Last month we traveled to Baltimore, Maryland. Jennifer had a business trip there, which meant a free hotel room for the rest of us! (Jennifer says she prefers to have her entourage accompany her whenever possible and we made sure not to interfere with her work).
We stayed at the Baltimore Hilton, which is located right next to the Orioles baseball stadium at Camden Yards. When I saw the view from the fitness center, I wished we were there during baseball season as we could have watched a game quite easily from the hotel deck. The hotel was also connected to the Baltimore Convention Center, and more importantly for us, was a short walk from the Inner Harbor. Quite a few years ago “Charm City” revitalized the Inner Harbor and it has become somewhat of a tourist destination. One of the main draws is the National Aquarium. I had heard good things about Baltimore’s Aquarium from friends who had visited it and I knew both boys would love to visit.
After a quick breakfast at the hotel restaurant, Jen was off to her business meetings and I was tasked with keeping both boys entertained all day. We managed to kill some time swimming in the hotel pool and having lunch in the Inner Harbor before setting out to the Aquarium. It is a cool looking building, situated right on the harbor, with an impressive submarine (the USS Torsk, a retired World War II era submarine that saw action in the Pacific theater and is now a maritime museum), docked outside.
I must say I had a bit of sticker shock at the cost of admission to the aquarium. Even with Declan being free, the cost for me and Finnegan was $56. I have been to several other aquariums and none were as expensive. After getting our tickets and making our way inside, I was advised that the aquarium has a strict no stroller policy. I was prepared for this as a friend warned me ahead of time about this policy. The aquarium does permit visitors to check their strollers and other items in a room that is carefully guarded. This only became an issue after our three hour visit and both boys were tired and yearned to ride in the stroller.
Once we began exploring the aquarium we quickly began marveling at all of the cool species of aquatic life residing in the various exhibits. The aquarium is fairly comprehensive and includes all of the animals you would expect to find and several other you might not. The aquarium is basically divided into three parts: the glass pavilion with an Australia Wild Extremes themed exhibit with saltwater crocodiles, snakes and other reptiles; Pier 3 Pavilion contained a multi-level shark and sting ray exhibit and the Pier 4 Pavilion had dolphins and jelly fish exhibits. I thought the layout of the aquarium was a bit confusing, particularly since there is no Pier 1 or Pier 2 Pavilions (and I admit I kept searching for them and it was only after consulting the map that I realized my search was futile).
To me the piece de resistance of the Baltimore Aquarium is the Dolphin Discovery exhibit. I had never seen an exhibit like this at any other aquarium and, outside of SeaWorld, I don’t know where else you can see it. The dolphins performed a plethora of tricks, jumps and acrobatic feats, much to the delight of the crowd. We were able to sit very close to the water, but just outside the splash zone so we did not get wet. Both boys enjoyed this exhibit, and I may have enjoyed it even more than they did.
A close second was the multi-level Blacktip Reef exhibit, a re-creation of a piece of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Teeming with sharks, sting rays and over 70 different species of fish, in a curved viewing area 20 feet wide, the exhibit allows visitors to be immersed in the aquatic habitat (without getting wet). Each level had different animals and each level represented the different species that reside at varying depths of the ocean. The lower levels tend to be darker, which made Declan a bit frightened so some smaller children might not enjoy the lower levels.
There was also the Upland Tropical Rainforest, which is a green house type exhibit that featured several tropical birds that were hard to see. This exhibit seemed oddly out of place for an aquarium as none of these birds actually live in water, just in the rain forest. We did not stay long in that exhibit as it was uncomfortably humid and we only saw one bird.
There were also two films playing, both billed as “4D” (which I don’t really understand as time is supposed to be the fourth dimension according to Albert Einstein). We skipped the films as they required an additional ticket and because I was convinced that both boys would have fallen asleep in the darkened theater (which would have left me brooding over spending even more money on a nap).
By the end of our visit both boys were tired and wanted to ride in the stroller (damn that no stroller policy!). So we hurried back to the room where we checked all of our belongings and headed for the door. Since we do not have a double stroller, Finnegan was forced to walk back to the hotel (which he did with surprisingly little whining). He then practically collapsed in the lobby of the hotel and took a quick nap while we waited for Jen. If we had more time (and energy), we would have liked to visit the Port Discovery Children’s Museum as well. Next time.
Have you been to the National Aquarium? What were your thoughts? Any tips besides bringing a baby carrier for little ones that need to nap?