Now that it has been a week since our return, I have had a little time to get perspective on our 11 day, 4 city trip to Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City and I wanted to share my thoughts, good, bad and ugly. (But, mostly good.)
This is a quick summary of the transportation and accommodations on each of our 11 days and 10 nights.
We picked these cities because they are all poor for RV travel. In the future, if we do a major trip around the US, I want to avoid places like DC and NYC. From tolls to traffic, bridges and tunnels to expensive parking, I have enough anxiety about driving a car, let alone a monster size towable or motor coach. So the decision was made to fly into DCA, and after sightseeing in the nation’s capitol, rent a car and drive the days in between, before dropping the car in NYC. This way, we get to see these important and interesting places, without the dread of having to drive and park an RV.
To kick things off, we chose to fly. Jet Blue was super affordable and made traveling with kids easy, as each kid gets their own TV and choice of snacks. Our flights left on time out of JAX airport and arrive in DC without incident.
Upon arrival at Reagan National Airport, we took the Metro to our hotel. The Metro is really cheap and clean and we never had to wait more than a few minutes for a train. Truly, there is no need to rent a car to get around to see the sites in Washington DC. Besides the subway, you can walk, rent a bike, or take a cab or Uber. Parking is really expensive if you do have a car, so I recommend avoiding it. (Our hotel garage was $30 per night!)
For lodging the DC, we chose the Embassy Suites in Alexandria, VA, perfectly located across the street from the Metro Station at King Street Station. If you choose this hotel, you’ll also want to take advantage of sightseeing nearby in Olde Town. For that, the city of Alexandria provides a free round trip shuttle which also picks up in front of the hotel. More on that later… The hotel offers free breakfast and a happy hour with complementary snacks and drinks (including adult beverages!) There is an indoor swimming pool, a fitness center and a very friendly staff. We were there three nights.
After 4 days in DC, HH picked up the car from Avis at DCA (again, using the Metro to get from our hotel to the airport.) We loaded up the car, checked out of the hotel, and headed to Baltimore, a quick 1 hour drive from our place in VA.
In Baltimore, we wanted to experience the waterfront. We decided to stay on a boat by booking a place through AirBnB. It was a crazy thing to do with three boys, but I am glad we did it. Not only was a famous Maryland crab restaurant just a few steps from where we were moored, but we were only a 20 minute walk to the Inner Harbor. There was free overnight parking in the marina and the cost of the AirBnB was less than a hotel in the downtown corridor, with the added benefit of a waterfront sunrise. If you can find an option like this, I recommend it. No one in our family took showers on the boat, but for one night, who cares.
From MD to PA was another relatively short drive. We found our Embassy Suites hotel on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with ease. Having not been in Philadelphia in years, I learned that there are two central areas that are good for tourists to stay. The Parkway puts you close to the Franklin Institute (more on that later), the Art Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Free Library, and more. If you want to be close to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and other spots more closely aligned to the start of our nation’s history, you’ll want to choose another hotel. To get to these other sites, we took Uber rather than drive the car and fuss with parking. It was only $6 each way, but it was an added step that we would have avoided if we picked a hotel in that part of Philly. We also walked a lot. Philly is a great city to walk around it. I loved seeing the signs to not “Block the Box” at every intersection, reminding drivers to stay out of the pedestrian cross walks and give them the right of way.
Once again, we drove from PA to NYC. The drive was the longest of our three jounts, but still less then 2 hours, with “exciting” moments as we crossed through Delaware and New Jersey. We used the Holland Tunnel and popped up into the city on our 7th day.
For New York, we went bold with our NYC lodging. Originally, we had planned a hotel in the middle of Times Square. With no car, (HH returned it soon after we arrived), we thought it would be easy to get to the sites and be exciting for the boys. However, at the last-minute, I changed course. Several friends had suggested the Times Square was akin to Disney World, with noise and crowds waiting for you at the entrance to every hotel and that stressed me out. Instead, I went the AirBnB route again, choosing a spot in the East Village with a park across the street and a washer and dryer, along with a chance to pretend I lived in NYC for a few days.
It was a risky choice, and for the most part, it paid off. We liked the coffee shops and pizza places nearby. As predicted, there was less noise and fewer crowds and we had more room than a hotel, with less hidden fees and more reasonable prices for things like meals, snacks and souvenirs. However, we went a little too far off the path of convenience. The 5 block walk from the subway after a full day of sightseeing was a slog for me, let alone for my 8 and 11 year olds.
As for getting around in the city, we hardly spent anything. The subway was REALLY cheap and the only time we didn’t use it was when we had a tour that started at a specific time and we were running late. I guess they have to make something affordable in NYC and public transit is it.
For the return flights, were went with Jet Blue again and chose to leave out of JFK. Our subway trip to the airport was long, but manageable. The Jet Blue terminal was well-appointed and cheerful, but that was forgotten when we sat on the runway for over an hour and a half waiting our turn to depart. JFK is a very crowded airport and unbeknownst to me, they often have delays on the tarmac. Lesson learned.
We got home 11 days later, poorer in the pocket, but rich with memories and experience.
Travel because you can and be well.