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Behind the Scenes in Baltimore

Don’t just look at the colorful fish — feed them a krill pop or two on the National Aquarium’s Insider’s Tour. Groups participating in the Insider’s Tour discover the beautiful aquarium just like the rest of the public but with VIP access to areas of the aquarium rarely seen by anyone except the employees.

This tour, like many of Baltimore’s behind-the-scenes tours, allows groups to avoid the throngs and enjoy an exclusive experience. An immersive tour can add interesting extras to a Baltimore itinerary, such as a pizza-making demonstration at an acclaimed restaurant or a dramatic interpretation of life in Jim Crow Maryland at an African-American museum. Groups can also learn the intricacies involved in unrolling a 30-by-42-foot Star-Spangled Banner at the Fort McHenry National Monument by joining in the process.

Whether you want to know how the National Aquarium cares for its 20,000 aquatic animals or how to make a slice of some of the best pizza in the state at Verde, Baltimore has an exclusive tour to match your group.

Insider’s Tour at the National Aquarium

Stand so close to sharks circling below you that you could almost reach down and grab a dorsal fin at the National Aquarium. Of course, you wouldn’t want to do that, but the proximity gives guests a thrill during the aquarium’s Insider’s Tour.

The tour arranges some close encounters with sharks and other animal residents being cared for in staff-only areas of the attraction. Participants can cross a catwalk over the shark tank for a slightly scary experience that they won’t soon forget.

Guides tell stories about the animals and explain the complexities behind running one of the country’s most popular aquariums.

“You get to see the filtration and the plumbing of the entire aquarium,” said Eric Masterton, director of group sales for Visit Baltimore. “You can hear the hums of the process and see a side of the aquarium that is usually not open to the public.”

Visitors glimpse the inner workings behind some of the aquarium’s main exhibits, such as “Australia: Wild Extremes.” There groups watch the spotted archer fish attempt to snag a cricket meal by spitting a little stream of water.

Groups can choose from other exclusive tours of the aquarium, such as the Dolphins Explorer; the Animal Care Experience; the Sharks Behind-the-Scenes Tour; and the Icky, Creepy, Slimy, Cool Tour.

Flag Talk at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

“By the dawn’s early light” Francis Scott Key beheld the imposing 30-by-42-foot Star-Spangled Banner flag above Fort McHenry in 1814. The author felt a rush of emotion when he saw the flag and knew U.S. soldiers had successfully defended the fort, compelling him to pen the poem that became the country’s national anthem.

Today, groups can experience a similar patriotic pride during the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine’s Flag Talk. Rangers lead groups of up to 100 people in the unrolling of a full-size replica of the flag that flew on the site 200 years ago.

“It’s remarkable for people to see the size of this flag because the stars are huge,” said Masterton. “I’ve never known anyone who’s ever done it who hasn’t talked about it all the time. It really has an emotional connection with our country’s history.”

Participants learn about the history of the 15-star, 15-stripe flag while working together to unroll it. The 45-minute program also explains the words of the national anthem so groups will learn the true meaning behind the lyrics.

A trip to Fort McHenry also reveals its vital role in the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, when American troops stopped a British invasion. The site also features guided walks, cannon demonstrations and a museum with more than 54,000 artifacts.