Review of the National Aquarium in Baltimore


This weekend we trekked up to Baltimore to visit the National Aquarium with our almost 3 year old and 15 month old. We had a wonderful, amazing time, and I highly recommend visiting. The building is beautiful, and well laid-out. Everything is extremely kid-friendly, even for very wee ones. Glass walls all the way to the floor enclose many of the tanks, and the smaller exhibits all have a convenient ledge running along the wall in front of them that let even our 15 month old see most everything on her own–a big plus for parents’ backs!

COST:
Prices ranged from $21.95 ($12.95 for kids age 3-11) for admission to the aquarium only, up to $28.95 ($17.95) for admission to the aquarium, the dolphin show, and the “4D Immersion Theatre” show. We splurged (thanks, gramma and grampa!) on the whole shebang. Luckily, kids under 3 get in free!

TIMING:
Their website offers some helpful hints on when to visit and when to stay away. We were there by 11am on a winter Sunday of a non-holiday weekend, and although most of our visit we got to see everything quickly, by 2pm it was still getting a bit crowded. I wouldn’t even want to try going in the summer or during school holidays; a weekday morning would probably be ideal.

WHAT TO SEE:
The dolphin show! Okay, so it’s really the same corny dolphin show that you could see anywhere. But they are just so darn cute! Plus, it’s indoors, so it was great fun for a winter afternoon, and the views of the dolphins–above and below the water–were spectacular.

The rainforest habitat, complete with birds and monkeys in addition to the fish and turtles, is fun and, um, toasty warm. So dress in layers.

The best part was the simple stuff–the open tanks with sting and manta rays, and one giant sea turtle gliding serenely by. The large shark tanks; I never knew that sharks were so bug-eyed when not in “attack” state. The many countless smaller tanks featuring thousands of varieties of fish and other sea, ocean, river, marsh, and swamp creatures. Really, it was all stunning.

WHAT TO AVOID:
The “4D Immersion Theatre” show. It ended up being about 15-20 minutes taken from the Planet Earth “Shallow Waters” episode. While I whole-heartedly endorse Planet Earth as the awesomest thing I’ve ever seen on television, since I’d already seen all the footage, this show was nothing new. The film is shown in 3D, with the special glasses and all. However (and correct me if I’m wrong on the science) but since it wasn’t originally shot in 3D footage, the 3D-ness of the film was barely noticeable. What was noticeable was the “4D” part: without giving all the secrets away, let me just say that special effects involving water squirting, air blowing, and seats vibrating gave the kids in the audience plenty to scream about. While this might be a hit with your 8 year old, it definitely was not a hit with the little ones! So, be warned, this show’s special effects are S-C-A-R-Y for kids under 8 or so. And I wasn’t so impressed with them myself (how many times can water squirting your face still be considered amusing, really?)

FOOD:
We visited the cafe on the bottom floor, right outside the dolphin show, called Frog Cafe. We sampled their french fries, grilled chicken sandwich and mini cheese pizza. The fries, thick cut and seasoned, were simply outstanding. The grilled chicken was lackluster on a limp, un-toasted bun, and the mini pizza was overpowered by sauce, but was otherwise fine. All told it was fine for speedy food to shore up the waning energy of our toddlers, but there are so many other eating options in the harbor that I’d recommend waiting to eat until after you leave.

(We sprinted in the cold over to the Phillips Seafood Restaurant in the Harborplace Light Street pavillion; the wait there was a too-long 30 minutes, so we opted for crab cake, shrimp, and fish baskets at the Phillips Seafood Express, right next door. It was all cooked fresh, and ranged from $8 to $12 a basket. Delicious! Highly recommend the crab cake sandwich ($12).)

OTHER TIDBITS:
Strollers are not allowed! Somehow our trip planner missed this information on the website, so we arrived with a huge diaper bag and 2 umbrella strollers. We had to check the strollers at the entrance (for free, happily) and also left our coats. They have framed kid backpack carriers and soft front carriers for patron use, which was a nice touch. We opted to let our kids walk, and they did just fine.

Overall, we had a wonderful time, and I’m sure the kids will be talking about it for weeks to come!

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