Hampton, Virginia's annual Blackbeard Festival would bring out the adventure in anyone!
I'm not a very adventurous girl and it's safe to say I don't go out of my way to hang out with a particularly adventurous crowd. Nope, it's safe and sedate all the way for me. The very opposite of what a swash buckling, grog swilling, plank walking pirate would do! So with the hopes of catching some of their infectious enthusiasm, I headed to Hampton, Virginia to participate in the annual Blackbeard Festival and become a pirate for the day.
Often just called the Hampton pirate festival, I think Blackbeard himself would be proud the city. Hampton is the ideal place to get into the spirit of things, as the region played host to the infamous pirate Blackbeard's final stand in 1718.
Step 1: To get the most out of the Blackbeard Festival, you have to dress like a pirate
Turns out that dressing like a pirate is pretty darn easy! Unless you're going for a sassy wench-type look, ladies can wear loose cotton skirts and softly pleated blouses, all covered up with an apron. Don't forget the bonnet! I didn't look particularly fierce but I did feel like a very "me" kind of pirate.
Gentlemen at the Blackbeard Festival were similarly comfortable with frilly cotton shirts, open vests, and knee length britches. A colorful scarf finished off Ryan's look nicely. Of course, if you're REALLY keen on having the full experience, more elaborate costume options are available from the many vendors who set up around the pirate's camp in Hampton.
Step 2: When in Hampton, you have to live like a pirate
If you embrace the wimpier side of life like me, you can be comfortably accommodated at the nearby Crown Plaza Hampton Marina (which does have a jaunty nautical theme). But the real pirates of the Blackbeard Festival camp out together in the field, embracing the meager comforts of yesteryear and enjoying simple pleasures. It was fascinating to see the old fashioned tents and displays of nearly-forgotten trades and skills. (If you DO want to stay in a hotel, note that hotels in Hampton, VA, tend to book quickly during the festival.)
Step 3: Take Over The Town!
While I would never advocate outright pillage and plunder, it's every pirate's duty to cause a bit of a ruckus and the streets of Hampton were happy to accommodate. There was plenty of singing, both planned and spontaneous, andlots of delicious things to investigate. Now, I'm not entirely sure that Hawaiian shave ice is traditional fare for those who sail the high seas, but who am I to judge?
(Side note: The Hampton pirate festival was HOT. We traveled around with insulated water bottles like these to keep our water cold and we're so glad we did. We saved a lot of money compared to buying bottled water and it was always nice and icy).
Step 4: Engage The Enemy In Battle
It's all fun and games until someone fires a cannon - that's when the action really starts at a proper pirate festival. If you love pirate battle reenactments, you're going to love this! We were observers, not participants in the reenactment of Blackbeard's final battle but sitting on the sidelines didn't diminish our excitement in the least. I was feeling fairly adventurous as I embraced the smoke and explosions and didn't have a twinge of anti-adventurist anguish - until I sat on a splinter. Happily my shriek was obscured by the noise of the crowds! (Yes, I always travel with a mini first aid kit and, yes, it does have tweezers!)
Step 5: Party With The Landlubbers
After a long day of battling enemies, swabbing the deck, polishing peg leg and hook hand, and hanging out with parrots, a pirate needs to party a bit and the Blackbeard Festival's pirates' ball did not disappoint! There was delicious food from neighborhood restaurants - including an absolutely delicious dish of corn on the cob with spices and queso fresco that I came back to sample again and again! I did turn down the offer of grog in favor of a potent dark n' stormy but clearly the ale was free flowing judging from the fun everyone was having. (Thank you to all the enthusiastic pirates below who agreed to pose for a photo!).
But all good things must come to an end.
Being a pirate is not for the faint of heart. You have to be ready for anything, always on alert for mutiny - or at the very least, the location of your next dark n'stormy! I was thrilled to play pirate for a day and would heartily recommend the Hampton pirate festival to anyone - but it takes someone special to be a pirate year round. The dedicated and enthusiastic reenacters are the best part of the Blackbeard Pirate Festival and it was a pleasure to be a part of their world, if only for a day!
I'd love to hear from you! What festivals have you been a part of around the world?
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