You may know St. Augustine, Florida for its Premiere Outlet location but did you know, as the nation’s oldest city (established in 1565), St. Augustine also has a pirate history? Visiting the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum gives visitors a chance to not only learn more about St. Augustine and Florida pirates but to also experience the life of a pirate.
Visit Port Royal
Little and big buccaneers will love visiting the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. From the entrance through the gift shop, you are transported back in time to the streets of Port Royal. Walk along the cobblestone street and peek into shop windows to learn about early weaponry, navigation and doctor’s tools. The recreated scene of a physician removing a pirate’s eye fascinated my kids. It’s not as graphic as you might think though I do believe the doctor’s instruments remind me more of tools in our tool chest than the doctor’s office.
From the street you step into Rogues Tavern. Here you can pull up a stool by a roaring fire and delve into an interactive book, learning more about local piracy. My son loved this touch screen book, flipping pages and opening virtual maps. Of course his favourite part was the mission of finding the pirate booty on the various pages. Finding all the items gave you access to the museum treasure map. I must admit, I was impressed with the design of the book; the interactivity added a fun way of exploring the pages.
The Pirate Experience
Think you have the skills needed to sail a pirate ship? Step aboard the main deck within the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. Try your hand at tying various ship knots, use your sense of smell to determine what the pirates are smuggling, handle the ship’s wheel and raise the jolly roger on the replica main deck of a pirate ship. A visit to the gun deck is a must. Kids and adults alike will love firing two authentic cannons off the deck (no worries about using gun powder as they’ve been set-up to mimic actual firing, but the cannons themselves are real).
Then step below deck into the ship’s cargo hold to experience Blackbeard’s last battle in an ultra-realistic audio experience, designed by Disney Imagineers. The room is pretty dark (expect for the red glow of the exit sign) and the 3D audio is pretty real; one of the best audio only experiences I’ve heard. You’ll be cringing from the sound of rats scurrying by and ducking from the cannon explosion near you. My 7 and 9 year old gripped on to me the whole time; even my 4-year old enjoyed the experience (I think she was actually braver than her older siblings).
Visitors can also explore the Captain’s cabin and see the original Jolly Roger as well as read pages from Captain Kid’s last journal entries. If you still think a pirate’s life is for you, a walk through the execution dock and listening to Blackbeard’s tale may change your mind. Thought the glittering display of pirate booty, actual treasure recovered off the coast of Florida, might sway you. You’ll see salvaged gold, intricate pieces of jewelry as well as pottery dating back to the late 17th century, on loan from the Florida Division of Historical Resources. We had a chance to touch an authentic 400- year old treasure chest and feel the weight of a actual gold bar salvaged from the Santa Margarita (1622).
Pirates have always intrigued us and Hollywood has fed us with a collection of classic and new pirate themed films. At the end of your pirate journey, you can see movie posters and props from some of your favourite films (like Captain Hook’s hook from the 2003 film Peter Pan and our favourite, Captain Jack Sparrow’s cursed Aztec coin from the 2003 film Pirates of the Caribbean).
The Treasure Hunt
Along with the interactive displays, my kids loved the treasure hunt. When you set out on your pirate journey, you are given a map. This map acts as a guide to the museum, as well as a spot for kids to record the hidden treasure they find along the way. There are 13 discovery drawers hidden throughout the museum offering little pirate tidbits. A skull and crossbones mark each drawer and my oldest loved hunting for these. It wasn’t just the kids who were into looking for the treasure; many adults were on the hunt too.
The St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum’s combination of actual artifacts and hands-on discovery make for an adventurous experience for the young and old. Whether you’re staying in St. Augustine or passing through for another Florida destination, the pirate museum is definitely worth the visit.