250,000 lights will turn the Battleship Wisconsin into a winter wonderland Photo: Kendall Osborne

Battleship Wisconsin: the “Rockefeller Tree” of Maritime Christmas Displays

If you like big ships and holiday lights, you need to visit Norfolk over the holidays. The battleship Wisconsin will be decked out in lights for WinterFest on the Wisconsin which opens on November 21.

At almost 900 feet long, it takes over 250,000 lights to cover her teak decks and topsides. Blue Steel Lighting Design of Chesapeake, Virginia, designed the display at the Nauticus maritime science center and is rushing to have it completed on time.

Jeremy Kilgore, owner of Blue Steel Lighting Design, described the project as a “blessing.” His business has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, since almost all their business is custom lighting at weddings and receptions. Kilgore is delighted to have work for his crew. He adds, “This particular project is the most unusual I have undertaken, and I specialize in unusual projects!”

Photo: Kendall Osborne

Part of the ship will look frozen, while the the massive 16-inch guns—the largest cannons produced by the U.S. Navy—will be transformed into candy canes. Kilgore welded over 100 trees to cover the battleship’s bow.

“This is a huge, complex project,” says Stephen E. Kirkland, Nauticus executive director. “My challenge to the lighting team was to think of this ship as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.  It has to be that iconic.”

There will be a specially designed selfie station for your social media photos. In addition to all the lights, WinterFest on the Wisconsin will feature live entertainment and lighted sailboat parades on Saturday nights. Santa will arrive by boat after each parade.

The display is sponsored by the Nauticus Foundation, and will run through the end of December.  With pandemic safety in mind, WinterFest on the Wisconsin is open-concept and outdoors. You can find details at

-Kendall Osborne