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Walk your sea legs over to one of these maritime museums for a lesson in oceangoing history

It’s only natural that the majority of North America's maritime museums are located in cities by the sea. Luckily for cruisers, these waterlogged odes to everyting about the sea, ships, and life above and below the surface can truly bring a maritime feel to any port visit.

From Halifax in northeast Canada down the Atlantic coast, and on to the West Coast of the United States, we’ve summarized 10 great museums for nautical history--and even threw in a few more options for good maritime measure.

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (Halifax, Canada)
Situated on Halifax’s historic waterfront and part of the Museum of Nova Scotia, this renowned museum includes thousands of artifacts ranging from World War convoys to small craft boats, as well as popular permanent exhibits depicting the history of Titanic (rescue operations came from Halifax) and the infamous Halifax 1917 explosion  in Halifax that killed 2,000 and injured another 9,000. www.museum.gov.ns.ca/mma

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (New York, NY)
Situated right next to Manhattan’s cruise ship docks, the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Intrepid is a huge highlight of this museum, but there’s also the submarine USS Growler (the only intact strategic diesel-powered sub that fired nuclear missiles that is open to the public). Further afield, South Street Seaport Museum (www.seany.com) is home to the nation’s largest collection of privately maintained historic vessels (and a great SS Normandie exhibition running through early 2011). Maritime history buffs sailing out of New York on a trans-Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary 2 will enjoy the ship’s “Maritime Quest” history exhibits. www.intrepidmuseum.org, www.seany.org

Historic Ships of Baltimore (Baltimore, MD)
Formerly known as the Baltimore Maritime Museum, this popular homeport museum features ships and a lighthouse that are National Historic Landmarks, including a Coast Guard cutter that’s the last Pearl Harbor survivor afloat (Taney) and USS Constellation, the last all-sail warship built by the U.S. Navy and the only Civil War-era naval vessel still afloat. Guided tours and unique overnight adventures are offered. www.historicships.org

Nauticus (Norfolk, VA)
Adjacent to Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center, Nauticus features many maritime exhibits, an interactive sea-oriented science museum complete with touch tanks, and an IMAX theater. Also berthed at Nauticus is USS Wisconsin (one of the world’s largest battleships), which is right outside awaiting exploration. In nearby Newport News, The Mariners’ Museum bills itself as the largest maritime museum in North America”. www.nauticus.org, www.marinersmuseum.org

Texas Seaport Museum (Galveston, TX)|
The bustling port of Galveston also features an excellent maritime museum. Highlights here include the 1877 tall ship Elissa, a 1936 shrimp boat, harbor tours, exhibits and a theater devoted to the huge 1900 storm, and interesting exhibits about immigration through Galveston (once dubbed “The Ellis Island of the West”). www.tsm-elissa.org

Patriot's Point Naval & Maritime Museum (Charleston, SC)
Located just across the Cooper River and a short water taxi ride from historic Charleston’s bustling cruise ship port, USS Yorktown is the giant centerpiece of this museum. However, other historic andmark vessels await exploration, including USS Laffey (dubbed “The Ship That Would Not Die”) and USS Clamagore, a Balao-class submarine. www.patriotspoint.org

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (San Francisco, CA)
This fascinating park in the Fisherman’s Wharf area consists of more than a half-dozen historic ships, including the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha, an 1890 steam ferry, a circa-1890 San Francisco houseboat (called a “bay ark”), an 1895 schooner, a 1907 tugboat, and a 1914 paddlewheeler. www.nps.gov/safr

Vancouver Maritime Museum (Vancouver, Canada)
Located on bustling Granville Island, this is Canada’s primary Pacific (and Arctic) maritime museum. Highlights include classic vessels in Heritage Harbour; the Arctic Schooner St. Roch housed ashore; exhibits featuring varied ships, lighthouses, wrecks, and more; and an excellent Children’s Maritime Discovery Center. www.vancouvermaritimemuseum.com

Mel Fisher Maritime Museum (Key West, FL)
Famed shipwreck treasure salvager Mel Fisher died in 1998, but his treasure-hunting skills live on in this world-class museum. Exhibits are dedicated to the 1700 sinking of Henrietta Marie, two 1622 Spanish Galleon wrecks (loaded with gold, silver, and more), as well as visiting maritime exhibitions (www.melfisher.org) Marine history buffs should also head to USS Mohawk Coast Guard Cutter Memorial Museum (www.ussmohawk.org), the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum & National Historic Landmark (www.uscgcingham.org); Schooner Western Union Maritime Museum (www.schoonerwesternunion.org); and Key West Shipwreck Museum (www.shipwreckhistoreum.org).

Queen Mary (Long Beach, CA)
Located adjacent to the Long Beach Cruise Terminal, Queen Mary is quite simply a floating maritime museum devoted to the golden age of trans-Atlantic crossings and worldwide cruise travel. There are many ways to visit and experience the ship, including a self-guided audio tour; other guided tours (the Behind-the-Scenes tour is a must for cruise ship history buffs); shopping, dining, and drinking in a variety of restaurants and venues, and even an overnight stay in one of more than 300 original staterooms and suites. www.queenmary.com

But Wait! There's More!
Can't get enough maritime history? Here are even more seaside museums to make a port call even more seaworthy.

Bar Harbor Whale Museum (Bar Harbor, ME) www.barharborwhalemuseum.org

Maine Lighthouse Museum (Rockland, ME) www.mainelighthousemuseum.com

Salem Maritime National Historic Site (Salem, MA) www.nps.gov/sama

The USS Constitution Museum (Boston, MA) www.ussconstitutionmuseum.org

Museum of Yachting (Newport, RI) www.moy.org

Independence Seaport Museum (Philadelphia, PA) www.phillyseaport.org

Annapolis Maritime Museum (Annapolis, MD) www.amaritime.org

Jacksonville Maritime Museum (Jacksonville, FL) www.jaxmaritimemuseum.org

American Victory Museum & Ship (Tampa, FL) www.americanvictory.org

Maritime Museum of San Diego (San Diego, CA) www.sdmaritime.org

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park (Mobile, AL) www.ussalabama.com

Los Angeles Maritime Museum (Los Angeles, CA) www.lamaritime.org

Monterey History & Maritime Museum (Monterey, CA) www.montereyhistory.org

Maritime History Museum (Kodiak, AK) www.kodiakmaritimemuseum.org

Maritime Museum of BC (Victoria, Canada) www.mmbc.bc.ca

Musee naval de Quebec (Quebec, Canada) www.museenavaldequebec.com