The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD is an amazing place. Hundreds of exhibits, 16,500 animals, a rousing dolphin show at least three times a day … this is the place to go if you and your little one love fish, lizards, frogs, bats, dolphins, and/or turtles.
The Aquarium is located at one end of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a fun mix of museums, restaurants, shops, and entertainment that surrounds a bit of water perfect for paddleboats, ship museums, and a working water taxi. The seaport is adjacient, but this area is perfect for families with young kids.
The aquarium itself has hundreds of exhibits, constantly updated. The entryway has a two-story waterfall and is open to the Wild Australia exhibit above. The careful onlooker can see fish, lizards, birds, and bats even before official entry to the museum. (Note: Since they museum has had to initiate a timed entry system, you can’t actually see this part until it’s your turn to enter with a ticket.) Once inside, a quick trip up the escalator past the cafe and gift shop will take you either to the Wild Australia special exhibit or into the maze that is the aquarium itself.
Wild Australia is an open, airy exhibit lined on both sides with lizards behind glass, tanks for various sizes of fish, glossy photos and explanatory text, and helpful guides ready to expand on nearly any aspect. The day we went, there was a guide standing on the entry bridge pointing out the family of bats sleeping above!
The main building features a four-story maze of tanks and exhibits with fish and little creatures almost too numerous to take in in just one visit. Older kids and adults will really get into this, but active toddlers like Widget may prefer to zoom on by in order to get to the fun stuff … the moving sidewalks/escalators that take you over the huge ray tank down below. At the top of the main building, you can enter the Amazon exhibit or end the visit with a trip down the four-story shark tank.
The Amazon exhibit is breathtaking. From the moment you enter until your last step, you will be transported to another world, a world of fish, birds, lizards, and lots to see and do. This exhibit occupies the very top of the building, and the light airy space is a sharp contrast to the dark waterworld below. Kids love it, but if your time is short or naps beckon, you can skip this part and go straight to the shark tank.
The way down (besides the elevators, seldom used but convenient for making a quick tantrumy or poopy exit) is via a winding path adjacient to the main exhibit hall, circling farther and farther down, “inside” a giant shark tank. The tank is several stories tall, populated with dozens of varieties of sharks at the bottom, but the top part of the water is full of colorful corals and schools of smaller, brighter fish. As they swim by, even the youngest will thrill to see the diversity — or sameness — of the schools. Toddlers may take this opportunity to run down the ramps, so be quick if you have one of these, but if you can stop just once or twice to appreciate the changing scenery with the changing depths, you will be well-rewarded.
After the shark tank, if you still have the energy and/or the time, a large exhibit of frogs awaits. This exhibit is adjacient to the main cafeteria and a froggy gift shop, so be forewarned that you may want to hustle through or stop, as you prefer.
Don’t forget the dolphin show! The latest show, Play, features four of the dolphin residents and a whole lot of clapping. I was personally disappointed at the extensive use of video to supplement the live action, but perhaps it helps to engage some of the children. Regardless, this is a great show and well worth the extra $3 at the gate. I didn’t think Widget would be old enough to appreciate it, but he LOVED the show and has been talking about it for the last seven days. (“Clap clap, dolphin jump up!” “Go see dophin?”) The jumping dolphins really captured his imagination, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Mom Tip: If you live in the area and plan to go to the aquarium twice in the next year, consider buying a membership. Not only do you have unlimited access for the next year (or 15 months, with the current special offer), but you get to SKIP THE LINE, which can be lengthy, and you can enter without waiting an additional 15 – 90 minutes for timed entry. This is critical with little ones, particularly on chilly or hot days, as all waits are outside in the elements, regardless of the age of your accompanying children. I’m sure there are other benefits to membership, but this alone made it worth our while. Another mom in our playgroup told me about this, and I am so grateful for the tip — we can now go just for the dolphin show or to see the frogs if we want, and not feel guilty about the abbreviated trip. The Baltimore Aquarium is a must-visit in my opinion, and tons of fun for visiting family or even the playgroup if several are members. Individual visits are expensive, but, again, consider the membership and it comes out much more do-able. A great addition to my “places to go” list!