Home The Washington Diplomat June 2008 Bring on the Crowds

Bring on the Crowds


Historic Maryland City Uses All Its Charms to Attract Visitors

here’s a lot more depth to Baltimore than just its Inner Harbor. “Charm City” has certainly earned its place in American history — in 1789, the city established the first Roman Catholic diocese in the United States, and in 1828, the nation’s first umbrella factory opened in Baltimore, to name a few tidbits of trivia. Today, the city continues to make a name for itself by showcasing the old alongside the new, constantly developing a variety of attractions — both historic and high-tech — to draw in an estimated 12 million travel and business visitors each year, according to the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (BACVA).

“Baltimore is an easy city to explore. The city gives visitors the freedom to kick back, be spontaneous and enjoy the city at their own pace,” said Moneé Cottman, travel media manager at BACVA. “It’s a laid-back destination that feels more like a small city.”

Sleep with the Fishes Take the National Aquarium in Baltimore, for instance. In December, this Inner Harbor landmark unveiled a new “4D Immersion Theater” that allows visitors to get even closer to the sights, sounds and even smells of all the aquatic action. The theater — which is currently showing “Planet Earth: Shallow Seas” — combines high-definition film with sensory effects to bring the onscreen images dramatically to life.

But if you really want to get up close and personal with some sea creatures, dive into one of the tanks during an exclusive immersion tour for a deeper appreciation of all that the deep has to offer. The aquarium’s expert guides help visitors experience life at the aquarium from the inside, giving divers a unique perspective into an underwater world.

Still too tame for your tastes? The National Aquarium also offers a “sleepover” with its sharks. Designed for people age 8 and up, this unforgettable slumber party features hands-on activities in the aquarium’s Shark Discovery Lab, where visitors will see the food-prep area and learn how the aquarium cares for and feeds its sharks and rays. The shark program costs .95 for children, adults and seniors, a hefty price but one that gets you aquarium admission, reserved seating for the dolphin show, a visit to the 4D Immersion Theater, a behind-the-scenes tour, snack, dinner and breakfast the following morning.

Bring an air mattress, your most comfortable sleeping bag and pillow and camp out in the underwater viewing area with the sharks while they sleep — well, swim — nearby. After breakfast, be prepared because you might be tested on your newfound shark knowledge.

More Splashy Adventures In January, the Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore — rated one of the country’s top kids museums — opened “Wonders of Water,” its first permanent exhibit since the museum opened in 1998. The 1,500-square-foot display uses interactive science, technology, engineering and math to teach children about water and what it provides for the human body, environment and economy.

Kids can enjoy an even rowdier nautical romp onboard the city’s first official pirate ship, dubbed “Fearless,” which docked at Fell’s Point in April and is open every day throughout the summer. Behind the ship is the project “Urban Pirates,” which was actually conceived by three Baltimore moms whose children loved all things pirate. The result: a custom-designed, real-life pirate ship that’s 52 feet long with a 17-foot beam and three-foot draft.

Onboard, the lively crew teaches visitors how to dress, talk and tie ropes like a pirate, transforming the passengers with costumes, tattoos and face painting. Urban Pirates can host 49 passengers at a time, and the ship is available for daily cruises, private charters, birthday parties and an assortment of other swashbuckling adventures.

Historical Underpinnings Baltimore’s roots were established in 1729 to serve the economic needs of 18th-century Maryland farmers. During the War of 1812, Baltimore played a crucial role in American history when soldiers stationed at Fort McHenry successfully held off a British attack on the city — a victory that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” national anthem by Francis Scott Key.

Baltimore also holds a unique spot in African American history. Preserving that legacy is the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, the East Coast’s largest museum dedicated to the history and contributions of African Americans. Through Sept. 7, the museum will feature an exhibit titled “A People’s Geography: The Spaces of African American Life,” which reveals the architectural and anatomical, public and private, spaces that shape the legacy of Africans in the Americas.

In addition, the African American Heritage Festival takes place at Camden Yards from June 27 to 29. An annual event, the festival attracts more than 500,000 visitors to Baltimore and includes a variety of entertainment, food and art.

Like its African American identity, for many years Baltimore was a largely blue-collar city synonymous with manufacturing and industry. Since the 1970s, the city has underwent an impressive urban renewal, anchored by its revitalized and bustling Inner Harbor, which attracts the majority of out-of-town visitors with its dozens of shops, restaurants, entertainment and other attractions.

Neighborly Love But the popular Inner Harbor isn’t the only game in town. According to the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, development is now moving both east and west of the Inner Harbor, as the city enjoys a second renaissance with more than class=”import-text”>2008June.Bring on the Crowds.txt billion in new projects being planned.

In fact, the harbor is surrounded by more than a dozen historic, closely knit and equally fascinating neighborhoods.

Little Italy is one such popular destination, boasting more than 20 of the area’s finest Italian trattorias and restaurants. The community is also home to the nationally recognized Italian Film Festival, which is held outdoors on Friday nights during the summer, with live music and refreshments.

The oldest section of Baltimore is Fell’s Point, a popular old English waterfront community established during the Colonial era. The cobblestone streets of Fell’s Point are rich with history, attractions, pubs and restaurants, characterized by a diverse community ranging from bohemian artists to digital designers and everything in between.

Harbor East is Baltimore’s newest neighborhood — it literally was born in 2001 with the opening of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, which kick-started redevelopment in the area. In just over five years, Harbor East has transformed quickly into one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods with upscale shopping, trendy restaurants, and a bounty of new hotels and residences located on the edge of the Inner Harbor.

But if you’re looking for the best views of the city, check out Federal Hill on the south side of the Inner Harbor. Federal Hill is comprised of late-19th- century brick row houses that have been updated into modern residences. Home to a diverse crowd of all ages and backgrounds, Federal Hill is just a 10-minute walk from the harbor and most of the downtown businesses.

Triple Play: Sports, Food and Music But enough about history — what about the sports? Actually, a key economic driver for the city has been its sports offerings, namely the Baltimore Orioles baseball team headquartered at Camden Yards stadium, as well as the Baltimore Ravens football team.

For all-around sports fanatics, there’s an event this month that you won’t want to miss. From June 19 to 22, the AST Dew Tour returns to Baltimore’s Camden Yards for a sports extravaganza that drew nearly 55,000 spectators last year. The Dew Tour features more than 150 athletes from around the world — such as Olympian Shaun White, Bucky Lasek and Sandro Dias — competing in five adrenaline-pumping events that take place over the course of five months (June to October), including skateboarding, BMX cycling and freestyle motocross sports.

There’s .5 million in prize money up for grabs, and the AST Dew Tour is broadcast on NBC and the USA Network, in addition to being distributed worldwide in more than 100 countries.

Rather listen to some tunes than watch high-flying extreme sports? The Virgin Mobile Festival returns to Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course on Aug. 9 and 10. The largest music and arts festival on the East Coast, Virgin Mobile typically hosts around 25 performances and acts. Headliners include Kanye West, the Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, Jack Johnson and Nine Inch Nails.

Hungry from all this sports and music excitement? Whet your appetite with Restaurant Week, a popular citywide program running from July 26 to Aug. 3 throughout Baltimore’s neighborhoods, including Little Italy, Mount Vernon, Fell’s Point, Federal Hill and the Inner Harbor.

Participating restaurants will offer a pre-selected, three-course dinner menu for .08 per person. For lunch, select restaurants will offer a three-course special menu for just .08 a person.

Hotels and Hospitality There are more than 100 lodging options in Baltimore, and that number keeps growing. City officials are eagerly awaiting the debut of the new Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel in August. The 757-room Hilton will be the city’s largest hotel and will be connected to the Baltimore Convention Center. The city used public revenue bonds to cover the 1.7 million in construction costs.

Redwood Street — formerly known as the “Wall Street of the South” because of its many financial institutions — has now emerged as Baltimore’s “Hotel Row.” Several office buildings have been converted to hotels, starting with the Hampton Inn in 2004, followed by the Residence Inn by Marriott. In addition, a new Springhill Suites by Marriott opened last year, and the boutique property Hotel Indigo is about to begin construction there.

Visitors looking for a little direction on where to go and places to stay might want to stop by the Baltimore Visitor Center located at 401 Light Street. The 8,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility opened in May 2004 and offers a lot of guidance when it comes to seeing the city’s many sites — both old and new.


Baltimore’s Best Bets

If you’re headed to the Charm City, check out these oldies but goodies:

Fort McHenry: This strategic and historic fort inspired Francis Scott Key to write the U.S. national anthem. www.nps.gov/fomc

USS Constellation Museum: The restored Constellation was a Civil War-era sloop — the last all-sail warship built by the U.S. Navy — that’s now docked in the Inner Harbor and open to tourists. www.constellation.org

The Baltimore Museum of Art: This museum of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art is home to a collection numbering 90,000 pieces. Summer exhibitions include “Bonnard & Vuillard,” “Looking through the Lens: Photography 1900-1960,” “Meditations on African Art: Pattern” and “Front Room: Jim Dine.” www.artbma.org

The Walters Art Museum: More than 100 of the greatest maps of all time are currently on display at the Walters Museum, which counts art from pre-dynastic Egypt to 20th-century Europe among its internationally renowned collection. www.thewalters.org

American Visionary Art Museum: Works by non-mainstream artists can be found in this off-the-beaten-path venue. www.avam.org

The Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum: One of the city’s oldest museums, it was once the home of Mary Pickersgill, the woman who sewed the U.S. flag during the War of 1812. www.flaghouse.org

Baltimore Museum of Industry: Located in a restored oyster cannery, this interactive museum explores Baltimore industry over the last century. www.thebmi.org

Homewood Museum at Johns Hopkins University: Charles Carroll, a Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence, offered his son the funds to design and build this country retreat in 1800. www.museums.jhu.edu/homewood

Oriole Park at Camden Yards: Although not as new as the Washington Nationals Park, Camden Yards is still one of Major League Baseball’s newest stadiums. The Orioles’ home field has the intimate feel and charm of an old-fashioned ballpark. http://baltimore.orioles.mlb.com

About the Author

Christine Cub