In October 2014 I was invited on a trip to the Capital Region on the east coast of the USA, which consists of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. to learn more about its spy history. It certainly is rife with history and, I would say, perfect for family holidays, particularly, perhaps, for those whose children have just learnt some American history at school.
First stop, Maryland:
Our first stop was on the Eastern shore in Virginia, home of Harriet Tubman. Named at birth as Araminta, Greek for defender, Harriet Tubman was a conductor on the Underground Railroad during the civil war and transported slaves to freedom. Although one particular slave, Henry ‘Box’ Brown, managed to post himself in a box to freedom to Philidelphia, the majority of slaves escaped by foot, helped by the likes of Harriet Tubman, crossing eight creeks in Caroline County to get to freedom. You can learn more about Harriet Tubman in Cambridge, Maryland by visiting a museum dedicated to her and also by paying a visit to the Bucktown Village store, where Harriet first proved herself as a defender and committed her first act of defiance (tours by the current owner, Meredith, are available upon request).
During our stay in Maryland we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, which is a lovely hotel in beautiful surroundings. Here you can get stuck in with a favourite American pastime and make s’mores (all ingredients available at the hotel) on the open fire pit outside by roasting marshmallows and squishing them together between two biscuits and a layer of chocolate – delicious and guaranteed to bring out the child in all of us (Rate for a room with two double beds is 196USD per night)!
Still in Maryland, but on our way to Washington, D.C. we stopped at the National Cryptologic Museum, an N.S.A. (National Security Agency) museum which exhibits international code making and code breaking achievements and attempts. From the famous enigma code breaking story at Bletchley Park, to understanding how the Navajo language was used to create a code during WWII, the museum is full of interesting stories you wouldn’t necessarily have learnt about during your history lessons. Children would also love the Kids crypto-challenge which is available and sends them throughout the museum.
Once in Washington, the city with the highest density of spies in the world(!), there were of course plenty of famous attractions to visit, from the White House, to the Lincoln memorial, to the numerous museums (mostly free) there is lots to soak in. I would definitely recommend staying there longer than the two days we had there.
We also got the chance to visit the International Spy Museum (entry USD21.95 for adults, USD14.95 for children age 7-11 and children under 6 go free) where you could assume your own undercover identity and explore the cool gadgets which spies have used in the past, from a pistol disguised as lipstick to cameras hidden in lighters - it’s incredible to think that these were actually used by people to get themselves out of trouble! James Bond fans will also enjoy this museum with its new installation paying homage to the most famous (albeit fictional) spy in history.
At the end of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. lies Willard Intercontinental hotel where all incoming presidents stay the night before they move into the White House. One of the attached restaurants, the Occidental, serves beautiful grill and seafood, where portraits of politicians and celebrities line the walls and the presence of men with ear pieces gives you the feeling that you are probably rubbing shoulders with some important people. Although perhaps not best suited for a family dinner, it would be a great place to dine if you could manage to get an evening alone.
After our stay in Washington D.C. it was on to Virginia, and en route we stopped over at Prince William Forest National Park. Now a holiday cabin park, this used to be where one of the training camps for the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services – predecessor of the C.I.A.) was located. If you secure a tour with one of the park rangers then they will be able to tell you all about the selection process, training regimes and about some of the famous spies who passed through there whilst they were going through training.
For the foodies among us, embark on a food tour in Richmond’s Church Hill where you can stop by chocolatiers, cafes and restaurants to sample local produce and general good food (price USD55 per person)! Richmond is also home to the Confederacy’s White House and also Tredegar Iron Works which is now a historic centre, both make an interesting stop for anyone interested in the American Civil War.
Fans of the Disney film Pocahontas need to make sure that they stop by historic Jametown, here you can stand on the exact spot where Pocahontas married John Rolfe. A fascinating archaeological site, Jamestown made the top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2013 by uncovering evidence which suggests colonial cannibalism (morbid but very intriguing!). Guided tours are available and they are definitely worthwhile, the guides really know their stuff and it really helps bring the visit to life!
Virginia is also well known for Colonial Williamsburg, where families can travel back in time and explore the town as it would have looked in the late 1700s during the American Revolution. Donning some purple bandanas, we went undercover to take part in a mission to save the Revolution as part of the REVQUEST challenge – a fun way for families to make their way around the town and get involved in some history. REVQUEST is available for all visitors (Single day tickets to Colonial Williamsburg are USD43.95 for adults, USD22 for children age 6-12 and free for children below the age of 6).
On our last day we squeezed in a visit to Alexandria, a waterfront city, although it feels more like a laid back town, where we had lunch at the lovely Ilporto. Alexandria would be perfect for families who would rather not be in the hustle and bustle of a capital city whilst on holiday. Families could easily make trips into the capital whilst staying here as well as out to other areas of Virginia.
Then finally, Mount Vernon, home of George Washington and also his final resting place. A museum is also situated on the premises, where George Washington’s fake teeth are even on display(!) – which are actually made of horse teeth, not (fortunately!) of wood, as has been previously documented.
George Washington may have been famous for never smiling, but this trip kept me smiling all the way through! With its rich history, good food and things to see and do, I would definitely recommend the Capital Region as a destination for families with children age 8 or above.
I was invited on this trip to review the resort and it was paid for by an external party.
For your chance to win a Scenic Spways holiday to the Capital Region USA, visit www.scenicspyways.com
American Sky offers a six night holiday to the Capital Region USA from £1249pp. Price includes direct return flights from London Heathrow to Washington Dulles Airport, economy car hire with fully inclusive insurance, and six nights’ accommodation (2 x nights at Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge, 2 x nights at the Donovan House in DC, 1 x night in Richmond at the Comfort Suites Innsbrook and 1 x night Williamsburg at Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center ). Price is based on two people sharing a standard room and valid for departures from 1 May 2015 – 19 June 2015. For further information and to book, visit www.americansky.co.uk or call 0843 636 4509
For further information on the Capital Region USA, visit www.capitalregionusa.co.uk