Baltimore with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

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Over the past 40 years, Baltimore, Maryland has been successfully transforming its Inner Harbor area into an extremely family-friendly destination, complete with a science museum, a children's museum, and a world-class aquarium - all set on the water's edge. There are paddle boats and a real submarine, cafes with outdoor seating and places to buy ice cream to enjoy while you stroll along the harbor. Even better, it's in a relatively compact area -- not spread out all over the entire city -- and one that even little legs can negotiate with a few breaks here and there. In short, it's the perfect locale for a family vacation in Baltimore with kids.

Insider tip: If you are planning on being in Baltimore for several days and visiting more of the Inner Harbor attractions, look into the Harbor Pass, which gives you discounted admission to the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, the Top of the World observation level, Camden Yard's Sports Legends Museum, the Port Discovery Museum or the American Visionary Art Museum.

Morning


Although there are a number of places to start your day in Baltimore, if you have a dolphin lover or two in your family, there is no better place than the Breakfast with the Dolphins experience at Baltimore's National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St.; 410- 576-3800). Breakfast is continental style – fruit, cereal, bagels, donuts, juice – and guests are treated to a dolphin program, where they can learn about the dolphins and ask the trainers questions. This program is different than the regular dolphin show, which your children can come back to later and see as part of their dolphin experience ticket. Two caveats: your child must be at least three to attend, and the experience is a bit pricey (tickets are $44.95 for adults and $39.95 for children up to 11). Advanced ticket purchases are required, and the experience is only available on certain days, so please check the website before you visit.

Insider tip: If it's at all possible, try to go to the aquarium during the week. The National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St.; 410- 576-3800) is Maryland's No.1 attraction, and it can get very crowded, especially on holidays or weekends. Although the main exhibits are huge and teeming with fish, there are some smaller exhibits that you view through little windows, and it may be hard for young children to get a good look at them when the aquarium is crowded. Hours change monthly, so it's best to check before your visit. Tickets are $29.95 for adults 12-59, $28.95 for seniors 60+, and $24.95 for children 3-11.
If you don't have dolphin lovers in your family or the price for Breakfast with Dolphins is just too steep, stop and get bagels at the Einstein Brothers Bagels located in the Inner Harbor (1 W. Pratt St.; 410.649.7150), and then head over to the aquarium.

At the aquarium, children will love pretending to be in the middle of the ocean when they walk through the huge tanks and are surrounded on both sides by sharks and other fish. Your little ones will also enjoy the Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extreme exhibit where lizards and birds from down under are allowed to roam freely, and the surreal and beautiful jellyfish exhibit is not to be missed.

Insider tip: The aquarium does not allow the use of strollers because escalators are used at times to navigate the exhibits. The aquarium does, however, provide its guests with front or back child carriers.


Afternoon

Small children will probably need a little downtime after spending a couple of hours at the aquarium. If you are staying in a hotel, now would be a good time to return to it for a short break and lunch. If you are in town just for the day and don't have a room, try to find a low-key dining establishment like Noodles and Company (301 Light St.; 443.220.0060), located in the Harborplace shopping area.

After lunch, take a stroll around the harbor to view the historic boats docked there, including the Civil War era USS Constellation and the submarine USS Torsk (Piers 3 & 5, Inner Harbor; 410.396.3453). The Torsk, in particular, will delight young kids with its angry shark-like face. Your children will probably talk you into a paddle boat ride – kids love the one shaped like a dragon. If you are too tired to paddle, the harbor also has electric boats. Admission prices and hours for the Torsk vary; please call for details.

After your harbor stroll, walk over to the children's museum, Port Discovery, (35 Market Place; 410.727.8120), situated about one block up from the Inner Harbor. Although it is called a museum, it's more like a gigantic educational playground. Port Discovery is loaded with hands-on exhibits. Kids can pretend they work in a diner and serve their parents dinner, play in an area dedicated to water fun, or pretend to run a road-side market. The biggest and most popular attraction, however, is a three-story climbing and play area with slides. Plan on spending at least two hours here. Hours vary by season and tickets are $12.95 for everyone 2 and up. Children under 2 are free.

With young children, you can easily hit system overload if you try to do too much in one day. The Inner Harbor's Maryland Science Center (601 Light St.; 410.685.2370) is a great place to visit and should be on your list of things to do in Baltimore with kids. With a planetarium, IMAX theatre, and traveling exhibits such as Dinosaur Mysteries and Pirates and Treasure, there is something for everyone in the family. Hours are seasonal, and tickets for the Science Center are $14.95 for ages 13 to adult and $11.95 for children 3-12. There are additional costs for the IMAX theatre and certain exhibits, and tickets may be purchased online.


Evening

To end your night, take your children to dinner at the Inner Harbor's Johnny Rockets (301 Light St.; 410.347.5757). The atmosphere at this 50s-style restaurant is fun, and it features a great kids menu including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, mini hot dogs and mini hamburgers. It's the perfect way to wrap up your family vacation with kids in Baltimore.

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