It was a blustery, cold, winter weekday when I packed up my boys and headed to the National Aquarium in downtown Baltimore. As much as I adore it there, we rarely go because it can be very expensive when you add up ticket price, parking, food and hard-to-refuse gift shop items. But this day, I was determined to be thrifty.
We parked across the street in a garage that gives a discount when attending the aquarium, which for us cost about $10 instead of $20. We met my friend and her two daughters at the members entrance. My friend split a family membership with another of our mom friends, so they share the passes and are able to bring guests with them. The boys and I were able to enter as her guests for free.
Immediately as you walk inside, past the beautiful cascading waterfall and giant fish tank, you’re invited to get your picture taken in front of an aquarium backdrop. Amazingly we convinced all four of the kids to stand and smile sweetly for a photo, which of course, I bought at the end of our visit because it may be the only picture we have of them all looking and smiling at the same time. The photo packages were expensive, even with my friend’s member discount, so I purchased the least expensive option — $20 for one 8” by 10” print. This ended up being our only splurge of the day, so I was happy.
We arrived at 10 a.m. and my friend advised we head straight to the exhibits since school field trips usually arrive around 11 a.m. We walked past a Critter Chat activity for kids but I’m glad we didn’t stay to watch because, as predicted, large crowds of school groups did start arriving. Since we got a head start, we were able to stay a few exhibits ahead of those crowds.
There is so much to see and do at the aquarium, it can be challenging to do it all with toddlers. My friend had the aquarium app on her phone which lists all the events and activities going on, but we ended up just chasing after our kids through each exhibit. Some favorites for the kids included the Living Seashore exhibit with lots of hands-on activities and touch-pools, the Puffin feeding, the divers feeding the fish in the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit, and racing down the spiral ramp through Shark Alley. My boys especially liked seeing the large octopus and crocodiles.
By noon the place was crowded, the kids were bored of looking at “all these fish,” and they were hungry. We headed to the cafe which was practically empty and had a leisurely lunch we packed for the kids. The cafe quickly filled up so it took an extremely long time to buy lunch for myself. After waiting a long time in line for a sandwich, which they were making one at a time, I jumped over to the pizza line where I was told I would have to wait while they heated up a piece of pizza. Since my 2-year old was hanging off my leg crying, I asked for it cold.
There were a few more exhibits we hadn’t seen yet and we were contemplating taking in a dolphin show, but after lunch all the kids went into meltdown mode. Around 1 p.m., we made the executive decision to leave and try for the other exhibits and show on another visit. We stealthily avoided the gift shop and headed towards the exit.
We gave high fives to the friendly staff greeter who had earlier become personal escort to my 4-year old James. Yes, James may or may not have run out of the cafe unattended, caught and escorted back to me. And Yes, I may or may not have threatened to feed James to the sharks if he ever ran off again.
Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 4-year-old James and 2-year-old Luke.