Side note: Bill grew up in the area and I've lived here over 15 years. I have never toured the White House before so this was a big deal to me since I love history.
Bill, on the other hand, used to work for a special events company and has decorated: the White House for special events including Christmas; the National Christmas Tree which isn't so fun because it's usually freezing cold out then; and inaugural balls which he then got to attend to make sure nothing went wrong with the stage, lighting, etc. So a 30 minute, self guided tour of the White House in the cold of December was of no interest to him. Nothing like a tourism snob, right? : >D
Back to the tour. Bill agreed to stay home with Shane so that I could take the big kids to other museums after our tour. So I spent Monday laying out arctic expedition clothes for the kids and studying the map to make sure I knew exactly where to go. The rest of Bill's family was going to take the Metro and meet us at the WH. - You can't take anything but your phone and car keys into the WH. Not a purse or a camera. Totally stinks because you'd have to either leave your stuff in your car or if you're visiting from out of town, leave it all at your hotel and then go back to get your stuff so you can do more sightseeing after your tour. - I drove the kids down because we wanted to sightsee afterwards and I *must* take 1000's of pictures or I might shrivel up and die.
That morning: I had to stop to get cash and coffee which had us running about 20 minutes behind schedule. Then of course traffic was heavier than usual on the Parkway and I had a senior moment and couldn't remember which bridge I wanted to take into DC. As a result of all this I didn't have time to look for cheap parking and zoomed into the Reagan building which is about 2 1/2 blocks from the WH. It's a relatively secure building so I felt a little better about leaving my camera and purse in the car (under a pile of blankets and kid stuff). And off we went to the WH.
The only benefit to having tickets for a White House tour is that you don't have to stand in the long line and wait an indefinite amount of time to get in. Otherwise, you're seeing the same stuff everyone else is. If you're uber important, you may be able to score a guided tour, but I imagine those are hard to come by this time of year.
The inside was really beautiful. If you can see the WH during Christmas-time, definitely do. The rooms are decorated with elaborate and gorgeous decorations. They had a giant First Dog made out of chenille stems which was really cool. It's also fun to look at the portraits of past presidents to see which ones you know without looking at the name (yes, we're geeks).
They have some of the china on display and placards in different rooms so you can read a little about the history of the room - stuff like 'this was a billiard room during the Kennedy administration.' And then before we knew it, our tour was done.
Will we go to the trouble to do it again? Probably when the kids are older, but not anytime soon. It was very cool and I'm glad we did it. But it was a lot of planning and work to get the 4 of us down there on time while dressed for the insanely cold weather.
Afterwards we went to the White House Visitor's Center which we've been to before. The last time we were there it was all decorated for Christmas. This time it looked like they were just starting to get their decorations out. The kids did the Junior Ranger Program and earned their badge. Bill's dad, brother and sisters needed to head out so we were on our own from there.
We zipped back to the car to eat a snack, put on more comfy shoes and, of course, get my camera. The American History Museum reopened about 2 years ago and we STILL haven't been to it. So Tuesday was the day. The coolest thing on display is the original Star Spangled Banner that flew over Ft McHenry during the War of 1812. No pictures are allowed in that exhibit so you'll just have to trust me that it was pretty cool (for a geek).
In front of the National Museum of American History
There were tons of school groups there and they were not supervised very well - bands of kids running around with grown ups rushing to catch up with them, or worse, just sitting at the entrance of the exhibit making sure none of the kids escaped into the main part of the museum.
In front of a stuffed buffalo
We walked through most of the 1st and 2nd floors but after getting knocked into by running kids more than once, we decided to leave. We're studying ancient history this year for school so I didn't feel as pressed to see everything there.
Hank on the wind surfing simulator
On Monday when I was studying the map I noticed there is a Forestry Museum. Huh?? I never knew it was there. It's just across the mall from the American History Museum (AHM, the Wash. monument and the forestry museum form a triangle) so we marched onward.
The 'museum' is more like a vistor's center. Not very big but a few cool exhibits. The kids really enjoyed the animatronic Smokey the Bear.
Only YOU can prevent forest fires
It was like a trip down memory lane for me. They had Woodsy the Owl coloring sheets and Smokey the Bear comic books. Fun stuff!
Hank and the equipment to fight forest fires
Ella and the pollinators
We finished there and I thought I would surprise the kids by taking them to the National Aquarium. Not in Baltimore...the one in DC
The kids wanted their picture with the cool arch in the background. It was crazy windy and cold so it's not a great pic
In front of the Reagan building
For some reason I thought the National Aquarium was in the Reagan building so we stood in line to show our picture ID, plunk all our bags, coats, etc onto the conveyor belt and then walk through the metal detector only to find out it's in the Commerce building across the street.
We got our coats back on and risked our lives crossing the street so we could show our picture ID, plunk all our bags, coats, etc onto the conveyor belt and then walk through the metal detector to head to the basement where the aquarium is.
In front of one of the exhibits
The concierge at the Reagan building told us that it's a small aquarium and that it's undergoing renovations. I think he wanted us to be prepared for the fact that it's really small and a little underwhelming. The aquarium has a TV commercial about their jelly fish exhibit and you (at least I did) get the impression that it's a sizeable exhibit. Um, no. We're talking 50 gallon fish tank.
BUT, it's inexpensive to get in- $9 for adults vs $30 at the aquarium in Baltimore. I think because it's tucked in the basement of the Commerce building it doesn't get a lot of traffic which is nice. There were probably 15-20 other people there but we didn't feel cramped when viewing cool stuff or rushed to move on which is a complaint I've heard about the Balt aquarium.
I have no idea why Ella is making that face, but it made me laugh so now you get to see it too
We got to see them feed the alligators which happens just once or twice a week. Very cool. They eat frozen mice that are thawed so they look a little slimey. Because there weren't that many of us there, we all got a front row seat. The alligators were babies so they weren't very big, but the SNAP that their jaw made when they bit down was skeery. I don't ever want an alligator to bite me.
Then we got to watch them feed the snakes - who also ate thawed mice. They only eat once or twice a month so it was a real treat to be there for that. Ah.maze.ing to watch them unhinge their jaw and swallow the mouse whole. I dislike snakes with every ounce of my being but I have to say that was really cool. The kids loved it and started asking for a pet snake - um, no way, Jose.
Will we go again? You know, we probably will. I think Shane would enjoy it and that the older kids would enjoy seeing it again. It's more like a nature center in terms of size, but they have cool exhibits and the staff was very friendly and knowledgeable. The guys wandering the floor were very happy to answer the many questions Ella and Hank had for them. And the price was very reasonable; it cost less than $30 for all 4 of us to get in. Not too bad at all.
After we finished there, we headed home from our fun and exciting adventure!