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Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

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Dallas, Tx
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Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

There will be eight of us in DC for a week before during and just after Christmas. The kids ages are 3, 9, 14, 16, 18 and 20 (all boys). One important suggestion from this board that I have taken to heart is that we would not try to do several Smithsonians in one day as they all start to feel the same. It is better (according to the advice) to "mix it up" with a variety of types of sites each day with time for swimming and maybe movies included. Anyway, I find the idea of doing a wide variety of types of activities in one day very appealing. (Hopefully not jumping all over D.C. geographically in order to do so) The DC attractions that interest us are:

U.S. Capitol

Library of Congress

Supreme Court

Postal Museum

Union Station

Smithsonian Castle

Hirshhorn

(opt.) Botanic (Is it indoors?)

Air and Space

American Indian

National Gallery Art/Ice Rink

Natural History

Mount Vernon

Old Town Alexandria

*Would have said White House but I don't think we'll be able to get a tour--but I do want to see the National Christmas Tree.

Bureau E&P

Holocaust

Vietnam Mem.

Lincoln Mem.

WWII Mem.

Jefferson Mem.

Washington Mon.

Old Post Office

National Archives

FBI

Ford's /Lincoln/Peterson

Spy Museum

American Art/Portrait

Cathedral

Zoo (opt. for indoor exhibits)

What I need is someone that understands how long we would want to stay at some of these places combined with how long it takes to commute (walk, metro) from place to place to give me an idea of what one day's activities might look like pulling from the list I have provided. When we visited in '95 and "96 I think we hit all Smithsonian types of places in one day and that was too much. I need someone to help me with putting together a good mix of places/activities for a day.

If you dare to tackle this one (even for one day's itenerary) I thank you.!

Readaloud

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1. Re: Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

The best thing to do is to grab a map and plot out all the sites you want to see. You can get a decent map from your local AAA office, or download one from the internet. Then cluster the key sites to minimize walking distances and Metro rides.

How long you want to stay at each site depends on their attention spans. If they're anything like me, they could spend an entire day at the National Air and Space Museum with all of its exhibits, 3-D movies, and shops (and another full day at the Annex out near Dulles), and skip the Holocaust Museum altogether - it has little connection to our American history and it's too depressing for a Christmas visit. I'd also dump the Hirshhorn (too much weird art) and the portrait gallery (too boring), in the interest of keeping the boys entertained and engaged.

And if you're staying someplace convenient like the Holiday Inn, you can simply walk or Metro back to the hotel and its rooftop pool when they're ready.

Dallas, Tx
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2. Re: Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

drwong,

I think you are really on to something. I had my doubts about both of the places you mentioned for almost the same reasons! Actually, we have a fantastic holocaust museum in Dallas that we can go to anytime. I WOULD like to stay more focused on American History. I think I was getting a little too influenced by guidebooks that claim "if you choose only one art museum make it the Hirshhorn" even though it sounded like a museum that would not normally be our taste.

I still would like for someone to give me a sample day to help me get started planning the days. If our congressman come through with some tours (let's say FBI) I will adjust the order of days to fit the congressional tour schedule.

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3. Re: Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

I guess you haven't read the previous postings on this forum about the FBI tours! (You can use the forum search function - you might also look at previous trip reports to get an idea of what other parents have done - search for "clustering," "teens," and other key words).

Dallas, Tx
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4. Re: Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

Got it! No FBI tours! I requested so many tours from my congressman I just assumed FBI was on the list. Too bad! That ( and the Museum of American History-which will be closed) was one of my favorite places when I last visited DC.

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5. Re: Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

Swimming in December? Hope the pool’s heated!

I alos hope this post isn’t too long-winded, but by telling you all this information, it will provide me with a better understanding as well—so I guess you’ll just have to suffer with it!

You’ve got a great list here—it includes everything I have on my list for the week-long trip I’m planning for October. The only ommissions I see are the National Geographic Museum, and the National Arboretum.

Judging from your additional comments, which have come since I started writing this post, it looks like you’ve done a lot of homework. I’ll just go ahead and say something you probably already know—All of these venues have an internet website, which is easily accessed through Google (for example, National Zoo washington dc), and there are links here at TripAdvisor as well. Many of these websites tell you exactly how much time you’ll want to devote, as well as tour schedules. I think docent-led tours are the best bet, because they are the most interactive, fun, and educational. I’ve learned in traveling, that it’s a good idea to take a “highlights” tour, before wandering aimlessly through a particular venue. You can jot down notes of the exhibits that interest you; then go back later and spend more time there.

The most time-saving thing you can do, and which apparently you’ve done already, is pre-arrange your tour tickets/reservations at the places that require it. For example, the National Archives, where the Constitution, Declaration Of Independence, etc. are housed, is a MUST SEE tour, but you will have to wait in a line to get on a tour—UNLESS you write ahead at least six weeks in advance to reserve a space. Of all I have learned to this point, the National Archives is definitely a “starting point”, and once you know when your reservation is, you can build the rest of your schedule around it. Others have said the White House is off-limits in December, so you don’t have to worry about touring that. I also wrote my Congressman about a Pentagon tour, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

The Washington Monument offers advance ticket purchases online. The Capitol building offers tickets on a first come/first serve basis, starting at 9am each day, so you already know that you better be in line by 8:30 (or possible earlier?) on one of your mornings. I read that you CANNOT send one person alone to get tickets—ALL members of your group must be there to obtain a ticket. Perhaps during the busy Christmas period, you’ll have to arrive even earlier to stand in line—I don’t know. But you WILL have to devote one early morning to getting those tickets, if you wish to tour the Capitol building. Otherwise, it’s a long cold wait outside to get in. Personally, I intend to grab a bagel or breakfast sandwich at the deli on that day, and eat breakfast while I stand in line.

The Supreme Court is another one of those places where you have to wait in line in the morning for limited seating, and not everyone gets in. So if you wish to sit in on arguments in the Supreme Court, you won’t likely be able to do that on the same day as a Capitol Building tour, even though they are located next to each other on the East side of the Mall.

One thing to also be aware of—some places have restrictions on bringing backpacks, cameras, etc. Make sure you know about these rules ahead of time. You don’t want to be turned away at the door, because you brought something in you weren’t supposed to. This is especially important at high security places like the Capitol Building and Washington Monument. The Supreme Court apparently has lockers to store cameras, backpacks, etc.

Only you know what your family will want to see the most—drwong mentioned that the Air/Space Museum is the best, and that the Art Museums are boring, but I read a summary from another traveler who was surprised at how much her children loved the Art Museums, and how little interest they had in the Air/Space Museum. Again, that’s why “highlights” tours can really help to determine what your group wishes to see. You made a great point about how dangerous it is to rely on someone else’s opinion—you read a “must see” review of the Hirschorn, but you and the reviewer probably didn’t share the same tastes.

One place that seems to be getting remarkably high marks, is the International Spy Museum. I will be traveling alone, so I don’t think a place like this will appeal to me. But from what I have read, a group of boys would have a blast there, pretending to be spies, following a trail of clues, and chasing each other around the place. Boys might also especially like the FBI building, which is close-by. Why not make a morning or afternoon of “cops & robbers”, by scheduling both together. UPDATE—I just checked the FBI website, and like you and drwong both mentioned, the tour is not offered right now, probably due to 9/11. It might be available in December—then again it might not.

I think it’s a matter of priorities; there are some places you will want to visit no matter what—the Memorials & Monuments on the Mall, the National Archives, the Capitol building. One thing to keep in mind—many places are closed on Christmas Day, so you will want to schedule that day carefully.

One thing that I think many people miss, is planning “Nightlife” activities. Almost everything on your list “shuts down” by 5:30 pm. You go to dinner after that, but what do you do in the evening? Personally, with so many other opitons, I would consider a movie theater as a last resort. I would much prefer seeing a play, attending a concert, or some other one-of-a-kind event. Perhaps you have sports fans in your group, who wish to take in a Hockey/Basketball game at the Verizon (MCI) Center, or a football game at FEDEX Field. Of course, for you and your large group, plays, concerts, and pro sports can get pricey. Some of the older kids might really enjoy a stand-up comedy act over in Georgetown. One stage play I think your family would love that might not be too expensive, and is very family-friendly, is at the Ford Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated. The Ford Theater is operated by the National Park Service, so there is a museum tour and interpretive talk along with it--you might want to consider the Ford Theater for an evening activity. I think the Kennedy Center will offer free evening concerts during the Christmas Season, so a tour of their grounds, coupled with an evening concert of Christmas carols might be nice. The National Cathedral might have something as well.

As you familiarize yourself with these websites, take note of their Calendar of Events—there might be a particular event or activity, offered at a particular time, that you wish to attend. For example, the National Cathedral has something on their schedule that interests me everyday, but realistically, I can only spend a few hours there, so I had to decide which event mattered the most, and build the rest of my itinerary around it, based on the day it was offered.

YOUR TOUR PLANS WILL DEPEND A LOT MORE ON THE TIMING OF SPECIAL EVENTS YOU WISH TO ATTEND, AND LESS ON THE CLOSE PROXIMITY TO OTHER VENUES.

Please also remember, above all else, this is a VACATION, and not a marathon race; please don’t overprogram your family, or develop such a strict itinerary, that you end up letting it dictate your fun. 75% of everything you want to see, is on the National Mall, so walking to and from each venue is really not an issue. In fact, after spending time in a stuffy museum, it might be nice to have a walk across the Mall to your next destination. And don’t be afraid to break schedule—you might get to a point where you’ve “had enough”, and that’s when it’s time to do something completely out of the blue, like going to Union Station or Georgetown for some shopping, or back to the hotel for some downtime. You can always pick up where you left off at a later date.

Choose the highest interest activities, and build around them. If you have time to see other things, great; if not, that’s okay too. Plan something for the AM, then at lunch, sit down and ask “what do we want to do this afternoon? What interests us the most?” And don’t worry so much about “grouping” activities that are in close proximity to each other. For me, those times I am traveling away from the Mall may be the best of all, because riding the Metro will be like a Disneyland ride—at least I think it will! I’m from the West Coast, so using a subway intrigues me. If I have to travel around a bit more to see what I want to see, well that’s just part of the fun!

That said, there are definitely some “high priority” attractions you can group together:

Monuments/Memorials—west side of the Mall (don’t forget a nighttime visit as well, to see them lit up!) I can’t imagine devoting less than a half-day to these, especially since you’re going to be there a week. And the time you schedule this tour, will largely depend on your ticket time for the Washington Monument. Weather will also be a factor, as these are all outdoors.

Mount Vernon will probably take several hours, including travel-time out there. I am planning my visit for later in the afternoon, because it’s supposedly less crowded. Then I can take in an early supper at the inn, after the rest of the place closes, before heading back. Again, weather will be a factor at Mt. Vernon.

The Zoo, Kennedy Center, National Arboretum, and the National Cathedral are also “off the beaten track”, and will require extra time simply to get to and from these places.

Union Station/Postal Museum—they’re right next to each other, away from the Mall a bit, so why not do them both at the same time? Personally, I’m not into shopping, so other than to look at the architecture, I won’t be spending much time there. I inherited a stamp collection, but it doesn’t interest me, so the Postal Museum is not “high priority” for me either. But perhaps you and your wife will want to do some Christmas shopping at Union Station, while you send the boys to a movie.

I also agree with drwong about the Holocaust Museum, and I would include Arlington Cemetery in the same category. Unless you have a real reason for taking in these depressing places, why bother? The only thing that interests me, is watching the colorguard wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. But if you’ve seen a map of Arlington Cemetery, The Tomb of the Unknowns is way in the back, a good mile from the Visitor Center. Arlington in general is so spread out, you have to ask yourself if you really want to devote that much walking time at this venue—this is the only place I can see it would be worth it to pay $$$ for a tour bus to cart you around. But is wandering amongst gravesites really the sort of acitivity you wish to do? Especially after taking in all the Memorials on the mall? Of course, in the dead (no pun intended!) of winter, the gravesites might all be under a blanket of snow anyway.

In conclusion, drwong had the best advice—obtain a map and familiarize yourself with the area. There are tons of options for printing out small area maps—Google Maps comes to mind. I’m building a small notebook of these printed out “mini-maps”, complete with written notations about Metro Stations, places of interest, etc. The DC Metro website also has mini-maps which highlight points of interest around the Metro Stations.

First, start with the MetroRail System map of the entire grid, to determine which stations are located in the areas you wish to visit:

http://www.wmata.com/tripplanner/maps.cfm

Then, go to the stations themselves

http://www.wmata.com/metrorail/stations.cfm

and just click on any station you want. You’ll see a link for “Neighborhood Street Map from Stationmasters Online”

Click on a link, and print out the well-designed maps to add to your notebook.

A map of the Circulator bus is also a good tool to have as well:

http://www.dccirculator.com/map.pdf

For some of the venues, like National Cathedral and National Arboretum, you’ll have to take a Metrobus too. You might end up wanting to take a taxi to the Kennedy Center, Georgetown, and National Cathedral, rather than dealing with the bus system.

Bottom line—as I mentioned before, 75% of everything is on the National Mall, located fairly close together. Of course, you wouldn’t want to plan an itinerary where you’re heading to the Supreme Court Building, then the Jefferson Memorial, then Library of Congress, then the Lincoln Memorial, but a good map will help you make the obvious choices. And when it’s time to change venues, a brisk walk outdoors, or an exciting subway or bus ride will be a refreshing interlude between your activities. Follow the whims and desires of the group, rather than a “carved in stone” itinerary, based on “close proximity”.

Wow! This vacation doesn’t sound as complicated as I thought it would be!

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6. Re: Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

PS--with such an age range in your children--good luck keeping everyone happy! ;-)

Arlington, Virginia
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7. Re: Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

Hi Readaloud:

Based on your idea of mixing things up, I've come up with the following possibilities. Of course, not knowing your exact dates, some of these things will need to be moved around due to closures for the holidays or inclement weather - like if you see it's going to be 50 degrees one day - make that your big outdoor day. If you see it's going to snow another day - plan to spend more time indoors, etc.

Day 1

National Archives

Old Post Office (you can have lunch there and get a good view of the city so you can feel situatued)

Walk by WH/see Christmas tree

Natural History

Day 2

U.S. Capitol

Union Station (lunch)

Postal Museum

Day 3

Library of Congress

Supreme Court

Air and Space

National Gallery Art/Ice Rink

Day 4

Mount Vernon (lunch)

Old Town Alexandria (dinner)

Day 5 (consider taking a tourmobile or Old Town Trolley if it's in your budget)

Bureau E&P

Washington Mon.

Vietnam Mem.

Lincoln Mem.

WWII Mem.

Jefferson Mem.

Day 6

Ford's /Lincoln/Peterson

Spy Museum (lots of places to have lunch around here)

American Art/Portrait (personally I think it's a great museum)

Day 7

National Cathedral

Smithsonian Castle

American Indian

Botanical Gardens (yes, it's indoors)

Personally, Day 7 is all optional to me as everyone's interests are different. You may want to consider going back to a couple places like Natural History or Air and Space or the National Gallery where you didn't spend enough time a previous day.

Hope this helps!

Dallas, Tx
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8. Re: Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

GoN2DC,

Thank you for the time you spent replying and all the excellent advice!

A few comments: we visited D.C. when the older boys were small. Even the older two remember very little. Based on that visit we already determined not to visit Arlington Cemetary. I had looked forward to that more than you can know but somehow even the changing of the guard was not the thrill we expected it to be. Sacreligious, I know! Anyway, we determined then that would not be something we would likely ever do again.

Swimming--hoping we have an indoor, heated pool. I remember how great that felt on our feet after a long day of walking. The younger boys in particular would enjoy that more than anything else we would do.

Mount Vernon is actually open Christmas Day. Might do that...

Professional Sports--considering a Hockey game (tickets as Christmas gift) Some team (don't remember which) has a game on the 27th--we're considering... Family is HUGE into hockey! Even have a player...

"Christmas Crowds"--somewhere I have picked up the idea that the week before Christmas should not be crowded. From what I understand the crowds start coming in after Christmas close to the time we will be heading out of town.

Movies--never underestimate how much a good movie can cheer up a teenage boy especially the one (Mr. Hockey) who is not into history and will have endured Williamsburg even before we get to D.C. I considered the Christmas Carol play at Ford's Theater but I just think I must remember who it is I am with. I have to put some elements of "cool" into the vacation or risk a lot of eye rolling and older guys not wanting to vacation with the family any longer. Movies, hockey game, dining at ESPN, swimming--these are the kinds of things with which I want to balance out all the touring.

Anyway, lots of great advice. Thanks again for all you put into it!

Dallas, Tx
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9. Re: Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

mopsydog,

Oh, my gosh! Thank you !! You have helped so much! This is just the kind of thing I was hoping for!!! You have given me something to work off of and that will make planning so much easier! Thank you , thank you, thank you!!!!

Arlington, Virginia
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10. Re: Anyone brave enough to tackle this one?

Readaloud:

Glad to help.

A few food suggestions...

If you make it to the National Cathedral, consider having lunch at Two Amys (3715 Macomb St. NW) - it's just a few blocks away and they have excellent pizza - and delicious donuts on weekends!

Another choice would be Cactus Cantina (3300 Wisconsin Ave. NW) for Tex Mex (but you can probably get alot of that in Dallas)

Near the Spy Museum, I'd recommend Austin Grill, but again, it's got Texas in the name, so instead, there's a Hard Rock Cafe (10th and E) or the ESPN Zone (12th and E) not too far away - this might be a good day for one of those.

Let us know which hotel you choose for more suggestions of nearby family-friendly places.