I LOVE being an empty nester! Travel is so fantastic when you have the flexibility of going to popular tourist destinations during the off season. And our nation’s capital is a treasure trove of sites, tastes, and experiences for an empty nester. I just returned from a fantastic visit to Washington DC. Since school is back in session, there were no crowds, no waiting, and no stress. The hotel, restaurant, and staffs at the tourist attractions were very attentive. The weather was fantastic – mid 70s, sunny, and no humidity. Here is insight into my travels with the latest health and safety protocols sprinkled in.
1. Check-in at the Montgomery, Alabama airport was a breeze. After checking in online the day before and answering a few health screening questions, the only requirement was mask-wearing at the airport and on the flight. I had TSA pre-check and enjoyed not having to stand in line, not having to take off my shoes and jacket, and leaving my laptop and liquids in my carryon luggage. I prefer flying out of our small airport in Montgomery rather than driving 2 ½ hours to Atlanta – less hassle and low stress. Another benefit of flying out of Montgomery is the option to gate check-in carryon luggage because of the smaller planes. No hefting and squeezing my luggage in the overhead bin – yes! I flew direct from Montgomery to Reagan National Airport (DCA) – no connections! The Dulles and Baltimore airports also serve the DC metro area. But Reagan National Airport will get you right into DC and is connected to several hotel areas, sites, and restaurants via the Metro.
2. My hotel was in the middle of the action. I stayed at the Ritz Carlton in the Pentagon City area, two Metro stops from the airport or a short 10 min Uber, Lyft, taxi ride depending on the traffic. I had to wear my mask while in public areas of the hotel unless I was eating or drinking. Two other areas I highly recommend that are connected to all the major tourist areas via the Metro are Crystal City and Oldtown Alexandria. The convenience of having a hotel near a Metro stop is a high priority for me and anyone who likes exploring the area without having to rent a car (driving in the DC area is not easy!) or spend $$ on multiple Uber, Lyft, or taxi rides. The Metro does not have service to Georgetown and National Harbor. I would not recommend staying there if this is your first time to DC and you want to see the major sights. Save these areas for your next visit or pay for an Uber, Lyft, or taxi for a day visit.
3. The Metrorail system was super easy to figure out. Here are the steps:
- Purchase a Smart Trip card at one of the kiosks in the Metro station lobby and load it up. I usually start with $25. The kiosks will allow you to recharge your card if you run out. And if you have a balance, you can use it on a later trip. I used my Smart Trip card from 2 years ago that still had an ample balance.
- Review the map posted in the Metro station lobby and determine which stop you need to go to. The maps have major tourist attractions highlighted. Or you can download the Metro app which will guide you to the stations and stops. The key is knowing the correct line (Blue, Yellow, Green, Orange, or Silver), and the end point of the direction you are headed (i.e. on the Yellow Line – Huntingdon or Greenbelt). Swipe your card and go through the gate.
- Follow the signs to the correct platform and board your train. If you get on the wrong platform, just retrace your steps and navigate to the correct one. Here is a link to the Metro website that has a downloadable map and trip planner: https://www.wmata.com/index.cfm
- Get off at your stop. There will be stop announcements and route maps in the train. Swipe your card to get out of the station. If you do not have enough on your card to exit, there will be kiosks to load additional money onto your card.
4. It was a perfect day to spend at the National Mall. I highly recommend first timers prioritize visiting the National Mall. Plan at least two days to meander around the free Smithsonian museums and national monuments. Do not forget to stroll to the Capitol Building or White House – all within easy walking distance. Contact your Congressman at least three months before your trip to see if tours of the Capitol and White House are available. They will make all the arrangements for you. Consider returning to the National Mall at dusk and time your walk to end up at the Lincoln Memorial at sunset. The sun magically transforms the Washington Monument into different colors. On your walk back you can enjoy the beautifully lighted monuments.
5. Historical Oldtown Alexandria was wonderful. Plan a day to explore this fantastic historic district. Start at the King Street Metro stop and stroll down to the Potomac River harbor. There is an information center about halfway to the harbor. There is also a handy trolley that can take you up and down King Street. Catch a ferry in the harbor to Mount Vernon and tour our first president’s home and grounds. Finish your memorable day by having dinner at Gadsby’s Tavern where George Washington dined and Thomas Jefferson had his inauguration banquet. Make sure you have reservations for both the harbor ferry and at Gadsby’s Tavern at least 3 months before your vacation. There is a museum in the Tavern to learn more about this historic hotel and restaurant. Check this website for the latest days/times of operation: https://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/gadsbys/default.aspx?id=36684
6. The food and wine was absolutely outstanding. I always love discovering new places to eat while I’m in DC. I was walking around the National Mall in the evening but fortunately the food trucks were still out. I had a yummy taco meal from the District Steak food truck. In Oldtown Alexandria, The Warehouse was outstanding – great ambiance, food, and wine. I visited my standby favorites – Lebanese Taverna and Nando’s in Pentagon Row, and Jaleo in Crystal City. I splurged on two Ubers to go to Grace’s in National Harbor, and Chin Chin Cha in Georgetown. Many hotels like the Ritz are connected to or within walking distance of shopping areas and restaurants. The Ritz is connected to the Fashion Centre mall so there was an abundance of places to eat in the food court. My favorite new find: ube boba tea at the Panda Tea House – yum!
7. Departure was just as uneventful as my arrival. I was the only person in the TSA-Pre-check line again even in the busy Reagan National Airport because it was an early afternoon on Saturday. It was a direct flight again – love those! There were no delays, and I spent the rest of the day to relaxing, unpacking, and writing this blog.
That’s your empty nester guide to a fantastic DC vacation. But if you’d rather have me plan it for you, I’m glad to help! I’ve been to DC numerous times and can give you the inside scoop. Get started today by selecting a day and time that is most convenient for you at this link: https://calendly.com/escapethenesttravel/vacation-planning
Happy Flying the Coop!
Escape The Nest Travel