Activities run deep in Baltimore's Inner Harbor

Travel Weekly assistant editor Kimberly Scholz visited Baltimore with her sister, Allie, 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 just under 48 hours.

Our visit started with the Top of the World sightseeing tour, which is touted as the "lazy man's tour of Charm City." For this "tour," we took an elevator up to the observation floor at the World Trade Center, the tallest pentagonal building in the world at 420 feet.

Elevators travel to the 27th floor in a matter of seconds, and as soon as we stepped out, floor-to-ceiling windows provided a breathtaking view of the entire city. A guide offered a bird's-eye tour and revealed little-known facts and personal glimpses into the history of Baltimore. The museum also features several interactive displays.

A midmorning sail and lunch on Clipper City, a replica of an 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 snack bar serving hot dogs, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages; seating under the sails, and a lower level that can be reserved for private parties. The Clipper City, complete with the musical sounds of the Caribbean piped throughout the schooner, sails roundtrip through Baltimore's inner and outer harbors 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' 84 home games. The walk from the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel takes about 12 minutes and passes numerous stands selling peanuts, a staple for baseball fans; soft drinks, and Orioles memorabilia. The MARC train and light rail trains also make stops at the ballpark.

I have only been to one other professional baseball game in my life, about 15 years ago, so I relished the chance to see an interleague game between the Orioles and the Atlanta Braves at the venerable Camden Yards.

The experience was well worth it, if only for the atmosphere (the Orioles lost the game, 10-3). The main focal point is the B&O Warehouse, a former railroad warehouse 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.

Seating at the ballpark is available for 48,876 people, including standing room-only facilities. Make sure to wear sunscreen, though -- only a portion 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 second 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 year-old arena is every sports fan's dream -- it has an extra-wide concourse; eight public elevators and two escalators; 66 restrooms; a vast variety of concession stands; surround-sound speakers, and one of the largest scoreboards in any sports venue in the world.

The stadium is serviced by MTA Park-and-Ride and by a Light Rail stop that drops off riders at the stadium, just outside Gate B. For dining entertainment, Baltimore offers a plethora of themed restaurants.

Power Plant is the renovated building that housed a former power generating station for the city of Baltimore. Current tenants include ESPN Zone, Hard Rock Cafe Baltimore and 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; placemats 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 present time. Like 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 have 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 the year-old Planet Hollywood restaurant, 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 Charm City, 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.

The restaurant does offer a decent selection of noncrab choices as well, from chicken and burgers to other seafood and ribs. 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.

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 Atlantic Coral Reef and the South American Rain Forest exhibits.

New this season is the "Coastal Connections: Dolphins at Our Shores" exhibit, which made its debut March 12. The exhibit spotlights dolphins native to the East Coast.

Also of particular interest is the second in a series of changing exhibits, "Venom: Striking Beauties," on display through January 2000. It showcases more than 40 species of venomous land and sea creatures.

Baltimore Area Visitors Center

Phone: (800) 282-6632 or (410) 837-4636

Web: www.baltimore.org

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