Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner” aboard a vessel here, Frederick Douglass labored in the massive shipyards, and, after industry declined, redevelopment made the waterfront a model of urban renewal.
From the city’s founding in 1729, the harbor has played an integral role in Baltimore’s storied history. That’s why visitors craving an authentic Baltimore experience hop on a boat. It might be one that ferries guests from downtown to Fells Point and Canton or a historic warship moored at a pier. Those who want to captain their own crafts rent paddle boats, like ones in the shape of the area’s mythical sea monster “Chessie.”
Cruises and Tours
For a historical overview, take the Legends of Maritime Baltimore Cruise aboard Watermark’s Raven, named for the famed poem of one-time local Edgar Allan Poe. The two-and-half hour excursion recalls the development of Fells Point and the scribe’s time in the city. In addition to sightseeing, passengers on Spirit Cruises savor a buffet and boogie to the tunes of an onboard DJ. Specialty cruises include moonlight tours, accompanied by jazz music or salsa dancing.
Visitors who want to feel the wind in their hair while pop music blares join Spirit’s speedboat, Seadog. Once it edges past Fort McHenry, the sleek open-air vessel accelerates up to 46 miles per hour. Sites include the Domino Sugar factory and Under Armour’s Tide Point headquarters, plus Fells Point and Federal Hill. Guests also learn about famous locals, like Olympian Michael Phelps, and TV shows filmed here, such as “House of Cards” and “Veep.” Seadog’s mascot is a yellow canine named Diesel, so it’s no surprise that dogs ride free. “It’s truly a family friendly experience,” says Spirit Cruises’ Beth Sanchez.
Families also take their budding buccaneers on Urban Pirates’ adventure cruises. The swashbuckling ride departs from Fells Point and takes mateys to the Inner Harbor, where they blast water cannons at “enemy” landlubbers and learn pirate speak. Urban Pirates has an adults-only, bring-your-own-grog cruise, too. In Canton, find an authentic Mississippi riverboat. Primarily a charter dinner boat, The Black-Eyed Susan also offers a murder mystery cruise and holiday outings.
For easy access to all the major sites and neighborhoods around the harbor, look no further than the blue-and-white Baltimore Water Taxi, which has been ferrying passengers for more than 40 years.
Four illustrious vessels all float within walking distance of one another at the Inner Harbor. Built in 1854, the USS Constellation was the U.S. Navy’s last sail-only warship. History buffs can tour nearly the entire vessel and watch the daily cannon firing. On the USS Torsk, visitors see the torpedo rooms and navigation station of the sub that sank three Japanese ships during World War II. A tour below deck and of the officers’ quarters on the USCGC Taney reveals the ship’s role in intercepting opium smugglers and defending the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. Completed in 1930, the lightship Chesapeake guided maritime traffic in its namesake bay for 20 years. Its exhibits include a look at a sailor’s canine companions.
As a goodwill ambassador for the state of Maryland, Pride of Baltimore II travels around the world sharing maritime history. When the topsail schooner, built in the style of the city’s famous War of 1812 privateers, stops in home port, it offers day sails and deck tours (check the schedule here).
The green and blue “monsters” bobbing in the water are as much a fixture of the Inner Harbor as the sailboats or the National Aquarium. Visitors who want to captain their own vessels—and get a bit of a workout with their sightseeing—rent these “Chessie” paddle boats, named for the mythical serpent-dragon said to prowl the Chesapeake Bay.
They hold up to four people, and a classic, two-person model is also available. If paddling seems like too much excursion, there’s always the electric boat for a completely relaxing ride.