When I was a little girl, our family visited the Monterey Aquarium in California as part of a family vacation. I remember that the aquarium staff was setting up for a wedding that evening. I was fascinated – my little girl wedding daydreams had never featured an aquarium. What a unique idea! (Although I was a big fan of The Little Mermaid and wanted to get married on a boat just like Ariel, so an aquarium isn’t too far of a stretch…)
I had that in my mind as I toured the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, which hosts hundreds of private events per year. Naturally, hosting an event in a building full of live (and sometimes endangered) animals has some logistical challenges. The hours are limited – they won’t close the aquarium to day guests to accommodate events so it’s almost exclusively just available for evening events, and the start time is a strict two hours after the aquarium closes. And you have to use red disposables instead of glass and china (the red is so it’s easy to find if an errant cup makes it into the water), but that’s because the aquarium staff understandably can’t risk anything that would be dangerous to the animals. But it’s worth it to be able to host an event in such a majestic environment.
There are numerous potential venues at the Aquarium available for rent. The most exciting ones (aka the ones that have the most access to the aquarium residents) are the Blue Wonders exhibit and the Pier 4 building, which is home to the dolphin exhibit – who doesn’t love dolphins!
The Blue Wonders building is home to Blacktip Reef, a huge new exhibit. Outside of the exhibit is a the Blue Wonders Harbor Overlook room, which has a fantastic view of Baltimore Harbor. This would be a great spot for prefunction space or a wedding ceremony.
Note: All of my photos are the ones with tons of tourists in them (I visited during a crowded summer day). All of the pretty event photos are from the National Aquarium’s website.
Once entering the main exhibit, you see lots of water and more than 700 animals, including sharks, stingrays and a 500 pound rescued sea turtle named Calypso. You start at the bottom of the exhibit and work your way up via escalators and moving walkways. There are additional small exhibits around the perimeter. Once you work your way to the top, you make your way back down through the shark exhibit.
So while there is a lot to look at, there’s not a ton of space. So it’s an ideal candidate for strolling receptions. Stations and bars can be set around the exhibit with scattered seating and cocktail tables.
Over in Pier 4, which is a separate building attached via an enclosed pedestrian bridge, there is more open space. Pier 4 houses the dolphins, and the underwater viewing area is available for private events. However, steel drum music isn’t allowed, nor is amplified music near the dolphins.
This is what the space looks like normally:
This is what the space looks like set up for a wedding ceremony. Lovely!
The food court, which is the largest open area in the whole aquarium, is available for rent as well.
In addition to the above spaces, there is also an outdoor tent (which doesn’t have quite as strict rules since it’s outside the aquarium), and a small harbor view room at the top of the Blue Wonders pavilion. The room itself isn’t much, but there’s a lovely view of the harbor.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the Aquarium is primarily a conservation and education institution, so they are not interested in bending over backwards to meet all your needs. It is likely that they will say no to most requests because they simply cannot accommodate them. But if your event can work within their parameters, it’s an incredible venue.
In closing, some photos of the animals. Have you ever tried to take photos at an aquarium? It’s really hard! These few came out decently: