Most museums don’t have multi-floor climbing structures running up their middle. Then again, most museums aren’t designed for patrons under 10 years old. But Port Discovery, the children’s museum in Baltimore, has a great variety of exhibits for kids of all ages. With Chris’s parents in town, we were lucky enough to visit the museum this past weekend.
As we walked in, Sprout was immediately attracted by the aforementioned giant climbing structure. Rising up three stories, with tubing and cargo nets snaking throughout, even I had a bit of a compulsion to clamber up it. Instead, I allowed my father-in-law to be the brave one up, following the two-year-old on his quest. The whole thing is laid out very well, with specific routes marked with colorful rope lights, as compared to the tangle of possibilities it appears to be.
On the second floor, we discovered a wooden train with a red button that actually made a realistic-sounding whistle noise. Sprout reveled in turning the wheel and pushing the button over and over again. He talked about that button throughout the rest of the day!
Other favorites were Tiny’s Diner and the Wonders of Water room.
Tiny’s Diner was as if a play kitchen and 1950s-style diner had a baby. Complete with a huge toy fridge, prep area, toy stoves, a counter with twirly seats, red pleather booths, and a check carousel, the only thing missing was the jukebox. (They should have had one with classic kids’ music on it!) In theory, adults sit at the tables and order off the menu while the children bring the “food” out to them. In reality, it was more chaotic than a restaurant on a Friday night seriously in the weeds. Children swarmed everywhere, each preoccupied in their own world. (I’m surprised how few kids are actually in the photo above – I must have timed it particularly well.) One girl even had a decent mise en place for sandwiches, with her ingredients laid out in different metal containers. Sprout was particularly fond of manning the refrigerator, but quite objected to other children actually taking food out of it. While he’s usually excellent about sharing, it took some whining from him and serious talking from us to convince him they had the right to the play food as much as he did. The diner atmosphere actually helped a lot – we explained that everyone had a different job, and while his job was to put the food away, their job was to deliver it.
The attraction of Wonders of Water was pretty obvious – playing in water! From piling in Legos to see if they float to pushing rubber duckies down a model watershed, Sprout found plenty to do. But the most magical thing in the exhibit was the bubble hoop. Standing inside a small circle, a kid and an adult (or two, if you really squished), could draw a hoop up around them. As the hoop coated in bubble mix rose, it formed a giant bubble around you. The more carefully you handled the hoop, the bigger it could get. It was one of those activities that you can’t help but smile during!
Even the exhibits meant for older kids were still enjoyable. In Adventure Expeditions, set in 1920s Egypt, we liked smelling the boxes in the “market,” crossing the “alligator infested river,” and looking at “x-rays of ancient artifacts.” While Sprout wasn’t old enough to get the full educational value from them, their sense of exploration was infectious.
But not everything was amazing. We stopped by to hear a singer/puppeteer who felt the need to make every song into a lesson on being polite. While I mostly agreed with her messages, the songs were really banal. Even Sprout got up to leave before she was done and he’s sat through an hour of songs from musicals. But a different wandering musician made up for it, playing the Itsy Bitsy Spider upon Sprout’s request on guitar and then again on harmonica.
Port Discovery is a real gem in Baltimore’s Harbor Area. For those visiting, both Family Meal and Miss Shirley’s Cafe nearby have delicious food and are very family-friendly. Panera offers less expensive but still good options – personally, we went to Miss Shirley’s for brunch before and Panera afterwards.
So if you have a kid and are in Baltimore, I would definitely recommend stopping at Port Discovery.