I Heart Manteo

It is no secret that I adore the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I love the beach, the sand, the sun, the water, and the salty air.

What I especially like is that each town has it’s own unique personality.  There are fishing towns to the south on Hatteras Island, beachy towns with fun hotspots in the middle of the OBX, and more laid back and refined towns to the north; complete with wild horses.

As an added bonus, there is Ocracoke Island to the far south and Roanoke Island, just across the causeway. On our most recent trip I fell in love with Roanoke Island.

On the north end of Roanoke Island, is a quaint little tourist town that spans the waterfront, named Manteo.  There are shops, eateries, inns and museums.   I could easily spend a few days in Manteo.

The town is anchored by 2 distinct museum.  The first is the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse.  This tiny little lighthouse is a replica of the original that sat on top of the waters of the Croatan Sound.  This is the 4th lighthouse, each of the other 3 ultimately met the fate of the water.  There are exhibits on the inside and the deck provides a good spot for fishing on the outside.


On the other end of town is the Roanoke Island Festival Park.  A frequent visitor to interpretive  historical museums (I live in Virginia after all) I have to say this was outstanding!  They cover life as a native on the island, life as a colonist and life on board a tiny ship crossing the Atlantic.  The museum itself is phenomenal.  I want to go back one day, sans kiddos, so I can read through all the exhibits properly.

One activity that was a highlight of our trip was the Pirate Adventure; it is SO much fun! The kids not only get to go on a pirate ship, they get tattoos and borrowed costumes, read a treasure map, battle a pirate and get treasure and grog at the end!

In the midst of all this fun, one must eat; after all, the body needs fuel for adventure. For a quick bite to eat try out Poor Richards on the waterfront.  There is a wonderful variety of sandwiches and the atmosphere is a lot of fun.

If you are looking for great food and terrific beer, check out Full Moon Brewery.  You can order a pint or a flight and the prices are very reasonable.


I can’t say it enough, take a break from the beach and head over to Manteo.  There is history, shopping, good food, adventure and fun!

Dishing up the Fish in Wanchese

Wanchese, located on the southern end of Roanoke Island, is an industrial fishing and boat building town that is home to 1,642 and a lot of O’Neals.  There is a long history and tradition that is quite evident when visiting.  I know nothing about boats, in the interest of full disclosure, but I did learn from a boat captain, that the Carolina design, was developed by Warren O’Neal in Wanchese.

We first met Wanchese last year when we went on a Sunset Dolphin Tour with Paradise Dolphin Cruises.  While the dolphins were a bit photo shy, we had a wonderful trip out on the water.

This time around we tried out two restaurants.  The first was Fisherman’s Wharf.  Sitting on the Waterfront, the views are nice.  My kids liked watching the birds fly by.  The food is geared to those with a sensitive palate; you do not need to worry about spice or flavor overload.  The staff was really nice to our little ones.

The other restaurant we tried is O’Neal’s Sea Harvest.  Yummy!  Serving the locals, this is a lunch only establishment, so make sure you get there early as they close at 3:30.  It was hopping; tables turning over the entire hour we were there both inside and out.  
I really like the laid back atmosphere and the fact that most people seemed to know each other.  Prices were great and the flavors were good. And, on your way out the door, you can pick up fresh seafood for your evening meal.
When visiting Roanoke Island, take the time to pop over to Wanchese.  Check out the boats and grab some of the freshest seafood on the OBX.

Aquarium on Roanoke Island

We had the unique experience the other day, of being the first family through the doors of the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.  I have to say, being one of only a few families inside offered us a wonderful opportunity to soak up all the aquarium had to offer.  It was a rainy Saturday, departure day for many on the OBX, so the crowds were fairly low at 9am.

Our kids went nuts once we stepped through the doors; they LOVE all things aquatic. And the animals didn’t disappoint.  We were there early enough that they were quite active.

The Quick Details

  • Cost: $10.95 (ages 13-61) $8.95 (ages 3-12) Free (ages 0-2) $9.95 (Military and Seniors)
  • Open from 9am-5pm
  • There are indoor and outdoor exhibits, an auditorium, and a museum shop.
  • There is currently an outdoor Dinosaur Exhibit.
  • There is a turtle rehabilitation program.
  • Plan about 2 hours for your visit.
  • Go early, when the animals are active and crowds are low.
  • Indoor Exhibits

    The aquarium highlights the wildlife in the marshes, coastal areas and the ocean off North Carolina. It begins with the marsh ares, highlighting reptiles, frogs, lizards, fish, turtles, otters and alligators.

    After we meandered through the marshy exhibits, it was on to a visit to the Turtle Rehabilitation Program.  You step outside and then enter into the rehab center.  There are tanks with turtles that are recuperating from injuries sustained in the wild, and staff who explain the injuries and treatments.

    Then the kids get to be turtle docs themselves.  They head into the lab, don a white lab coat, grab a turtle and head to the diagnostic station.  This is a really fun, hands on, learn through play experience that teaches the kids a bit about veterinary medicine.

    After they diagnose, the children then bring their turtle to the treatment station, where they learn what needs to be done to rehab the turtle.

    Next the turtle is placed in a tank to swim and get stronger, before it is released to the ocean.

    Next up is a hallway full of fish tanks.  There are many varieties of fish and the kids had fun identifying the ones they knew.  There was also an eel that was rehabbing.

    The hallway leads to two touch tanks. The first has stingrays and a horseshoe crab.  The second tank has a variety of sea life.  This was cool because the children could gently touch and see the animals that live underwater.

    Once the kids had their fill, we headed over to the shark tank and the USS Monitor exhibit.  There were divers cleaning the tanks and my oldest was enthralled.

    It was a rainy day when we visited, so we did not get to spend much time outside.  We quickly visited the dinosaur exhibit.  The animatronics were pretty good and real enough that my little guys wanted to keep their distance.

    This was a wonderful way to spend a morning and learn a bit about life underwater.  The kids get to move and work out their energy and have a great time learning through play.  I will say, in the interest of full disclosure, this is not the Shedd Aquarium, but there are ample opportunities for education and fun.  It is worth the time and money.

    A day at the Roanoke Island Festival Park

    It was a windy day; one of those days when the sand was swirling and lashing the skin.  While a day at the beach was attempted, ultimately the elements won out.  It was decision time…let mother nature ruin our day or go on an adventure.  So we packed the kids into the car and headed north to Manteo.  Our destination…the Roanoke Island Festival Park.

    A student of history, I have been dragging my kids around to every historical site we run across. The Roanoke Island Festival Park is a recreation of life on Roanoke Island in the late 1500’s, and while the material in the park is pretty standard, the kind of sites you see in most places like this, the museum is one of the best I’ve been to.  It is interactive, dynamic, and chock full of information.


    The Quick Details

    1. Cost is $10 (adults) $7 (kids 6-17) and free (kids 0-5) and admission is good for 2 days!!
    2. There is an outdoor area, the museum, a theater, and a store.
    3. Plan at least 2 hours for this visit.  
    Outdoor Attractions
    The outdoor attractions consist of a 16th Century Settlement Site, an American Indian Town and Cultural Education Center, and a recreation of The Elizabeth II.  If you’ve been to the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia, it is similar.
    My kids adored The Elizabeth II.  The re-enactors were fabulous and spent a lot of time answering all of our questions and showing us details on board.  We spent most of our outdoor time at this particular attraction.

    The American Indian Town featured life in an Algonquian village, similar to what the explorers would have encountered in the late 1500s.  The kids can try their hand at weaving, learn how to say Algonquian words, and learn about plants and animals.

    The Settlement Site featured woodworking and blacksmithing exhibits, games and a chance to try on armor.  It is a fun, interactive atmosphere for the kids to learn through play.
    The Museum
    Wow.  I can’t stress enough how amazing this museum was.  There was just so much covered.  We learned about navigating the seas, privateers (aka pirates), life on the island during the Civil War, duck hunting, lighthouses, fishing and boating.  We got to dress up as 16th Century Settlers, and done pirate gear, my kids duck hunted and climbed in boats.  I really wanted to read the exhibits, but the kids kept pulling us from one exhibit to the next to play.

    If you are looking for a fun, interactive, educational, family outing, then go and check out the Roanoke Island Festival Park.  It is an inexpensive, fun filled day, that your kids will talk about for a long time after.

    Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

    The town of Manteo, on Roanoke Island, has so many gems.  One of them is the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse.  This replica of the original, is the smallest of the lighthouses in the Outer Banks.

    Located near Wanchese, on the Croatan Sound, the screw-pile lighthouse was built is 1877.  It was actually the third lighthouse in it’s lineage.  The first was built in 1831, but abandoned 8 years later.  The second went into service in 1858, but disrepair put it out of commission in 1872.  The powers that be struck gold with their third lighthouse, and after some trial and error, it was a working lighthouse for 60 years.  The original was lost to the sound, after a private owner tried to move it.

    It is open daily from 9am-5pm and is free to the public.  There are exhibits on the history of Roanoke Island, including a feature on Warren O’Neal, the “father of the Carolina boat”.

    Full Moon Brewery

    If you are looking for yummy food and great beer, make sure you check out Full Moon Brewery in Manteo on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

    Located near the waterfront, Full Moon Brewery has been open since 1995. They offer inside and outside dining option.  We chose to get in out of the heat, and sat in the restaurant side of the brewery.

    We arrived around 2:30, just after the lunch rush.  The dining room was a bit out of order, but it was clear they had no time to vacuum as there was a steady stream of customers arriving while we were dining.  We ordered a flight of beers for just $7.50.  Each beer was delicious and they have a heavy British influence.

    It was the middle of the afternoon, but we had several people recommend the food, so we ordered the nachos, loaded with chicken, and guacamole added on the side.  So. Darn. Good!  We were fighting over the crumbs.  We seriously devoured them in like 15 minutes flat.

    When visiting Manteo, stop in for a pint or flight, and a bite. The prices are reasonable and it is so worth it!  Your tastebuds will thank you, over and over.

    A Pirate’s Life for Me

    Ahoy Mateys.  Welcome aboard the Sea Gypsy IV.  If ye be lookin’ for treasure ye ‘ave come to the right spot.  We be scourin’ the sea and searchin’ for that X.  But keep yer eyes peeled; there may be a message in a bottle and even a scurvy scoundrel.

    It was a glorious day at sea with the Pirate Adventures in Manteo, NC.  We booked an adventure for 11am, and the cost was $12 (0-2) and $23 (3 and up).  Located at the Magnolia Marketplace, at the end of town, the location was perfect for getting little pirates ready for a day at sea. We arrived early and the kids were tattooed and given the appropriate swashbuckling’ garb (note, eyepatches and swords sold separately).

    The children were gathered together and taught a few important pirate words. Afterwards it was time to sneak through town onto the boat. The children had to show their muscles in order to board.

    Then the children were gathered on deck and their excitement was built, while the parents were given important safety instructions from Captain Chum.  Once we were up to speed on life jackets and boat safety,  it was time to set sail.  There was so much going on!  First the kids had to find and read a treasure map.

    Then, they found a message in a bottle.  After is was almost opened on my little guy’s head, they read the message and were off to fight Pirate Pete.

    It took four separate attempts with the water cannons before that scoundrel was defeated.

    Then they had to find the treasure in the water. X Marks the spot.

    I can not say enough about this trip!  It was wonderful.  They kids had an absolute blast.  If you are going to splurge on anything during your Outer Banks vacation, let this be the one.

    Tips:
    1) Bring water.
    2) Bring a sword, eye patch and bandana, unless you don’t mind spending another $1-$10 dollars.
    3) Call ahead of time…they book up quick!!!!!
    4) Have cash for a tip.
    5) Put on sunscreen for the kiddos…they are on a boat for an hour and a half.
    6) Arrive early, like they request, so your kids can get into character.
    7) Make sure your camera is charged up and there is plenty of room on your disk.