BALTIMORE -- Day-trippers from around the mid-Atlantic visit Baltimore each year to catch an Orioles or Ravens game and stroll along brick sidewalks lined with shops, seafood restaurants, museums and other attractions in one of the nation's oldest seaports.
Now the city is hoping that a new promotion will entice more of these visitors to spend the night. A new version of Baltimore's "Harbor Pass" will provide admission to five attractions for one discounted price. Beginning Memorial Day weekend, the pass - $46 for adults and $30 for children 3 to 12 - will buy admission to the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, the Port Discovery children's museum, the Top of the World observation exhibit and a day of trips on the Ed Kane's Water Taxi line.
"Once people experience what's going on in neighborhoods, all the different levels of history and heritage, arts and culture, the attractions, the shopping - I think they'll realize Baltimore is not a one-day destination," said Mike Pietryka, the director of visitor services for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.
Pietryka said a new $4.5 million visitor center opening May 7 will act as a travel agency for visitors, making hotel and dining reservations and selling the Harbor Pass and tickets to other attractions and events.
The Harbor Pass saves tourists about 20 percent overall. The pass is also good for discounts at other attractions, hotels, restaurants and nightspots.
Until May 28, visitors can purchase an earlier edition of the package, which doesn't include the water taxi service and or some of the discounts, for $35 for adults and $25 for children 3 to 12.
The visitor center will be a one-stop location with information, an orientation film, ticket sales and a help desk. Pietryka said the center is designed to build on the city's annual $3 billion tourism industry by encouraging day-trippers - most of whom live within 75 miles of Baltimore, in southern Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and northern Virginia - to see more sites and spend the night.
"It's their job to put heads in beds and it has a spillover effect into restaurants and businesses," said Danielle Cohn, a spokeswoman for Philadelphia's Convention and Visitors Bureau. That city has its own promotion - "Philly's more fun when you sleep over" - in which visitors who book a night in a hotel get a second night and hotel parking free.
Among the city's best-known attractions, with more than 1.5 million visitors a year, is the National Aquarium. The waterfront landmark is building an Australia wing slated to open next spring.
The aquarium takes visitors from Maryland's tidal marshes to South America, showing what's living underwater in a flooded Amazon River forest. In a glass greenhouse on the top level, visitors walk through a tropical rain forest of vines climbing tall trees, a waterfall and colorful, squawking birds flying overhead.
Next, the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit - designed circularly so visitors feel surrounded by water - shows colorful ocean fish in cheery surroundings. Visitors slowly descend into a dark, eerie level that brings them uncomfortably close to tanks holding three species of sharks, including two 8-foot, 200-pound sand tiger sharks.
Then, visitors can take an underwater look at large stingrays, small sharks and a sea turtle.
A new dolphin show was designed to show the playful side of the intelligent mammals. During a recent weekday show, a 24-year-old bottle-nosed dolphin named Bob jumped 10 feet out of the water to hit a target. Other dolphins played "catch" with balls and circled the pool's perimeter to deliberately splash the audience.
"It's fun to watch them interact with each other and with the people and all the stuff they can do," said Kara Miller, 14, of York, Pa.
On the Inner Harbor's southern side, visitors to the Maryland Science Center will dig for dinosaur bones, walk through a model of a beating heart, climb into a chimpanzees' nest and pretend to be Isaac Newton in exhibits that open May 28.
Paleontology and dinosaurs, a perennial favorite among schoolchildren, shape the new earth science and dinosaur hall, where a 45-foot-long, 19-foot-tall giganotosaurus will stand.
Just two blocks away from the harbor, Port Discovery's three-story urban tree-house is the center of activity at the "kid-powered museum," which encourages children to use their imagination and learn through playing. The museum, for children ages 2 through 12, was designed so the whole family can partake. Exhibits include a trip through Miss Perception's Mystery House to solve a mystery and an exploration of 1920s Egypt.
"Where else can you cross the Nile River and see a mummy's tomb?" said Michelle Winner, the marketing director. "You're having fun and learning."
A traveling exhibit, "Arthur's World," based on the children's books and television show, will open June 16 and run through Sept. 19.
For a great view of Baltimore, Top of the World is located on the 27th floor of the city's World Trade Center on the Inner Harbor. The attraction has large windows and labeled photos that identify sites below. On a clear day, visitors can see about 25 miles away, guide Hans Steffen said.
"You can see (Interstate) 95 out there and you see can Fort McHenry and you can see all the things you might want to go to," Steffen said, pointing southeast. "It's a very nice place to start a visit to Baltimore."
Other waterfront attractions include stores and bars of Fells Point and Fort McHenry, a national park and a national monument and historic shrine.
The Americans at the star-shaped fort stopped the British advance on Baltimore during the War of 1812, inspiring Francis Scott Key's poem that became the national anthem. The original document of "The Star-Spangled Banner" is at the Maryland Historical Society, a newly expanded museum near downtown.
Other museums include the Baltimore Art Museum, The Walters Art Museum and the Great Blacks in Wax Museum, which is undergoing an $50 million expansion.
"We're not so big that people can get lost, but we're certainly big enough that's there's enough to do," Winner said.
Abbe Mogell, 44, of Philadelphia, came to Baltimore on a recent weekend with her son, Ross, 11.
"We needed to get away," she said. "There are a lot of things to do for all ages, and I like the proximity of everything."
If You Go...
HARBOR PASS: Beginning Memorial Day weekend, the pass - $46 for adults and $30 for children 3 to 12 - will buy admission to the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, the Port Discovery children's museum, the Top of the World observation exhibit and a day of trips on the Ed Kane's Water Taxi line. For information, call (877) BALTIMORE or visit www.baltimore.org.
NATIONAL AQUARIUM: 501 E. Pratt St. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Fridays, you may enter until 8 p.m. and tour until 10 p.m.; in July and August, the aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday to Thursday, and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Call (410) 576-3800 or visit www.aqua.org.
MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER: 601 Light St. Open through May 27 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. Call (410) 685-5225 or visit www.mdsci.org.
PORT DISCOVERY: 35 Market Place. Open until Memorial Day from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Summer hours, Memorial Day to Labor Day, are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Call (410) 727-8120 or visit www.portdiscovery.com.
TOP OF THE WORLD: 401 E. Pratt St., open Memorial Day to Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; other times of the year, hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Call (410) 837-8439.