Yes, the throngs of uniformed officers parading around the city come Fleet Week (May 25--June 1) are a sight to behold (hello, sailor!), but there's a good chance your kids will be more enthralled with the U.S. Navy, Marine and Coast Guard ships docked off our shores. To get ready for the big celebration, we paddled the waters to find other nautical attractions around town. For detailed schedule and pricing information, visit the official websites.
Moored just under the Brooklyn Bridge, this 100-foot-long refurbished coffee barge has a small, wood-paneled concert hall that offers families an intimate musical setting. With luck, the classical chamber tunes will calm even the jumpiest toddler. And if she's actually lulled to sleep, so much the better. Fulton Ferry Landing, Dumbo, Brooklyn (718-624-2083, bargemusic.org). $15-$35.
Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
Kids can "pilot" a fighter jet, transmit Morse code and ride a 4D virtual-reality roller coaster—all on this 900-foot aircraft carrier. After your tykes have climbed around the USS Growler submarine and patrolled the flight deck, head to the Exploreum. There, they can launch a foam rocket, scale cargo nets and "fly" a helicopter. Special Fleet Week offerings include Broadway performances from Rain (Fri May 27) and Wicked (Sat May 28), a screening of Top Gun (Fri May 27), a parade of ships (Wed May 25), and a Memorial Day ceremony (Mon May 30). Pier 86, Twelfth Ave at 46th St (877-957-7447, intrepidmuseum.org). $10-$35.
Once a lighthouse-tender, this 1933 steamboat is now a museum. Children can turn her steering wheel and traipse through her cabins. During Fleet Week, open on Saturday only. North side of Pier 40, 353 West St at W Houston St (lilacpreservationproject.org)
Seaport Museum New York
Admission to this museum also grants you access to several historic boats. On the tall ship Peking, one of the world's largest sail-powered ships, future captains can imagine climbing 170 feet to the crow's nest. Other favorites: the light ship Ambrose and the Pioneer schooner. 12 Fulton St between Front and South Sts (212-748-8786, southstreetseaportmuseum.org). $10-$40.
Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge
View historical objects—a rope cannon and model tugs—on this 1914 railway barge. But it's the onboard entertainment here that's the real attraction. Next up: Showboat Shazzam, featuring circus-style acts from around the world, every Sunday afternoon in June. 290 Conover St at Pier 44, Red Hook, Brooklyn (718-624-4719, waterfrontmuseum.org). $7.
Opening ceremonies Fleet Week kicks off on May 25 at 8:30am with the Parade of Sail. The ships start at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and sail along the Hudson River to the George Washington Bridge before they turn around and head back to their docks.
Best vantage points Battery Park and the Battery Park City Esplanade (Battery Pl to Chambers St), Hudson River Park (from Chambers St to the George Washington Bridge), the High Line (Gansevoort St to W 20th St between Tenth and Eleventh Aves), Von Breisen Park (New York Ave between S Road and Tomkins St, near the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge) and the St. George Fishing Pier (Pier 1, near the Staten Island Ferry terminal) in Staten Island.
Don't miss A large-deck amphibious assault ship and Coast Guard cutter are scheduled to take part in the parade before docking at Pier 88 (W 48th St and the West Side Highway). A Navy cruiser and destroyer will be based at the Stapleton Homeport Pier in Staten Island. Families can tour them all for free from May 26 to 31. For more information, go to fleetweeknewyork.com, or check out our slide show of photos above.