Did you know that the first Roanoke Island settlements predate the Jamestown settlement of 1607? The Roanoke Island settlements took place 20 years earlier, between 1585 and 1587. Though the Roanoke Island colonies didn’t prove successful as far as longevity, they were the foundations of English-speaking life in America and provided much-needed information about the New World that helped the later colonies succeed. Roanoke Island Festival Park is one place to learn about these first English settlements and the impact they had on the Native Americans who were already residing here in the 16th century. The state-run park and cultural center is just across the bridge from the downtown Manteo waterfront on its own 25-acre island. Be prepared for a day of fun, as there is a lot to do and see at this interesting Outer Banks activity and popular Roanoke Island attraction.
Elizabeth II — The centerpiece of the park is the 69-foot Elizabeth II, a 16th-century sailing ship. It’s a representation of a particular 16th-century English merchant ship, Elizabeth, one of seven in Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1585 expedition to establish England’s first New World colony. Costumed interpreters speaking Old English greet visitors to the ship with sea tales, legends and historical facts and answer questions about 16th-century seafaring. Kids love walking around on the decks and crawling down below to see what life was like on the ship. The Elizabeth II’s tender, Silver Chalice, is 24 feet long and carries up to 15 crew members.
Settlement Site – The Settlement Site is where guests get to interact with costumed interpreters portraying the colonist men and women as they settled into life in the New World. Visitors can try their hand at blacksmithing, woodworking, 16th-century games and more. See how the first English settlers lived when they arrived in the New World. Try on some of their armor, learn some 16th-century warfare techniques and some of the arts and crafts needed to make life tolerable on Roanoke Island more than 400 years ago.
American Indian Town – Explore coastal Algonquian culture and history in the American Indian Town. The town represents an American Indian community similar to what the English explorers investigated and surveyed during their voyages to Roanoke Island and the surrounding area in the late 16th century. Visitors follow paths that wind through the park. Homes, agricultural areas and work shelters line the paths. Two longhouses represent the historical homes of American Indians from the region. One of the longhouses stretches more than 30 feet long and interprets the home of a leader from the community. A smaller and partially completed longhouse includes an interactive component that invites visitors to help complete the structure. Both areas contain interactive exhibits that focus on the developing relationship between the American Indian and English people during the late 16th century. The ceremonial dance circle is also located here. The exhibit has a planting and harvesting area where visitors can learn the advanced nuances of American Indian farming techniques. Three work shelters include activities like cordage (rope) making, mat and basket weaving, net mending, food preparation, tanning hides, fishing, boat building and gathering.
Fossil Search — Find ancient treasures, including shark’s teeth and coral, from a time long before the colonists arrived.
The Adventure Museum —The newly renovated Adventure Museum features highly interactive, multi-sensory, hands-on exhibits fun for the entire family. Try your hand at pulling cargo on and off a 16th-century ship using your strength to go up and down with the ropes! Find the costume trunk and be part of Colonial Life. Bring the camera! Learn how 16th-century sea captains made the most of wind and water currents as they sailed to the New World. See the routes they took to Roanoke Island. Visit the touch screens and read theories of what happened to the 1587 Roanoke Island Colony — and then decide what you think happened! Revisit the legend of Blackbeard and dress up like a pirate. Live the life of a soldier in their Civil War exhibit, and discover the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony.
Pavilion — The Outdoor Pavilion and surrounding grounds offer a perfect place to enjoy a picnic and concert. Events are scheduled year round. It is also rented as a wedding venue.
Film Theater — The film The Legend of Two-Path is shown several times a day in the 242-seat Film Theater. It tells the Native Americans’ perspective of how the arrival of the colonists changed their lives. Special performances are also held here year round.
Boardwalks and Grounds — Enjoy wildlife in a natural setting while walking the Boardwalk that runs throughout the park. Along the landscaped walks, native shrubs and flowers thrive in the sound and marsh. The Boardwalk joins the Roanoke Voyages Trail, which bisects Roanoke Island.
Outer Banks History Center — The Outer Banks History Center, (252) 473-2655, is a public research facility with a friendly staff that is willing to help you find historic photographs and documents, research information and more. Their gallery features a history-related show each year, and their reading room offers scores of up-to-date periodicals. See the separate listing for the center for details.
The cost for admission to Roanoke Island Festival Park, which includes all venues, is $10 for adults and $7 for ages 3 to 17. Children 2 and younger get in free. Tickets are good for two consecutive days. And no matter when you visit, be sure to check out The Museum Store where you can pick up a variety of souvenirs such as toys, jewelry, books and other collectable memorabilia. The Museum Store is open Tuesday through Saturday year round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and a selection of their best-selling items are available in Ticket Sales daily. See their separate listing for more details.
Special events are ongoing at Festival Park all year.