Fleet Week seen as success, boost to tourism in Baltimore

When the Blue Angels soared over Baltimore’s Inner Harbor last weekend, the crowd that had gathered in Isabella’s Brick Oven in Little Italy dashed out to watch.

Even after the Navy’s elite flight demonstration team flew into the distance, crowds packed the South High Street restaurant to such an extent that it ran short on bread and dough by Sunday evening.

“This was really terrific, better than we expected,” Isabella’s owner, Daniel Stewart, said of business over the weekend, the final two days of the first Maryland Fleet Week & Air Show. “As soon as we heard jets, everyone was out of the place. As soon as it was quiet, they flooded back in.”

Officials were still tallying final visitor counts Monday but said the weeklong event drew tourists from the region and beyond. Organizers had been anticipating about 500,000 people at the city’s waterfront and elsewhere to tour ships, watch air shows and wander through festivals.

The city heard relatively few complaints about traffic on a weekend when some downtown streets were closed Saturday for the Baltimore Running Festival, said Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. He said many visitors heeded advice to take public transportation.

“Everything really came together,” McCarthy said. “It was something for everyone.”

Officials reported strong numbers for ship tours, including 5,000 people for the Canadian navy’s coastal defense vessel Shawinigan at the Inner Harbor and more than 9,000 visitors for the U.S. Navy transport ship Carson City at Pier 5. A total of about 30,000 people visited all the Navy ships that offered tours.

Fort McHenry nearly reached its capacity of 11,000 visitors Sunday, said Christopher Rowsom, executive director of Historic Ships in Baltimore, a Fleet Week organizer with the state Department of Commerce and the Maryland Office of Tourism.

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