Thursday, December 16, 2010

Washington D.C. for Children Who Get Bored Easily

Going to Washington D.C. for our family vacation seemed like a good idea at the time.  I had gone once when I was in school and again a couple of times for work.  The City was interesting and vibrant, or at least that's how I remembered it.  I figured that my children would like it just as much as I did, although they are just 7, 5 and 3 years old.  But who doesn't like watching how money is made or going 50 stories high in a giant pencil.  Who doesn't want to see where the President lives?

The first mistake we made was to drive down there.  When I had driven those previous times, it didn't seem that long.  But this time I was the parent and the driver.  Before I was the child and someone drove ME.  Well with young children, even leaving at 3am didn't stop the complaining about being hungry and having to go to the bathroom.  But you never have to go to the bathroom at 4am at home!  I countered when my 7 year old stopped me as we were barely out of Massachusetts.  My first word of advice - fly down there.  Dulles and BWI might be expensive, but believe me its worth it.  I really didn't have an excuse as both Southwest and Jet Blue fly there pretty cheaply.

The second mistake we made was to stay at a hotel that had attractions of its own.  In our case, it was a hotel with a rooftop swimming pool.  (At this point, I'd like to confess that we did this during the summertime, I'm just getting to this now, though.)  We also booked adjoining rooms, and for some reason the kids got a big kick out of it.  Even after they went through the double doors a couple hundred times.  I would advise that you stay the Hilton or the Westin - both are in the Capitol area

The third mistake was to decide to walk around the city although it was around the Fourth of July holiday.  Washington D.C. is really, really hot in the summer and there is hardly any relief in site - unless you count the Capital City Brewing Company restaurants that dotted the D.C. landscapes (or at least did when we were down there).  I would suggest driving around to the outskirts to go to Georgetown, the Washington National Zoo or the Washington National Aquarium.  Otherwise, if you're staying around the historic downtown, consider the Metro and cabs.  I regret all of the sweating that we did.  Although if we didn't walk around, we never would have seen MM's favorite "Lost" Character, Desmond jogging around our hotel and the capital area.

Washington D.C.  Day 1 Itinerary.  I suggest going around the Mall on the first day.  My kids really enjoyed the Washington Monument (I would suggest that you take the elevator to the top, but you have to wait in line forever to get tickets, so get there early and wait for a later time), the U.S. Capital building (to meet our U.S. representative - but stay away from the tour, that's a real snoozer) and the Smithsonian Museums.  Our favorite Smithsonian Museums were the Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum.  The other ones we visited were a little dry for our tastes.  Unfortunately, I could not convince anyone to go to the National Museum of American History.   While you're at the Monument, I would suggest pointing to the White House and talking it up.  If you have time, try to go see the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to witness how money is made.  It's pretty cool for children who don't understand the value of money.

Washington D.C.  Day 2 Itinerary.  This is the day that I would put on your walking shoes, or some extra money for cabs.  Figure on starting with the more historical sites north and west of the Smithsonian Mall.  Travel past the Monument to the reflecting pool.  Here you can go to the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial (this is a must see) and the Lincoln Memorial.  Walking east, you then can stop at the White House.  Try early to get into the White House through your U.S. representative.  You will be hard pressed to get in there though unless you are part of a large group or you have connections (neither of which we had).  You can still get pretty close to take some pictures. 

Then start walking further east into the Foggy Bottom area.  Here you can go to the International Spy Museum (great for older kids, but NOT teenagers.  Teenagers will hate this and you so don't bother paying the steep admission), the Newseum (we liked the glass walls that have the headlines from all of the world's newspapers), Ford's Theater (although all we could do for some reason was walk around the lobby and the gift shop on the day we went) and the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.  After a long day of walking, you can take the kids to one of the many restaurants in the Foggy Bottom Area.  Incidentally, we went to the ESPNZone and we hated it.

Washington D.C.  Itinerary Day 3.  This is when you should take a sightseeing tour.  The kids will be done with walking (and perhaps with you) at this point, so I would suggest that you go into one of the open air buses, like Open Top Sightseeing.  This way you can visit the outlying areas like the National Zoo, Washington Cathedral, Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and the Jefferson Memorial.  Skip the Aquarium here and go to you local one instead.  The kids will likely be more interested in the bus they are riding in than the sites, but they are in an enclosed space, so you don't feel that you have to keep a leash on them.

Overall, you can do most of Washington D.C. in three days, so long as the family doesn't mind long days.  I know after a couple of our days, those beers at dinner tasted awfully good.  It made me forget that really weak chair gimmick that ESPNZone had in their restaurant. 

Oh crap.  Now we have to drive back!  Pass me the Nintendo DSs quick.

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