To hear Baltimoreans tell it, the Inner
Harbor as it existed in the 1970s was the type of dark and
dangerous waterfront where even a pirate would've been nervous.
Crime was high, buildings were decaying and there wasn't a decent
crabcake to be found.
That all has changed in the last quarter-century. The Inner
Harbor is now the urban equivalent of a theme park, a place where
you'll find wall-to-wall family entertainment.
There are tall ships, paddle boats and water taxis in the
harbor, bright and friendly shops and restaurants at the
Harborplace complex on the water's edge and a science center and
aquarium. Throw in a number of other kid-oriented attractions
nearby and it's clear to see the charm of Charm City where families
Perhaps the best place to get the lay of the land -- and the sea
-- is aboard one of Ride the Ducks amphibious tour vehicles, which
first waddled onto Baltimore's tourism landscape in the summer of
If you can tolerate a minute or so of Rick Dees' annoying 1970s
hit "Disco Duck" prior to departure, the payoff is an
unconventional and educational tour of the city's waterfront
neighborhoods about a World War II-era amphibious vehicle. In fact,
it was the hit of the weekend with most of the kids on our trip --
and more than a few of their adult companions. Ride the Ducks
offers 80-minute tours leaving from the Inner Harbor several times
The key to the experience was the driver/captain/tour guide, a
fellow we knew simply as Captain Crabby. Crabby he was not: He
scored some points with the kids once we left dry land in Fell's
Point, as he offered each of them an opportunity to take the wheel
for five minutes while he gave his spiel. Even our 5-year-old,
Miranda, took a turn in the captain's chair.
For prices or more info, visit www.baltimoreducks.com.
The National Aquarium
The Inner Harbor's oldest attraction still is its most popular.
Creatures great and small were sharing the stage at the Inner
Harbor's flagship tourist facility when we visited and will
continue to do so through the end of the year.
The featured exhibit, opened in March, is "Shark Quest," a
presentation designed to quell people's fear of the creatures by
educating them. There's a huge, circular tank filled with several
species of sharks, rays, and even a sea turtle named Calypso, that
form a never-ending procession past visitors as they make their way
from one level of the aquarium to the next. And kids can even touch
or hold a baby bamboo shark in what amounts to an underwater
In addition, "Seahorses: Beyond Imagination" has been a big hit
at the aquarium the past two years and as a result has been held
over through December.
Among the most fascinating of the permanent exhibits at the
aquarium is the half-hour Dolphin Show, where audiences get an
education while watching the stars' dance routines and acrobatic
And, yes, "Finding Nemo" fans, clownfish are among the
10,000-plus specimens found here, as well, in the "Surviving
Through Adaptation" exhibit on the third floor.
Be advised, the line for tickets forms early and grows long at
the aquarium, and tickets are sold for specific entry times. Best
bet, if possible, is to plan a time to visit in advance and
purchase tickets online (at www.aqua.org).
Maryland Science Center
The watery theme carries over to the waterfront's other bookend
attraction, where director James Cameron's critically acclaimed
documentary, "Ghosts of the Abyss," is packing them in at the
center's Imax Theater. The 60-minute documentary takes audiences
along for the ride as the Academy Award-winning director, show-biz
buddy Bill Paxton and a team of Russian and American scientists and
crew members journey to (and through) the wreck of the Titanic.
But be sure clients order tickets in advance because the shows
have been selling out since "Ghosts" opened in April, and science
center admission doesn't cover or guarantee a seat in the
You'll need tickets to get into the center's Davis Planetarium,
as well, but those are much easier to come by.
And celebrating its first anniversary is the Kids Room, an
interactive playroom designed with the youngest set (age 8 and
under) in mind.
For more on the science center, go to www.mdsci.org.
A walk of a few blocks from the Inner Harbor will land you at
this interactive kids museum, one of the newer attractions on the
The centerpiece at Port Discovery is a three-story urban
treehouse, known as Kidworks, that no one under 12 can resist.
There are rope ladders, tunnels and bridges everywhere -- think
For prices and hours of operation, visit Port Discovery online
To contact reporter Gerry Bourbeau, send e-mail to [email protected] .