Washington DC

Washington DC – The Wildly Popular Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors

by on February 28, 2017

One of the additional displays with a long line in the background

In case you missed the announcement, TouringPlans.com now covers Washington, D.C. as a destination. The city’s various attractions and touring style really lends itself to proper planning and that was no more evident than on my visit this past weekend to the Hirshhorn Museum to see the new exhibit Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors.

Yayoi Kusama is an 87 year old Japanese artist who has been displaying her work in the United States (and globally) for 60 years. She tends to like polka dots and soft sculptures in her sometimes eccentric art, but Infinity Mirrors is an exhibit that even the artistically-challenged (which I sometimes can be) can love.

Let’s ask some important questions:

So What Is It?

Okay, here we go.

The basic premise of the exhibit is simple: There are 5 small rooms within the gallery that are completely lined with mirrors. Within the room are various objects that help give you the impression that you are in a vast landscape–what that landscape’s effect is varies with the room.

In addition to the rooms themselves, there were side displays, smaller infinity boxes, and room-filling atmospheric installations. It’s easier to show than to tell:

Infinity Room #1 — Phalli’s Field

This room contained thousands of the phallic soft sculptures that Kusama loves to use. It is probably the least photogenic, but one of my favorites to stand in. The effect of the sea of soft sculptures was actually very pleasant and I’m not going to go into a psychological examination about standing in a phallus field.

Infinity Room #2 — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away

My favorite concept, although I didn’t love the execution as much. The hanging lights were a beautiful effect (although I did hit my face off of them more than once), but they flashed an pulsed almost continuously. I would have preferred a more gradual change than a strobe effect, but I am also not exactly artistic so what do I know?

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TouringPlans Now Offers Full, Detailed Coverage of Washington, D.C.

by on February 13, 2017

Today is the day! We have been teasing full coverage of Washington, D.C. for a while now, and it is finally here. What we are offering you, our beloved reader, is complete coverage of every major museum in America’s capital city, as well as minor museums, monument, and diversions. As you probably expect if you’re familiar with TouringPlans, the detail we’ve amassed on everything — especially major attractions like the Air and Space Museum — is incredible. We even have full details about the relatively new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

It’s not just attractions, however, as we also walk you through riding the Metro (subway system) and give you our top recommendations on where to stay, where to eat, and the best spots for nightlife. We are still working on full Washington, D.C. Touring Plans, but you may find our 2017 Washington Crowd Calendar helpful as you plan your trip to this wonderful city.

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Christmas in Washington, D.C.

by on December 21, 2016

Your guest author Phil and some bloke he met at the airport. I won’t tell you which is which.

The below is a guest post from Phil Cronin. The new year will bring about a new aspect of TouringPlans.com: coverage of Washington, D.C., our first non-theme park destination. Come back for that, but for now enjoy Christmas in D.C.

Like most people, when I think of Christmas, I think of Washington, D.C. Wait…what? Don’t be shocked–there are many free ways to get the holiday spirit in Our Nation’s Capital.

National Christmas Tree

Since 1923, the National Christmas Tree has been on the Ellipse on the south side of the White House.  The tree is lit from 4:30 PM until 10 PM each night until New Year’s Day.

Next to the National Tree is the Pathway of Peace, which has 56 smaller trees representing DC, states, and territories of the United States.  Each is decorated with handmade ornaments by a group from that district/state/territory.

Going around the National Tree are toy trains.  Folks toss coins into the trains and the money is donated to local charities.  Bring some change for the kiddies.

From December 7th to the 22nd, there are nightly 30-minute musical performances.  

The Pathway of Peace is open from 10 AM daily.  This is a chance to see the trees and trains without crowds.  All activities are free.  Since everything is on the south side of the White House, the Smithsonian Metro stop is the closest.

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Washington DC: National Museum of African American History and Culture with Video

by on November 7, 2016

img_1213-2A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit the brand new National Museum of African American of History and Culture (NMAAHC) — the latest of the many Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. The very short version is that I loved it; I was very impressed with the content and the layout.

Of course, I’m not here to give you the short version. I have a lot of thoughts about…well, everything. I even have a slick video (if I do say so myself) at the bottom if you’d like to see the museum in motion.

For now, however, let us start at the beginning…

Getting Tickets and Getting In

The overwhelming popularity of the NMAAHC led the Smithsonian to give out timed entry passes for the September 2016 opening. The passes went so quickly that they expanded them out a few months. Then, those flew off the proverbial shelves too, leading to the African American Museum being the hottest ticket in D.C. If you visit the museum’s website as I write this, tickets are gone through March 2017 and April through June are not yet available.

img_1216-2The passes are free, just like admission to the museum (and all Smithsonian museums), but you’re not getting in without one. The website says that same-day tickets are made available at 9:15am, but that’s not really the whole truth.

The day I visited the museum there was a long line of people standing in the rain. Before getting in the line I asked a worker if that was where I should be. It turns out that was the line for same-day tickets. By dumb chance I had two extra tickets, and was introduced to my two new family members–the two at the front of the same-day line.

Yes, that’s correct, if you wait for same-day tickets (as the two women who entered with me had done since 7:30am) you have to hope that someone isn’t using some of their entry passes. Hardly an ideal system. Once you get in the ticketed patron line everything moves as usual: ticket scan, security, entrance.

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We Need Your Feedback On A New Touring Plans Design!

by on October 21, 2016

As many of you know, we will be soon branching out into our very first non-theme park location: Washington, D.C. It is an exciting time for us as we bring our capabilities and tools to America’s capital. With this expansion, we are looking at new designs for the Touring Plans that will be available for D.C. and–since we have the most intelligent users of anyone–we would like your feedback.

The below is *very early* example of what we’re thinking about doing. This is actually part of Phase 2 of our Washington, D.C. rollout, so don’t expect to see it until 2017. Also, please (please!) keep in mind that this is not the final product and we know that it’s not perfect.

unnamedNaturally, we would love your opinion on any part of it, but here is what we would specifically like to hear about:

  1. Do you feel like the layout displays the right amount of information in an easy to read manner? Is there anything displayed that you find unimportant?
  2. Do you like the idea of expandable information via popup box (like the “Recommended Tour” box in the example)?
  3. Which of the following method of optimization would you prefer:
    1. Minimize Walking: If you want to see several exhibits in one room, the optimizer would always tell you to see everything in one room before moving on to another one.
    2. Full Optimization: The optimizer would always pick the most time-efficient plan, even if that means re-visiting one room multiple times. This one would not likely happen often, but in museums were there are very popular displays it is possible.

Thank you in advance for your input. This is the best way for us to mold our products to you and we appreciate your involvement.

Washington DC: How to Attend the Presidential Inauguration

by on September 28, 2016

Rope drop Inaugural-Style

Rope drop Inaugural-Style

This post was written by Phil Cronin, who worked on both of President Bill Clinton’s inaugurations. Enjoy!

“Marvin, what do we do now?”-Robert Redford as Senator-Elect Bill McKay in The Candidate. The answer is, Constitutionally, you take the oath of office and socially, you have a celebration. Or an Inauguration.

Constitutionally, the new president takes the oath of office at Noon on January 20th. That part is organized by Congress. Socially, there will be, if history is a guide, a parade, Inaugural Balls, concerts, a day of service, and other events organized by the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) established by the winning candidate. And you’re invited. Sort of.

Congress has a website for Inaugural information. There is not much information about the 2017 Inaugural, but it will give you a sense of what happens that day.

Map of 2013 Inauguration

Map of 2013 Inauguration

The Swearing-In

To attend the swearing-in, you get tickets from your Member of Congress. Each office receives a limited number of tickets they are free to distribute as they see fit. Most will hold a random drawing. Many states coordinate the drawing across their entire Congressional Delegation to ensure they maximize the number of people who can attend.

These tickets are for standing. There are seats, but they are reserved for guests of the First Family, Electoral College Electors, Dignitaries, and other VIPs. Pictured is a map from the 2013 Inaugural (which has been the same for the last few Inaugurals) showing the ticketed areas.

To put things in perspective, in 2013, approximately 1 million attended the second Obama/Biden Inaugural (1.8 million attended the first Obama/Biden Inaugural in 2009). And Congress had 240,000 tickets to distribute. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket, your vantage point may be less than ideal. Pictured is the view my family had in 2013 with South Standing Area tickets, and arriving at the Capitol at about 7:30 AM, a full 4 hours before the ceremony began.

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Washington DC: Bureau of Engraving and Printing Tour

by on September 14, 2016

IMG_0443 (2)Everyone wants to make money, right? Well at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing you can learn how to REALLY make money. Lots of it. All you need is millions of dollars in equipment, special paper, special ink, and the go-ahead from the U.S. government. Hmmm, maybe you’re better off just taking the tour of the building that makes it for you…but doesn’t give any to you. Sorry.

What is the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

In short, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) is one of two locations (Ft Worth, TX since you asked) allowed to print U.S. paper currency (no coins are produced here). They operate at the will of the Federal Reserve, who regulates the amount of currency in circulation. The BEP prints literally billions of dollars per year. Yes, they have stringent security in place.

Tour Times and Getting Tickets

20160630_094120Tours are available Monday through Friday only. It is also closed between Christmas and New Year’s and there are no tourson U.S. Federal holidays either, so make sure you check a calendar when you’re planning to visit.

The good news is that tours are free, however, the hours and the method of entry differs based on the season, so let’s split this up.

Off-Season

The off season is late August through early March–this winter that’s August 29 through March 6, 2017. During that period no tickets are necessary at all, simply walk up and get on the next available tour. Tours run every 15 minutes between the hours of 9:00am – 10:45am and 12:30pm – 2:00pm. Groups of 10 or more can reserve tour times between the hours of 11:00am and 12:15pm.

Peak Season

Touring the BEP is a little trickier during the busy times, which are any dates not listed above–for 2017 that will be March 7 through August 28. Tickets are necessary and are distributed beginning at 8am from the ticket booth on Raoul Wallenburg Place (formerly 15th St SW). The day I did this tour, people began lining up around 7am, although tickets did not “sell out” for several hours.

Tours are available from 9:00am – 11:00am and 12:30pm – 6:00pm and you get to choose your tour time when you pick up your ticket. The person in the ticket booth uses a simple but effective method. They have stacks of tickets for each time slot pre-printed and cards displaying each time on their window. When they run out of a certain time’s ticket, they remove the card from the window. All you have to do is pick a time that’s displayed, tell them how many, and claim your prize.

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Washington DC: Fast Casual Restaurants

by on September 6, 2016

The concept of “fast casual” dining is certainly not new–basically fast food, but theoretically higher quality. However, I had not been aware of fast casual restaurants until recently. I think the combination of the catchy name for the concept and the growth of these types of places has combined to make them so hot right now.

On my last research trip to Washington, D.C. I decided to try a few of the many fast casual restaurants in the city. The idea is perfect for the touring family: fast meals, good quality, lower cost. Here are the four that we sampled:

I will add a caveat here that I am not a food critic, nor did I take nearly enough photos of these places. Therefore, I am only doing a brief overview of each establishment. In the very near future we will begin running more in-depth dining reviews–let us know if you have any requests.

20160701_181913District Taco

District Taco is a small, local chain that specializes in…wait for it…you’ll be shocked…tacos! They have locations in Washington at Dupont Circle, Eastern Market, and Metro Center and in Virginia at N. Arlington, Alexandria, Dunn Lorig, and Rosslyn. We visited the one in Rosslyn, the section of Arlington, VA nearest D.C., because that is where our hotel was. District Taco reminds me of a cross between a southern California taco shop and Chipotle; it’s basic tacos, but customizable. You can select your type of shell, meat, and toppings.

The tacos I tried were the chorizo (pictured, with cilantro, sour cream, and veggies), carne asada, and pollo asado. Each was good, but not great. The quality of the ingredients was high, but I could tell that the protiens were sitting around for a little bit. That said, I still enjoyed them.

The tacos cost $3 each, and there are a few ways to increase the price–$0.75 extra for carnitas or any premium topping including bacon and guacamole. My 3 tacos and a water brought the price to around $12 with tax. That is certainly an acceptable price for what was an acceptable meal. I can’t necessarily say that you absolutely have to try District Taco, but I’ll eat there again.

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Washington, DC: International Spy Museum

by on August 10, 2016

IMG_0523 (2)A favorite with adults and children alike, the International Spy Museum is as advertised—a museum dedicated to the art, history, and glamour of spying. My family and I visited the Spy Museum on a recent trip to DC and, although Len did a great review in the Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C., I decided to tell you all about it and what it was like for us.

The International Spy Museum is located at 800 F St NW, right near the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Verizon Center, and many other hot tourist spots. It is easily accessible by public transportation, only a block away from the Gallery Place Metro Station (Red, Green, Yellow lines).

Getting In

I feel the need to begin at the entrance process, which I guess is beginning at the beginning. When you walk by you may notice a long line on the sidewalk and an even longer, switchbacking line inside. As intimidating as that is, it’s probably not as bad as it looks. The outside line is to buy tickets, which moves pretty quickly. (You can also buy tickets online in advance if you want, and skip this line.)

Unfortunately this is not free like many D.C. museums; the cost is $21.95 for anyone 12 and up, $14.95 for children age 7-11, and $15.95 for 65+, military, law enforcement, and fire department employees. Ages 6 and under are free, which is nice because around 7 is when they really start to “get” what the Spy Museum is about.

The larger line inside is how they space out visitors to the museum. The actual Spy Museum starts on the top floor and the only way up is via elevator. While the larger line is a pain, it moves regularly and it is worth it when you walk into the highly interactive first section with only 50 people instead of 500.

Covers and Legends

Speaking of interactive elements, the far-and-away best part about the Spy Museum is its interactivity, which begins once you exit the entry elevator into Covers and Legends. This room is full of alternate identities and guests are instructed to select one and memorize all the details associated with their new cover.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to take on the identity of a 13-year-old Mexican girl, a 37-year-old Chinese businessman, or any of the multitude of characters listed along the walls. You better remember your cover, there is a quiz!

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Holiday Inn Rosslyn: Family-Friendly Hotel Near Washington, DC

by on August 1, 2016

2016-04-01 at 20-13-10Our full coverage of Washington, D.C. will be coming in a few months (although you can read a lot of our opinions in the Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C.). In the meantime, I thought I should answer one of the common questions about D.C.: are there any reasonably-priced hotels that won’t require inoculations?

As you’ve probably guessed by the existence of this post, the answer is yes. I have stayed at the Holiday Inn Rosslyn at Key Bridge (full name) twice in the past few months, and have come away with quite a few thoughts. One of which is that this would be a great choice for families, but only if you get it at the right price.

Location

The location of this hotel is definitely a strength. Yes, it is not technically in Washington, nor is it technically in the same state as Washington. It is, however, as close as you can get to the tourist areas of D.C. without being in them–and paying the high cost of hotels in those areas. Briefly, the major tourist areas of Washington, D.C. are clustered around the 2 miles or so directly east of the Potomac River where the National Mall is.

One of the Metro (subway) lines that runs through this section–and the one that is the most convenient–is the Orange, Blue, Silver line, which are all the same line in this section. As the Orange, Blue, Silver trains leave D.C. their first stop is the Rosslyn station, which is a mere 2 blocks from the Holiday Inn.

This is a long-winded way of saying that you can be in the heart of the city with a mere 5 minute walk and 10 minute subway ride. That’s not bad for interstate travel.

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