Ship Island has been in existence since French explorers discovered it in 1699. The island has played an important part in the history of the Gulf Coast throughout the years. Many of the first colonists of the area landed at Ship Island thus earning it the same distinction as Plymouth Rock only on the Gulf Coast. The island had roles in the War of 1812 against the British and during the Civil War. Admiral David Farragut used the island for his base of operations when he captured the ports of New Orleans and Mobile.
Ship Island was used as a POW camp for confederate soldiers during the Civil War as well as a base for the first black US combat units that fought in the Civil War, the 2nd Louisiana Native Guard Volunteers. The National Park Service provides tours and lectures about Fort Massachusetts March through the month of October.
Visitors to Ship Island today are treated to the most beautiful beaches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They can picnic, swim, boogie board, snorkel and explore the island at their leisure. The islands are included in the Gulf Islands National Seashore and are one of only five barrier islands in Mississippi.
There are ferries that run tours of the island and they arrive at the four hundred foot pier which lies near the fort. Visitors can fish for local flounder, red drum, speckled trout and sheepshead or cast a net for mullet. There are also excellent opportunities to see many types of birds, hike the island paths and look for shells along the beach. Lucky guests of the island get to see pods of dolphin around the island or by the dock as they feed on mullet or menhaden.
There are restrooms, fresh water showers, covered picnic areas, drinking water and a small snack bar for refreshments along the boardwalk. The heat along with the humidity is intense in the summer months so visitors should bring along sunscreen and drink plenty of fluids. Sunglasses and lightweight long sleeved shirts and pants are recommended to keep sunburn from occurring. The island doesn't have a lot of tree for shade so the sand is quite hot and shoes are recommended for walking on the boardwalk or beach. Visitors can rent beach chairs and umbrellas on the boardwalk.
Passengers on the ferries can bring on board back packs, small coolers and beach bags. In the spring the ferry departs only if a minimum of fifteen tickets have been sold and the weather allows. The summer ferries run seven days a week weather permitting. They depart Gulfport Monday through Sunday from 9:00 am to 12:00 and depart Ship Island Monday through Sunday from 2:30 pm and 5:00 pm. Fall ferry schedules are the same as in the spring so check at the dock for availability on the day your party wishes to go. Cost is twenty four dollars round trip for adults, twenty two dollars for seniors, and children 3 - 10 are fourteen dollars. Tickets are sold one hour before departures and reservations are not accepted.