It’s not always easy keeping a three-year-old occupied. You need to mix things up a bit, and unfortunately that goes beyond sitting in a different booth at the sports bar every Sunday. When you’re away from home, finding a way to
burn your kid’s energy so he’ll go to sleep early enough so you can enjoy your night keep your toddler entertained can be even harder. Especially when you’re traveling.
One of our go-tos is the local children’s museum. Most of the ones we’ve taken my son to are pretty hands on – almost more indoor playrooms than museums, which is fine, since I don’t think he’d really enjoy an exhibition on the Impressionists – but we’ve visited so many he’s almost as bored of them as we are.
Zoos are fun, but it’s winter and it’s cold, so when we were in Baltimore the weekend after Christmas, we decided to try the next best thing: the National Aquarium!
We thought Detective Munch might be a little young to appreciate everything – Jaws really scared the shit out of the kid – but he loves Finding Nemo and has Aquaman underwear, so we figured we’d give it a shot. When we stopped for coffee before heading into the building and he started jumping up and down like a contestant on “The Price is Right”, I figured we’d made the right choice. (Especially since, as a high-powered blogger, I scored some passes, thank God! Tickets are free for kids ages 3 and under but are a pretty steep $34.95 each for adults.)
I’ve been to aquariums before, but never one that’s as ingeniously designed as the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Aside from all the dead-eyed, terrifying sharks they have, the way the complex is laid out was the coolest part of the visit. Mom and Buried and I couldn’t stop talking about how much the aquarium experience was improved simply by the design of the space; it was like being underwater with the fish. My son enjoyed the architecture as well, but that was mostly because he liked running up and down all the ramps.
I’m no expert on these places, and I can’t speak to how Baltimore’s aquarium compares to others in terms of the kind of wildlife they have, but I certainly don’t remember any of the others I’ve been to presenting what amounts to an entire ocean for visitors to walk through. With the help of ramps and huge glass windows at every turn, and more levels than I was able to count, we walked from above “the ocean”, where we could look down onto the water, all the way down through it, level by level, until we reached the floor. I couldn’t even begin to describe, list or name the different creatures we saw, but we saw a ton, and were treated with a variety of different views of them all, from the countless different fish to huge rays to a whole bunch of sharks, including a freaky Sawtooth shark that just laid on the bed of the ocean with what looked like a saw in its mouth, like a lazy contractor.
We explored as much of the place as we could with an easily distracted, not always cooperative three-year-old. Taking toddlers to places that require concentration can be tough. Especially when yours spent the better part of yesterday cooped up in the car, didn’t necessarily have the best night’s sleep and hadn’t eaten much. As any parent knows, a tired and hungry toddler is the Mr. Hyde to a well-rested, well-fed toddler’s Dr. Jekyll. When he did stop running long enough to look, he loved what he saw, including the jellyfish section and the Australian exhibition, complete with snakes, lizards and even a few bats hanging from the ceiling. And, of course, any time a “Nemo” or “Dory” fish was in sight he lost his mind, because he somehow thinks that they are the actual fish from the movie, the dope.
During our exploration, we came across the astonishing pop-out viewing window, which I was told by an Aquarium staffer was recently added, and allows visitors to a floor-to-ceiling view of the “Blacktip Reef” and was the one spot we all could have sat and stared at for hours. But there were plenty of other visitors with the same idea, so we only got a few minutes.
To wrap up the day, we watched the “Dolphin Discovery” show, which involved a trainer leading a group of dolphins in a variety of cool cool cool tricks, not the least of which was making their trademark squealing sounds, which Detective Munch insisted on replicating for the rest of our trip, so THANK YOU VERY MUCH, AQUARIUM. Unfortunately, the dolphin show actually proved to be far more entertaining than the Miami Dolphins show we watched the next day, when my favorite team choked away their season and let’s stop talking about it before I start squealing.
The actual dolphins also seemed to be a lot more athletic than their namesakes on the gridiron, not to mention smarter than the visitors who chose to sit in the “splash zone” near their pool. Those saps didn’t just catch a drizzle, mind you; they got slammed with walls of water that the snobbish dolphins arrogantly flung at them from their tank. It was all at the behest of the trainer and those front-row yokels knew what they were getting into, so maybe I shouldn’t blame our super-intelligent dolphin overlords… but you know they loved it, the smug jerks!
The entire visit was a lot of fun. I really appreciated how immersive the entire facility was. It wasn’t simply walking down different hallways to various exhibits; the entire time we were inside we were surrounded with views of various ocean life, and the Dolphin Discovery show even allowed us to interact with some of the animals. At three years old, Detective Munch had a lot of fun, but I think with another year under his belt – and maybe a better breakfast! – he might have had even more.
But that’s his problem. I could sit at that pop-out viewing window all day. Just look at it!