Annapolis For Families: It's All About Water and History

By Jeff and Stephanie Sylva


Annapolis is an exciting family travel destination, offering lots of activities for the entire family. Home to the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis has a lovely waterfront location and a legendary past. Whether you choose to stroll the city's historic streets or cruise the picturesque waterways, Annapolis is a great choice for a weekend getaway or as part of a Washington D.C. family vacation.


With more surviving 18th-century buildings than any other city in the country, Annapolis is a treasure trove for any history buff. And for anyone who enjoys a water view, whether from land or on the water, Annapolis has a maritime tradition that has lasted through the years. As one of the world's most premier sailing centers, Annapolis is a good place for families to learn to sail or just enjoy the chance to be out on the water.


Annapolis is conveniently located less than an hour's drive from Washington, D.C. or Baltimore, and less than a half hour's drive from the Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Although it is located in the middle of the busy Mid-Atlantic corridor and serves as the Maryland state capital, Annapolis is a city that has preserved its colonial charm and continues to celebrate its seaport heritage.


A Sailor's Mecca


Whether you sail, paddle, or power your way across the waters of Chesapeake Bay, families should make sure to experience the Bay in some way. A number of daily cruises are available from Watermark Unforgettable Journeys. These cruises provide great views of Annapolis, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Bay Bridge, and a few of the picturesque lighthouses of Chesapeake Bay, including the screwpile-style lighthouse at Thomas Point. Kids will love the "Pirates of the Chesapeake" cruise offered during the summer months. Kids become members of the Pirate Crew and learn what it takes to be a Pirate. The tour includes interactive swashbuckling tales of piracy where the guests play the stars. Just make sure you don't end up walking the plank! For more information call 410-268-7601 or visit www.watermarkjourney.com. For those that have a deeper interest in lighthouses and how the keepers lived, the Annapolis Maritime Museum in Eastport conducts an excursion that takes passengers into the lighthouse for a 30-minute tour of this iconic lighthouse. These tours are conducted only on Saturdays and Sundays and have a very limited capacity. Reservations can be booked online at www.annapolismaritimemuseum.org.


Another pirate experience is "Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake," aboard the Sea Gypsy. Kids comprise the crew as they search for sunken treasure and battle Pirate Pete, the smelliest most rotten pirate on the Seven Seas. For more information call 410-263-0002 or visit www.chesapeakepirates.com.


For those who wish to experience the waters around Annapolis on a sailing cruise, one option is a daily 2-hour cruise aboard one of the twin schooners the Woodwind and the Woodwind II. Help raise the sails and take the helm, or just sit back and relax as you enjoy the calm waters and beautiful views of the Annapolis waterfront. The Woodwind was the schooner used in the film The Wedding Crashers. Call 410-263-7837 or visit www.schoonerwoodwind.com for more information.  Another schooner that offers cruises in the late spring and early fall isthe Liberte. Call 410-263-8234 or visit www.theliberte.com. A uniquely Annapolis event is to view the evening sailing races in the harbor. There is some sort of sailboat race every weekday evening from mid-April through September. Many of the area charter companies offer special trips to view the races where more than 100 sailboats race on an average night.


If your family would rather captain their own ship, there are a plethora of charter companies offering a variety of charters from one day to a full week. Two such charter companies are Annapolis Bay Charters at 800-991-1776 or www.annapolisbaycharters.net and Annapolis Small Boat Rental, Inc. at 410-268-BOAT or www.asmallboatrental.com. A more complete list of charter companies is available at the Visitors' Bureau website at www.VisitAnnapolis.org.


If you don't sail but would like to learn, the Annapolis Sailing School offers sailing classes for beginners to advanced sailors. The minimum class is two days, and the emphasis is on hands-on experience. The Annapolis Sailing School also operates Kidship Sailing School exclusively for children ages 5 to 15. This way parents can learn in boats appropriate for adults and the kids can learn at the same time in boats that are perfect for them. For more information call 800-638-9192 or visit www.AnnapolisSailing.com.


Another great family activity to enjoy on the Chesapeake, North America's largest estuary, is fishing. With more than 200 species of fish in the Bay, some of the East coast's best fishing can be found here. Charter a captained boat to take you to all the hot spots, or take out your own boat for a great day on the bay. South River Boat Rentals offers captained or self-skippered rentals. Call 410-956-9729 or visit www.southriverboatrentals.com for more information. Other boat rental companies can be found online by visiting the Visitors' Bureau website.


A great way to get out on the water and explore some of the back creeks and inlets of the bay is by kayak or canoe. We spent an afternoon paddling a kayak in Back Creek getting some great views of the area around Eastport. Two places that can outfit you and provide instruction and guided tours are Springriver Annapolis Canoe and Kayak and the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School, both of which are located in the Eastport section of Annapolis. L.L. Bean offers a variety of instructional courses and guided kayak trips. Call Springriver at 410-263-2303 or visit www.springriverannapolis.com. For L.L. Bean's call 800-441-5713 and ask for the Discovery Schools or visit www.llbean.com/outdoorsOnline.


You will enjoy the charm and maritime history of Eastport. Learn about the stoic watermen who still today provide us with the crabs and oysters that have long been staples of the Chesapeake. Visit the Annapolis Maritime Museum while in Eastport where you can enjoy sweeping views and lively stories of the area's rich maritime tradition. The museum is currently renovating the building that housed the McNasby Oyster Packing Company and plans a December '08 opening, which will greatly increase their exhibits. For more information call 410-295-0104 or visit www.annapolismaritimemuseum.org.


Historical Annapolis


Simply walking the city's Historic District, with its multitude of preserved historic buildings and homes, will take you back to colonial times. Four of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Annapolitans, and their homes, three of which are open to the public, stand as elegant landmarks of the colonial era. The Chase-Lloyd House and the William Paca House offer the most extensive tour hours. For more information on the Maryland Signer Sites go to www.annapolis.org.


Better yet, take one of the many walking or riding tours that will provide you with a wealth of historic details and present-day facts about Annapolis. Discover Annapolis Tours offers 40-minute and 60-minute trolley tours that give an excellent overview of the city and its important sites. Watermark Tours offers a variety of walking tours conducted by colonial-attired guides. Kids will enjoy relating some of the history that they have learned in school with the "living history" that they can experience in Annapolis. A perfect example of this will be an exhibit on George Washington's resignation in the Maryland State House when it reopens in December of 2008. For more information on the trolley tours call 410-626-6000 or visit www.discoverAnnapolis.com.


A Rich African-American History


In addition to the colonial history, Annapolis has a rich African-American history as well. Watermark's African-American Heritage Tour, in partnership with the Kunte Kinte - Alex Haley Foundation, provides a wealth of information about the history of African-Americans in Annapolis. Annapolis was the port into which Kunte Kinte, made famous in Alex Haley's TV miniseries Roots, first came to America, and the Kunte Kinte - Alex Haley Memorial at City Dock is a significant site on this tour. Another must for those interested in the African-American heritage in Annapolis is the Banneker-Douglass Museum. For information on the museum call 410-216-6180 or visit www.bdmuseum.com.


The Navy Way


No trip to Annapolis is complete without a visit and tour of the U.S. Naval Academy. Although the trolley tours and some of the walking tours include the Academy, the tour given by the Academy's Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center is the most comprehensive. The Visitor Center shows a film depicting the life of Naval Academy midshipmen and also houses a number of exhibits. Tours are given daily (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day) and visitors 16 and older must have a photo ID. There is no parking available on the grounds. For more information, visit the Visitor Center website at www.navyonline.com or call 410-293-8111.


Kids may enjoy an even closer look at the Academy by taking part in the "Navy Way" Basic Boot Camp. Children ages 6 -12 can experience what it is like to be a Navy "swabbie." Recruits are issued a "Dixie cup" cap, learn Navy terms, march, chant and follow orders. The boot camp concludes with a simulated mess (lunch or pizza and soda) and a graduation ceremony. The boot camp is offered just periodically throughout the year, and reservations are necessary. For more information on the Basic boot Camp and the Advanced Boot Camp call Mianna Joop at 410-293-8111 or email jopp@usna.edu.


Families with small children will enjoy The Chesapeake Children's Museum, which has a variety of interactive exhibits that are great for toddlers and pre-schoolers. A favorite exhibit is "Watermen," an exhibit where kids climb aboard a 10-foot boat and dock to act out their own watermen scene with props. For more information call the museum at 410-990-1993 or visit www.theccm.org.


Where to Stay


Annapolis has a great selection of hotels, inns and B&B's. Some of the more upscale choices include The Westin, the newest luxury hotel located just a mile from City Dock in the new uptown district; the Annapolis Loews, Annapolis' only four-diamond hotel, the O'Callaghan Annapolis Hotel, a boutique Irish-owned hotel; and the Marriott Waterfront Hotel, the only downtown hotel located right on the water. Each of these hotels provides an excellent level of luxury and all are conveniently located. Rates begin for the O'Callaghan with their summer specials in the low $100's and closer to $200 and above for the other hotels.


If you would like more of an 18th century experience in your accommodations, try the Historic Inns of Annapolis, a group of three restored and elegantly appointed inns that operate as one hotel. Located in the heart of the Historic District, The Maryland Inn, The Governor Calvert House, and the Robert Johnson House, combine the best parts of the past and present. Depending on the time of year rates can be quite reasonable. During the high season rates are a little more than $200 per night for a family of four.


A number of moderately and lesser priced hotels such as the DoubleTree Annapolis, Hampton Inn and Suites, Best Western, Country Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn Express, and Quality Inn are available and are located within just a few minutes drive of downtown. Street parking is practically non-existent, but public parking garages are located in the downtown area. For a more complete list of hotels, inns and B&B's (some may take children) visit the Visitor Bureau website at www.visitannapolis.org.


Dining - The Bounty of the Bay


A major treat for a visit to Annapolis is to enjoy some of the city's many great restaurants, particularly for the famous Maryland blue claw crabs. Whether you have them steamed in Old Bay spices, soft shell, or in crab cakes, these are what everyone wants to experience in Annapolis. A great place for families to have a crab feast is Phillips, located on the water on Dock St. Another delicacy from the bay is oysters, and McGarvey's Saloon and Oyster Bar, as well as O'Brien's Oyster Bar & Restaurant are good choices for oysters and seafood. A visit to America's "sailing capital" calls for a visit to "One of the World's Top Sailing Bars," The Boatyard in Eastport. And you don't want to miss having a meal dockside at Pusser's Caribbean Grille - the view alone is spectacular. Families will enjoy watching the busy waterfront known as "Ego Alley," where numerous "top-of-the-line" powerboats and sailboats like to show off.


Two other places we would suggest are Reynolds Tavern for an authentic English afternoon tea and, in a completely different vein, Chick & Ruth's Delly. Reynolds is an authentic colonial tavern with lunch, dinner, lodging, and a traditional afternoon English tea. The tavern operates much as it did some 250 years ago. Chick & Ruth's is an Annapolis tradition. This funky "delly" is a great place for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The menu is loaded with choices including some specialty sandwiches named for many local and state politicians. And if you want big - try one of their colossal sandwiches or a colossal milkshake (6 pounds of it!). The memorabilia on the walls will keep you busy, if you aren't still reading the menu. If you're going for breakfast, catch owners Ted & Beth as they lead the Pledge of Allegiance at 8:30 AM weekdays and 9:30 on weekends.


For More Information


For more information on Annapolis, visit www.VisitAnnapolis.org.


Jeff and Stephanie Sylva have been professional travel writers for 18 years. Their daughter, Jennifer, who is currently in college, often travels with them.



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