SAN DIEGO -- The aircraft carrier Midway, which was involved in major world events in the 47 years it served the U.S. Navy, has become San Diegos newest visitor attraction.

The carrier was decommissioned in 1992 but was taken out of mothballs and transformed into the nations largest aircraft carrier museum after veterans and civic leaders raised $8 million for the effort.

In June, the first month of its opening, 100,000 people toured the Midway, some of them veterans who came from all over the U.S. to revisit the ship on which they had served and to show their friends and family, said Scott McGaugh, the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museums director of marketing.

But its amazing how strong of an appeal the ship has to people with no relationship to it, he said. Its a big hit with everyone.

Aircraft carriers as museums are nothing new, but Reint Reinders, president of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the southern California city may be in a prime position to benefit the most from having the attraction.

The four other carriers open to the public in the U.S. are the Hornet in Alameda, Calif.; the Intrepid in New York; the Lexington in Corpus Christi, Texas; and the Yorktown in Charleston, S.C.

San Diego has the largest naval complex in the world, and we really have no museum of any major significance to recognize the Navy and its past, Reinders said, so what better way to provide a tribute to San Diegos naval history than to have an aircraft carrier?

The city attracts 14 million overnight visitors a year, and an estimated 1 million of them come to San Diego for reasons related to the military, he said, so the presence of the Midway may generate more trips or cause travelers to add a day to their planned trips.

Area hotels have created commissionable packages combining admission to the Midway with overnight stays. An example is the Hilton San Diego Mission Valley, which is offering two admission tickets, two trolley passes and an overnight stay, starting at $119 per room per night, through Dec. 30.

The Midways history in the center of international events is one reason for the great interest. The carrier, commissioned just days after the Japanese surrender in World War II, sailed the seas during the entire length of the Cold War, the Vietnam War and Desert Storm.

The Midway was the first aircraft carrier to sail amid icebergs in the Arctic Circle. In 1947, a German V-2 rocket was launched from the ship, an experiment marking the advancement of naval missile technology.

In June, the first month of its opening, the Midway museum drew 100,000 visitors. Hotels in the area have created commissionable packages offering admission to the Midway with overnight stays.Visitors to the Midway take a two- to three-hour, self-guided audio tour that is included in the price of admission ($13 for adults; $10 for seniors and those with military or college ID; $7 for youths ages 6 to 17; free for those age 6 and under or in uniformed active duty).

In the audio program, a narrator describes 30 exhibits. Interviews with Midway veterans, ranging from young sailors to former commanding officers, describe life at sea.

Visitors explore four acres of flight deck, the island superstructure (including the bridge and traffic control tower), berthing spaces where they can see where some of the crew of 4,500 slept and one of the ships six galleys, which together cooked and served 13,000 meals a day.

There are about a dozen aircraft, from World War II planes to modern jets, on display. More are being added each month as they are restored.

Visitors can also strap themselves into flight simulators (for an additional cost) for a feeling of soaring into the air from the deck of a carrier.

The Midways location at Navy Pier downtown also is a draw. On view just across the bay are three more carriers -- the new Ronald Reagan, the Stennis and the Nimitz -- all home-ported in San Diego. A short walk away is the new Petco Park baseball stadium and the cruise terminal, where sailings are growing in number.

Were working with Holland America and Carnival to create pre- and post-cruise packages since the ships dock practically adjacent to the Midway. Its ideal because cruise passengers are typically older and more nostalgic, so they will want to see the Midway and relive its history, Reinders said.

For more information, call (619) 544-9600 or visit the Web at www.midway.org. For hotels offering packages, see www.sandiego.org.

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

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