Our visit to the Maryland Science Center for the bug exhibit opening last Thursday inspired a family outing this weekend. As I took in the view of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor through the museum’s massive windows, I thought about how little we take advantage of all the city’s great attractions. Sure, we’ve been to many over the years, just not often enough considering they are only a 45-minute drive from DC. Lately, our Charm City trips usually involve visits with friends, Maryland crabs, and Port Discovery. So, this past Saturday we decided to head north and experience something different.
It was my husband who suggested we do a ship tour at the Inner Harbor. We’d admired the historic vessels moored at the harbor from the outside, but had never been aboard any of them. Plus, it seemed like something we’d all enjoy. We timed it so we would arrive in time to eat lunch — there are plenty of dining options along the Inner Harbor — then start our maritime explorations.
The USS Constellation, a U.S. Navy ship from the Civil War, was the one we had in mind, but there are actually four vessels you can tour — the USS Torsk, USCGC Taney, and LV116 Chesapeake are the other three. Admission to tour one ship is $11/adult, $5/ages 6-14, free for ages 5 and under), and you can add on for just a few dollars more per ship. We opted for just one to start, since we didn’t know how long it would take or what the kids would be up for, but ended up tacking on another, the USS Torsk submarine, since we liked the first one so much and we had the time.
As for the ships, the fun and fascination for the kids began as soon as we walked on deck of the USS Constellation. Just being on board the big boat was a blast for them. They immediately rang the large ships’ bell in the center of the deck, then checked out the cannons all around the outer parts. And, of course, they had to take turns at the helm of the ship and pretend to steer the wheel. Below deck, we got to glimpse what were the inner workings of the ship and crew: more cannons and guns aimed out portholes; captain and officer quarters and their nice dining area; rows and rows of hammocks hanging from the ceiling, where crew members slept and the mess area where they ate; a clinic for the injured; and storage areas.
Our tour of the USS Torsk, a World War II submarine, was just as cool. The kids especially loved that the exterior is painted to look like a shark. Once inside, the tour began in the torpedo room, then we pretty much walked along the narrow hallway, peered into the small rooms on either side, passed through the navigation room, then walked down the tight hallway again until we arrived in the engine room. There are sleeping and eating areas, captain and officer quarters, kitchens, weapons storage, all nestled efficiently along the “walls” of the sub. It was a bit creepy being down there, imagining living in such a tight space, hundreds of feet underwater (but not enough for claustrophobia to kick in). And it was funny to see my 6’4″ husband wriggle through the tiny doorways.
Tours on both ships are self-guided, and audio tour wands for the USS Constellation are available at the information desk on the way in. We decided to forgo them figuring it would be hard to listen while keeping up with the kids, but there were plenty of information panels as well as crew members on board to answer questions.
All in all, a great way to get our Baltimore fix. But, of course, we’ll be back for more!