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Kidding Around at the Gaylord National

A new hotel popped up just over a year ago, a giant glass landmark as you come over the Wilson Bridge — it’s a great place for a conference, but do they have activities for kids and families at the Gaylord National Resort and Spa?  Known as immense, luxe properties (they also have hotels in Nashville, Orlando and Dallas), does this glittering gem have anything to offer locals with kids? You’d be surprised—among the fancy trimmings at the Gaylord National hide plenty of activities for kids.


Arrive in the afternoon and take in the lobby,  a vast expanse of glass with a window overlooking the Potomac that reaches 18 stories high. It’s almost a small-town piazza, with restaurants and shops studded around brick walkways. But while it’s fancy, it’s not intimidating—and the resorts welcome kids right off. Around the lobby hides Sunny G, the Gaylord Teddy Bear. On check-in, kids get a Sunny G Activity Book, complete with scavenger hunt.

There are four sit-down restaurants in the hotel (along with other bars and a coffeeshop); the two most family-friendly are the Pienza Italian Market and the National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill. Pienza is a buffet-style restaurant with six “stations.” Young ones might have trouble managing their own trays, so you might have to double-team the table. The sports bar has a 30-foot high-definition video wall and tons of sports memorabilia, including a life-sized statue of Babe Ruth. Two other restaurants are the Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine, an upscale casual seafood restaurant and the Old Hickory Steakhouse, which is the fanciest of the eateries. However, children are welcome at both: When my husband ate our dinner at Old Hickory, we spotted two (very well-behaved) boys of about seven and nine at another table.

Another great activity for kids at the Gaylord National is to check out the 15-minute fountain show that dances in the lobby four times a night; choreographed water jumps up to 60 feet high while lights flash and music plays. But you don’t have to just watch the water: there’s also an indoor pool and a “splash zone” fountain. On our recent trip, our toddler son spent most of his time there, happily getting soaked. There’s also a small arcade with nonviolent video games.

A word about the rooms: we stayed as guests of the Gaylord, so we got a pretty nice room. And when I say “pretty nice,” I mean “larger than my first apartment and more luxurious than my current house.” Many rooms have balconies that look over the lobby atrium; if this makes you nervous, there are rooms without them. Every room has free wireless and an LCD flat screen TV and refrigerators.

The next morning, grab some breakfast (we had ours at the Pienza Italian Market, but you can also grab a muffin or something from the coffeeshop). The Gaylord is a great place to use as a home base for touring D.C., Old Town Alexandria or Mount Vernon—or a combination of all three. A shuttle departs every hour from the hotel and stops at both the Old Post Office and Union Station (tickets are $13; $20 for a round-trip ticket.) For a more unique mode of transportation, the Potomac Riverboat Water Taxi also stops at the Gaylord and offers service to Old Town Alexandria, Georgetown and Mount Vernon. In fact, there is a special deal with Mount Vernon where your round-trip boat fare and ticket to George Washington’s estate are included as one price.

At the pier, you can catch the SeaDog Speedboat Cruise, a one-hour trip aboard a turbo-charged speedboat. During the warmer months, you can rent sailboats, jet-skis and bikes, as well—you can even bike across the Wilson Bridge and head to Alexandria or Mount Vernon under your own power.

And all this is just at the hotel—it doesn’t cover the National Harbor area around the hotel, which features numerous shops and restaurants. There you can also find the National Children’s Museum Launch Zone, the preview center for the National Children’s Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2012.

With the holidays coming up, there are special packages to be had. The ICE Family Fun Package includes accommodations, entrance to the ICE holiday event and a free kid’s breakfast, among other things, for as low as $185 a night. And grandparents get special treatment with the Grandparents Stay and Play Free package, in which you get two nights for the price of one, two tickets to ICE for the kids, two free tickets for the grandparents and a free photo; the package starts at $299 and begins on November 19.

So if you’re looking for activities for kids—or want to add a little luxury to your staycation—a night at the Gaylord might just fit the bill.

The Gaylord national Resort and Convention Center is located at 210 Waterfront St., National Harbor, MD. 301-965-4000. Gaylordnational.com.

Brand-new this year, ICE! at Gaylord National is part of their Christmas on the Potomac celebration. Popular at the other Gaylord locations, ICE! (Nov. 19-Jan. 3) is a world carved from two million pounds of ice. Tents are chilled to nine degrees and feature ten different holiday scenes and ice slices that are more than two stories tall. Parkas are provided. It takes 40 days for 40 sculptors—all brought in from Harbin, China, the home of the International Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival—to shape Santa’s workshop, a penguin village and other jaw-dropping (and bone-chilling) scenes. Along with ICE!, Christmas at the Gaylord includes more than two million lights adorning the lobby, a 60-foot glass Christmas tree, ice skating, an nightly indoor snowfall, a holiday scavenger hunt and “dive-in movies,” where hotel guests can watch holiday classics while floating in the heated pool.

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