By Brandi M. Seals
Wilmington, North Carolina is a beautiful place that draws its fair share of tourists, but it does not feel like a tourist town. Wilmington manages to maintain a small town feel despite covering a large area.
I visited Wilmington for the first time recently and loved every moment I spent there. The historic downtown area is relaxed and filled with locales just passing the time. Visitors can walk the boardwalk and enjoy the breeze coming up off the river before stopping for a hot dog that a vender can dish up in a matter of seconds.
There are tons of local shops and restaurants to visit. There are beaches to relax on while getting a tan. I cannot quite describe the vibe that the area gives off but it is one that immediately puts you at ease and you can take your time to really enjoy everything that the town has to offer.
I recommend stopping over at the Serpentarium. It is an interesting place located on Orange Street near River Street. It is an easy walk from anywhere downtown and visitors will be able to see some very rare and unusual snakes. The black mamba and cobra are among the most deadly snakes in the world and they can be found at the Serpentarium along with bushmasters, alligators, and various rattlers.
Each snake comes with a death rating. Unlike zoos that might only tell you where the snake naturally lives, the Serpentarium provides information on how the snake strikes, how its venom works or even relays stories of snake bites. The founder of the Serpentarium, Dean Ripa, has been bitten by a few of the snakes and his tales are recounted. With the bushmasters alone, Ripa has been bitten four times, making him the person most bitten by bushmasters ever. That is amazing, considering studies show that 80 percent of those bitten by a bushmaster die even with anti-venom treatment.
After studying the fascinating snakes, head over to Kilwin’s on Market Street and choose a treat to satisfy your sweet tooth. I enjoyed a toasted coconut ice cream cone. Kilwin’s is a chain and I have enjoyed their fudge up in Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island before, but this was the first time I had tried their ice cream. It really is excellent, especially on a warm summer day.
For an actual meal, try one of the restaurants along the boardwalk. You might even get to enjoy your meal from an outdoor patio.
Downtown is filled with several old mansions that tourists can explore for a small price. If you have time, find one that suits your fancy and have a look. I went to the Bellamy Mansion on Market Street and enjoy seeing the gorgeous home up close and personal.
Away from the downtown area you will find beaches that stretch along most of the coast, shopping malls and plazas, and an aquarium out at Fort Fisher, which is only a short drive away.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is not a big aquarium, but it does have numerous things to see. They have a collection of sea turtles, alligators, look downs and more. I have gone to a lot of aquariums but I had never seen a burrfish up close before. If you are familiar with blowfish, a burrfish looks similar only smaller. I also got to pet a horseshoe crab, spider crab, and various other animals.
The staff is very knowledgeable and always willing to answer questions. Go at the right time and you can catch an informational session given from a diver in the largest tank in the aquarium. There is also a very interesting session on whales and dolphins. I learned some new stuff and got to touch baleen. It was a great experience.
On the way back to Wilmington from the aquarium, stop in for a bite at any of the seafood restaurants that line the street.
Since I went to Wilmington in November, I was not able to take advantage of one of the many beaches located there, but they are numerous and if I ever get the chance to go during the warmer months, rest assured I will be lying on one of beaches soaking up the sun.