CASTS of characters will assemble all over Baltimore for family-oriented events celebrating the 116th Preakness Stakes. There will be frogs and floats, schooners and scouts, piglets and peewees and, naturally, horses and hot air balloons.
Maryland Preakness Celebration '91 can begin a family tradition -- and without much expense. Most events are free, or free with a Preakness pin.
Tomorrow's GTECH Maryland Preakness Parade promises two hours of horsing around with a patriotic flair. The parade heralds 10 days of festivities dedicated to the men and women who served in the Persian Gulf. Floats bedecked with yellow ribbons and thousands of flowers will include themes familiar to children -- "Cinderella," "Neptune's World" and "Rip Van Winkle." Marching bands and equestrian units will carry on the Preakness spirit. Giant helium balloon likenesses of Popeye and Olive Oyle, Buster the Crab, Mighty Mouse and a host of others will loom overhead. The parade will wind through downtown beginning at 7 p.m. Parents with children can avoid jockeying for a clear view by arriving at a parade sight around 6:30 p.m.
Don't stay out too late after the parade, since the First National Bank of Maryland Hot Air Balloon Competition and Children's Festival will begin at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday at Druid Hill Park. Plan to arrive at 6 a.m. to watch flight preparation. A "hare," the lead balloon, will lift off first, followed by a pack of "hound" balloons. Mixed in with traditional balloons will be Klondikes' flying polar bear, a giant Rayovac battery and a huge sneaker sponsored by Famous Flying Footwear.
The balloon ascension signals the beginning of the Children's Festival. Jugglers, clowns and zoo mascots will work the crowd of early risers. There will be a potpourri of education and fun zoo exhibits, carnival games, kite flying and a "moonbounce." The festival will continue until the zoo opens at 9 a.m. A Preakness pin is worth $1 off zoo admission all day.
Preakness Celebration '91 includes many statewide festivities, including numerous daily horse shows. For statewide information about all events, including horse shows, consult an official Preakness schedule or call 837-3030. Here are family oriented events in the Baltimore area:
* Scout Expo '91 will be Saturday at the Timonium Fairgrounds from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Scouting's annual show to the public features many of the activities that have made scouting a favorite activity for generations. Visitors can watch Pinewood Derby Races, model rocket launches, camping and cooking demonstrations. Some troops will tote logs and ropes to make swinging bridges, swing sets and rappelling towers while the public watches. Converts can sign up for scouting at any information booth. Food concessions will be available. Phone 338-1700 for more details. Admission is $2.
* Children's Spring Festival at Montessori School in Lutherville // will be Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Montessori's festival is for children aged 3 to 7, especially those in search of just the right Mother's Day gift. There will be three craft booths where children can make hand prints, weave container or string a large bead necklace. An Irish Bag Pipe Duo, a juggling magician and African storyteller Jamal Koran will perform. Other scheduled attractions include games, a used book sale and fire and police department apparatus. Phone: 321-8555. Admission is free.
* The Preakness Piglet Stakes will be from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Harborplace Amphitheatre. See it to believe it. Piglets in jockey silks will take to the track in an inaugural Harborplace event, sponsored by 100 WGRX, Harborplace and the Gallery. Phone: 332- 4191. It's Free.
* First National Bank of Maryland Hot Air Balloon Competition will be Sunday at Oregon Ridge Park. Lift-off will be between 6:30 and 7 a.m. Though this competition is not geared specifically to children, those who missed Saturday's event will get one last chance to see balloons lift skyward. The emphasis is on skill and agility as pilots of hare balloons attempt to land precisely on sandbags dropped by a hound. Phone: 837-3030. Free with Preakness pin.
* The ninth annual Preakness High School Cheerleading Contest will be Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. Five finalist teams will vie for a state championship with cheers and gymnastic feats that have brought them to the top of their class. Phone: 332-4191. Admission is free.
* Maryland Preakness Celebration Summer Sunday Concert will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Harborplace Amphitheatre. WLIF-Lite 102, Harborplace and the Gallery invite all to bring blankets and lawn chairs and find a place under the harbor skies to take in the standard pops and classical selections offered by the Baltimore Symphonic Band. Phone: 332-4191. Free.