To my mind, the Blue Angels Commissioning Week practices and Wednesday performance are two of the best days of the year in Annapolis. But maneuvering through traffic, figuring out where and how to watch the show and of course, finding parking, can be confusing if you are visiting or new to the area. Here’s a primer that might help you out. As always, please leave questions or helpful advice in the comments: this is simply a hastily-written, top-line How To.
What Is It?
The United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, also called The Blue Angels, was founded 72 years ago, in March 1946, as a way to showcase naval aviation and naval air power, as well as to boost morale. Since that time, the team’s performances have become a great source of pride, not only for the Navy and Marine Corp, but for anyone who turns out to marvel at the pilots’ spectacular skill and bravado. The Blue Angels visit Annapolis during Commissioning Week. Typically, they practice on Tuesday, perform on Wednesday and give one quick, loud, thrilling flyover of the stadium during the graduation ceremony on Friday.
What Does This Mean for Me?
The Naval Academy Bridge that connects downtown Annapolis to Route 2/Arnold is closed during practice and performance. This means you will face increased traffic along Prince George, Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis Street and Taylor Avenue. When I say increased, what I mean is nearly standstill. You may also find difficulty parking in the downtown and West Annapolis areas. When I say difficulty parking, I mean you will probably have to park blocks further away than you are used to. You will find long lines for security at Gate 8 and the Main Gate. What I mean is from the security booth all the way to 450 and down Prince George.
Where is the Best Place to Watch the Practice and Performance?
Everyone as a favorite place to watch, but the core of the show is on the Severn River, in front of the Academy. Ground Zero is on the Academy yard in the Superintendent’s Tent near the Sailing Center/Dewey Field. The tent and immediate area is closed off for private parties on Performance Day. Anywhere close to the river is ideal, including:
- Riverfront homes in West Annapolis or Ferry Farms
- Hospital Point, on the Yard
- Farragut Field, along the concrete walkway facing the Severn
- NSA Annapolis Marina
- Lincoln Military Housing’s park at Arundel Estates off Badger Road
- Grassy knoll at the Severn Inn end of the Naval Academy Bridge
- Atria Manresa– Open to the pubic for this special day, this former mansion’s sprawling lawn slopes toward the Severn River, parking is ample and vendors sell snacks
- Severn Inn (reservations required in advance)
- World War II Memorial on Route 2/450 overlooking the river and bridge
- Note you can see the demonstration, which is obviously aerial, from many points around town, but there is nothing like getting close to the action.
Where Should I Park?
First, it important to keep in mind that the USNA bridge may be closed early in the day (usually around 10:45-11:00, for inclement weather issues) and definitely at 1:45 pm to around 3:00 pm for the show. The Route 50 bridge will be slow as drivers gawk at the performance. This is very important to take into consideration when making your plans.
Let’s take this question according to location:
If you want to watch the show on the Route 2 side of the bridge (i.e. Grassy Knoll, Jonas Green Park, WW2 Memorial areas), you can arrive ridiculously early and hope for a spot in the Jonas Green Park or (better plan) park parallel to the road all the way up Route 2/450. You cannot park on or near the bridge.
Pros: Free, easy to park, easy to exit, great view.
Cons: have to arrive early (11:30-12:00)
If you want to watch the show from NSA Annapolis Marina, you can park by the Commissary and walk down to the marina, or you can try to park at NSA or the marina, which will be crowded. If this is your plan, keep in mind crowds, security checkpoints and the bridge closing. I would plan to arrive by 12:30.
Pros: Free. Amazing view. Midshipmen selling snacks. Great vibe. Did I mention view?
Cons: access, security checkpoint means if you don’t have a DOD sticker you will have to park at the Commissary and walk. Difficult to exit.
If you want to watch the show from Arundel Estates, there is a small cul de sac parking lot at the end of the road. Do not park along that road, as it is for residents. You won’t be ticketed, but its rude. The homes are technically owned by Lincoln Housing, but are de facto base housing and you should keep in mind that you are in someone’s community. You can also park in West Annapolis and easily walk through Shiley Park to this location. Once you arrive, head toward the water, away from the playground.
Pros: Free. Great view. No security checkpoint. Playground. Plenty of parking. Neighborhood vibe. Not crowded.
Cons: Your kids will want to play in the water or on the playground (not necessarily a con). Difficult Exit.
If you want to watch the show from Hospital Point/the Yard, you can park in West Annapolis on Annapolis Street or Melvin Avenue, in downtown Annapolis at Hillman Garage or at USNA Stadium and walk or take the $5 shuttle. I don’t recommend downtown parking because it is ridiculously crowded. You can plan for this by arriving around 10am and making a day of it. I also don’t recommend the shuttle (unless you are arriving before 11:30), because the distance is about 1/2 mile and you can walk it faster than you could ever shuttle it.
Pros: Free. Best public view in the area. Plenty of space to move around. Nice crowds, great vibe. Kona Hawaiian ice truck.
Cons: nearly impossible to enter/exit/park in a car, even with DOD sticker. Security checkpoints mean long lines of 1/2 hour to 45 minutes. To avoid these lines, arrive around 12:30.
What Should I Bring?
Most everyone packs snacks, plenty of liquids and a picnic blanket or chairs. Many also bring footballs, frisbees, etc. But you don’t have to worry about these items. The show is at 2 pm–after lunch and before dinner. It’s only an hour. And you have to pack all that with you, not to mention wait in line for security to check every single bag of chips (if you are going onto the yard). Its just a great fun, relaxed day for the entire family, so dress casual, relax, and enjoy. Some groups do make a themed party day or a picnic of it, which is always fun. That of course changes the following list of what to bring:
- Water–its usually hot, and by the time you arrive, park, watch the show and leave, you are in it for about 3 hours.
- Money for snacks (i.e. the Kona truck), usually $5-$10 per person
- Camera (check your batteries and memory card)
- Phone (check your battery and available storage space)
- Beach blanket (if the grounds aren’t wet).
- Life jackets should be worn at all times if you are anchoring
- Noise cancelling headphones for little ones or sensitive ears. Expect this show to be low to the river and VERY loud
The Blue Angels Demonstration Day is among the best of events for the city of Annapolis. While this event can cause crowds, it is nothing but positive. Many families take their children out of school for the event, so it is very family friendly. Even if the weather isn’t ideal, expect a fun-filled day that you won’t want to miss.
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