If you find yourself on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, taking a trip out to Ship Island should definitely be on your list of things to do. Our family made our first ever visit to the island last Monday and it was definitely an experience we won’t forget and one we definitely look forward to taking again. Located 11 miles south of Gulfport, MS, the island has something for everyone and getting there by boat is half the fun.
We chose a Monday morning for our trip. The boats depart Gulfport at 9:00 A.M. and at 12:00 P.M. daily. I purchased our tickets online, but you can purchase them at the harbor an hour before the boat leaves. This is where you can also pre-purchase tickets to rent chairs and umbrellas on the island. Once the boat starts boarding a photographer will offer to take a souvenir picture of you and your group that you can purchase when you arrive back to Gulfport at the end of your day. Once we got situated on the boat we enjoyed watching the silly seagulls fly near us and fish jumping in the water below us until the boat took off.
The ride over to Ship Island was very relaxing and if you have kids, I promise they will be totally excited about this part. The boat had a snack bar and restrooms and the trip over took right at just an hour. About 10 minutes before we reached the island, several groups of dolphins made an appearance behind the boat and welcomed us there. It was a beautiful site and so exciting for those of us that don’t see that kind of thing up close very often.
As you approach the island, the first thing you will notice is Fort Massachusetts, an old fort that was built during the War of 1812.
Once the ship docked and we started the trek up the boardwalk, we also saw stingrays swimming below in the shallow water. They were beautiful to watch, but definitely made me a little nervous. I have actually read somewhere else online that they are a certain type of ray and they don’t bother humans. I don’t know that for a fact, but they were definitely not a problem during our visit and I never saw one on the beach side of the island.
The first stop you will want to make upon arriving to Ship Island is to take the guided tour of Fort Massachusetts. My husband and son did this and enjoyed hearing about the historical aspects of the island.
While my husband and son toured the fort, I went on ahead and made a beeline for the beach. The walk down the boardwalk to the beach is 1/3 mile, but it really didn’t seem that far at all. There was beautiful island vegetation to look at during the walk. I kept an eye out for alligators, but never saw one.
I opted to rent our chairs and umbrella, so I claimed a spot and jumped right on in the water, which was fabulous! Honestly, the water at Ship Island wasn’t any more clear than Biloxi Beach, but the waves were great and the weather was perfect! No jellyfish or stingrays, but I did see dolphins playing out at sea. The beach wasn’t crowded (it was a Monday morning) and it was very, very relaxing.
There are restrooms with showers and a snack bar/souvenir shop on the island. There is also a covered picnic area next to the snack bar to get a little relief from the sun. Our intention was to stay on the island and catch the late boat back, but we ended up coming back on the 2:30 P.M. boat because it was so hot and we were already worn out and tired from swimming. The ride back seemed to go faster and not take as long and my son was so exhausted that he had to take a nap.
We even passed the huge Dole Honduras boat on our way back to Gulfport!
IF YOU GO:
- BRING CASH! Everything on the boat and the island is CASH ONLY! You can download a brochure from the website which will list in detail the cost of drinks, snacks, and other items you might want to purchase on the island.
- Arrive early. We pre-purchased tickets, but you will want to give yourself at least 30 minutes to check in, buy tickets, and get situated on the boat before it leaves.
- If you can make the trek upstairs, sit on the observation deck of the boat. You will be amazed at how beautiful everything looks from above. We sat at the back of the boat and the view was fabulous! However, we sat below the deck for the trip back because it was very sunny and hot by that point.
- You are allowed to bring coolers, but check the size limit first (42 quarts). I also suggest a rolling cooler if you bring one. You don’t want to be dragging or carrying a heavy cooler across the island. Also, your bags will be checked to make sure there are no glass bottles. Carry canned drinks if you must.
- Travel light. Make sure your bags aren’t too heavy to carry comfortably for the walk.
- Wear shoes you can walk in. You will walk across the island to get to the main beach side (1/3 of a mile), so dress comfortably.
- SUNSCREEN! SUNSCREEN! SUNSCREEN!- I am so not kidding about this. There is almost NO shade on the island, and even if you don’t normally burn you will still need sunscreen. Apply it before you leave home and then keep re-applying it often. Ask me how I know (insert sad face here).
- Adult tickets are $27 and children ages 3-10 are $17. Umbrellas rent for $15 and chairs for $5 each.
- If you can’t bring your own, rent the umbrella and chairs. It is worth it to have a shady place to rest.
- Try to go during the week. Boats fill up on the weekends, especially during the summer and holidays (Memorial Day, July 4th, etc.)
- If your kids like beach toys, the island shop sells floats and beach pails. Just remember you will have to carry all of this back.
- My husband’s phone was able to get cell reception fine there, but my phone didn’t. Cell phone reception might be iffy.
- Buy the picture! Unless you get to the island very often, go ahead and buy the picture to remember your fun day at Ship Island! I’m glad that we did!