Action flows through Baltimore's Inner Harbor

Travel Weekly associate editor Kimberly Scholz visited Baltimore with her sister, Allison, for a weekend of sports and waterfront activities. Her report follows:

BALTIMORE -- Forty years in the making, the rejuvenation of the Inner Harbor here, at a cost of $200 million, provided a busy and fun-filled weekend for two of this city's 4.6 million annual visitors.

We caught a ball game at Oriole Park; boarded a tall ship for an afternoon at sea; did a lot of sightseeing and some shopping, and sampled a variety of culinary treats -- all in under 48 hours.

The Renaissance Harborplace Hotel is located steps from the harbor's waterfront and made the ideal home base for our visit to the city, which started with the Top of the World sightseeing tour.

We took an elevator to the observation floor at the World Trade Center, the tallest pentagonal building in the world at 420 feet.

Elevators soar to the 27th floor in a matter of seconds, where floor-to-ceiling windows provide a bird's-eye view and guides offer little-known tidbits about the city as well as glimpses into its history.

The museum also features several interactive displays. A midmorning sail and lunch on Clipper City, a replica 1854 schooner, revealed more of the sights and sounds of Baltimore.

On board, passengers were asked to volunteer to hoist the sails, and after the crew provided a short lesson on how to raise and lower the sails and tie the correct types of knots, the volunteers were on their own.

The vessel has an upper deck with limited seating; a main deck that seats about 50 people; a lower level that can be reserved for small private parties, and a snack bar that serves hot dogs, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages.

The Clipper City, complete with the musical sounds of the Caribbean piped throughout the schooner, sails roundtrip through Baltimore's Inner Harbors and beyond on a two-hour tour.

Sports fans and nonsports fans alike should make it a point to visit Oriole Park at Camden Yards to catch one of the Baltimore Orioles' 81 home games.

The walk from the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel takes about 12 minutes and passes numerous stands selling peanuts, soft drinks and Orioles memorabilia. The Maryland Rail Commuter train and light rail trains also make stops at the ballpark.

The focal point of the ballpark is the B&O Warehouse, a former railroad storage house stretching 1,116 feet along West Camden Street.

A souvenir shop and a bar/lounge are located on the ground floor of the warehouse, and the members-only Camden Club is on the eighth floor. The Warehouse also is home to Gallery E, a sports art gallery featuring works by local and national artists.

The ballpark accommodates 48,876 people, including standing room-only. Make sure to wear sunscreen, though -- only some of the seats are covered by a sun roof.

Baseball isn't the only professional sport played at the Camden Yards sporting complex.

Set to begin their fifth season in the city, the National Football League's Baltimore Ravens play two preseason and eight regular-season home games at the 69,000-seat PSINet Stadium.

The 3-year-old facility (the Ravens played their first two seasons in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium) is every sports fan's dream -- it has an extra-wide concourse; eight public elevators and two escalators; 66 rest rooms; a variety of concession stands; surround-sound speakers, and what is purported to be one of the largest scoreboards of any sports venue in the world.

The stadium is serviced by the Mass Transit Administration's Park-and-Ride and by a light rail stop that drops off riders at the stadium, just outside Gate B.

Our trip to the Inner Harbor would not have been complete without a visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

The aquarium features daily dolphin shows, a shark tank and several exhibit areas, including the "Surviving Through Adaptation" level and "Wings on Water," an exhibit devoted to stingrays.

New this season is "Amazon River Forest," the first new permanent exhibit at the aquarium in nine years, which made its debut March 3.

Visitors journey down a 57-foot stretch of the Amazon River and witness several species of vegetation and wildlife that are native to the region.

In the planning stages for an early 2001 opening is an exhibit spotlighting seahorses.

For more information, call the Baltimore Area Visitors Center at (800) 282-6632 or (410) 837-4636 or visit its Web site at www.baltimore.org.

Themed eateries lead list of dining options

BALTIMORE -- For dining, this city serves up a rich menu of choices.

Themed restaurants abound. For example, in the Power Plant, a renovated building that once housed a power-generating station for the city of Baltimore, tenants include ESPN Zone and Hard Rock Cafe Baltimore as well as a Barnes and Noble Bookstore.

ESPN Zone, a 35,000-square-foot interactive dining complex, is separated into three areas: the Studio Grill restaurant; the Screening Room, and the Sports Arena.

The restaurant is designed as a television studio with seating available at individual tables or the news desks; place mats are printed daily with updated scores and other sports news.

The Screening Room is set up with restaurant booths, 13 giant television screens and 10 lounge chairs with built-in trays for food service.

For a more hands-on experience, the 10,000-square-foot Sports Arena contains interactive activities and games for all ages.

For the music-minded visitor, ESPN Zone's neighbor is Hard Rock Cafe Baltimore, a hall of fame, so to speak, for musicians from the beginning of the rock 'n' roll era to the present.

As with all other Hard Rock Cafe venues, this one features a vast collection of rock memorabilia as well as the site-specific Soul Library, dedicated to soul and blues artists.

If visitors to Baltimore have been to any other Hard Rock Cafe, then the restaurant does not need to be on the must-see list, yet it still remains a popular place for the young-adult crowd, especially on weekends.

Also in the Inner Harbor is Planet Hollywood, located in the Harborplace Pratt Street Pavilion.

The restaurant features memorabilia from movies from around the world as well as movies and television shows shot on location in Baltimore, including "The Accidental Tourist," "Avalon," "Cry Baby" and "Homicide: Life on the Streets."

Bohagers Bar and Grill is a good choice for visitors who want a more traditional Baltimore eatery.

Tables at the Fell's Point outdoor crab house are set with paper tablecloths, a roll of paper towels, a mallet, a knife and a bucket.

For those who don't fancy crustaceans, the restaurant offers a decent selection of non-crab choices as well, from chicken and burgers to seafood and ribs dishes.

Crab meals are served with corn-on-the-cob, salad and soup. The crabs, measured in dozens, are dumped right on the table.

The restaurant turns into a dance club after 10 p.m. on weekends.

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