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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Touring the White House with Kids

This is part of a series on Washington D.C. with kidsLet’s just say that preparing to go to the White House is worse than flying a plane these days. Not that our president should be unsafe, but…

If you’re planning a trip to Washington D.C., you probably want to go to the White House. It’s free, historical and exclusive! It’s hard to get in.

The Front? The Back? Nah, just one side.
I thought my kids would be SO excited to go into the White House. In the end, they were bored. BORED! What’s wrong with them? When we entered, they gave us a Junior Ranger activity guide, which the kids promptly handed to me and made me hold. But there's lots of good stuff in there, including things they can look for inside the White House, and lots of trivia. And puzzles where you need the pencil/pen you're not allowed to bring in.

Tour: When I was a kid, we took an actual tour. Now it’s self-guided. You walk through the ground floor, peeking into the library, Vermeilrom and China room (which holds…White House china designed for the various presidents). 

You then go upstairs into the East Room, the largest in the White House. It was used to hang laundry during the Adams administration, but has held weddings (Alice Roosevelt, Luci Johnson). This room holds performances and a painting of George Washington that was saved from the fire that burned down the White House in 1814.

We went through the GreenBlue and Red room, so creatively named. If you look at those links you can see that President Obama has actually spent time in the rooms, though he's allowed to walk on the rugs and sit on the furniture, and you're not. Though there are no tour guides, the guards are quite informed and share their knowledge with you. About the wallpaper. About who redecorated, when and who paid for it. About furniture that was sold and then repurchased later from across the country.

The last major room is the State Dining Room, where they can seat 140, at round tables. According to this map, the family dining room is just behind it! Lots of famous people have eaten here. From there it’s into two halls, and out the door you go.

after exiting the White House we were allowed to take photos
What the kids thought: they thought they’d get see the president’s bowling alley and movie theater. They thought everything was really old and not interesting. They were bummed they didn’t get to see Bo the dog. They didn't really care that famous people they've never heard of had eaten in the State Dining Room.

Bo - not available for our petting pleasure
 I tried to get them interested in White House facts, like:
-it has 26 fireplaces and 3 elevators. I think we saw an elevator and maybe a few fireplaces.
-there are 15 bedrooms and 35 restrooms. None of which you get to see.
-There’s even a dental office and medical clinic. That you don't get to see.
-There are 4 dining rooms (state, family, president and staff). You get to see one.
-There’s no front or back to the White House, only a north and south side.

I told the kids there were snipers on the White House roof, but they didn't believe me. I started to doubt myself (I didn't tell the kids that) but did see snipers on the White House roof on YouTube, so it must be true.

White House Visitor’s Center: This is located across the street in the National Press Building, not in the park area. I went in without the kids. The kids would have been BORED. There is a coloring area and some kid books on the White House. They have a fun little gift shop.

Souvenir photos: There’s a souvenir store across the street from the White House called White House Gifts, where you can get your picture taken for free in a fake Oval office or at a presidential podium used for press conferences. That's free with a $5 purchase. It's at 701 15th Street NW.

Getting tickets: Check the White House site here. You should contact your senator or member of congress for tickets the second you book your flight or trip. We went in November and managed to get tickets in less than 2 months. But in the summer? You’re looking at 6 months. Our senator said he needed a minimum of 40 days. Be prepared to provide social security numbers and other information.

Details: there’s a lengthy list of what you cannot bring into the White House – or even into the security area. That includes food, water, pens, backpacks, fanny packs, purses, (handbags/pocketbooks included), cameras, explosive devices, firearms, strollers, etc. You can bring a phone that takes pictures, but if you take a picture or answer the phone, they will kill you. Just kidding. They may take your phone away, which to some is akin to death. They have no lockers, so be prepared to go without much that day (other than a wallet that fits in your pocket and a phone). I ended up making a trip back to the hotel to get my backpack for the rest of the day - sending the rest of the family off to the Smithsonian.

Security: you will go through hefty security, reminiscent of getting into the Statue of Liberty. Which if you haven't been, is worse than the airport. Though leave your shoes on.

Check out my other posts on Washington D.C. with kids including:
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