Written by Anita
December 6, 2008
Even a DC native should play the tourist from time to time. This week, we got to check out the new U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Now open to the public, the multi-million dollar underground Center, nearly three quarters the size of the Capitol, is expected to serve almost three million visitors annually.
A tour of the Visitor Center starts with a 13-minute film, shown in one of two state-of-the-art theaters, that introduces audiences to the Capitol’s storied history. Visitors also can explore Emancipation Hall, which includes the original plaster model of the statue of Freedom (the bronze cast stands atop the Capitol) and state-donated marble and bronze statues of distinguished citizens. Skylights offer visitors dramatic views of the Capitol dome.
The Center’s Exhibition Hall allows visitors to see several historic documents, detailed models of the Capitol grounds, and a touchable, 11-foot model of the Capitol dome. To access areas beyond the Visitor Center (including the Capitol rotunda, the old House Hall, and the crypt), you must make a reservation in advance. Real go-getters can contact their Representatives or Senators; lazier folk can arrange tours through the U.S. Capitol Visitor Services’ new online reservation system. Finally, risk takers can gamble on snagging a limited number of same-day passes.
No visit to a DC tourist attraction is complete without a stop at its gift shops and dining facilities. Alas, the gift shops were closed during our visit, but we did get a chance to sample the fare at the Visitor Center restaurant. Diners can choose items from a variety of stations, including a specialty sandwich and soup station, pizza/pasta station, quick pick station, grill station, American bounty station, global station, barbeque grill station, and farmers’ market salad and antipasti bar. Our favorites included the creamy vegetarian butternut squash soup and the comforting home-style macaroni and cheese. The company that caters the facility also services the House and Senate cafeterias. We, the people, expect nothing less!