."
Penny Lane, Beatles Museum
Location: 730 Broadway, Dunedin
One of the largest Beatles collections in the United States is right here in Downtown Dunedin! Explore an array of memorabilia—posters, signed guitars, Ringo's drumsticks, John Lennon's glasses, pieces of hair, swatches of hotel sheets the Beatles slept on—all while listening to classic Beatles hits.
"The Penny Lane Beatles Museum is a collection of...Beatles memorabilia for the last 60 years," said Colin Bissett, curator and CEO of the museum. "It's a collection of a private individual in town...that has been collecting for over 40 years."
The collection consists of almost a thousand pieces (only about 2/3 of it are currently on display), dating back to posters of the Quarrymen, which was the Beatles' name when they first got started in Liverpool with Pete Best as the original drummer.
"They always remember the first time they saw the Beatles," said Bissett regarding the guests who come the museum. "Everyone's got a personal take, which is wonderful to hear. And they come from all over the world."
The museum is open 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Though the museum is free, they do accept donations, and they also sell Penny Lane shirts, mugs, signs and other souvenirs. The museum is perfect for Beatles fanatics and those who are just discovering their music.
"The pieces are quite historic," said Bissett. "So this is a wonderful piece of memorabilia, and it's a great experience for people."
Replay Amusement Museum
Location: 119 E Tarpon Ave, Tarpon Springs
Cost: Adults $14 | Kids $8
Replay is a hands-on museum where you can see the evolution of pinball and arcade games. Try out 120 games including pinball machines up to 50 years old.
"At Replay, it does kind of just look like an arcade, but it's generation over decades of games," said Bobbi Douthitt, special events coordinator for the museum. "You get to see the evolution of gaming, changes in graphics, and how everything is affected by technology."
Between playing games, guests can read the info toppers on each of the pinball machines to learn about when it was built and who it was made by, as well as read reference books all about pinball and arcade games. Replay is also home to the world's largest pinball machine—Hercules made by Atari in 1979. Less than 400 were ever created, and the pinball machine is so large it uses a cue ball from a pool table.
The museum provides an interactive and family-friendly way to experience the evolution of pinball. "I see ages 5 to 85 come through my door," said Douthitt.
Replay Amusement Museum is open 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and open 7 days a week during summer break. Tickets are good to play all day, meaning you can leave and come back as you please. There are a variety of games to choose from, all set to "free play" so no quarters are required.
"Really, if you don't like a game that's in here, you don't like games," said Douthitt.