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Baltimore (Photo:Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)
Baltimore (Photo:Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Judy Colbert
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Baltimore

Baltimore, Maryland's largest city, is called Charm City because of its multitude and variety of attractions, restaurants, culture, sports and some of the friendliest people you'll meet. It's vibrant and exciting, with all the advantages of a bigger city without the airs.

Founded in 1729, the city was named after Lord Baltimore and established as a major East Coast seaport. Its most significant moment in national history occurred at the battle at Fort McHenry from September 12-15, 1814, which became a turning point in the War of 1812. British troops had triumphantly burned and looted Washington, D.C., and were heading toward Baltimore to ferret out what they believed was a den of pirates and privateers who had been attacking British ships. They first assaulted nearby North Point, which delayed the British Royal Navy enough for defenders to prepare for the skirmish at Fort McHenry. The overnight battle resulted in the British withdrawal and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem, "Defence of Fort McHenry," which became "The Star-Spangled Banner," now the U.S. national anthem.

Baltimore is still a thriving port city, complemented by numerous cultural and sports attractions and a first-class culinary scene. Once full of abandoned and decrepit warehouses, the Inner Harbor is now home to the Maryland Science Center, the Baltimore World Trade Center (an I.M. Pei-designed building that is the tallest equilateral pentagonal building in the world), Harborplace (a festival marketplace with retail outlets and restaurants) and the National Aquarium, as well as the American Visionary Art Museum, the Science Center, Power Plant (a dining and entertainment complex) and Port Discovery Children's Museum.

Just blocks beyond the waterfront sit the Convention Center, baseball stadium Oriole Park at Camden Yards (the name of the original railroad station) and M & T Bank Stadium, home of two-time Super Bowl champions Baltimore Ravens (2000 and 2012).

To really appreciate Charm City, you need to wander the many distinctive neighborhoods. Such areas as Fell's Point, Canton, Federal Hill, Little Italy and Mount Vernon contain treasures -- historic, culinary, cultural and otherwise -- that are ripe for discovery. Some of the neighborhoods are within walking distance of the Inner Harbor. If your feet start complaining, the city provides free transportation on the Charm City Circulator (three routes). The Water Taxi Harbor Connector does what it says -- connects interesting spots along the Inner Harbor. The light-rail system is another option.

The cruise port of Baltimore serves as a homeport, with several ships sailing to Bermuda, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, New England and the Canadian Maritimes. About 90 percent of passengers embarking at the Port of Baltimore live within easy driving distance. Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is 10 miles away and operates as a major Southwest Airlines hub that brings in cruisers from other states. Additionally, the BWI Amtrak Station is adjacent to the airport and just a shuttle bus away. The historic and architecturally stunning Amtrak Penn Station is conveniently located in Baltimore and worth a visit even if you aren't taking the train.

Baltimore sits on the Patapsco River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay and meets the Atlantic Ocean just past Cape Charles and Virginia Beach. The trip to open ocean can take anywhere from eight to 12 hours. However, gamblers eager to try their luck don't have to wait for international waters: The casinos open once the vessels pass under the Francis Scott Key Bridge, about a half hour from the port.

Shore Excursions

About Baltimore


The cruise port is a stone's throw away from the Inner Harbor and main attractions


Crime can be a problem; stick to main tourist areas and practice common sense

Bottom Line

Charm City delights with a number of cultural, sports and culinary activities (can't forget the crab)

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Where You're Docked

Baltimore Cruise Port Address:
2001 East McComas Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230

Major cruise ships dock at Cruise Maryland Terminal, about three miles south of the city and a 10-minute drive from the Inner Harbor. The cruise terminal, which opened in 2006 inside a former paper-shredding warehouse, is visible from Interstate 95.

Secured long-term parking is available for more than 1,500 cars at the terminal for $15 per cruise night for passenger vehicles.

Smaller ships from Pearl Seas Cruises, American Cruise Lines and Blount Small Ship Adventures, sail out of Baltimore periodically or seasonally, from the Inner Harbor, not the cruise port terminal. They travel the East Coast down to Norfolk, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; Miami, Florida; and the Bahamas, or they may tour the Chesapeake Bay, visiting Annapolis, St. Michael's, Oxford, Cambridge, Crisfield, Tangier Island, Solomons Island and Williamsburg/Yorktown. Depending on the size of the ship and other vessels visiting the harbor and other activities, the cruise ships usually dock at Pier 4 or Constellation Pier. Both are within easy walking distance of city parking lots.

Port Facilities

You'll find the basics in the cruise terminal -- restrooms, vending machines, an ATM, chairs and a bank of pay phones but not much else. You'll need a car or a cab for greater exploration.

For passengers sailing on smaller ships docking at the Inner Harbor piers, restaurants, shops and attractions are within easy walking distance. Almost everything is level in this part of Baltimore, so it's wheelchair accessible.

Good to Know

The famed Baltimore accent, known as Bawlmerese, will be highly recognizable. A quick guide: "Warder" means water, "Doncha no?" translates to "Don't you know?" and Maryland is often pronounced as "Murlin." If you are called "hon," flash your sweetest smile because you're now considered part of the community. For a primer, watch some of the early John Waters films, including "Pink Flamingos" and "Hairspray," and Barry Levinson's film, "Tin Man."

Two telephone area codes overlap in Baltimore, 410 and 443 (and 240 and 301 in other parts of the state), so two buildings standing shoulder to shoulder may have different area codes. You must dial the area code even to reach someone at the building next to you.

Getting Around

From the Airport: For shuttles to the embarkation point, Baltimore Tours arranges shared-ride service from the Baltimore airport for $17.95 when booked online and $19.95 by phone (888-848-3822). Carnival passengers can hop a Carnival shuttle for $25 one way, $50 roundtrip. Royal Caribbean is $37 one way and $74 roundtrip.

On Foot: The Inner Harbor and many of the neighborhoods are walkable..

By Bus: The free Charm City Circulator (410-350-0456) runs frequently along three routes.

By Water Taxi: The Baltimore Water Taxi (410-563-3900) is an excursion itself, stopping in such hot spots as Harborplace, the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, Fell's Point, Harbor East, Canton Waterfront Park and Fort McHenry.

By Car: Taxis are plentiful around the Inner Harbor, but not at the cruise terminal. Major car rental companies, including Budget, Enterprise and Hertz, have offices near the Inner Harbor.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The currency is the U.S. dollar. International visitors, as well as American out-of-towners, can access cash at any number of ATMs located throughout the city (including the cruise terminal). Major banks and specialty stores, such as Travelex at BWI Marshall Airport (pre-security check-in by the main Terminal C and international Terminal E) exchange currencies.


English is the official language spoken in Baltimore, but check the Watch Out For section below for some Bawlmerese definitions.

Food and Drink

You'll find just about every cuisine from fast food to food trucks to fine dining, along with family saloons downtown, at the Inner Harbor and in the neighborhoods. Note: Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are seasonal (basically Memorial Day through October). You can find crabs all year, but they may be from the Carolinas or the Gulf of Mexico. You want crabs that are "fat" and have a dirty-looking belly. A white underside means it's a new shell and it won't be full of meat.

In Inner Harbor: For a great breakfast or brunch before you board your ship, Miss Shirley's has three locations, including one at the Inner Harbor. (750 E. Pratt Street; 410-528-5373; open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekends)

At Fell's Point: Arguably the best all-around destination for foodies, it provides visitors with lots of tough decisions to make. The Point in Fells has crab dishes, bar food and outdoor dining when weather permits. (1738 Thames Street; 410-327-7264; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday)

Don't miss the steamed mussels Bertha's Mussels. Try the mussels with plain butter, garlic butter, Spanish sauce, Lancaster creamy mustard sauce or assorted sauces. (734 S. Broadway; 410-327-5795; open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday)

The buzz floats about Barcocina (formerly Shuckers), which owns a great view of Fell's Point. The restaurants serves food with a Mexican touch -- with guacamole specialties, salsa, tacos, soups, salads and sides of yucca frites, crispy Brussels sprouts and elotes. (1629 Thames Street; 410-563-8800; open 4 p.m. to midnight, Monday through Wednesday; 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Thursday and Friday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to midnight, Sunday.

The Thames Street Oyster House has an extensive raw bar, along with octopus, calamari, mussels, lobster mac and cheese, scallops and wahoo. Meats, salads and other menu options are available. (1728 Thames Street; 443-449-7726; open 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, last seating 2 p.m. Dinner is served Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 :30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.)

In Little Italy: This Italian-American enclave lies between the Inner Harbor and Fell's Point. Cafe Gia is an intimate Italian trattoria. (410 S. High Street; 410-685-6727; opens 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday)

Dalesio's of Little Italy has lots of lunch choices, from marinara or pesto with your gnocchi or veal, chicken or penne parmesan. The eatery features what it calls an "eclectic wine list." (829 Eastern Avenue; 410-539-1965; opens 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday)

In Mount Vernon: Try Sotto Sopra for contemporary Italian cuisine, with a recommendation to save room for dessert that includes tiramisu and a creme brulee of the day. (405 N. Charles Street; 410-625-0534; open 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday)

In Harbor East: Wit & Wisdom, a tavern by Michael Mina in the Four Seasons Hotel, specializes in East Coast seafood, salads, sandwiches and tavern food. The express lunch is available when your whole table orders it. Great harbor views, seasonally. (200 International Drive; 410-576-5800; open for breakfast 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Sunday. Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Weekend brunch buffet, Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Open for dinner 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday to Thursday; 5:30 pm. to 10:30 pm. Friday and Saturday.

Crab Cakes and More:

Inside the centuries-old Lexington Market (since 1782), J.W. Faidley cooks up some of the city's best fried crab cakes. For adventurous eaters, the market has stall after stall of regional foods, plus picnic tables scattered around the huge hall. (400 W. Lexington Street; 410-837-6325; open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday)

G & M Restaurant & Lounge is a broiled crab cake favorite, seven miles from the Inner Harbor. Crab cakes weigh in a half-pound each, and some say they're held together with imagination (OK, there's a little filler). (804 Hammonds Ferry Road, Linthicum; 410-636-1777; open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday)

For hard crabs, try Canton Dockside, (3301 Boston Street; 410-276-8900; open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday), Bo Brooks Restaurant and Catering, (2780 Lighthouse Point; 410-558-0202; open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday) or L.P. Steamers (1100 E. Fort Avenue; 410-576-9294; open 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday).


Look for anything shaped like a Chesapeake Bay blue crab (they turn red when they're cooked) or that has a crab on it. You'll find T-shirts, bibs (baby and adult), hats, ashtrays, magnets, wall-hangings, or whatever other category you collect. Alternatives are anything to do with the Ravens or the Orioles.

Best Cocktail

Baltimore has plenty of places with exotic and classic cocktails, some Orioles- or Ravens-themed drinks, and a fine wine selection, but it's really a beer town. Several craft breweries have opened, but the nostalgic favorite is Natty Boh's (really National Bohemian beer); while it's not brewed in Baltimore anymore, it's still the "hometown" beer.