The White House Tour

No pictures allowed inside the WH tour- so this is our only real “tour” photo

We love history.  In fact, we love history so much that it’s almost dork-con 1 at our house all the time.  We have “Story of the World” on the full 4 set CD collection and listen to it for fun.

Seriously.

So we definitely appreciate historical sites.  We also love living outside of DC and enjoy the museums.  We’re also some of those “crazy homeschoolers”, so we partake of the National Park Service’s Historic Sites on a regular basis.  My kids have filled out Junior Ranger books at Constitution Hall, Appomattox Court House, the Frederick Douglass House and a few more this school year alone.

I say that all to qualify the fact that we really don’t recommend the White House Tour.  I know several of you disagreed on Facebook and said that it was worth a visit because it’s such an historic place or because it’s on your DC bucket list, but for us, it was probably our least favorite historic tour we’ve been on.  Here’s why:

1) Booking your tour takes some coordination.  You can’t just show up at the White House and get in the tour line.  You’ll need to go through your Senator or Congressman and provide a list of social security numbers for everyone in your group.  (We were actually very blessed that someone from our group did this for us.  It’s a little scary to give your SSNs to someone, but she did all the leg work).  Once you submit those you’ll hear 10 days to 2 weeks before your scheduled time and then need to make it work. You can’t just request a particular day and be guaranteed to get it.

2) Getting there isn’t really that difficult.  Metro Center is very close, or you can drive in.  There’s a parking garage right by the W hotel.  They’ll tell you not to drive because parking is so limited, but if you’re willing to spend the $15 or so dollars to park for the next few hours, you won’t have any trouble.  Free and meter parking are nearly impossible, so don’t plan on that.

3) Entering the park (the White House is both a residence, a business, and a National Park Museum) can be time consuming and a bit of a hassle.  You’ll go through a few check points where you’ll need photo ID for everyone over 18 that EXACTLY matches the registered name.  You can be refused entry if you’re late for your time (although we were about 10 minutes later than the 15 minutes early they tell you to be and had no problem).  All told we waited in line for about 40 minutes, including going one at a time through a checkpoint where a dog sniffs you (a little scary for our 4 year old), and another with a metal detector.  This was a weekday with no school holidays that I’m aware of, so if you’re doing this over summer or winter breaks, plan for a longer wait time.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There are NO STROLLERS, DIAPER BAGS, PURSES, FOOD (including cheerios and baby bottles), OF ANY KIND ALLOWED.  THERE IS NO STROLLER PARKING, EITHER.  They sent a woman from our group away because she had the smallest purse you’ve ever seen.  You’ll need to literally stash everything in your car (if you brought one) or have a member of your crew stay outside to keep everything.  If you public transited, this can be a huge hassle, since you probably needed a stroller or some “stuff” (like diapers) to make it through the rest of your visit to DC.

4) Once you’re inside there’s isn’t actually a tour.  You signed up for a “White House Tour”, you’re given a tour time, but once you get there, it’s all self-guided.  Each room has a small sign on the floor with 1-3 sentences about the room and a fun fact, and there are Secret Service Agents stationed in each room to answer specific questions, but there is no tour guide or small overview as there is at most historic sites in the NPS.  On the main floor, you’ll walk up a ramp of a few steps. There is a view of a garden, but we were not permitted to enter it.  There are a few picture frames on the walls with various themes (Presidential Pets, etc), and then you round a corner to the first 3 rooms, which are standard-sized doorways which have been roped off.  There’s the Vermeil (that’s Ver-may- gold plated French items), the China Room (with the China Patterns), and the library.  You can stick your head in the door and look left and right.  Across from the Vermeil Room, there’s a set of stairs going up (I’m not sure if there’s handicap access somewhere, but I’d assume there is).  At the top of the stairs, there are a few other rooms that you can actually enter and walk adjacent to- the East Room, Blue Room, Red Room, Green Room and State Dining Room.

All said and done, we waited 40 minutes for a tour that lasted about 5.  My 8 year old summed it up well when he said “Mommy, we could have just read the booklet and looked at pictures on the internet”.  Being there in person didn’t really add to the experience or knowledge base for us.

If it were me, I’d rather spend my time at one of the other DC historic sites that’s less hassle and more interaction.  I totally understand the allure of going to the White House, but for us, we enjoyed it least of all the Historic Tours we’ve taken.

Breakdown:
The White House Tour
Recommended for: Parties that ONLY have children old enough to walk and stand for at least an hour at a time in line, that do not require strollers or diaper bags, and can handle large crowds of people.

Pros: It’s the White House.  You probably won’t see the President, but it’s still a neat thing to claim you did.

Cons: Requires a reservation in advance through your elected representative, no strollers or bags allowed, short tour for the wait and process. No guided tours, no presentations in each room.

Our favorite part of the tour- Milkshakes at the Potbelly across the street.