Located on a barrier island on the southern end of New Hanover County, North Carolina, Ft. Fisher has much to offer for a great day. Whether you enjoy surfing, swimming, sunbathing, shopping at beach shops, historical sites, or aquariums, Fort Fisher is your ticket. The great thing is, you can do it all here without the hassle of navigating through a large area. Make a plan, pack a cooler for a picnic lunch (or at least some cold beverages), and go have a great day!
For those of us approaching from the south, the trip begins with a 35 minute ferry ride from Southport to Ft. Fisher. Sure, you can skip the ferry and drive up to Wilmington and around but why miss so much fun? The ferry ride is a definite “don’t miss” for children ages 3 to 99-- be sure to bring stale bread to feed the gulls. Even if you are coming from north of Wilmington, I'd recommend including the ferry as part of the day--whether at the beginning or end. The ferry schedule and pricing are available online at http://www.southporttimes.com/southportferry.html so be sure to confirm the departure times before you leave home.
The Cape Fear River region encompasses a diverse range of marine environments including freshwater streams, swamps, coastlines, reefs, and open ocean. At the Fort Fisher Aquarium you will experience all these environments up close. There is a white alligator, tiny poisonous frogs, beautiful jellyfish, seahorses and so much more. There is a touch pool where you and your children can touch and experience starfish, sea urchins, and horseshoe crabs. (They provide hand sanitizer so it’s okay, Moms!) Plan to spend at least 2 hours at the aquarium; it could take longer if you choose to enjoy a presentation or some of the children’s activities. The paid and intern staff put their hearts and souls into making your experience one to be remembered. Honor their efforts by allowing plenty of time to thoroughly enjoy the aquarium.
The admission fee is very reasonable at $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $6 for children 12 and under. I will warn you that once inside, there are two points where you will find them trying to separate you from an excessive amount of money. The first is at the picture station. As you leave the first section, you will be asked to pose with your family for a picture. This picture will be superimposed over an aquarium-appropriate image. Don’t get your heart set on the picture unless you are willing to spend $25. May I suggest a cheaper alternative? On into the second section, there is a two story aquarium with a “bubble” window. Wait your turn with the other visitors to pose your own picture here. You will get some great shots here and the cost is dependent on your camera type.
The other money pit is the gift shop. You probably expect a gift shop to be expensive. I agree. They generally are. This one is over the top, in my opinion. (Perhaps I’m sore because their “collector hat pin” is a totally lame pin not at all worth the $5 they ask for it. I wanted a pin that says “Ft. Fisher Aquarium” not a generic “NC Aquarium” pin. Grumble. Grumble.) My recommendation, which you may ignore if you happen to like $12 souvenir mugs, is to save your money for the concession stand outside. The concession stand sells Nathan’s Hot Dogs (yum), ice cream, cold drinks, etc. Finally, having fueled up with some energy food you are now ready to enjoy the nature walk.
Your visit to Fort Fisher is not complete without a visit to the Fort Fisher Civil War Fort site. This is said to be the third most visited historical site in North Carolina. Whether that is true or not, I can assure you of this, it is very cool even if you aren’t a Civil War fanatic. Fort Fisher was a sand and earth fortification built by the Confederacy to help protect the blockade runners heading up the river to Wilmington. At the historical site, you will be able to tour a small museum whose best feature is a diorama that lights up. Outside is a path to take you on a self-guided walking tour of the fort remains. Lastly, there is a small museum on underwater archaeology covering the Cape Fear maritime history (a history that includes pirates, blockade runners, and maritime battles). Many people find the grounds of this State Park quite lovely for picnicking. It is not open 7 days a week so be sure to verify it’s hours of operation by calling 910-458-5538.
I hope you come and experience Fort Fisher. It is one of my favorite places and I believe you will see why when you get here.