Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland
MOOLAH METER: $$ (Everyone over the age of 2 pays $11.75)
GOOD FOR: All ages
When you want to give your kids a workout both physically and mentally, Port Discovery Children’s Museum is the place to go. With three floors of activities, your family could easily spend an entire day here. While there are activities for infants and toddlers, I think kids 4 years to 10 years old would get the most out of it. The
BEFORE YOU GO
If you’re going during the school year and absolutely hate crowds, you’ll want to call to find out if there are any school groups going that day. There are never enough chaperones to keep an eye on all the kids in the group, in my experience.
WHAT TO BRING
They suggest bringing extra clothes in case the kids get wet in the Wonders of Water playroom, but it’s not necessary unless your child dunks his head in the water or dumps a pailful on himself. If you’re going to eat lunch in their lunch room, bring disinfecting wipes since they offer nothing to wipe off the tables with.
FIRST FLOOR HIGHLIGHTS
When you first enter, you’re immediately greeted by an indoor soccer field and just beyond, the centerpiece of the building: KidWorks, a three-story “urban treehouse.” Think rope bridges and towers of mesh strung to metal poles to create a strange combination of pirate whimsy and metal industrial — Peter Pan meets Mad Max . They encourage adults to keep an eye on their kids by climbing in with them, but I’m just 5 feet and 110 pounds, and I had a hard time getting into some of those spaces. The soccer field and KidWorks are for kids 5 years and up. Other activities on this floor: farm exploration, poem wall, gas station stop, Studio Workshop (current exhibit is Suminagashi, the ancient Japanese art of paper marbling), R&D DreamLab (current exhibit is Paper Tube Building), and MPT Studio (puppet shows, performances and programs).
SECOND FLOOR HIGHLIGHTS
If the noise and hubbub are getting to you or your younger children, head to The Oasis, a quiet zone with toys, games, books and a little nook where they can play with Moon Sand. “Circle Time,” a special story time that includes dance, music and song, takes place daily. For infants to kids up to 3, there’s the Sensation Station, with a smaller play structure, ball pit, and nursing and changing stations. Other activities on this floor: Adventure Expeditions into 1920s Egypt for kids 7 and up; Harvest Hill fruit and vegetable marketplace; and Wonder Widgets assembly line.
THIRD FLOOR HIGHLIGHTS
The two preschool girls I took on this visit spent most of their time in The Diner, a large space with all the accoutrements of a regular diner, from the red vinyl booths to the jukebox that plays free tunes. They spent at least an hour pretending to seat and serve me and each other “food” in the form of rubberized models of steak, corn, spaghetti, mashed potatos and the like. The other favorite of the day was also on this floor: Wonders of Water! The Web site warns that the kids will get wet, but they do offer slickers and Crocs for the kids to put on, and when they’re done, they can dry off their entire bodies at a wall with flexible tubes that act as blowdryers. Pretty funny to watch. Other activities: Miss Perception’s Myster House and ArtWorks gallery. For parents like me, one of the most entertaining activities was to gape from the top level at the entire KidWorks structure. You can enter the structure from this level via rope bridges that’ll get your heart racing and crossing your fingers that they perform regular safety checks on the equipment.
WHAT TO DO FIRST
If you’ve forgotten to bring a camera, you can purchase one at the gift shop (which is pretty small) located to the left just as you enter. If you brought lunch and/or a stroller, you can drop those off in the coat room, which also serves as a lunch room. There are lockers where you can stash your stuff, but I felt comfortable leaving the lunch bag with the stroller and sure enough, it was there when we returned to eat lunch.
WHERE TO PARK
The closest to be had is the Harbor Park Garage, which is attached to the same building. Parking is pricey; it cost me $13 for just 2.5 hours. If you’re going on a weekend, parking is discounted to $7 for museum visitors; don’t forget to validate your ticket upon arrival at the museum box office. You have to leave the garage by 6 p.m. to get the discount. You’ll need to pay at the machine in the first-floor lobby, or use a credit as you exit (there is no attendant).
WHERE TO EAT
If you don’t want to eat in the lunch room, which has snack and drink machines, there’s a McDonald’s conveniently located right next door.