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Good news for visitors interested in joining the country’s biggest political party when President Barack Obama will be inaugurated for his second term on Jan. 21, 2013: Hotels in Washington, D.C. are still available, as are tickets for many prominent inaugural balls and galas.
The not-so-good news: They’re not exactly cheap.
According to Destination D.C., the city’s official convention and tourism corporation, visitors shelled out an average daily rate of $605 to bed down at a Washington, D.C. hotel during Obama’s inauguration in 2009. The average rate for 2013 can’t be calculated until after the event, but the packages being offered by hotels suggest that they expect high demand – as well as deep-pocketed guests who can pay for the high prices.
Most of the city’s top properties are offering amenity-filled packages that run as high as five or six figures, and prices for standard rooms are generally more than double their typical rates. Meanwhile, a recent search on Expedia revealed limited inventory for mid-range hotels in downtown Washington, D.C.; most properties also are requiring a four- or five-night minimum.
In addition to receiving upscale extras such as engraved mementos and access to private cocktail parties, high-end hotel guests will also enjoy the results of a $250 million investment in property renovations across the city in preparation for the inauguration. For example, The Madison, a luxury hotel popular among the political set, is fresh off a $22 million facelift, though rooms are almost at capacity.
“There’s a lot that’s been new in the last four years – D.C. has bloomed,” Kate Gibbs, Destination D.C. media relations manager, told FoxNews.com. “Most of these hotels are unrecognizable from what they looked like four years ago. There’s been this great smartening up, and D.C. really feels special these days.”
Tourism officials aren’t expecting quite the turnout of the historic 2009 inauguration, when President Obama became the first African-American president in U.S. history and drew a record 1.8 million people to the National Mall. Even with the massive crowds, there were no arrests on Inauguration Day – a plus for visitors interested in making the trip.
“These are historic moments in Washington, and the city is happy and proud to be able to host them every four years,” said Jonathan Thompson, manager of media relations for the Newseum, a media-centric museum that’s offering a unique inauguration package (see below). “It’s an exciting time. People are there to witness history, and that’s not something you get to do every day.”
Since the typical Jan. 20 Inauguration Day falls on a Sunday in 2013, the observed celebration will happen on Mon., Jan. 21 (the date also coincides with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday). In addition to the swearing-in ceremony, inaugural address, parade and 11 official balls, the days leading up to the big event will be packed with unofficial balls, galas and more. Here, our guide to help visitors get their political party on.
--About two blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Willard Intercontinental has hosted nearly every U.S. president since 1850. The historic, 335-room property is once again rolling out presidential treatment for guests during the inauguration, with well-appointed Oval Suites, priced at $5,700 per night for a four-night minimum (and a total catering minimum of $27,000), upscale gifts for guests (in 2009, they included American flag pins from Tiffany’s and white chocolate White Houses), and a concierge ready to assist with any wardrobe malfunction. Prices for deluxe rooms start at $1,149, with a four-night minimum.
--The super swanky Mandarin Oriental is offering a three-night package starting at $1,195 per night, which includes breakfast for two and goodies such as a daily amenity or a luxury commemoration keepsake. Basic rooms are still available at the hotel, starting at $895 per night.
--The “Inauguration Rate” at the W Washington D.C., which is just two blocks from the White House, starts at $1,250 a night. The hotel is coming off a refurbishing and rebranding that was unveiled in 2009, and A-list guests since then have included Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. Check out the hotel’s eye-popping rooftop terrace for an incredible view (though note its closure on Jan. 20-21).
--The inauguration package at The Jefferson starts at $950 per night, with a four-night minimum. The package includes breakfast for two, access to a Neiman Marcus satellite store for evening gowns and daily goodies such as a graphite writing quill and pre-ball photos.
--Traveling with a youth group of more than 10 members? Score an enviable $185 per night rate (including breakfast) at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center, located about a mile from the D.C. border in Maryland. A two-night minimum is required; reservations are non-refundable and must be booked by Dec. 31, 2012.
Swearing-In Ceremony and Pennsylvania Avenue Parade
--Tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, which begins at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 21 on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, are distributed in advance by U.S. senators and representatives. Contact your senator’s or representative’s office for information about tickets, but keep in mind they’re limited and in very high demand.
--Attendees without tickets to view the swearing-in can watch from about 20 Jumbotrons around the National Mall. There will be certain secure entry points along the National Mall for the public and ticketed sections; passing through security can take a while, so allow plenty of extra time. Expect to have your bag searched, so travel as lightly as possible to avoid delays. Dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be on your feet for several hours.
--The swearing-in ceremony is followed by a parade along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. Limited ticketed bleacher seats are available (check the Facebook page of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies for updates), but the public is invited to stand along the parade route. The First and Second Family will be part of the procession, as well as various marching bands, military units and other entertainment.
--The Newseum still has tickets available for its unique Inauguration Day package. For $100 (children six and under are admitted free), guests will have access to the museum, which is located on the parade route, to watch the behind-the-scenes action as up to a dozen major media outlets, including CNN, NBC and ABC, will broadcast from the museum. Guests can watch the parade though the building’s large glass walls (though space will be limited), and a large screen will broadcast live media feeds from the event. Thompson was unable to share specific names of media personalities, but told FoxNews.com “there will be recognizable faces.”
Inaugural Balls, Parties and Events
Many state societies host inaugural balls, with tickets available for both members and non-members. In addition, unofficial balls and parties will take place across the city.
--There will be plenty of boot-stomping amidst the black ties at the Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball. Scheduled for Jan. 19 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, the event promises a Texas-style shindig, with six stages and Texas-centric food, drinks, and performances. Cowboy hats are optional, but tuxedos and boots are the dress code for gents, with evening gowns for the gals. Tickets are $250 for members and $300 for nonmembers.
--A “Sunshine and Stars” theme will anchor the Florida Inaugural Ball, held Jan. 19 at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium. A reception and dinner with Florida Congressional delegates kicks off the black tie affair, followed by live music. Tickets for the event, which go on sale Nov. 28, are $200 for the ball and $500 for dinner and the ball.
--Other state-centric festivities include the Garden State Inaugural Gala on Jan. 20 at the Washington Court Hotel, with an Atlantic City casino, Jersey Diner buffet theme, and Bruce Springsteen tribute band; proceeds are dedicated to victims of Superstorm Sandy and first responders. The South Carolina Presidential Inaugural Ball, also on Jan. 20, will be held at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
--The Peace Ball: Voices of Hope and Resistance takes place on Jan. 20 at the Mead Center’s Arena Stage. The event, which is dedicated to promoting peace and justice throughout the world, includes such guests as activists Ralph Nader and Alice Walker; tickets are $140.
Many of Washington, D.C.’s most popular restaurants are still putting together inauguration-specific parties and packages, but wherever you end up, expect a festive vibe and plenty of toasting. Many places will host private parties and gatherings, so it’s a good idea to call or check online ahead of time to avoid arriving at a closed event.
--A decades-old D.C. institution, Ben’s Chili Bowl served up 555 gallons of its world-famous chili – the perfect antidote to chilly January temperatures -- for the 2009 inauguration. The beloved establishment is a must-do for visitors during any visit to the nation’s capital; keep an eye out for the First Family, who made a stop there in 2009.
--A perennial favorite on the political circuit, the Occidental Grill & Seafood will be buzzing even more than usual during inauguration weekend. The restaurant, which overlooks Pennsylvania Avenue, is packed with autographed photos from A-listers from politics to Hollywood, and everywhere in between.
--Johnny’s Half Shell is a Capitol Hill hotspot serves up almost as much political celebrity-spotting as it does fresh seafood like Chesapeake oysters and Maryland crab cakes. Says Gibbs, a fan of the restaurant: “They’ve got a staff that spends the night there during the inauguration. They just wear their iron smiles and get it done.”
--Even if you can’t snag a room at the swanky Madison hotel, you can still belly up to its Lobby Bar at PostScript and rub elbows with the political elite. Cocktail connoisseurs are invited to try their hand at creating a concoction that will be featured on the bar menu from Jan. 18-22; the winner, which will be chosen in mid-December, will receive a weekend stay at the hotel.
--Public transportation is the way to go, and visitors are encouraged to plan ahead to avoid long lines at kiosks. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail will operate rush-hour service from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m., with peak fares in effect. Its bus service will operate weekday rush hour service the morning of the inauguration, followed by an early rush hour in the afternoon, with many routes operating on detours.
--In addition, the WMATA is offering a commemorative SmarTrip card for $15, which includes an unlimited, one-day pass on the Metrorail and Metrobus. Commemorative paper Farecards (used for rail travel only) will be available with the purchase of a one-day pass for $14.