TR: 48hrs in Baltimore with a kid

Mar 5th, 2019, 05:56 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 24,096
TR: 48hrs in Baltimore with a kid

Hi all,

We just returned from a weekend trip to Baltimore. My husband is there for a conference, so I decided my son (age 6) and I would tag along for the weekend. Baltimore doesn't get much mention here so I thought I would write a trip report that is kid-oriented.

The last time I was in Baltimore was over 25 years ago, as part of a road trip I took with my brother. I don't think we even stayed overnight. I returned a few years later for an interview but I didn't even see the city.

Day 1
We left Boston Saturday morning on Southwest during a snowstorm. A JetBlue flight to BWI departing the same time was cancelled. My son got to be "junior pilot" and sat in the pilot seat for a photo op before the plane took off. From BWI, we took the LightRail into the city. The Light Rail isn't punctual - one was just departing when we got to the station, and the next one showed up 10 minutes late. But the price was very affordable ($1.80pp).

I booked us at Staybridge Suites on Commerce St btw Baltimore St and Lombard St. I picked it because it has real 1BR suites, and on the more affordable side. The hotel has only opened for a year or 2; it is a historic building (formerly commerce building?) and retains many of the artifacts. Rooms have 15 feet high ceilings. We were assigned a corner room on the ground floor (street level). It is a 1BR King with a real bedroom and a living area, plus kitchen with fridge/stove/sink/microwave etc.

By the time we checked in, it was lunch time. I knew from map that there's a Shake Shack 1.5 blocks from our hotel. Wow, that place is mobbed! (It's Sat and across the street from the Aquarium.) After lunch, DH went to his conference at the Convention Center. My son and I walked to the Maryland Science Center. Before the trip, I had checked opening days/times for all the attractions. Maryland Science Center is one of the few places that opens until 6pm. We got there around 1:30pm and stayed until 5:30pm. I can't tell you how tired I was; I actually dozed off a few times on a bench while my son explored exhibits. I won't say the Science Center is that spectacular but my son enjoyed it. It is a bit dated as many of the "interactive" exhibits have screens that still require you to roll the cursor ball and the push a button to "click." A lot of these don't work or don't work very well, and it took my son many tries before he realizes these are not "touch screens" like the ones he's used to.

When it was time to leave, we hung out at the inner harbor for a bit; it wasn't too cold and my son somehow still had the energy to run around. We then met DH for dinner at Kona Grill. I have found that there aren't too many dining choices within Inner Harbor...most are pretty pricey and touristy. Kona Grill is a chain but the food they serve is quite good. I had a poke bowl; dh had sea bass, our son had a kids bento box with grilled cheese, edamame and carrot sticks.

That night, DH had a terrible time sleeping. Our room seems to be near a valet parking so all night he could hear people talking right out side our windows and cars revving down the street with loud music (It was Sat night after all). I slept with earplugs so I was blissfully unaware.

End of day 1

Last edited by yk; Mar 5th, 2019 at 05:59 PM.
yk is offline  
Mar 6th, 2019, 08:55 AM
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Day 2 Baltimore

Day 2

Free breakfast at Staybridge Suites is actually very nice; much nicer than the free buffet breakfasts I've had at other hotels. It was Sunday, a cold, wet day. DH went to his conference. My son and I walked a couple blocks to catch the #71 bus to Baltimore Museum of Industry. The bus stop is directly across the street from the museum.

The Museum of Industry is really fascinating and we both LOVED it. We learned a lot about the various industries in Baltimore during its heyday in the mid-late 1800s. Along the Inner Harbor there were as many as 100 canning factories; all but one were demolished and the last one standing became this museum. Inside are also a number of recreations of shops/workshops from that time period, including a corner grocer, a bakery, a metal shop, a pharmacy, a garment shop etc. We spent about 2 hours there.

We had hoped to catch the free Charm City Circulator bus back to Inner Harbor. It was supposed to run every 15 minutes but we waited for over 30 minutes and none showed up (we did see one going the opposite direction soon after we started waiting, but that bus never turned back around). Eventually a #71 bus came so we got on that instead.

We returned to our hotel room, armed with some snacks from a nearby 7-11, and ate lunch in. We requested to be moved to a different room due to noise. Although we had paid for a 1BR King suite, the only thing available on the upper floors was a regular room with 2 queens. We took it because it's more important for my husband to sleep well than to have all that extra space.

After fueling up, we headed for the National Aquarium; by then, it had started to rain and snow.

I wasn't planning for us to go to the National Aquarium on this trip, partly because of its pricey admission ($40 adults; $25 kids), and partly because we were just at the Lisbon Aquarium recently. Besides, we could visit our own New England Aquarium for much less. But our hotel offers a discount if we buy thru them ($32 adults; $20 kids), and it's such a short walk from our hotel on this snowy/rainy day, so I changed my mind. (My original plan was to go to the B&O railroad museum but it requires a bus ride).

As soon as I stepped inside the National Aquarium, I realized it has to be designed by the same architect as the New England Aquarium in Boston (in fact it is; and he also designed the Lisbon Aquarium). It is so similar to the NE Aquarium that I felt rather disappointed. The displays are very similar. Major difference is we have penguins and they have sharks; the center ocean tank is almost identical. The Nat Aquarium also has a rooftop tropical rainforest, but we could barely see any birds flying around (we could hear them just fine). My disappointment dissipated when we finally made it to the new wing with the dolphins. My son has never seen real dolphins so he was excited; and we got there in time for a "show." It's not a real show you think of as in SeaWorld; rather someone gives us a talk educating us about dolphins, and the 2 dolphins did do some tricks. The jellyfish exhibit next to the dolphins is also pretty cool. And before you exit, there's the Australian exhibit (also new) which is something different. Even tho the National Aquarium opening hours are listed as 9a-5p, what it really means is last entry is at 5pm and you can stay there until 6:30pm. We must have spent 3.5 hours there. In the end, I felt that with the hotel discount, it was worth the visit. I may not feel that way if I had to pay full price, only because we have something rather similar here in Boston (minus the dolphins, mostly).

We met up with DH at a new restaurant, Alexander Brown, for dinner; the place had just opened a month ago. It has excellent reviews on Yelp and it's just a short walk from our hotel. We don't usually go to such fancy places to eat with our son, but it was my husband's birthday and it was a Sunday. The restaurant is gorgeous - it's a historic building that has been restored - when you walk in you are greeted by marble columns and superhigh ceilings. Then you enter and your eyes are caught by the skylit dome, designed by a student of Tiffany. To match the decor, the food was outstanding - every single dish we ordered was perfect. Our son was very well-behaved too. After dinner we were treated to a tour of the restaurant. Apart from the main dining space, it has 2 more smaller dining rooms full of artifacts from the golden age and from the Alexander Brown family, who still owns the building. I highly recommend this restaurant if you are in Baltimore.

end of Day 2
yk is offline  
Mar 6th, 2019, 10:31 AM
Join Date: Jun 2007
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Thanks for doing a report about Baltimore, yk. We lived there for a while and I think it's underrated as a destination. There are still some Orioles fans in my family.We liked the Museum of Industry. So much of the work was done by children in those days that my husband and I refer to it as the Museum of Child Labor.

M-yk is quite the museum hound! He's a good traveling companion.
Coquelicot is offline  
Mar 6th, 2019, 11:13 AM
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Great to read. Thanks yo. Interesting about the Science Center. DH and I visited when it opened---doesn't sound like much has been put into it since. Glad the dolphins were still at the aquarium!

I agree with you, Coquelicot, about Baltimore as a destination. In what area did you live?

The inner harbor area was begun when Nancy Pelosi's father was mayor in the 1950s.
TDudette is offline  
Mar 6th, 2019, 05:15 PM
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Nice that your husband had such good travel companions to spend the evenings with. We love museums too, but tend to spend vacations away from the cities.

Thanks for the report.
emalloy is online now  
Mar 6th, 2019, 05:20 PM
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TDu, it sounds like the National Aquarium is planning to send the dolphins away to a sanctuary (location TBD) so they have more space to swim around. Not sure what they will do with the dolphin space once the sanctuary opens however.
yk is offline  
Mar 6th, 2019, 06:28 PM
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Day 3 Baltimore

Day 3
After the cold/wet day on Day 2, we woke up to sunny skies but windy cold temperature on Monday. Back in Boston, it had snowed 10" overnight with plenty of cancellations and delays for the early flights into/out of Logan airport. Our flight home wasn't until 3:30pm and I had checked several times in the morning and our flight was still shown as "on time." DH set off for his conference.

After breakfast and packing our bags, my son and I visited the Historic Ships. Given that it is a Monday, many/most attractions are closed. The only ones that are open are: Nat Aquarium, B&O Railroad Museum, and the Historic ships. I really wanted to take my son to the Railroad museum, as it is something he'd be very interested in. But with it a bit farther afield, I just didn't think we could get there and back in time for our flight. So Historic Ships we go.

There are 4 Historic Ships docked in the Inner Harbor, right by the Aquarium (hence, short walk from our hotel). On the website it indicated that only 2 are open in the winter, but when we bought our tickets, we were told all 4 are open. You can choose to buy 2-ship pass or 4-ship pass. I bought the 2-ship pass and confirmed that if we want, we can pay the difference and upgrade to the 4-ship pass. We were the first ones to visit that day.

Our first ship was USS Constellation. While it isn't nearly as famous as the USS Constitution right here in Boston, it is still interesting to visit. It was built in the 1800s as a sloop-of-war. All 4 decks are open for visit and it's fun to see each deck. It's a self-guided visit but there are plenty of info posted. The lowest deck we could visit is actually the storage area in the bottom of the hull, and you can see the curved wood forming the sides and bottom of the ship. Overall it was a fascinating visit.

For our second ship, I wanted to visit the submarine USS Torsk, but my son wanted to visit the Lightship Chesapeake, and of course he won. This ship was built in 1930. It has a lot less to see and less interesting, IMHO.

While we were touring I was notified our flight has been delayed to 5pm, so I thought we could get lunch and then return and upgrade our ticket to tour the other 2 vessels. However, another text came and said our flight is now at 9pm... so we headed back to the hotel so I could sit down and check for other flight options to see if there's any other earlier flight. Long story short, I changed us to an earlier (still delayed) flight that's scheduled to depart at 7:30pm, but the phone agent advised us to get to airport early because in case a plane suddenly becomes available, it will depart ASAP and won't wait for any passengers.

In the end, we didn't visit the other vessels. Instead we had a hurried lunch and got ourselves on the Light Rail to the airport. At the airport we found out there's another flight departing at 3:30pm but it was already full. We got on the wait list but missed it by 3 people. In the end, our "7:30pm" flight was delayed until 10pm. So we spent all day at the airport; luckily my son was so tired he took a 2-hour nap which helped pass the time.

A few thoughts about Baltimore
Having lived in Boston, Philadelphia, and Dallas, I can see why Baltimore is not high on people's destination list. I think it is fine for a short visit, and the immediate area surrounding Inner Harbor is nice. Downside is food options are very limited there, except for chains and overpriced touristy places. The Alexander Brown restaurant is unique and something that is much needed. Once you walk inland one or two blocks from Inner Harbor, the landscape changes a lot. Our hotel is between Lombard Street and Baltimore Street. Baltimore St is 3 blocks from Inner Harbor and that street is mostly empty storefronts. I wouldn't feel safe walking there at night. I have noticed that many historic buildings in that area are now being turned into luxury apartments, so maybe in another 5-10 years the area will be gentrified.

As you've noticed, during our stay, we relied on walking and on taking public transit. Many people would have opted for Uber or Lyft instead of navigating the public transit system. Since I'm a believer in public transit, I always try to use it if possible. The Transit app works fairly well in Baltimore. And the MTA has an app (called Charm Pass) which you can download and then pay for ticket via the app. This is a really convenient feature because I could pay for our bus rides and our Light Rail rides via the app, instead of looking for ticket machines or paying on the bus. My major complaint about the MTA is that the schedule is highly unreliable. Every single ride we took, it was completely off schedule by being late, or never showed up (like that Charm City Circulator).

Having said that, we enjoyed our time there and were happy to spend my husband's birthday with him in Baltimore.
yk is offline  
Mar 6th, 2019, 07:04 PM
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I'm glad you went to the National Aquarium and enjoyed it!
kja is offline  
Mar 7th, 2019, 10:54 AM
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Again, wonderful TR, yk.

Others can confirm or clarify but when DH and I visited Baltimore with our friends from there, we were often led to specific areas for foods native to the local populations. Little Italy had several wonderful restos, there was an area of Greek folks and places to eat--I don't know if that's still true today.

Unfortunately, I do agree with yk about the food chains around the Inner Harbor, so it was nice to read about Alexander Brown's.
TDudette is offline  
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