Sometimes, though I ask forgiveness for it now, I’ve written that a trip to the White House Visitors Center is “almost better than” the actual White House experience for Washington DC group travel tours. I will never say that again.
The White House Visitors Center is a beautiful addition to group and student tours. It’s a wonderful complement to the White House photo opportunities, which should be the least of any White House experiences you include in your itinerary, or to the White House tour itself. But it’s not a replacement. And I know this because I was there this spring. And I had no idea as I sat in the White House Visitor’s Center I was a very short walk from gazing on the real thing and getting beautiful photographs of it. I now feel I went to Washington D.C. without experiencing the White House at all. And it’s the only, but a very real, disappointment from my time there.
Here’s a little more about the White House Visitor’s Center to help you make the most of the experience and not go home disappointed.
1. Seriously, try for the real thing.
Although I can’t tell you from experience, I’ve heard a mixed message about the White House tour. I’ve heard it’s a little dull and rather anticlimactic, but that it still brings with it the thrill of actually having been there. Nothing can compare to that reality, and there’s no replacement for it. A tour there requires a lot of advanced planning and several details from each guest for security purposes. A secured tour there could also get canceled at any time depending on the White House schedule. Still, groups that have any interest at all in this experience should at least try for it.
2. What you’ll see
The White House Visitor’s Center is big and spacious, perfect for large groups. There is a video-viewing area and several other booths showcasing various aspects of the White House and its history. The video is actually very interesting, but it’s not short. You’ll want to allow plenty of time in the center if you plan to catch the entire thirty minutes. Plus, you won’t want to rush through the booths. There’s a lot to discover about former First Families and the White House itself.
3. And don’t forget your glimpse of the real thing.
The White House Visitor’s Center won’t disappoint if you understand what you’re getting. And thus far, it’s an exhibit that could be transferred to a museum anywhere else in the country. What I mean is, the exhibits themselves won’t give you the feeling that you’ve been in or anywhere near the White House. It’s simply not as good as the real thing. It is, however, an excellent complement to it. If you can’t get the White House tour, at least follow up your Visitor’s Center experience with a walk down 15th St and then left on Pennsylvania Avenue for the iconic (and closer-to-the-street) view of the White House portico. You’ve read about it, watched the video, explored its architecture and design, and now you’ll feel that you’ve been there.
Photo by mastermaq on Flickr.