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Fleet Week sails into Manhattan

Sailors stand on the deck of the USS

Sailors stand on the deck of the USS Iwo Jima as it passes by the Statue of Liberty to kick off Fleet Week in Manhattan. (May 25, 2011) Credit: AP

Hello, sailors!

Fleet Week festivities start Wednesday, with tours of huge boats, exhibitions of naval power, and parades of war ships and tall ships. This year's event marks OpSail 2012 and the bicentennial of the War of 1812, as well as a little ditty later written about the war -- "The Star Spangled Banner."

Held almost every year since 1984, Fleet Week New York is anticipated by maritime buffs and many of the 6,000 service members who will flood the city through next Tuesday. Those who enjoy seeing the city briefly transformed into a set for a 1940s movie also are fans of the week.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Gretchen Albrecht will be aboard the USS Wasp, an amphibious all-purpose assault ship that will dock at Pier 92. Her husband, Joshua Albrecht, a Navy master-at-arms stationed in Norfolk, Va., is "really jealous we get to come up," Albrecht said. She plans to send him a New York cheesecake.

"People have told me to expect New Yorkers to be awesome, that they will accept us with open arms," she said. "I was told not to be surprised when you go to pay if you find someone has picked up your tab."

In some respects, Albrecht resembles other New York tourists: She's dying to see a musical and doesn't know how difficult it may be to snag tickets to "The Book of Mormon." She also plans to hit a Mets game and order a pastrami on rye from the Carnegie Deli.

Several of Albrecht's shipmates are planning pilgrimages to the Sept. 11 memorial. Albrecht, who visited the top of the World Trade Center with her family when she was last in the city at age 10, intends to visit the site, too.

Fleet Week also gives U.S. sailors a chance to compare ship equipment, living conditions and customs with seafarers from other participating nations, among them, Japan, Mexico, Spain, France, Colombia, Indonesia and Ecuador. Shipboard meals are a frequent topic at fleet weeks, noted Albrecht, who was surprised to learn that Canadian and British sailors are allowed to drink beer on their ships.

"On ours, we can't," she said.

Visiting Marines, Navy and Coast Guard personnel differ considerably from other tourists in one key way. Albrecht and her shipmates don't have to worry about paying high hotel rates (an average of $226 a night in the area, according to a recent Orbitz survey).

"We sleep on the ship," Albrecht said.

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