Vacationing in D.C. As a Person Who is Blind
I have been to Washington, D.C. on several occasions, but those trips were always work-related. It was always coming in for a meeting, workshop or conference and quickly leaving out. I rarely visited any of the historic sites or toured the Capitol and surrounding Mall. So when the opportunity to travel with a tour group presented itself I took advantage. I flew out of Atlanta to meet my group in Alexandria for a 3-day historical walk through our nation’s Capital.
I decided to take my vacation with a tour group instead of traveling by myself or with friends and family. I have discovered since losing my vision that traveling alone can be a bit overwhelming and others are not always available when you want to go. Another reason I chose the travel tour group was because everything was already pre-arranged. The travel packages were clearly outlined and displayed on the website with a day-by-day agenda and use of a sighted guide. The company is called Mind’s Eye Travel and they specialize in group travel for the blind and visually impaired. All I had to do was pay the fee and show up. You can’t get any easier than that! When going on vacation you want the most simplest and hassle-free experience you can get.
Once I arrived at Ronald Reagan Airport, I took a cab to my hotel in Old Town Alexandria. My roommate had already arrived and we spent some time before dinner chatting. Then we went downstairs to the hotel restaurant for a meet and greet dinner with the rest of the travel group. My 7-member group plus a dog guide consisted of sighted, blind and visually impaired travelers from as far West as California to up North as Maine. Our personal backgrounds were just as diverse from age, career status, race and vision level. After a relaxing dinner we all bunkered down for the night because our tour would start bright and early in the morning.
Private Tour of DC
Following a delicious breakfast buffet we all met for a Private city tour of DC on a mini bus. Our guide was originally from Pakistan but was very knowledgeable of the Capital’s history. As he drove us by each location he gave us the main highlights. We rode by the Vietnam Memorial, The FBI Building, the Washington Monument, The Pentagon, and of course the Capitol. We stopped at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. There we were able to see the statues of him, both the one exposing his wheelchair and the one that did not. We also walked by numerous water fountains as Roosevelt was fond of water and springs. During his lifetime, he traveled often to Warm Springs, Georgia, for what was believed to have therapeutic properties for his polio. But what I found most interesting about this section was the braille display of some of his speeches. I was able to place my fingers directly on the stone and feel Braille letters. I was also able to stand directly in a stone simulation of a soup line that memorializes the Great Depression era.
Walking Food Tour
After our guided bus tour of DC we came back to Alexandria for a food walking tour of Old Town. The weather was mild and breezy which made it nice for a long stroll through town. We met our personal guide in the town square to begin our tour. As we walked along the cobble and brick sidewalks and streets, our guide gave details of buildings and houses in Old Alexandria. She explained that many of the houses are historical sites and the outsides are preserved in their original state. Between viewing these houses we stopped at several restaurants to sample a variety of cuisines. We tasted fresh Italian baked bread with cheese and tomatoes, sipped on locally brewed beers, had savory scallops with brussel sprouts and, for a sweet ending, we nibbled rich, moist chocolate chip muffins. Along the walking tour we stopped at Christ’s Church, the place that the late President George Washington worshiped. Inside the church you can actually see the pew where he sat for services. After our food walking tour we headed back toward the hotel for dinner on our own.
Cruise to Mount Vernon
The next day we were up and at it again. This time we took a water tour to Mount Vernon. We boarded a small ferry boat and then took a short bus ride up. There we walked through Washington’s mansion. Each floor/room had a person who gave information on that area. We toured his dining room, bedroom, study and tomb. We also walked down to the slave memorial which exhibited his written emancipation freeing his slaves. We next toured the slave quarters. I have to admit, I was surprised when I saw them. I was envisioning the typical slave quarters of a small, old dilapidated wooden structure with a dirt floor. But they were roomy and made of brick. One room was for the women and children but were separated from the men’s by a cobbler shop.
Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian
On the last day of vacation we visited the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian. Our personal tour guide gave interesting facts about the creation of the American flag, and tidbits about the Civil War. Unfortunately, I missed the majority of this tour. After two days of walking, I was feeling the effects so I sat on a nearby bench to rest. I decided that whenever I come back to DC I will go through the museum again to learn about what I missed. After the tour we grabbed lunch and visited the gift shop where I purchased a paper weight replica of cherry blossoms. Next, we hailed cabs back to Alexandria for some down time before our going away dinner.
Later that evening we boarded the King’s Trolley for a ride up to the wharf by the Potomac River. But before dinner, we stopped for a little entertainment by Jamey Turner, who plays a glass harmonica which is a series of glass bowls filled with various amounts of water to create beautiful harmonious sounds. He invited people from the crowd to join him, and of course, I had to try! He instructed me to wet my finger tips in the water and run them quickly around the rim of the glass bowl. As I did that a tinkling melodious tone came out. After that we walked around the corner to the Chadwicks Restaurant for dinner.
Heading Back to Atlanta
In the morning, I said goodbye to my sleepy roommate, ate breakfast and headed to the airport. As I flew back to Atlanta, I reflected on my vacation. It was an eye-opening experience for me because I learned so much historical information about Washington, DC. I also reflected on traveling with a tour group and found it a pleasant experience. I got to meet new people and make some friends. So, as we move into the summer and vacationing, how do you travel? Have you ever tried a tour group? Or do you travel alone, with friends or family? Share your comments below and let’s get ready to go on vacation.