As winter’s arctic grip tightens, families pine for warmer breezes with slightly less windchill. Can’t jet off for a tropical getaway? How about taking a deep dive with one of the Immersion Tours at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland? No, you won’t get wet (although those options are available), but these National Aquarium Immersion Tours pair small groups of guests with their own personal guide to dive deep into the center of the Aquarium exhibits. The National Aquarium recently invited our family to experience one of the Immersion Tours, and it was a fantastic and interactive way to enjoy the attraction. Continue reading for more photos and details of our family’s Immersion Tour at the National Aquarium.
The National Aquarium embraces its Inner Harbor location in Baltimore, Maryland – perched on piers over the water overlooking Coast Guard cutters, the USS Constellation War of 1812 era sailing frigate, a WWII era submarine USS Torsk, and dragon paddleboats. This stellar aquarium is known for its engrossing habitats that make you feel as if you’ve stepped into another continent or ocean. However, the National Aquarium can quite busy and crowded, especially during weekends and holidays. The Immersion Tours are one way to maximize your experience while avoiding the crowds.
First off, I can’t say enough about our grandfatherly tour guide Al Shulley, a National Aquarium institution for over 35 years. Al met our family at the door, promptly at 9:00am, gave us a history and background of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, pointed out the sites of the surrounding area, and oriented us for the Immersion Tour. I instantly felt as though I was in the company of my unabashedly nerdy PhD father and knew exactly what to expect during our time with Al.
After a brief orientation and each receiving a souvenir refillable water bottles (the Aquarium doesn’t sell bottled water for conservation reasons, encouraging guests to use refillable bottles or water fountains), Al led us to the Blacktip Reef exhibit where he proceeded to point out sharks, rays, fish and the 20 year old rescued turtle (with three flippers). Al was a font of knowledge and easily answered all the questions we constantly peppered at him. His depth of knowledge was vast, and he instantly enthralled the entire family, young and old. In fact, Al often directed us to the next exhibit with a gentle, “well, we could certainly stay here all day,” as we continually lost track of time (in a good way).
We weaved from the Blacktip sharks to the megaladon jaw that prompted Al to whip out comparable specimens from his Indiana Jones/MacGyver vest, and on past the second highest waterfall in Maryland. We stopped inside the award winning Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit where Al demonstrated the spotted archer fish’s keen ability to peg a moving cricket by spitting a little stream of water. [We really could have watched these archer fish all day; click the video to see for yourself. Run, little cricket! Run!]
The tour led us behind-the-scenes to the inner workings of a tank on a catwalk suspended above the sharks. Though inadvisable, one could almost reach into the water to grasp the dorsal fin or tail of the graceful fish as it swam past. Hypnotizing divers bobbed up and down underwater feeding the animals their breakfast. Further behind-the-scenes explorations showed us the veterinarian area where we learned all about the National Aquariums recent animal rescue efforts and how they cared for sea turtles, seals, and other species.
Before we knew it, the 2.5 hour tour had flown by, and we ended our time with Al watching the keepers interact with dolphins. The Insider’s Tour for cost $65/person (for nonmembers) and included aquarium admission (~$40 ages 12-64). That’s an incredible value for a 2.5 hour small-group tour with a knowledgeable guide for a mere $15/person.
In addition to the Insider’s Tour our family experienced, there are a number of other options including: Legend of Calypso’s Gold, Sharks! Behind-the-Scenes, Dolphin Encounter, and even diver programs. New for 2016 is “Icky, Creepy, Slimy, Cool,” an Immersion Tour focusing on the odd and unusual species residing at the National Aquarium. The “Icky, Creepy, Slimy, Cool” tour is for guests ages 8 and older and are currently available to visitors on the select Saturday mornings through March from 9 to 11 a.m.
The National Aquarium is a nonprofit organization and certainly the most popular attraction on Inner Harbor. Pre-trip planning and/or advanced ticket purchase is definitely advised. For a small premium, the Immersion Tours offer a great way to get more out of your visit to the National Aquarium, and, following the tour, you have the rest of the day to explore all the exhibits in more detail on your own.
DISCLOSURE: Our family was hosted by the National Aquarium and received complimentary admission and the Insider’s Tour. However, all opinions expressed are those of the author. For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on Twitter and “like” our Facebook page, too.