On the 43rd day of our road trip, the PapiBlogger family took to the National Mall in Washington, DC for marathon visits to the National Air and Space and American History Smithsonian Museums.
AIR & SPACE MUSEUM
Circumstances forced us to reduce the time we originally planned to stay in the nation’s capital from two to one day so we had to be creative to compress everything the best we could. The kids choose to divide their day of Smithsonian visits with half days at both the National Air and Space Museum and the American History Museum.
The National Air and Space Museum is the best museum of its kind in the world because it features several floors of the most historic airplanes, rockets and spaceships. Our nation has developed many of these innovations so a visit here is as Americana as it gets. Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis; the first American jet aircraft, the Bell XP-59A Airacomet; the Apollo 11 command module Columbia from the first lunar landing mission; and the first privately developed, piloted vehicle to reach space, SpaceShipOne are all here.
Part of what the kids enjoyed most about this museum was the fact that they had so much eye candy to photograph, one of the newfound hobbies they acquired during this trip. Elena and Jonathan were taking so many photographs that I eventually had to intervene so they wouldn’t fill up the cameras’ digital cards.
Our favorite exhibit was the The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age exhibit. That exhibit brought more of our nation’s history into focus for the kids because they learned that the brothers were descendants of the Puritans they discovered first hand at Plymouth and of heroes of the American Revolution they found in Boston. The kids also saw that the Wright Brothers came from a principled family that passionately advocated for freedom for the slaves and that also instilled creativity and adventure in their boys.
The National Air and Space Museum also has an exhibit documenting how commercial aviation began and how it’s evolved. If you fly as often as I do, you would appreciate knowing that for a long time air travel was marketed as being for the stylish, comfortable and well off. Commercial planes used to be outfitted with cabins and seating that was reminiscent more of rail trains and than airplanes. Everything changed reverted to today’s type seating when the airlines figured out that they could make more money by appealing to the masses.
The museum has an optional section that features flight simulators for $8 a person. Skip the flight simulators. Jonathan and I went on a fighter plane simulator and it was a complete waste of money and time, especially compared to the simulator games you can play nowadays on systems like the Sony Playstation 3.
Our lone regret was that we didn’t make it to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. it displays some of the largest objects in the Museum’s collection, including a full scale test model of the Space Shuttle Enterprise. If you have more time to make it to Virginia for it, you should consider it.
AMERICAN HISTORY MUSEUM
We spent almost half an hour walking the National Mall from the Air and Space Museum to the American History Museum. The lesson is that when planning your trip, don’t assume that the Smithsonians are all quick, easy walks to each other.
Our half-day allotment for visiting the American History Museum felt very inadequate compared to our time at the Air & Space Museum, perhaps because the former has more history to look at. We focused on the sections about pop culture, Lincoln and America at War.
We began our walk in the museum with a viewing of the red glass slippers Dorothy wore on the Wizard of Oz. That glass exhibit is right near the most popularly visited and photographed thing we encountered during our whole time there: the Kermit the Frog. Even my kids reacted in awe about seeing Kermit. (It’s amazing how putting a toy behind a glass case does to people).
The exhibit about President Abraham Lincoln was one of our favorites as well. My son Jonathan has been learning about all the different presidents and really liked that the museum has life molds of Lincoln’s face and his famous black top hat, which Lincoln famously wore even though he was 6 ‘4 and already towered over most of his contemporaries.
I majored in history but did not recall that during his presidency Lincoln had a massive double burden: even as he struggled to keep the country together, Lincoln lost a young son to. Ironically, shortly after the war it was Lincoln who told his wife Mary Todd that they should go see a play at Ford’s Theater in order to overcome their constant grieving. That night of the play at Ford’s Theater he would die and she would grieve more.
We finished our Smithsonian visit with a view of the America at War exhibit. This section traces the history of wars that the U.S. has been engaged in starting with the French and Indian War.
SPRINT NEXTEL ROAD TRIP TIP OF THE DAY
If your taking your kids to a museum and they are in the age range of 3 to 14, pay special attention to the exhibits that are interactive. Those are the ones that will likely make your museum exhibit most memorable and fun for them. During our entire trip, the kids overwhelmingly most enjoyed the parts of museums where they were able to touch, feel or play with.
DISCLOSURE: All content and photography is sponsored by McDonald’s.