Find the history of the harbor Baltimore, Md. By Susy Schultzphoto courtesy of Baltimore Convention and Visitors Association One of the glorious tall ships sails on the Inner Harbor, site of Baltimore's founding 300 years ago.
Never say never. If you did not plan a summer vacation this summer and are looking for a last-minute option, you might want to think about an often-ignored East Coast jewel for families-Baltimore.
It's not Washington, D.C., but that's the point.
It's a quaint city by Chicago standards. But it's beautiful and the downtown has history, music, museums, an oceanarium, concerts, cuisine, art, sports and neighborhoods-all either a walk away or a quick hop on the water taxi.
You can get a great deal on a direct flight from Chicago to BWI Baltimore/Washington International Airport and spend a week or a long weekend in the heart of the city. The Inner Harbor, the founding site of the city about 300 years ago, was transformed in the 1970s and 1980s from a working wharf into a tourist attraction. It is an urban success story, complete with crab cakes.
We've spent a lot of time in Baltimore because my sister and her family-including my three lovely nieces, Abbie, Allie and Annie-live there.
In fact, when the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau called and invited my son Zach and me to travel there as their guests, I thought, "I don't need anyone to show me what I already know." Then, I realized, I've never been a true Baltimore tourist.
And while I would recommend the city, it's hard for me to recommend anyplace other than my sister's for you to stay. So, Zach, 12, and I decided to go for a long weekend, and once there, Annie, 9, joined us to explore.
We stayed in the Pier 5 Hotel, a small, funky, boutique hotel that's part of a group of three Baltimore hotels that call themselves Harbor Magic. (Our room was $230-$275 a night, but check the Web site as well as that of the convention bureau; there are many hotels on the Inner Harbor and many family deals.)
Pier 5 is on the waterfront, across the street from Little Italy and next door to the National Baltimore Aquarium-a wonderful place still open in the midst of its major expansion construction. (We loved the Atlantic Ocean walk because you walk down ramps with tanks all round you-as though you are swimming down to the bottom of the ocean.)
We didn't have enough time to do everything we wanted but here are some of the highlights and other recommendations besides the aquarium:
• The newly renovated Maryland Science Center. We spent three hours there and loved it. Our particular favorite was "Your Body, the Inside Story." In this case, it's fun to be sneezed at.
• The Ducks of Baltimore-better known as the Wacky Quackers. Who knew?
My sister's relatives made fun of me when I raved about the goofy, silly amphibious tour. But the tour puts a quacker in your mouth and a smile on your face. Plus, it was a wonderful way for a child to get an overview of the rich history of the city because the trip weaves through neighborhoods and the harbor.
Did you know Charles Carroll was the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to list his address? "Baltimore boys are tough-not too bright-but tough," says our guide, Dennis Kresslein, a.k.a. the Rev. Capt. Dan. The 80-minute tour is $24, but don't forget to tip the driver-he deserves it.
• The USS Constellation was the last all-sail ship built by the U.S. Navy and the only Civil War vessel still afloat. Watch for the cannon firing.
• The Inner Harbor's Water Taxi. It is a cheap ride-a one-day ticket is $6 for adults, $3 for kids. You can get around to most everything.
• Oriole Park at Camden Yard. This is a beautiful ballpark and one that understands kids are vital to baseball. You can still get a ticket for $9-left field upper deck-and the bleachers are $15. But you don't need to go to a game to enjoy the park; there are tours throughout the year. Besides, there is magic sitting in a ballpark and being two blocks from Babe Ruth's birthplace.
"It was all fun but I liked the baseball game the best," Zach says.
Resources • Baltimore Convention and Visitors Association www.baltimore.org
• Ducks of Baltimore www.baltimoreducks.com
• Maryland Science Center www.marylandsciencecenter.org
• The National Aquarium in Baltimore www.aqua.org
• Oriole Park at Camden Yards www.theorioles.com
• Pier 5 Hotel www.harbormagic.com
• USS Constellation www.constellation.org
Susy Schultz is editor of Chicago Parent.