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Thursday, August 11, 2005Past Issues - S | M | T | W | T | F | S
 
South Jersey

Monday, October 15, 2001
Battleship tour plans misguided

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  • Uh oh. Here goes a torpedo aimed right at this area's newest tourist attraction, the Battleship New Jersey.

    But don't abandon ship. I'm only targeting the Big J's ticket booth.

    The much-anticipated floating museum finally opens to the public today on Camden's Waterfront. But many visitors may be disappointed to learn there's just one way to see the huge ship.

    A 90-minute guided tour.

    And to me, it sounds like a hellish hike - a forced march up ladders and down hatches, with people squeezing through tight spaces and squirming through lectures.

    It also sounds like an effective barrier against little kids, who'd doubtless be happier roaming on deck and gawking at guns.

    Now just to defuse any howling, let me me compliment the Home Port Alliance, which performed an amazing feat in bringing the ship here. Great work, guys.

    But let me also refer the Alliance to battleship museums across the country, which routinely allow people to explore on their own.

    Like the Battleship Missouri in Pearl Harbor. It gets about 1,000 visitors a day - and 65 percent just wander, says spokesman Lee Collins. The others take a variety of tours.

    Or Battleship Cove in Fall River, Mass., with five military ships.

    "We give people a brochure for each vessel and allow them to take their time," says Jack Casey, chief operating officer. "Some kids have a great attention span. A lot don' t."

    The folks behind our ship don't see it that way.

    "It was never the intention of the Home Port Alliance to have people wandering around by themselves," says spokeswoman Liz Thomas. "They felt that in order to get the full experience of the battleship, it would be most effective as a guided tour."

    Maybe something's in the water in Camden. Because this all- or-nothing tactic reminds me of the brown fish that once swam in the New Jersey State Aquarium.

    It opened in 1992 with an emphasis on local marine life, a dull bunch of fish that couldn't draw a crowd if they were fried and served with slaw. Now, the Aquarium has lots of brightly colored tropical fish, penguins - and customers.

    To its credit, the Alliance says it will consider changes if necessary.

    "We certainly hope that won't be the case," says Thomas. " Time will tell.''

    Well, if the Alliance eventually does give tourists the run of the ship, here's one last bit of advice.

    Don't leave the keys in the ignition.

    Contact Jim Walsh at (856) 486-2646 and jwalsh@courierpostonline.com.

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