Baltimore has been one of the East Coast's most active ports since the 1660s. The city's eclectic style was born from the energy that comes from an active harbor. Here, the Chesapeake Bay plays a critical role in everything from style to jobs to seafood (think Maryland blue crab) to tourism.
Visitors to the city almost always find their way to the Inner Harbor to stroll, dine and cruise along the waterfront. Recently, two innovative programs at the Inner Harbor have made it possible to explore the waterfront in a whole new way -- by spending the night under the water.
Stay on a Historic Warship
For Naval and maritime buffs, it's hard to imagine a better overnight than aboard a military vessel. Three ships -- a 19th century Navy warship, a World War II-era Navy submarine and a Coast Guard cutter that witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor -- welcome overnight guests for a hands-on immersion program.
By day, all three vessels are popular museum attractions docked at the Inner Harbor. But at night, they become history labs-slash-B&Bs for visitors looking to experience what life was like for maritime soldiers.
An historian is aboard to offer insight into the vessels and the men who lived on them. Guests are given a primer on navigating the quirks of an historic ship since, although they will be docked for the night, guests must learn to use the layout of the facilities. Visitors are also taught maritime basics, like how to tap out Morse code and use a periscope.
All three vessels require a 20-person minimum, so the experience is best for a birthday celebration or family reunion. The cost is $55 per person except for July and August when it drops to $45 per person. The price includes dinner and breakfast, bed (bunk or hammock, depending on the vessel) and all activities. historicships.org
Sleep with the Sharks (or Dolphins)
The National Aquarium, which is ground central for the Inner Harbor, encourages visitors to hunker down for the night to sleep with the sharks.
Just as the aquarium is shuttering for the day, guests who have arranged for a sleepover are ushered in for a behind-the-scenes nocturnal prowl with a knowledgeable guide.
Overnight guests are brought to the food prep area, where they are taught the tricks to keeping a shark's belly full. Visitors are also given an opportunity that's typically reserved for employees: a walk on the catwalk (a plank) for a bird's eye view of the sharks swimming below. Next, guests are led downstairs where they unfurl their sleeping bags and fluff their pillows. Some may find it difficult to fall asleep as the lights grow dim and the sharks make their laps along massive glass surrounds. The next morning, guests are treated to a breakfast game, a kind of Jeopardy focused on questions about sharks.
For those looking for a less predatory thrill, there's an overnight dolphin program. Guests come early enough to watch a popular dolphin show called Our Ocean Planet and are given a behind-the-scenes tour. That night they are led to the Underwater Viewing Area, where they set up camp for the night. Although dolphins tend to be quiet after dark, they're early risers. By morning, they're playing and curiously pressing their noses to the glass. After breakfast, overnight visitors are able to watch a demo training session with the dolphins.
Tickets for each overnight program is $94.95 per person and includes dinner, activities and breakfast. Overnight guests must be at least eight years old and accompanied by an adult.