Please Help Me Plan My DC Trip

May 8th, 2009, 12:42 PM
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Please Help Me Plan My DC Trip

I could use some advice on planning our upcoming family trip to DC. It will be my husband and myself and our twin 13-year-old boys. We will be in DC for five nights in June. We are staying at the DC Embassy Suites.

We arrive at Reagan at 4:00 pm on a Tuesday afternoon and I was thinking maybe we could fit in a moonlight monuments tour that night. The next morning we have arranged a tour of the Capitol through our Congressman.

I have been waiting to hear back from them about a White House tour, but am beginning to think that won't happen and I should just go ahead and plan the rest of the days.

The list of things we want to do in no particular order is: White House, Arlington Cemetery, Spy Museum, Mount Vernon, Zoo, Air & Space Museum, American History Museum, Natural History Museum, Paddle Boats on Tidal Basin, Holocaust Museum, Washington Monument and a Washington Nationals Game on Friday, June 19.

I know that's a lot to fit in and that I should probably get busy and make some reservations. Is it better to do all the Smithsonian Museums in one day while you're there, or maybe take a morning at each of the museums and then spend the afternoon doing something different.

Any suggested itineraries for me? Thanks!
BarbaraS is offline  
May 8th, 2009, 01:04 PM
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I think doing all of the Smithsonian museums (on your list) in one day would be too much. I would spread them out.

Are you planning to rent a car to go to Mt. Vernon? I think there is a bus from one of the Metrorail stations, but I don't know how convenient it is.
vjpblovesitaly is offline  
May 8th, 2009, 01:11 PM
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I didn't want to rent a car to go to Mt. Vernon. I was wondering about a boat ride, but I was concerned that would be boring for the teenagers. Thanks!
BarbaraS is offline  
May 8th, 2009, 02:04 PM
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With such a long list of things to do, IMHO you should rent the car rather than invest hours in transit to and from Mt Vernon. One problem with touring in DC is that almost everything closes early though the Smithsonians will probably be on Summer ours and open til 7 or 7:30. The Spy Museum, being private, has evening hours. The Zoo is another time-consuming outing, so be sure it's a priority if you include it; the grounds are open very early, before the buildings, and the animals are more active and visible in the cooler part of the day.
Anonymous is offline  
May 8th, 2009, 03:13 PM
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Okay, I guess I can look into renting a car to go to Mt. Vernon. Would you stop at Arlington Cemetery on the way?

I like the idea of going to the Spy Museum in the evening and I'll definitely put the zoo on the schedule for early in the morning. The boys don't care about going to the zoo. But Mom really wants to see the Pandas.

Great suggestions! Please keep them coming.
BarbaraS is offline  
May 8th, 2009, 05:54 PM
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I'd go ahead and book tickets now for the Washington Monument. Although you have to pay a "convenience fee" for the free tickets, it's worth it not to have to get to there when it opens at 8am to stand in line for (possibly) same-day tickets. An alternative to going to the top of the Washington Monument is going to the top of the tower of the Old Post Office. I've heard the views are great and that there's generally no line to do it. (No ticket required either.)
I'd also consider booking tickets online for the Spy Museum. The line to buy tickets can get quite long and since the tickets are timed, they might all be sold out for the time you want if you wait until the same day to buy them. If you want to go in the evening, allow yourself a MINIMUM of 2 hours to see the museum before closing.
Timed tickets are required for the Holocaust Museum's Permanent Exhibition, "The Holocaust" in the summer months. (The rest of the museum is open without any sort of ticket.) If you are planning on visiting this exhibition, you should check their website about ordering tickets or waiting for same day tickets.
Mount Vernon now offers online purchasing of tickets, so you might want to do that too if you want to avoid the line to buy tickets. If your kids are fans of the "National Treasure" movies, they have a "National Treasures" tour which is an extra fee and should be booked online in advance. I would highly recommend getting to Mt. Vernon as close to opening time as possible (8:00am). The reason for this is that the tours of the house are on a first come/first serve basis and I have seen the waiting times run 45 minutes - 1 hour in mid-morning. Therefore, I would recommend going to Arlington Cemetery AFTER you visit Mt. Vernon. It's open until 7pm. You can tour Arlington Cemetery on your own, but be aware that going to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier requires a bit of walking and the cemetery is hilly. If this is a problem for any of your group, you can take a guided tour on Tourmobile (which you might want to do anyway). The tours end at 6:30 pm in summer. Check their website for details.
Remember that the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum each has an IMAX theatre. You might want to set aside some time for one of their films. Also, I believe that the Natural History Museum is showing "Star Trek" in June in the evenings which might be an enjoyable evening family activity.
longhorn55 is offline  
May 8th, 2009, 08:15 PM
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Capitol and 1 of the museums in 1 day.
White House and the other museum 1 day.
Washington Monument, paddle boat, and Holocaust 1 day. (Close together)
Baseball and Spy museum in 1 day (it's really close to the ES)
Mount Vernon in 1 day
AC and the last museum in 1 day.

Whew. There... I fit everything in for you.
coolcamden is offline  
May 8th, 2009, 08:46 PM
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I'm reading that you have 5 nights and 4 full days. If that's the case, it definitely makes sense to schedule the night tour of the monuments for your arrival night. It's a little pricey but it's beautiful at night and we were glad we did it even though we also visited the monuments during the day.

We also had Congressman tickets for the Capitol and the White House (hope you get them!) We had to be at the Capitol very early before public tours opened. I mention that because if you take the night monument tour, it lasts about 3 hours (we got back to our hotel at 11 pm, but we were the last hotel dropoff). After the Capitol tour, the Air&Space Museum would be my suggestion. We spent much longer than anticipated in there and your boys will love it.

Definitely book your time for the Washington Monument. If you went to the zoo early, you could pick a time after that for the monument, maybe after lunch. Visit museums in the afternoon. We haven't been to the Spy or Holocaust museums (trip was before they opened) but a word about the other two Smithsonians--they're huge and one could spend hours and hours. Maybe just pick sections that really interest you and cover those, otherwise time will really get away.

There are bus tours to Mt Vernon but I think they take most of the day. I'd rent a car and go early. There's a lot to see in addition to the house tour and you can wander around on your own. Then you can come back and visit Arlington Cemetery. We took the tourmobile around and it saves a lot of time and walking. Try to be there for a changing of the guard ceremony for your boys to see--very moving and patriotic.

Washington is a beautiful city and I hope you have a great time!
texasjo is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 02:33 AM
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Than you for such great advice! It's really coming together nicely now. How about this schedule:

Tue - Moonlight Monuments tour
Wed - Capitol, Library of Congress, Air & Space Museum & IMAX
Thur - White House, American History Museum, Spy Museum (I made 5 pm reservations)
Fri - Washington Monument, paddle boats, Holocaust Museum, baseball game
Sat - (rent a car) Mt. Vernon 8 am, Arlington Cemetery, Natural History Museum (it's open until 7:30 in the summer) and stay for the Star Trek movie
Sun - zoo and a last look around the monuments (our flight doesn't leave until 5:30 pm)
BarbaraS is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 02:57 AM
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BarbaraS,

To me your itinerary looks fine. If I may add three comments--the first being that timed-entry passes are needed for the permanent exhibit at the Holocaust Museum, so that might factor into your day. The second is, assuming you're taking Metro to the Zoo, exit at the Cleveland Park station and walk downhill to the Zoo, and then when leaving the Zoo continue downhill to the Woodley Park/Zoo station. The Zoo is roughly between those stations. And finally, the cafe at the American Indian Museum, which you will pass coming from the Library of Congress en route to Air and Space, is far better than the cafe at Air and Space.

Have fun!
fourfortravel is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 03:38 AM
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Those are excellent tips! Another option is to keep the rental car for the second day, so you can check out of the hotel before you go to the zoo and keep your luggage in the trunk instead of going back to the hotel for it, then drop the car off at the airport. The zoo has parking lots.
Anonymous is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 04:21 AM
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When you go the Smithsonian museums and the Library of Congress (especially the LOC), try to catch one the the free docent-led tours. The docents are usually history or museum buffs plus they go through weeks of training, so they really know their stuff. You can join a tour or drop out of one anytime. We get 100% more out of our visits through these tours. They are terrific.
Devonmcj is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 09:54 AM
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Your itin is shaping up nicely. No need to change anything.

Have fun.
coolcamden is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 10:55 AM
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Your plan looks good. If anything changes (like no White House passes), you might want to go to Ford's Theatre. Check the website. This was a "must see" on our daughter's list. The tour is not long and it's free. Hope the museum is reopened if you go--it's very good.
texasjo is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 11:59 AM
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Thanks for posting your fine itinerary. I will use it as a blueprint!
azzure is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 01:35 PM
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Great!! Now I'm getting really excited. Before it seemed a little bit overwhelming. I really appreciate all the great suggestions.

I'll definitely get busy and make some more timed reservations. Good info on the zoo. I like the tip about lunch at the American Indian Museum. I'll keep the Ford's Theater in mind if we get some time.

I did have a question about renting the car. Would it be better to take the metro to Reagan and rent the car at the airport, so we don't have to drive in the city? I'm thinking I would just rent it to go to Mt. Vernon and Arlington and then return it so that I don't have to pay parking at the hotel.

Thanks!
BarbaraS is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 02:04 PM
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Depends on what's convenient to your hotel, it might not be worthwhile to hassle with the airport rental office. All of the major rental agencies also have offices at Union Station, and most of them have small offices scattered around downtown. Since you're renting on a weekend, driving in the city won't be bad, and you might be even able to find overnight on-street parking.
Anonymous is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 08:11 PM
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1. If you do rent a car at National Airport, you'll have an easy straight shot down the GW Parkway to Mt. Vernon.

2. Since Ford's Theatre re-opened, you can't just walk in to take a look at the theatre anymore. All admissions to tour the theatre are by timed ticket. (Is this sounding familiar?) Also, I haven't heard of an opening date for the museum yet.
longhorn55 is offline  
May 9th, 2009, 08:50 PM
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After looking at the various Moonlight Monuments tours and checking recommendations of others, we chose the Grayline tour for the more comfortable (and air conditioned) coaches. (Though your kids may enjoy a trolley tour, despite the hard seats that are slippery.)

At any rate, I think the guide makes all the difference, and ours was fantastic - full of knowledge and also very amusing. Totally charming with a great personality!
djkbooks is offline  
May 10th, 2009, 01:29 AM
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Personally I would rent from National Airport. There may be road closures due to events downtown that can surprise (and frustrate) you; and as Longhorn said, it's a straight drive from the airport to Mt. Vernon along the parkway.

Another couple notes about Natural History. We learned, ahem, the hard way last night that although the museum is open late, the main cafe closed at 5:30. And, I would get movie tickets in advance, either online or in person.
fourfortravel is offline  

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