Sunday, August 14, 2011

A capital trip (and Succinctly Yours!)

We have lived close to Washington, D.C. for 20 years, and never once ventured down there. I am not much of a history buff, and I remembered a not-so-interesting trip there with my family when I was small, so this spot has not been on my "must see" list at all. I am more of a beach bum when it comes to ideal vacation destinations, but with the work needed on the house and the price of gas, we decided to do short trips close to home this year. We designed a vacation around my daughters state meet at the end of May (Cape May and Wild Wood NJ), and my husband took the kids camping, but I thought it would be nice to get away one last time before school started.

I researched area attractions that would interest kids and Washington, D.C. popped up. All of the Smithsonian Museums are free, and then there are the monuments, the White House, the Capitol Building, etc. and the kids really seemed interested. There was one problem-the cost of staying in D.C. was ridiculous, with fees to park per day that ranged from $12 to $35 a day! But the more I researched, the more I learned. There is a metro system running from Maryland to Virginia suburbs that is supposed to be the cleanest and safest in the country, and it runs regularly to and from D.C. My chosen suburb was Bethesda, Maryland, only a couple hours drive from home and a fifteen minute trip via the metro into D.C.

We stayed there from Thursday through Sunday, and we learned an awful lot about how to maneuver around. Some things we did right, and some we did wrong and kicked ourselves later for, and I will be posting about different aspects of our trip for those who might be interested in going there as well.

What I did Right: our hotel choice.
Like I said, I chose Bethesda, Maryland because it was close enough to Washington without the bigger price tag, at least for the hotel. When I started my search, I pulled up all the sites that promise you the best deals on rooms, but Expedia beat them all not only for price of rooms, but additional "perks." We didn't want to spend a fortune on this little trip, so I was looking for a nice hotel at a budget rate-quite a hard thing to do at the end of summer around Washington. Like I said, most of the hotels were more than $200 a night for even a Holiday Inn, and all charged to park your car each day.

Expedia brought up some suburbs in my search, and Hilton Garden Inn, Bethesda, Maryland popped up. Their guests can park in their adjacent parking garage (*this was a positive and negative-I didn't read anything about a charge on Expedia for this, but we were charged $15 per day to park and we could have used the public parking over the weekend for free! But, we were able to check in at noon instead of the normal 3:00 pm...); I could get two queen size beds (instead of the usual doubles)in a room; they were 1 1/2 blocks from the Metro station; they were near several small diners and some fast food; they offered an indoor pool and work out facility (and computer center); and the biggest perk? We got their huge breakfast buffet for four each morning and it was included in the room rate. And the rate? Hold on to your hats...$94 a night (but with parking it ended up being $109 a night, still good...) The same hotel in other discount deal web sites was around $12 more without breakfast, and when I went to Hilton's own web site, the price quoted (still queen beds but no breakfast offer) was almost $250 a night!

When we usually stay in a hotel, I look for Hampton Inns and Ramada because they often offer a free breakfast buffet, and when you are trying to keep costs down (and meals are one big cost factor)this really goes a long way-especially with small kids. But you have to get to breakfast early, because the trade off is limited space and a whole bunch of other people wanting breakfast too! And though the food is decent enough, you basically eat it to tide you over until lunch.

Hilton's buffet was more than expected: a dedicated room with many tables (you waited to be seated instead of swarming the place), everything you could ever want for breakfast and the instructions to ask the cook if you wanted pancakes or a made to order omelet. There were scrambled eggs, many different kinds of sausages and bacon, every fresh fruit you can think of and that included fresh strawberries, blueberries, etc. to put on cereal or your waffle, many types of bagels and muffins, specialty breads and doughnuts, any juice you wanted, coffee, and tea, and a variety of yogurt flavors and cereals. And we learned that food in and around Washington D.C. is very expensive, so filling up here was a good start. (After this breakfast we downed so much water with all the walking that my husband and I were not hungry for lunch, and the kids just wanted something small.) We still got a check after we were done eating, but we just put our vouchers in the billfold. The cost of this meal without the vouchers would have been over $30. One negative, the wait staff hovered around you while you ate, and we felt kind of pressured to leave a tip each day.

The room: there was more than enough space and included a refrigerator and microwave; I heard nothing and no one our whole stay and we were only on the 4th floor; the bed and furniture were also some of the most comfortable I have ever had in a hotel (the chairs are supposed to be both ergonomic and the beds adjustable, but I thought they were fine as is); the room was also extremely clean (and I am very picky).

Three minor flaws. First, the sound of the air conditioner wasn't noticed too much until it was time for bed, and it went on and off throughout the night. Second, there were some missing tiles in an otherwise spotless bathroom and I can't help wondering why we were put there when the hotel was obviously not full to capacity. Another problem was with the bathroom sink drain. The water let out of it pretty slow when we arrived, but by the third night, it was worse, and didn't smell too pleasant. There was an obvious clog issue that I can't believe the cleaning staff didn't notice, but since we left this morning, we just reported it to the front desk at check out.

The pool: Okay, I am glad I found a hotel with a pool and hot tub. When you have tired, hot kids at the end of the day, the pool is a nice way to wind down, and we used it two nights. The negative: the pool was extremely small and shallow-only getting up to 3 1/2 feet (while this was good for my son, adults might not like it); there was a life guard on duty the entire time for this very small, shallow pool (this hotel caters more to business travelers, so I'm guessing something must have happened to have a need for it to be watched); the bottom of the pool had some type of non-slip surface that was rough to the touch. Both my kids and husband all have "boo boos" from the pool!

Location, location, location (and security): Not only were we close to the metro, but we were on a side street that only got hotel traffic. And just in case you still felt uneasy, the police station was on the next corner... Plus, you needed your room key to go up to your room in the elevator, and down to floors other than the main floor, otherwise the elevator didn't move. (Just an added piece of security I liked!)

If I was grading the Hilton, it would earn a solid "B," and my husband says 8 out of 10 would be a fair assessment-nobody is perfect, and I have never stayed in a "10" hotel... The place was clean, comfortable, and the staff were friendly. But do check the hotel deal sites and compare them to Hilton's (they are running specials for the fall now) main site for reduced rates and other possible perks!

Now time for Succinctly Yours, another writing meme that piggy backs on the idea of Susan of the Stony River Blog.

Grandma Goulash posts a picture and you are to write a 140 character or word story about it. You can also use the word of the day in your post if you wish. This week's word is frantic. Here this week's picture and my take this week:

Dejected, Woody collapsed in a nearby chair to contemplate life. His boy didn't play with wooden toys anymore-he was replaced by G.I.Joe. (139 characters)

Hope to be by later tonight to see what everyone else wrote!


  1. Oh poor Woody! It's no fun being out of fashion! ^_^

  2. Poor Woody. Tired of being side-lined. Given his makeup, I bet he lumbered over tah that chair before collapsing.

  3. Ah, Woody's time had come. Life can be cruel.
    Great micro.

  4. Wow! Susan, your Capitol vacation sounds fun. I would have never thought to even consider the Hilton, so thanks for letting us know how reasonably priced it was, and the Smithsonian is FREE? Maybe we should consider that as a, on second thought, I can't give up the beach. Thanks for visiting my blog yesterday.

  5. We've had pretty good luck with Expedia, too. Only been to DC once, and it was a short trip, but we packed in a number of things and enjoyed ourselves. :)

    I enjoyed your MF. I thought of Woody and Buzz after reading another MF that referred to toys, but when I wrote mine it never came to mind. Nice take on the photo! Poor fella looks wrung out, doesn't he?

  6. Aw poor woody, so dejected and rejected! :(

  7. Granted, technology has pretty well cut the demand for wooden toys hasn't it!
    Wonderful Idea, Suksan! I hadn't thought of the misery those poor dejected soulless beings are experiencing.

  8. Ah, the cast-aside toy. The wooden ones enhance creativity so much more than a "programmed" GI Joe. Poor ol' Woody.


  9. I haven't been to Washington since 1987 (discounting a handful of airport stopovers). We also stayed in Maryland and used the metro. Definitely the way to go. We stayed for several days, but there wasn't nearly enough time to see everything. I could have spent a week in the National Gallery of Art.

    The beauty of wooden toys is their long lives. I just know that future generations will be coming along to play with Woody.

  10. I copied and saved your hotel information for future reference. Thank you for all that useful information! I've always wanted to visit Washington DC...I'm 63 so I can't wait too much longer. We're on the left coast, so we just haven't made it there yet.

    Your SY microfiction reminded me a little of Puff the Magic Dragon, though the boy in your story is still playing with toys. My 3 sons played G.I. Joes together for many, many years--till they were around 8, 10 and 12! Now they are 28, 30 and 32, but I still have a plastic tub of GI Joes for when my grandsons visit.

  11. I'm always looking for good hotel deals because of the traveling we do. I LOve it when we find one that has that kind of breakfast. It doesn't happen often. Poor woody, he might actually belong to my younest daughter. An artist who decided she wants to be a Marine!


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