A visit to Washington, DC should include a visit to Mt. Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington. It is conveniently located approximately 15 miles south of Washington, D.C. When you plan your visit however, schedule for a half day visit minimum, whether you join a tour group or drive down independently.
HOURS OF OPERATION
Mt Vernon opens at 9:00 AM daily, and closes at 4:00 PM or 5:00 PM depending on the time of year. Throughout the year Mt Vernon hosts a variety of special events on select days, including trick or treating, Christmas Illuminations, Mt Vernon by Candlelight, wine festivals, Independence Day, and more.
WHAT TO SEE / DO THERE
There is quite a bit to see while visiting Mt Vernon, which is why we recommend that you plan a half day trip for your visit. The estate includes the historic mansion, outbuildings, gardens, a working farm, two museums, heritage breed animals, and a majestic view of the Potomac River from the porch of the mansion.
The standard mansion tour is included in your admission. It includes the first and second floors where you will see the interiors that have been meticulously resorted to their 1799 appearance (the last year of George Washington's life).
The estate features four separate gardens for visitors to enjoy, as well as a wooded landscape on a quarter mile long forest trail.
There over a dozen outbuildings where many essential daily tasks took place, including laundry, spinning, meat curing and more. There are daily demonstrations in the blacksmith's shop.
You can also visit the tomb where George and Martha Washington, along with other family members, are interred. Every day there is a brief wreath-laying ceremony held at the home, to pay tribute to our first president.
There is still a working farm at Mt Vernon, located on 4 acres of the estate. It includes a replica of the 16-sided treading barn as well as a reconstructed slave cabin. These are only open between April 1 and October 1.
Apparently George Washington enjoyed his spirits. You can tour the fully-functioning reconstructions of his gristmill and whiskey distillery. These buildings are located about 2 1/2 miles from the estate's main entrance and are included in your admission price.
HOW TO ARRIVE
Typically most visitors arrive at Mt Vernon approaching the main entrance by car or bus. And those that are physically fit to do so can ride a bike to Mt Vernon. But our personal favorite is to arrive by boat. It is a relaxing, scenic way to get there. The boats can typically be boarded in Washington DC (at Pier 4 at 6th and Water Sts. SW), Alexandria (at the marina at Cameron and Union Streets), or National Harbor (at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel). The cost of the round trip boat trip also includes your admission to Mt Vernon.
At Mt Vernon you disembark at the wharf near the slave memorial, and farming demonstrations. It is a much less crowded approach to the estate. With the bulk of visitors approaching via the main entrance, especially during peak seasons, it can get quite crowded. When you approach from the Potomac River, you aren't fighting large crowds and can start your tour of the estate "going against the flow" of visitors coming through the main entrance.
The cost will depend somewhat on how you get to Mt Vernon. Going by tour bus or via boat, the admission is included in your transportation costs. If you drive yourself to Mt Vernon and do not pre-purchase tickets in advance, expect to pay $20 per adult and $12 per child (ages 6-11). Seniors (62+) can get a discounted rate of $19, and children 5 years old and younger are free. Military discounts are available, and Purple Heart recipients receive free admission year-round.
By the time our daughter was 15 years old she finally caught onto what we'd been doing since she was about 5 years old ... educating her while we were on vacations. The summer after she turned 15 we took her on a 14 night cruise through the Panama Canal. We insisted that she be up at 5:00 AM on the day we entered the canal (letting her go back to sleep after we went through the first set of locks). Her complaint was a simple one: "why do I have to learn anything? I'm not missing any school for this cruise." My answer? "Because we're paying for you to be on this cruise." Since she couldn't afford to reimburse us for her share of the cruise, she grudgingly gave in.
The irony was that in the following school year she had to do a 10 page report and in-class presentation in World History. The topic she drew? Yup. The Panama Canal. At that point she regretted not going to any of the onboard seminars with the Panama Canal expert (she did end up emailing her with questions, a lot).
We have always been firm believers of making vacations fun, interesting, and educational. I blame my parents, who were both teachers. It also helped that when my parents took our daughter on summer RV road trips there was always an element of education involved. My mom had our daughter journaling every day they traveled (dictating before she could write); working on basic English skills, grammar, spelling, sentence structure, writing descriptive prose, etc. (my mom was an English major after all). There was also art and photography lessons involved.
Fun, but Educational
It's not too hard to figure out really. A trip to Carlsbad Caverns could turn into a lesson about geology. A stop a The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, would be steeped in history about the war with Mexico and how Texas became a state. Even trips to Disney World can be educational, learning about animals at Animal Kingdom, or about different countries at EPCOT. Disney also offers a range of behind the scenes tours that have elements of education hidden throughout.
People have varying opinions about animals kept in captivity (i.e. zoos, Sea World, aquariums, etc.). Your personal views will determine if you visit these places for educational reasons. One of my nephews, while visiting my parents during the summer, volunteered at a bird sanctuary. He's now studying Marine Biology in college.
Education does not simply mean reading text books and taking tests. When planning your family vacations, focus on what is not covered in school these days, as well as reinforcing what is covered. Sciences, history, social sciences, languages, music and the arts can all be addressed during vacation. You can also find ways to reinforce math and English skills.
Doing a road trip? Map reading is a fundamental skill that you can teach your kids, along with reinforcing math skills (determining how many miles left to your next stop, figuring out how long it'll take to get there based on the average speed driven, etc.).
Depending on your kids' ages, have them research the states or countries you'll be visiting, and let them participate in researching and planning where you'll go, what you'll do and see. You can also spur their interest about places you'll visit by having them read books based on the area. For example, if you were planning a trip to Prince Edward Island in Canada, you might have your child read Anne of Green Gables (if it is age appropriate). If you were visiting Monterey and Salinas in central California, books written by John Steinbeck might be appropriate.
Education can be personal history as well. Did a grandfather or great-grandfather land at Normandy in WWII? Did you have an ancestor tried in the Salem Witch Trials? Or an ancestor that immigrated to the United States from Europe? Vacations can be customized around your personal family history.
Education never has to be boring!
This is a question we get asked a lot when planning Disney World dream trips for our clients. So we decided to do a little experiment on our own recent trip to Disney World this past weekend. We were there for only two nights, so we decided to splurge this time and got the Deluxe Dining Plan, versus the standard dining plan that we typically purchase (be patient with me, I’ll explain the differences between the three dining plans a bit later).
With the Deluxe Dining Plan we got 3 table service meals and 2 snacks per night of stay and a refillable souvenir mug, per person. So for 2 of us staying 2 nights, that was a total of 12 table service meal credits and 8 snack credits on our account. We made dining reservations as follows:
Sunday lunch at Yak & Yeti in Disney’s Animal Kingdom (1 table service credit per person)
Sunday dinner at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (2 table service credits per person)
Monday lunch at the Rose & Crown Pub in EPCOT (1 table service credit per person)
Monday dinner at the Yachtsman Steakhouse at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (2 table service credits per person)
Sunday breakfast was procured before we even arrived at Disney World, and Monday breakfast was paid for with cash (total $19.36 total for the 2 of us) at the quick service restaurant at our resort.
The cost of the Deluxe Dining Plan for 2 adults for 2 nights came to $440.92. When we first booked it, it seemed like a lot to pay for food for 2 days for only 2 people. All the same, we bit the bullet for the sake of research. As for the four table service restaurants where we ate, here is what the meals would have cost if we had paid for them individually:
Yak & Yeti lunch = $91.08 (works out to $45.54 per person)
California Grill dinner = $170.38 (works out to $85.19 per person, or $42.60 per table service credit)
Rose & Crown lunch = $77.99 (works out to $39 per person)
Yachtsman Steakhouse = $184.23 (works out to $92.12 per person, or $46.06 per table service credit)
Our 8 snacks (a pineapple soft serve, and several bottled sodas & water) total value was $23.06, and the value of the refillable mugs was $25.54 total for a 2 night stay. So our grand total “spend” would have been $572.28. By using the Deluxe Dining Plan we actually saved $131.36. So was it worth it? For us, yes. But the bigger question is: would it be worth it for YOU? It truly depends, and this is one of many aspects of planning that we help our clients navigate.
The three dining plan options
I promised I would explain the three different dining plans, so here it is (please note that prices may change at any time):
QUICK SERVE DINING – this includes 2 quick service meal credits and 1 snack credit per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug The cost of this plan is $41.99 per night per adult (ages 10 and up) and $16.03 per night per child (ages 3-9).
REGULAR DINING – this includes 1 quick service meal credit, 1 table service meal credit, 1 snack credit per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug. The cost of this plan is $60.04 per night per adult and $19.23 per night per child
DELUXE DINING – this includes 3 table service meal credits and 2 snack credits per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug. The cost of this plan is $110.23 per night per adult and $29.86 per night per child
None of the dining plans include gratuities.
What qualifies as a quick service meal? It is valid in any quick service restaurant (think fast food style) and includes an entrée (or combo meal, if offered at the restaurant where you’re eating) and non-alcoholic beverage. If you’re eating lunch or dinner, you also get a dessert.
What qualifies as a table service meal? It is valid at any table service restaurant (like going to Outback Steakhouse at home) and includes an entrée, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage per guest. On the Deluxe Dining Plan it also includes an appetizer.
What qualifies as a snack? A lot of things qualify as snacks, including a 20 ounce bottle of soda, a piece of a fruit, an ice cream bar, etc. You can always ask before making a purchase, or check the menu board to see if the dining plan symbol is next to the item in question (designating that it qualifies as a snack credit). Piece of advice: use your snack credits for the more expensive items (like a $4 pineapple soft serve) and pay cash for the lower priced items (like a $2.50 bottle of soda).
What is the refillable mug? Each resort has a self-service soda fountain. Without a dining plan, you can pay for a 12 ounce, insulated mug (cost varies based on your length of stay). You can then have as many complimentary refills of that mug at your resort as you’d like. You can refill it with coke products, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. But it does not work in the parks, only at your resort (not even other resorts).
Questions to ask yourself
Do you enjoy sit down meal services? Or do you prefer grabbing a quick fast-food or cafeteria style meal on the fly? If you don’t want to take time out of your schedule to sit down and be waited on, then the quick serve plan might be your best bet. Also if you don’t want to plan ahead and decide what park you will be in for any particular meal, table service meals may not be a good fit for you either. All table service restaurants take reservations, and for some of the more popular restaurants reservations are a necessity. If you resist planning ahead, or being tied to any kind of schedule, you may chafe under a plan that requires you to plan meals and make reservations.
Are you a “foodie”? Do you like to splurge on great food and get your money’s worth? If money were no object, would you order the 32 ounce Porterhouse for Two? Or the 18 ounce Kansas City Strip Steak? (By the way, that strip steak costs $58, and the Porterhouse for Two is $120). It is vacation after all, you might want to eat out like you wouldn’t normally do at home. If this is the case either the standard or deluxe dining plan might be a good fit for your vacation.
And finally, are character dining meals a must? Many of these qualify as “signature” experiences and require 2 table service credits per person. If you want to maximize your food budget, getting the standard or deluxe dining plan might be a good fit, providing the necessary credits to cover character dining (keeping in mind, you need reservations, so some planning is required).
If you need help assessing which dining plan would best fit your vacation plans, give us a call!
by Becca Schaefer, October 2009
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
I was bouncing with anticipation at the gates of Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. It was 7:45 in the morning. I was running on little sleep, some caffeine and a lot of excitement. 8 o’clock couldn’t come fast enough. I had an important date with my childhood waiting for me through those gates.
Harry Potter and his friends have been with me since I was in 3rd grade, around the time that I was eight years old. For those doing the math, Harry, Ron and Hermione have been my friends for 12 years. So it’s easy to see why an area of a theme park would make me a little giddy. The world I had only read about and seen in movie adaptations was becoming real, something I could be a part of and touch.
The gates finally opened. The only things keeping me from sprinting to the back of the park were the looming security officers and my friend. We had to cross through a couple of “lands” before finally making it to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
All it took was an archway with a sign that read “Please do not break the spell limits” to set me off…I literally did a happy dance that a nearby employee said she always enjoys watching. She said watching a guest’s first reaction never gets old.
Then I saw the Hogwarts Express and the Hogsmede sign and I teared up. Words cannot describe the sheer joy I felt as I started snapping pictures. The Hogwarts Express. Dervish and Bangs. Ollivander’s wand shop. The Owl Post. I’m pretty sure I was bordering on sensory overload as I tried to take it all in.
I’ll never forget rounding that corner and seeing Hogwarts for the first time. I could hear the movie theme music playing in my head and I teared up again. It was beautiful. Perfect. The line for The Forbidden Journey, the ride inside Hogwarts, made it feel like I was actually in Hogwarts. The portraits talked to each other. Some of them moved. The Sorting Hat gave us a short speech. I walked through Dumbledore’s office. Not necessarily in that order, but you get the picture. The ride itself was pretty freaking awesome, too! I literally was in awe of Universal and their abilities to pull everything off. The Dragon’s Challenge (formerly known as Dueling Dragons) provided a lot of fun, as well. My friend and I rode it twice before heading to breakfast at the Three Broomsticks.
The Three Broomsticks was a lot bigger than I expected it to be, but I figure Universal had to make it big in order to make it a substantial eating establishment. Breakfast was huge! I went with a traditional American breakfast, even though they had several different breakfast styles to choose from, and I wasn’t really hungry for the rest of the day.
We spent a good 4 hours total in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We passed on going into Ollivander’s. The line to get in? INSANE! So we went to Dervish and Bangs instead to do some souvenir shopping. I only got a few postcards, and got the Hogsmede Owl Post mail stamp. I then got a butterbeer and my friend got a frozen one. The taste is hard to fully describe but it tastes like butterscotch. I’m not the biggest butterscotch fan, but I still liked it. It’s ridiculously sweet, though. My friend let me try her frozen butterbeer, and we came to the conclusion that it was the better of the two drinks. Still too sweet for one person to finish alone, but good.
I could go on and on about my experiences at the Harry Potter world, but words will never do it justice. A person really needs to go and see everything for themself in order to understand. Interested in going? Call Ships ‘N” Trips Travel today!
And with that, “mischief managed”.
My mom has been working on our family genealogy since I was in high school. And over the decades she has discovered quite a bit of family history. I have several memories of trips that I took to Washington, DC with a list from mom – things she wanted me to find in the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or at the National Museum of the US Navy. She even tasked me with a visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
My parents’ “genealogy travel” over the years has taken on more interesting forms (not just digging through old dusty paper files or stinky microfiche). My parents have gone “ancestor hunting” many times over the years – crawling (literally) through graveyards to do headstone rubbings, meeting with potential distant cousins that they’ve found through their research, and of course riffling through endless stacks of documents in city halls, libraries, archives, and churches.
Genealogy travel can take you all over the United States, tracing ancestors back to the Civil War, Revolutionary War, the Mayflower; but it can also take you overseas. Alex Haley may have spurred genealogy travel when he published his book “Roots” as some descendants of slaves have been able to trace their ancestors back to Africa (and have been able to go back to their ancestors’ villages). Holocaust survivors have taken their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren to Europe on Holocaust Tours.
Tips on preparing for Genealogy Travel: Donna Przecha provides some great tips on how to prepare for a trek into your ancestral past. Two of her most important tips are to do your homework and make appointments in advance. When spending a healthy sum of money to possibly travel overseas in search of the family roots, you don’t want to waste time (or money) ending up in the wrong village, or getting there to find that the buildng you need to visit is closed, or the person you need to talk to is on vacation.
What to pack for Genealogy Travel: besides the standard travel gear (clothes, toiletries, passports, etc.) there are specific items you should pack for your genealogical research endeavors while traveling:
Genealogy travel or ancestor hunting, whatever you may call it, can be the ultimate in family travel or adventure travel (it all depends on how you define adventure). With good research done beforehand, and careful travel planning, you can make some amazing memories as you research your family’s roots.
At Ships 'N' Trips Travel we have been providing memorable travel experiences for our clients since 2005.