Baltimore with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

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Baltimore with Tweens: A Family Vacation

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The only thing most tweens probably know about Baltimore, Maryland, is that it is home to the Super Bowl-winning Ravens and the World Series-winning Orioles. There is a slim possibility that they might also know that the city was the backdrop for the popular movie and stage musical, "Hairspray." For the most part, though, Baltimore -- which has been a major seaport since the 1700s -- has remained quietly out of the limelight, especially with Washington, D.C., only 40 miles to the south, acting like its more glamorous big sister and luring away much of the region's tourist trade.

Ironically, the place many Washingtonians choose to take their tweens to for a day trip is Baltimore. They flock to Baltimore's Inner Harbor to enjoy a lunch on the waterfront or to visit its beautiful aquarium. They know that the Baltimore Inner Harbor area offers a good mix of history, learning and -- most importantly for tweens -- fun.


Morning

A great way to start a tween adventure to Baltimore is at Fort McHenry (2400 E. Fort Ave., Baltimore, MD 21230 410-962-4290), which is the subject of our national anthem. Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" after witnessing British forces bombarding the fort during the War of 1812. In the morning when Key saw the flag was still waving proudly above the fort, he knew that America had risen to the occasion and had won the battle against the British. Adult admission to tour Fort McHenry's grounds is $7 and children 15 under are free. The fort opens at 8AM so plan on spending about an hour or two on your visit.

From Fort McHenry, drive the short distance to Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Ever since it underwent a revitalization, which started in the1970s, the Inner Harbor has become a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. The harbor boasts many shopping and dining options, including a Cheesecake Factory, a California Pizza Kitchen and several seafood places that serve up local specialties such as crabcakes and rockfish.

The Inner Harbor also has three very interesting options that combine learning with fun for your tweens. Unfortunately, you probably won't have time to do all three in one day. The most popular -- and Maryland's leading tourist attraction -- is the beautiful National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St., Baltimore, MD 21202 410-576-3800), which opened in 1981 and contains more than 16,500 creatures in stunning exhibits. In addition to the traditional aquatic exhibits, the National Aquarium also has the "Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes" attraction where birds and lizards from the land down under roam freely. Admission to the aquarium only is $24.95 for Adults and kids ages 12 and up and $19.95 for children 3-11. For extra fees and ticket prices ranging from $27.95-29.95 for adults and $22.95-24.95 for kids, guests can also see an educational dolphin show and/or watch a 3-D movie with added special sensory effects in the 4-D Immersion Theater. The National Aquarium is open from 9AM-5PM, except on Fridays when it remains open until 8PM.
Afternoon

The other fun place in Baltimore for tweens to visit is Port Discovery Children's Museum (35 Market Place, Baltimore, MD 21202 410-727-8120). This attraction is not actually on the Inner Harbor, but is within easy walking distance. Port Discovery was recently voted as one of the United States' top five children's museums and is a really unique and fun place for children, especially for younger tweens. The star of the museum has to be its huge, three-level urban treehouse structure with a rope bridge and slides. If your tweens need a place to burn off some excess energy, this is it. Admission is $12.95 for adults and all children ages two and up.

Last, but not least, is the Maryland Science Center, which is located back on the Inner Harbor. This is a very hands-on science center that has many permanent, as well as special visiting, exhibits. In addition, this science center boasts an IMAX theater, a planetarium and an observatory. Your admission price of $14.95 for adults and $11.95 for children 3-12 also covers the planetarium and Demo Stage programs the museum runs throughout the day on various hair-raising and mind-boggling topics such as how high voltage electricity works and the nature of chemical reactions. The Science Center's observatory is open for free to the public on Friday nights; while on Saturdays -- if the weather cooperates -- guests with paid admission can look at the sun safely through the observatory's specially filtered telescope to see sunspots and other solar features.

There is a Harbor Pass available that offers discounted admission to the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium, the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, Top of the World Observation Level, the American Visionary Art Museum and Port Discovery. This pass is good for four consecutive days for one-time admission to these attractions.
Evening

For lunch or dinner, the Inner Harbor offers plenty of options. Your tweens may want to go to the Hard Rock Cafe, with its cool rock 'n roll memorabilia and kid-friendly menu. For the tween who loves seafood, there are several to choose from in Baltimore, including Phillips Seafood Restaurant and the Rusty Scupper. The latter is an especially nice option for a sunset dinner, as it sits on the harbor and offers beautiful views. If you and your family are more comfortable with fast food, there are plenty of those types of eateries available in the Inner Harbor area, as well.


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