"" Writer's Wanderings: Planning for D.C.? Tips for the Trip

Monday, September 20, 2010

Planning for D.C.? Tips for the Trip

Please welcome my daughter-in-law, Lori, as guest blogger today. She has some great tips on planning a trip to Washington, D.C.

This past February our son’s 2nd grade class did a unit about national monuments. Each night our son came home and shared with us a long forgotten fact: The Washington Monument is 555’ tall. The Lincoln Memorial has 36 columns around it, one for each state in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. There’s a tomb in the US Capitol but no one is buried in it. He really seemed to enjoy learning about the monuments, so we decided to take the kids to Washington DC to see some of our nation’s monuments in person.

I started researching our trip in March, thinking maybe we’d go for a long weekend over Memorial Day. As I started to research our destinations, I quickly discovered a vacation to DC is not something you can plan in just a month or two if you want to actually go inside the buildings. A lot had changed since I visited with my 8th grade class! We adjusted our calendar and planned a Labor Day trip instead. Here are some things I discovered that visitors to Washington DC should know in advance:

Requests to tour the White House should be submitted through your member of Congress 3 to 6 months in advance. You will receive notification of your approval (or denial) 1 to 2 weeks before your requested visit date, so have back up plans in case you’re denied. (There are a limited amount of tickets for each day, so it is quite possible that you will be denied.) If you’re lucky enough to be approved for the self-guided tour, don’t plan on carrying anything extra with you that day – including your camera.

Requests to tour the US Capitol should be submitted through your member of Congress at least 30 days in advance. Our representatives had request forms for both the White House & US Capitol on their websites.

You must have tickets to enter the Washington Monument. Tickets are free, but not necessarily readily available. You can wait in line at the Visitor’s Center for tickets, but they frequently run out within an hour or two of opening and the line forms early. Your best bet is to order tickets online. There is a $1.50 convenience fee per ticket, but the cost was well worth it. The day we were there, the line at the Visitor’s Center was quite long, and the tour tickets for the entire day were gone by 10am.

You must have a timed-entry ticket to tour the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, depending on the month of your visit.

Many other sites around Washington offer tickets you can order online before your trip. Google each of your destination sites to verify their tour times and ticket availability. We found it convenient to pay a couple dollars per ticket in order to guarantee we got to see everything we wanted to see. By ordering the tickets, we were also able to select our own tour times and better plan our days.

As our kids marveled at the bird’s eye views of the White House, Jefferson Memorial, and US Capitol from the observation deck 500 feet up in the Washington Monument, I was glad I had taken a little extra time to plan their first visit to our nation’s capital.

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