Baltimore’s Inner Harbor: The National Aquarium
Marine life was a big theme for our boys (ages 10 and 8) this spring, so we decided to build an overnight stay around the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which anchors the bustling Inner Harbor. (Read here for an overview of our trip).
Rated the #1 US Aquarium in 2006 by Conde Nast, the National Aquarium packs riveting marine wildlife exhibits into a fantastic piece of architecture. Attractions include the Dolphin Encounter, rooftop rainforest, a central ray pool, a multi-story shark tank, a 4-D immersion theatre, and a temporary exhibit called Jellies Invasion: Oceans out of Balance.
Watching sharks swirl around us at eye level was dramatically disconcerting, and we loved it.
We slowly, sometimes too slowly, wound up the five floors of exhibits in the main pavilion. Each floor showcased a theme relating to fish, marine mammals, and even birds, that inhabit various environments: native Maryland, the open ocean, sea cliffs, the Atlantic and Pacific coral reefs, Amazon river forest, and upland tropical rain forests, and more.
The Dolphin Encounter was a highlight. The kids loved seeing dolphins spin balls on their noses, jump high in the air and slam back down, jump through hoops, and spray water on the audience.
I loved observing how trainers and dolphins are able to communicate seemingly complex signals. My husband was less than impressed, thinking it amounted to nothing more than stupid pet tricks, but made worse because it’s with a species that should be in the wild. Party pooper or all-too critical thinker? Not sure. But the kids and I loved it.
The Aquarium is great, but it does have three important rules. First, buy your tickets online. It will save you from long wait lines. Second, when they say “we recommend you visit before 11 or after 3,” take their advice. We arrived mid-afternoon on a Friday in late June. The crowds were thick and nearly impenetrable inside, which significantly diminished our experience. Three, if you want to get wet during the Dolphin Encounter, get there early and sit in the first seven rows!
If you go: National Aquarium, 501 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 | 410.576.3800. Look into the special dolphin immersion tours for kids, such as the Dolphin Sleepover! Guests enjoy a backstage tour, reserved seating for a dolphin show, say goodnight to the dolphins, then fall asleep in the underwater viewing area. Perfect for special birthdays. Also look for exclusive package deals with nearby hotels.
Other Baltimore Inner Harbor Attractions:
- Maryland Science Center
- Port Discovery Children’s Museum
- Camden Yards Sports Legends Museum
- Top of the World Observation Level
- American Visionary Art Museum
Hint: Check out the Baltimore Harbor Pass for discounted admission to these attractions.
A Walking Tour of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor:
- Overview of our stay
- Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel
- National Aquarium
- Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine
- A Family-friendly Fogo de Chao
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