The wife and I haven’t been to the aquarium in years. (We went there on one of our early dates, and then again after the Australia exhibit opened. On the other hand, as a child visiting Baltimore, my grandmother used to take us and it was one of my favorite places.) The biggest issues, normally, are the space – the National Aquarium can be a bit claustrophobic when it’s crowded – and the design of the space being not-quite-stroller-friendly.
Add to that the fact that in such a place, we can’t depend on the Monster to not meltdown or go crazy. While he’s hardly stimulus-sensitive, he’s stimulus seeking at times, and the aquarium has stimuli in spades.
For anyone who hasn’t gone – the National Aquarium in Baltimore is one of the signature buildings in the Inner Harbor. The main building is on Pier 3, which contains the bulk of the exhibits, with the Dolphin pavilion on Pier 4, connected by an indoor walkway. The Pier 3 building has the lovely Australia exhibit, followed by an ascent through different linked ecosystems (following a river from the Maryland highlands down to the Atlantic Ocean, and such) until you reach the uppermost floor, which is an indoor tropical rainforest (and was closed for this event due to it being nighttime – there’s no artificial lighting up there). This is followed by a descent through a lovely reef exhibit with all sorts of other fish until you reach the ground again. Part of the aquarium is currently closed due to renovations, and will reopen this summer, so we didn’t get to see the huge pool that the rays and a couple of sharks swim in… but that’s just incentive to return another time.
Having an offer to be able to go – especially gratis – to see the aquarium in a setting where no one is going to care if he melts down is not something we’re going to turn down (even if it means missing part of the Ravens’ AFC Championship game – this is what DVRs and iPhones are made for). And as such, we found ourselves in line, in 40-something degree temperatures, outside the National Aquarium in the Inner Harbor last night at 6:30ish with hundreds of other families in similar straits.
Going to events like this is really a breath of fresh air for our family. It’s something that verges on normalcy that we so rarely have with our family – so much of what we do is calculated carefully around when we can expect the Monster to get to his limits – and lets us feel like we’re not depriving our children because of Autism. You also see other families dealing with the same issues and how they’re coping with their children’s unique issues. There were a lot of families where a child was on a very-literally-short leash, or children with noise-dampening headgear. We saw children in strollers queued up for the elevators (as mentioned, the National Aquarium is not quite a stroller friendly layout, given how the interior areas are largely linked by narrow moving walkway-ramps, though it is fully accessible with a little effort to find and backtrack to the elevators as needed). But all around, we saw children who seemed to be enjoying seeing all of the sealife in what is really one of the best aquaria in the United States.
And the Monster did have a good time. He loved the jellyfish exhibit – we could tell based on how he was bouncing from tank to tank to tank before one of us finally got a hand on him and reined him in. He got excited at watching the dolphins swimming around in the observation tank. By the time we were going through the main exhibits, though… it was already reaching his limit, and we made it part way up the building before he started getting fussy and melty, but for him, it was very good, having reached about eight o’clock at night, a grand total of ninety minutes in the aquarium.
We’ll definitely try to get into the lottery for this again next year if Pathfinders does the event again, and see how it goes when he’s built up a little more tolerance… But either way, I think we’ll end up taking him back again at some point.