Harborfest 2015 in Norfolk, Virginia will mark the 39th annual celebration of work and play on the Hampton Roads Harbor. Norfolk’s Harborfest is the largest, longest-running, free maritime festival in the U.S. This year’s three-day event will run June 5 – 7. If you’re within road-trip distance, it’s a great excuse to pack up for the weekend and head to the seven-city metro area of eastern Virginia known as Tidewater or Hampton Roads.
The name Hampton Roads also refers to the body of water at the confluence of the James, Elizabeth and Nansemond Rivers where they empty into the mouth of the mighty Chesapeake Bay. It’s known as the world’s largest natural harbor, although technically, it’s a roadstead (thus “Roads”) where ships can anchor while waiting their turn in port. Whatever you call the body of water and surrounding land, the harbor and its tributaries were the key to the area’s growth, beginning 400 years ago, and remain important transportation conduits today.
Harborfest Parade of Sail
The annual Harborfest celebration honors the vital role the area’s waters play in work and pleasure. The Parade of Sail opens the festivities (12:00 pm, June 5, 2015) with the spectacular sight of an expansive fleet of ships sailing into the Downtown Norfolk Harbor. One after another, tall ships, powered yachts, sailing craft, antique and classic wooden boats, military vessels and tug boats parade by thousands of onlookers lining the shores. For those who want to get a closer look, complimentary tours of the ships are available to the public Saturday and Sunday afternoons (June 6 – 7, 2015).
Harborfest Water Events
For over a century, Hampton Roads Watermen have made their living by plying the waters in handmade workboats in search of crab, clams and oysters. In a show of pride for a diminishing way of life, the workboats that toil day in and day out are dressed and decorated for the Chesapeake Bay Workboats Parade (2:30 pm, June 6, 2015) in a fun family showcase. Then the next day, the finery comes off and the power is unleashed as a serious competition is held for the fastest boat (12:30 pm, June 7, 2015).
Tug boats are the muscle of the harbor as they push heavy loads with amazing dexterity. The Tug Muster is a sight to see when the tug boats show off their power and skill as they compete for top tug bragging rights (4:30 pm, June 6, 2015).
A less conventional boatman’s competition is the Ultimate Build-a-Boat Challenge in which teams build their own boat on Saturday – often with wacky engineering design – then race them against each other on Sunday in the madcap Ultimate Build-a-Boat Race. Anything goes, but not every boat actually floats past the finish line!
Harborfest Land Events
Of course every festival has to have food to feed the masses, and at Harborfest, you’ll want to arrive hungry. Over 50 food and beverage vendors are on hand to make your mouth water and tummy happy with everything from the very freshest Chesapeake Bay crab, shrimp, oysters and scallops to North Carolina barbeque, Greek favorites and Italian ice!
New this year is a Virginia Wine and Beer Tasting Area (21 and up) serving Virginia-made wines and craft brews for sampling or to take home.
The younger set (and the young at heart) can enjoy traditional Boardwalk Arcade Games like skee ball at no charge! Or you can become a pirate in the Pirate Bandana Tent and take a class in “arrgh!” at the Moody Crewe Pirate School. And young and old alike simply must see the World’s Largest Potato. Yep, you read it right – potato. It’s been crisscrossing the U.S. since 2012.
This year, Harborfest has two new entertainment features: Real Mermaids (?) available for viewing every hour on the hour; and the Red Trouser Show, an amazing acrobatic duo appearing three times daily.
It simply wouldn’t be a festival without live music, and Harborfest has a complete line up of talent – several dozen artists and groups – to play on three stages throughout the weekend.
The big Saturday night finale is the explosive Harborfest Fireworks Display (9:30 pm, June 6, 2015). The pyrotechnics are launched from a barge in the river, filling the sky with trails of color and orchestrated to a musical score. This is worth staying for, even if the kids (or you) are tired from a full day of fun.
Covington Travel’s home state of Virginia has tons of fun festivals, exceptional natural beauty and historical significance to discover. We’ve been there, done that all over Virginia, so to plan your weekend getaway or a longer in depth tour in our beautiful state, contact our knowledgeable vacation advisors today.