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.
Memorial Day draws a lot of people to Washington, DC where they spend the holiday remembering those have died while serving in the armed forces. According to Destination DC, "the nation’s capital celebrates with unique and meaningful events and exhibits designed to recognize the selfless service of our active duty military and veterans."
If you are going to Washington, DC for Memorial Day weekend, here are some of the "must see" sights while you are there:
Arlington National Cemetery
The Arlington National Cemetery is the country’s largest military cemetery, with thousands of veterans and members of their immediate family resting there. On Memorial Day, servicemen and women place American flags at more than 250,000 graves, with the Memorial Day Roses Foundation providing free roses to visitors who come in tribute.
Arlington National Cemetery is the home of several well-known historic sites, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is a tribute to unidentified fallen soldiers who fought in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a large white sarcophagus that is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by Tomb Guard sentinels from the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, thousands of visitors attend remembrance services in the Memorial Amphitheater.
Iwo Jima Memorial
Located outside of the Arlington National Cemetery, the Iwo Jima Memorial (aka the Marine Corps War Memorial) is one of the most moving monuments in the area. This breathtaking sculpture depicts the six American soldiers who raised the second American flag at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, signifying a U.S. victory in the Pacific during World War II. The grounds of the Marine Corps War Memorial are open from 6 a.m. until midnight, year-round.
The Country's Largest Memorial Day Parade
The National Memorial Day Parade ushers marching bands, youth groups, floats, performers and, of course, veterans, down Constitution Avenue. This televised parade is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and honors those who have served or presently serve in the U.S. military. Arrive early for the best viewing options.
Theparade is a moving timeline of American military history, honoring those who have served and sacrificed from the American Revolution to the present day. It draws on the tradition of Memorial Day parades, going back to the beginning of the holiday just after the Civil War, to create a family friendly event aimed at calling attention to the true meaning of Memorial Day – honoring our fallen heroes.
The Memorials Along the National Mall
The National Mall is America’s most-visited national park, where the past, present and future come together. The monuments and memorials in this park honor American forefathers and heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to this country.
The National Mall features plenty of ways to honor American servicemen and women. Visit the magnificent National World War II Memorial and its famous effervescent fountain. Stop to pay your respects at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. Admire the steely faces of the 19 servicemen depicted in the Field of Service at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Visit the DC War Memorial, a circular, marble monument featuring the names of DC residents who lost their lives fighting in WWI.
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!
At Ships 'N' Trips Travel we have been providing memorable travel experiences for our clients since 2005.