Friday, August 19, 2011

Smithsonian Museum Reviews (and Book Blurb Friday!)

In my last post I talked about recently visiting Washington D.C. with my family, but what is there to do when you get there? All 19 Smithsonian museums and all the monuments are free to the public, so some should be on your "must see" list. Now we weren't able to see the entire spread (some we didn't have an interest in, and there is no way I would even try to tackle the lot of them in three days anyway), but I thought I would give you my oppionion of what we did see anyway. One good thing is that most of the Smithsonian Museums are located in one long strip called the National Mall, so you could do two at different times (which we did) in the same day if you wanted...

Now I did search online for the best museums to visit if you have kids, but I have to disagree with some of these web site's recommendations. First and foremost on our list was the National Zoo. Our kids love the zoo, as do I, and we decided that since it was only 4 1/2 miles away from our hotel (the National Zoo is located outside of D.C.), it was the perfect spot for day one of our visit. The plan was to visit the zoo and then check into our hotel when we were through. Unfortuately, the zoo is a popular place during the summer, and getting there an hour and a half after it opened wasn't quite early enough. There were no more parking spots available, and the only thing we could do was head straight for the hotel.

We were able to check in early, and after a good lunch, we got our feet wet using the metro to get to the zoo. (That 4 1/2 miles took us over half an hour by car in very heavy traffic, but only 5 minutes by rail. Plus, we found out that the "free" zoo charges $15 for three hour parking, and $20 for more than three hours.  It only cost us almost $15 to take the metro-round trip during the peak period for all four of us, so even though we had a hike uphill a couple blocks to the main entrance, we sort of came out even...)

The good: it's relatively shady and that's good for some of the hot, humid weather D.C. is known for (and speaking of heat, there are several water sprayers to cool you down, and my kids certainly took advantage of this); many animals are in outdoor habitats; and the number one reason is to see the pandas.

The bad: If you are going by metro, it's a hike all uphill, so if you don't think your legs can take this and a walk around the zoo, go for the parking but get there early; the indoor (meaning air conditioned exhibits)get crowded-this is where you will notice just how many people are there the same time you are; eating in and around the zoo, just like everywhere else in D.C. is not cheap; now while I thought the zoo was big, I don't think it can compare to the likes of places like the Pittsburgh Zoo which covers a lot more ground. Was it worth it? We thought so, and you should give yourself at least 3 hours to see all the animals.

Next on our list was the Natural History Museum, and for the most part it didn't disappoint. There are two levels with various wings showcasing the likes of dinosaurs, prehistoric man and animals, rocks and minerals (showcasing the famous Hope Diamond necklace worn originally by Marie Antoinette), and many other displays. There are areas where you can sit and watch an informational movie about the specific area you are in (hint: a chance to sit down!), you can watch as archaeologists chip away at fossils, and there are various interactive exhibits.

One of our favorites was the Meanderthall Man where you sat, lined up your face with an image on a screen, took a picture, then combined your face with a face of a prehistoric man or woman from different periods. You can then e-mail that picture to yourself. (If you have a scan app on your smart phone, you scan the app into your phone, change your face with a picture you then take with your phone, and keep or rejet the results. We did both!) 
The good: So much to see that you really need to be selective; interactive exhibits; large enough spaces for groups of people to move around; the interactive butterfly lab where you can go into a room and be surrounded by different species of butterflies (this was good and bad-the bad was that it cost extra: I think it was $5 per kid and $7 per adult, but you could stay in the room as long as you liked, and they were beautiful...);and of course there was that "coolness" factor for the place.

The bad: The museum offers many imax movies on different topics at an extra cost (we decided against them); the "natural" is the focus (mainly prehistoric, so nothing related to times of kings and queens-somewhat disappointing for me); the interactive areas did get crowded, so don't plan on hurrying through this museum; we could never find the escalator or elevators even after following signs pointing the way-we hiked up the stairs instead; and their was just one small mummy in an incomplete exhibit marked for Egypt (it doesn't open until November.) Was it worth it? You bet, and I believe it tied with the zoo for favorite sight seeing spot.

I will highlight the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of American History, and the monuments we saw later in the week. Right now it's time for

Book Blurb Friday! This is where Lisa Ricard Claro, from Writing in the Buff, posts a picture meant to serve as a fictional book cover. It's your job to write a blurb about the book in 150 words or less to entice a prospective reader. Are you up to the challenge? Here is this week's picture and my story:

Alive for Now...

Anna hated the cold, and she was sick of Deadwood, South Dakota, and all the snow locals ramble through on a daily basis without complaint. It was the end of March for crying out loud-she should be wearing cute little outfits, enjoying spring flowers, and suffering through allergies like everybody else back home, but according to the FBI, this was her new home.

Anna’s parents died in a horrific car accident that still has law enforcement shaking their heads. They were the prosecutor’s star witnesses in the trial of the Big Tuna himself, notorious mob boss Tony Accardo, and though Anna’s parents never told her about the case, the mob didn’t know that, and the FBI decided relocation would keep her safe.

But would it? An unknown car nearly missed her as she went for the mail. A coincidence, or is someone making sure Anna’s never heard from again? (149 words, and Deadwood is a real place, and The Big Tuna, Tony Accado, was an actual mob boss in Chicago... I got lazy-LOL!)

I can't wait to see what everyone else wrote!


  1. Deadwood is an awesome, old west tourist trap. I think my favorite part there, other than the saloon [famous for the deadman's hand of aces and eights] was the old cemetery atop a huge hill. Many wild wild west 'history celebs' are buried there.

    My book blurb: Midnight Monarch

  2. Susan, first, I really enjoyed your review of the zoo and the Museum of Natural History. I loved that museum when I was there in 1975. You are making me want to go back and check out Washington D.C. again!

    Your blurb is great. That snow does seem to last forever, and you sure did capture the feeling of getting tired of it well. I like the new identity twist and the danger that you wove into your story.

    Kathy M.

  3. I loved the National Zoo, but now that you mention it we did have do a little uphill walking on our way there. I went to the Natural History museum as well, and I think one more...but I can't remember which one it was now! I really enjoyed the Natural History museum though, and like you I didn't pay for the extra stuff. I'm way too cheap.

  4. Oh, another Midwestern setting! A nice blurb too in response to the picture!

  5. Sounds like you had a lot of fun in DC. I love your blurb this week. All the mystery, secrets, and snow. ~ Calico Contemplations

  6. So glad you made the most of your trip to DC. Our visit was crazy short. I'd love to go back and really soak it in, take time with the museums.

    Great blurb! One of my favorite shows is "In Plain Sight," so I'm all about the whole witness protection thing. Poor Anna! It would be tough enough to have to relocate under those circumstances, but to do it alone would be awful. I'll have to read your book just to see how she gets through.

  7. Great tips--if I ever make it to Washington D.C.

    Sounds like Anna better move again!

  8. I'll be waiting to read your review on the Space Museum. I really enjoyed it, but that was almost twenty-five years ago. Time flies.

    I wonder what there is in the photo that inspired Witness Protection stories from both of us. Great minds! I'd really enjoy this one. The bit about nearly being hit while retrieving the mail suggests that nothing is safe. I'd be turning pages all night.

  9. Now that is a premise with promise! And I love how you left us wondering whether that near-miss was intentional. I'd buy this one.

  10. Oh! Sorry--p.s. Enjoyed reading about D.C.! You made me want to go back to see what I missed.


Please make my day and leave a comment.