Weather couldn't dampen 'Pay What You Can' event at Patriots Point

Visitors filled the flight deck aboard the USS Yorktown Sunday January 4, 2015. Crowds visited the ship during the annual Pay What You Can Weekend at the The Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. Grace Beahm/Staff

Cloudy skies, rain and the overall dreary weekend didn't stop thousands from turning out at Patriots Point's fourth annual "Pay What You Can" event.

Admission and parking fees were treated as optional donations Saturday and Sunday at the Mount Pleasant attraction and Julia Bailey, a supervisor in the gift shop, called the weekend a success.

"The weather didn't slow them down, and yesterday with all the rain, people still came out with umbrellas," she said Sunday afternoon. "It's been very good - we've had a very good turnout."

A trip to the naval and maritime museum normally costs $20 for adults, $12 for kids ages 6-12, and $5 for parking. But on one January weekend for the past three years, Patriots Point has let visitors choose their own ticket prices as a way to boost attendance at a slow time of year.

Bailey said it is also Patriots Point's way of giving back to the community.

"We have seen so many people who are so grateful this weekend," she said. "We appreciate them and that's why we're doing this."

The event attracted a lot of folks who may not have otherwise visited.

"It seemed like an ideal day when you can pay what you can," said Charleston resident Sullivan Len, who brought his adult son visiting from out of town.

The Marine Corps veteran said visiting the Yorktown and seeing interactive exhibits brought back memories for him.

"It was enjoyable," Len said. "It's worth a visit, taking the time to see everything, if for no other reason than to support the Patriots Point Association."

The attraction on Charleston Harbor is centered on historic warships such as the destroyer Laffey and the World War II-era aircraft carrier Yorktown.

Displays on the Yorktown updated in 2014 include the "Apollo 8 Adventure," a space capsule turned into a virtual-reality apparatus that simulates a launch into space, and the Crew's Galley, the below-deck kitchen that now has sounds and mannequins to show what meal preparation was like during wartime.

The kitchen was 3-year-old Hyatt Hall's favorite attraction.

"And I liked the bedrooms," she said.

Her mother, Courtney Hall, of West Ashley, said it was their first time at Patriots Point and that they were drawn in by the "Pay What You Can" event.

"It was awesome," she gushed. "It's incredible to have all this history in one place."

Patriots Point has updated several of its displays in the past year as part of its long-term goal to make all aspects of the museum more interactive.

The Vietnam War exhibit, now called the Vietnam Experience, underwent the most intensive renovation of the year. In less than eight months, the museum transformed the land-side display of Vietnam War artifacts into a replica of a naval supply base, complete with a wrap-around lagoon, surround-sound effects and 3-D holograms of military officers.

Floyd Maloney, of North Charleston, commended Patriots Point and its attractions. He said it was his first time he and his wife had visited.

"It's fantastic, it's one of the best tours, one of the best things I've seen since the Vietnam War," the Air Force veteran said. "And I don't go on a lot of tours because of the memories."

He said his favorite part of the day was seeing the planes on the flight deck and imagining the speeds they were going as they tried to land.

"It's a lot to think about, the pilots had to be good," Maloney said.

David Decker, of Summerville, said Patriots Point should have more "Pay What You Can" weekends for families to enjoy.

"I had fun, I got to see everything today," he said, adding that "the Yorktown, of course," was his favorite attraction.