The USS Midway is huge.
She was the first of a new generation of carriers, referred to as battle carriers. She measures nearly 1,000 feet long. For 10 years, from 1945 to 1955, she was the largest ship in the world, and one of the largest moving objects ever made by humans.
After 47 years of service, including tours in Vietnam and Desert Storm, she was finally decommissioned in 1992. Now she sits in quiet San Diego, a massive floating museum. She’s the largest aircraft carrier in the world that you can tour, and the tour makes for an incredible experience
If you can’t make it to San Diego to see it for yourself, here’s how it looks in many words and photos.
Take a tour of the USS Midway (pictures)
Advancing from the earlier Essex class, the Midway was the first of her class. Larger in nearly every dimension, she was a marvel of engineering in her day, and is still an incredible sight. In countless ways, she seems far more modern than other aircraft carriers you can tour, like the Intrepid in New York City.
Stepping on board, the cavernous hangar deck seems impossibly large. It’d be a huge open space if it was inside a building. That it’s the middle of a ship plays tricks with the brain.
An optional self-guided audio tour gives you info as you wander. And wander you will. There’s no direct line through all the open parts of the ship. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you’ll notice another hatch, corridor, or stairway.
One of the things that makes the Midway such a great tour is how much of the ship is open for exploration. Far more than the Intrepid is available for perusal: multiple crew messes, kitchens, cabins, ready rooms and more. A few dozen planes and helicopters are on the various decks, though they don’t get in the way of the main attraction.
- A tour of the ballistic missile nuclear submarine Redoutable
- Tour the battleship USS Missouri
- A Tour of the Intrepid Museum
- Battleships and battlefields: WWII Museums from around the world
The island is the one part of the ship that is guided, though I lucked out. It wasn’t busy, so I got the guide, Tom, to myself. I asked many, many questions. He was a Junior Officer on a different carrier in the ’60s, and gave me tons of great info.
On the flight deck, a former aviator explained the complexities of carrier landings and takeoffs to a rapt audience.
The only aspect even slightly lacking are the engine room (which you only see a small part of). One docent told me they hope to open even more areas of the ship soon.
I started my tour around 1 p.m., and I was rushing to finish by the time the ship closed at 5. I recommend planning even more time.
See it yourself, if you can
I’ve done tours of military vessels all over the world, and the Midway is one of my favorites (perhaps no. 2 after the amazing nuclear submarine Redoutable). Her size, condition and openness are incredible, but also the amount of information that’s available everywhere really puts it over the top. It’s one of the best tours in the world, and highly recommended.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.
He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, along with a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.