Best Place to Amuse the Kids: Observation Gallery

The gallery has its roots in BWI's predecessor, Friendship Airport, where visitors could step onto an outdoor observation deck to watch the activity on the runway. "ItÂ’s a nice feature for the airport and connects travelers to aviation," says airport spokesman Jonathan Dean. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / November 15, 2010)

If you haven't ventured inside BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport since last Thanksgiving, you'll be happy to hear the bathrooms are in the same place. So are the runways. That is to say, not a lot has changed physically.

But the airport has had a banner year otherwise, breaking passenger records in July and August, being among the airports with the lowest fares in the nation and receiving an award for providing just about the best food and drink of any airport in North America.

Now comes a real test: Thousands of travelers headed to Grandma's house will descend on the airport this week, stuffed carry-ons in tow.

"We do expect a busy holiday season," says Jonathan Dean, spokesman for BWI. "We've had record passenger traffic during the summer and we expect for it to continue."

That's good news for the airport and bad news for passengers facing the holiday crush. But if you know how to navigate BWI, your trip doesn't have to be a turkey. To help those who may not be frequent visitors to the airport, we asked some local travel experts to point us in the right direction for places to eat, park, shop — and escape the crowds. Of course, if all else fails, you can hide in the bathroom.

michelle.deal@baltsun.com

Best place to get a meal to-go

Silver Diner

This "retro" diner is all about the food, made to order in the shake of a tail feather. Silver Diner offers a grab-n-go case, five-minute takeout express and a full carryout menu. You could even take a hot turkey dinner on your trip. "The restaurant is one of the largest of its kind on airport property in the country and continues to be a passenger favorite," says Carol Fearns, vice president of Airmall Maryland, the company that manages the airport's concessions and retailers.

Location: Concourse B

Runners-up: Au Bon Pain and Subway.

Best place to dine

Obrycki's

"Being a Marylander, I have to say Phillips or Obrycki's," says Rich Gilbert, a sales manager in the Maryland Office of Tourism. Indeed. With a menu that includes crab cakes, crab soup, crab salad wraps — OK, crab everything — this hometown favorite doesn't disappoint. You can even pick up a container of Obrycki's Seafood Seasoning as a last-minute gift.

Location: Concourse B

Runner-up: Silver Diner. Yes, it has great takeout, but if you can set a spell, it's even better.

Best place for beer or wine

Vino Volo

"Few can top Vino Volo, which combines a cozy wine lounge, tasting bar and restaurant into a sophisticated retreat" for travelers, says Fearns. Vino Volo (derived from "wine flight" in Italian) offers wines by the glass or by the bottle for customers who want to take it home or have it shipped.