Spend a bit of time in Annapolis, Maryland’s lovely little city tucked away on the Chesapeake Bay, and you’ll notice this: All roads lead to the water.
Oh, perhaps not literally — sure, you can find streets within its boundaries that don’t. But the important ones, like Main Street, do. Annapolis’ founding fathers, who laid out the city in the 1600s, knew the brackish bay would be its lifeblood. The water helped give birth to Annapolis, kept it growing and thriving through its centuries of evolution, and to this day is largely responsible for its nearly endless appeal as a destination.
“The water is so much a part of who we are, it’s in our veins,” Susan Seifried, director of media and community relations at Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. “There’s always a connection to the water.”
Groups that venture within the city’s charming confines will discover a diverting array of attractions related to its enviable bayside locale, some tangentially, many directly.
Museum of Historic Annapolis
The ideal place for groups to begin their tour of the city, the Museum of Historic Annapolis opened its new three-floor permanent exhibition, “Annapolis: An American Story” in March. It follows some four centuries of the city’s story, shining the spotlight on topics and events such as the American Revolution and the Civil Rights struggle.
The water and its importance to Annapolis is detailed as well, beginning with Native peoples who were drawn to the site of the future city by the bounty the bay provided. It also includes a look at “Colonial days when the Annapolis seaport was very much a center of commerce,” Seifried said. “And then it explores the watermen and the working of the waters and our status now as America’s sailing capital.”
The building housing the museum is itself a treat: It dates back to 1790 when it was rebuilt by a German immigrant after the bakery on the lot burned down. Inside, groups can expect to see items as varied as a Colonial printing press, a 1950s lunch counter and models of boats made in the city during World War II. Special rates are available to motor coach tours, as well as themed, docent-led tours.
Annapolis Maritime Museum and Park
Leaders who have visited the Annapolis Maritime Museum and Park before 2021 will find much new to discover there since its reopening. Renovated to the tune of about $1 million and located in the beautiful former site of the last remaining oyster packing plant in the area, the institution now boasts a museum-wide permanent exhibition dubbed “Our Changing Waterfront.” Using top-notch interactive and immersive displays, it delves into three main topics: the Chesapeake’s health, oyster economy and Annapolis waters.
Showstoppers that groups will love exploring include two 500-gallon tanks that demonstrate how bay water has changed from the 17th century to today, as well as a nifty waterman hologram that groups will swear is a real person chatting about his life.
“They also have an interactive Harry Potter-style book that examines the bay’s watershed,” Seifried said, “and a 3D virtual reality boat where people can put on the eyepieces and join a sailing race, accompany a waterman on an oyster boat or explore the bay on kayak.”
The museum welcomes groups, giving them three private tour topics to choose from: how the ecology of the bay has evolved and where it stands now; the process of oyster harvesting; and the town’s maritime history.
No trip to Annapolis would be complete without at least a little time spent on the bay. Luckily, the city provides a number of options for groups looking to experience the city’s prime pastime.
“Whether it’s a sailing cruise aboard the Wilma Lee or the Schooner Woodwind or a 40-minute cruise of the Annapolis Harbor on the Harbor Queen, you can make a great day even better by just adding water,” Seifried said.
The Wilma Lee is a historic skipjack built in 1940 and refurbished by the Maritime Museum. The museum began booking cruises aboard it, including private charters for up to 35, just last year.
“Skipjacks are these beautiful working vessels that are kind of unique to the Chesapeake Bay,” Seifried said. “Watermen used them, and in their heyday there were more than 1,000 of them on the bay. Now there’s about 23, so the significance of having this skipjack provide cruises is tremendous.”
Meanwhile, the Woodwind I and II, two stunning 74-foot wooden schooners, offer public cruises and private charters for up to 48. The Harbor Queen has been providing a variety of narrated public cruises for more than 45 years, but private charters are also available.
United States Naval Academy
There’s only one United States Naval Academy, and it’s in Annapolis. As such, a stop there is a must for any group visiting the city. There are several special, themed tours available for groups of more than 15, like the 90-minute walking tour and the USNA Tour and Tea. The latter features afternoon tea at the Naval Academy Club and visits to the Main Chapel and the crypt of John Paul Jones, the legendary Revolutionary War naval captain.
“The chapel is spectacular,” Seifried said. “It has Tiffany windows, and they had to replace the dome, so it’s this shiny copper color instead of the traditional patina. It really changes the whole look of our skyline. The Yard — that’s what we call the academy campus — is in the Beaux Arts style. It was designed by the architect Ernest Flagg, so that’s also really interesting for people who are into architecture.”
Before groups board the motorcoach and head off to their next Annapolis adventure, they should drop by the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. The first floor is home to exhibits like the iconic “Don’t give up the ship” flag from the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. The second floor boasts one of the finest model ship collections in the world.