Located 3,662 miles across the very big North Atlantic pond, you’ll find Washington DC. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the U.S capital yet, then here’s our Project Manager, Rebecca Hill’s, take on the world-renowned destination; it won’t take long to understand why it’s one of our top cities of 2019 so far…
Destination: Washington D.C.
Airports: London Heathrow – Dulles International Airport
Flight Duration: 8 hours
Population: 327.2 million (USA), 702,000 (Washington DC)
Currency: US Dollar
Climate: Warm and humid
In2Events Account Manager, Stacey Close, and I flew out to Washington DC to manage a client conference. Of course, we couldn’t go all that way without extending our trip to see some of the iconic landmarks of Washington!
The Mayflower Hotel
We checked into our first hotel, the historic and iconic Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC. This Marriott Bonvoy property is a beautiful 5* hotel and has been part of the landscape here since 1925. In this time, the venue has had some very notable guests including, American presidents and our very own Queen Elizabeth II.
Situated in close proximity to the White House, the Mayflower Hotel is a venue placed in prime position for guests visiting on business, as tourists or both. As we made our way to our rooms, we took in the stunning interior décor that runs throughout the whole hotel, including the bedrooms, suites and meeting spaces.
Not only is the Mayflower a fantastic place to stay whilst in town, but it also offers a huge selection of event space, with 27 purpose-built rooms totalling 42,582 sq. ft, all of which come with modern AV equipment. The largest space available can accommodate 1,000pax theatre style, so there’s plenty of scope for events large and small.
Taking a Stroll Around DC
After our arrival, we took a walk around Washington DC in the beautiful sunshine. It was immediately apparent that the people of DC take great pride in their city. All the streets were immaculately clean, with elegantly manicured flower beds and tree-lined sidewalks. After a matter of minutes, we were stood at the north side of the White House. That iconic building that I’ve seen on the TV for 30 years was now right there in front of me. It was a surreal experience and you can get remarkably close to the fence (under the watchful eye of a heavily armed guard).
One of the interesting and commendable things about the grounds surrounding the White House, is that free speech and peaceful protesters are not discouraged. In fact, whilst we were there, we saw: two gentlemen airing their views on President Trump (each with opposing opinions); watched a talented street dancer showcasing his moves, and as if that wasn’t enough, there was even a mayoral candidate giving an operatic performance. It’s definitely a place of diversity and it’s fantastic to see.
After the classic “White House selfie”, we walked around to the east side of the building and down to the Washington Monument. This 555 ft tower of free-standing bricks (there’s no concrete, just the sheer weight of brick on brick holding it together) is surrounded by 50 flags representing the 50 American states. Images on the TV do not do justice to the size of this impressive obelisk. And, here’s a fun fact for you: Built to commemorate George Washington, the bricks of the column change colour a third of the way up. Why? In 1854 funds ran dry and construction ceased for over 20 years. When the project was reinstated, stone from a different quarry was used, which was a slightly different colour to the original stone. The monument was officially completed in 1885 and opened in 1888.
We then took a stroll down Parkway, heading towards the Capitol Building. The Capitol building offers a free tour for visitors, and although we sadly didn’t have time to take advantage of this, it would clearly be a great venue to take a group round on an incentive trip, or as a conference activity. And, whilst on the subject of tours, you can also take one around the White House, but for this you must be a US citizen and be vetted months in advance. With pre-planning, this would be an exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime experience for a group of US guests.
Having already visited some of the most famous DC landmarks, we meandered back through the clean streets of Washington, past the many Smithsonian Institute Museums (all of which are free to enter), the J Edgar Hoover FBI building and the Trump International Hotel.
Whilst sightseeing on foot, we noticed that other people were making their way around the city on electric scooters. We later discovered that these are a new initiative being used in a few states around the US. We also found out that it’s pretty easy to start a scooter experience: You simply download an app specific to the particular scooter company in the city (there are a few in operation), the app then tells you where your nearest available scooter is. You find a scooter and scan the QR code on the handle, which in turn triggers the scooter to activate, then away you go! You can explore the city at up to 20 mph, a more efficient and convenient way to get around. Then, when you’re finished with the scooter, scan the barcode again to deactivate and leave it in a safe place for the next person. It’s worth noting that users of the scooters are encouraged to stick to sidewalks and to wear a safety helmet.
Monuments by Moonlight on an Old Town Trolley
We were very lucky to be offered a Monuments by Moonlight tour, courtesy of the lovely people at Destination DC. We boarded the Old Town Trolley at Union Station (worth a visit in its own right) and embarked on a moonlight tour of the city.
The tour driver, Mr Quick, was full of enthusiasm and amazing facts about Washington, telling us about ‘secret’ underground tunnels that linked the Capitol Building to other nearby buildings of importance. We then drove on to see the WW2 Memorial, which overlooks the reflecting pool up to the Lincoln Memorial. This beautiful tribute is a privately funded installation to commemorate the US citizens who lost their lives during WW2.
We were then taken around the Jefferson Memorial, which sits proudly before the Tidal Basin. Then it was on to see the Dr Martin Luther King Jnr Memorial. This emotive statue, overlooking the Tidal Basin towards the Jefferson Memorial, is carved out of stone and is surrounded by some of Dr Martin Luther King’s most heartfelt quotations.
Our driver then took us out of DC and across the Potomac River into Virginia to see the Arlington National Cemetery. Since being established in 1864, there has been some 400,000 burials on this site, and driving past in the fading light we certainly got an eerie and solemn feeling from the place.
Next to the cemetery was the US Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), which was beautifully illuminated in its position looking out across the Potomac River at the Washington Memorial.
We then made our way back across state lines to the infamous Lincoln Memorial. This imposing building really dominates the surroundings and is captivating. We walked up the steps to see Abe himself, and then turned back to look over the reflecting pool up to the Washington Memorial and Capitol Building; a truly incredible view. Our last stop was then back past the White House. After the amazing tour, we made our way to our next hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott Washington Downtown/Convention Centre (another Marriott Bonvoy property).
Courtyard by Marriott Washington Downtown/Convention Centre
This is a brand new, upscale property in the heart of Washington DC and sits adjacent to the large Convention Centre. The rooms are spacious with great facilities and there’s a cool rooftop terrace, perfect to take in views of the city. The hotel has a total of 12 event rooms totalling 10,266 sq. ft of event space. The venue is fully equipped with AV technology and features an impressive ballroom and a business centre. The space is airy and light, with plenty of natural daylight in the lobby where the bar and ‘The Delegate’ restaurant are located.
An ‘Urban Adventure’
On Friday morning we were met in the hotel lobby by Destination DC. Together, we embarked on a fantastic day-long private tour. We began with our guide, Katie, from Urban Adventures taking us for an exclusive sightseeing tour in our very own electric buggy. It was great to see some of the monuments by daylight this time, especially the Lincoln Memorial. On this viewing, we noticed, up on the top step, an engraving which symbolised the spot that Dr Martin Luther King Jnr stood whilst making his famous “I have a dream” speech.
This time round, we also managed to see the Vietnam War Memorial, which is situated next to the Lincoln Memorial. It was an incredibly emotive site, and heart wrenching to see so many names written on the black granite walls; people were laying flags and flowers next to the inscriptions of their family and loved ones who fell during the conflict in Vietnam. There was also a group of veterans who had come out to remember their fellow comrades. It was a sombre yet incredibly heartening place to visit.
We made our way back across town via China Town (which smelt amazing) to meet Sana, who would be our next guide for a private tour of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Here, there was a large exhibit dedicated to the Suffragist movement which, as a group of women, made for very interesting reading. We were then shown some amazing works of art and portraits of the real Pocahontas. Held captive by the English from 1613, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and upon baptism took the name Rebecca, so I felt we had some small connection. The museum is full of amazing portraits of presidents and modern art installations, which really challenge the mind.
The central courtyard of the museum can be used as a fantastic event space. Named the ‘Robert and Arlene Kogood Courtyard’, this architectural space can hold a reception of 1,200 or host a seated dinner for 850. It has an elegant glass roof canopy and is one of the largest event spaces in DC. There are also other smaller galleries and spaces within the museum that can be privatised for evening events. I would love to put this space forward for a memorable conference gala dinner in the courtyard, or in the Great Hall (300pax). Or, maybe as a venue option for a more exclusive outdoor cocktail reception in the Portico (50pax).
Thank you so much to Urban Adventures for an fascinating tour and to Destination DC for hosting us. I would jump at the chance to recommend this experience to clients who have delegates attending an event or incentive in Washington.
Cupcakes in Georgetown
With a little spare time in the afternoon, we decided to visit the shops in Georgetown. On the way there, our cab driver told us of three locally famous cupcake shops that have locals and tourists alike queuing out of the doors - of course, we had to go and visit. After our cake pit stop, we wandered the streets, smelling the amazing food and window shopping in the lovely, but slightly out of our budget, clothing stores.
It’s true what they say, “all good things must come to an end” and after an hour or so in Georgetown, it was time to catch our transfer back to Dulles International Airport for our overnight flight back to Heathrow.
A top Destination
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Washington, and I would love to take a group back there; to the Mayflower for a VIP experience or the Courtyard with the adjacent Convention Centre for conference attendees.
Thanks again to Destination DC and Urban Adventures, we were given a fantastic insight into everything DC has to offer and would have no hesitation in putting Washington forward as a MICE destination. I hope that I get the opportunity to visit again soon.