I'm sure you've heard of Madame Tussaud and her wax museum in London. I know I had, without ever thinking very much about it. Then, via my affiliation with U.S Family Guide, I got an opportunity to visit her Washington, D.C. branch.
Having attended college in D.C., and frequently visiting the area since because my husband is a Baltimore native, I am familiar with and fairly comfortable in the city. And at one time or another my family and I have visited most of the major attractions. So it was exciting to get to experience something new to us, particularly at no cost to ourselves. Yes, I was given the tickets for the four of us in exchange for promoting the attraction on social media and giving my honest opinion on my blog. My opinions are my own.
We were staying in Baltimore and were able to drive from there right into the city, getting off the expressway only a few blocks away from our destination. It's also readily accessible via Metro. We parked one block away in the Ford's Theatre garage (bonus tip: Visit Madame Tussauds in the morning and Ford's Theatre in the afternoon, and see two quality attractions without moving your car. You can eat lunch in between, like we did; there are many restaurants right nearby.). This parking garage is safe, well-lighted, and not free. So come prepared.
Above are side and front views of the museum. I love that they used existing structures instead of building something new, so the museum fits right in.
I really have only one critical comment to make about our experience, and it occurred right at the beginning of the visit. Once you pay for admission you go downstairs where you are invited to sit down and watch a couple of movies, one about Madame Tussaud herself and the museum's history, and another about the process of making the figures. We like that kind of thing in our family, and I would recommend that everyone take about five minutes to watch the videos.
But a lot of people don't like to watch these things, so they just walk on by, and the way they've set this up is that they have to walk between the viewers and the screen! And if they walked quickly that might be okay, but the beginning of the exhibit is crowded so the line started blocking our view. This is a really stupid design flaw.
After the movies it was straight to the exhibits. There was a line and I was worried it was going to be crowded. But once you get into the first of several rooms, people start to spread out and crowding is never an issue. I was immediately impressed by the first exhibit:
This figure is a Piscataway Indian, and what I thought was neat is that his tribe was native to the area. I liked that the company took the time to do the necessary research to personalize the exhibit. This gives me confidence that should I have the opportunity to visit other locations, I won't be seeing all the same exhibits.
Next we plunged right into the meat of the museum: The Presidents' Gallery. This was so much better than I was expecting. I had an image in my head of the presidents all in a row, on pedestals, with people two rows deep trying to get a glimpse. That's not how it is at all.
First of all, many of the presidents are doing things, as General Washington is here. And the visitor is invited to do more than just view--there are many more opportunities like the one above to really put yourself into the moment. Picture-taking is encouraged, and there were no signs saying not to touch.
Ten-year-old Lorelei was almost as tall as James Madison, the shortest president! Which reminds me, this is a good place to point out another flaw in the museum: the heights of some of the figures are not right. How do I know that? Because my husband is basically a genius on the topic of the presidents and knows their heights. He's 6'3'', and many presidents who should have been shorter than he were in fact taller. Also, he found minor factual/spelling errors in some of the printed materials that accompanied the displays.
But I really don't want to complain too much because we all had a fabulous time, even though by the face he is making below you may not be able to tell that William was having fun.
We wanted pictures of both kids with all the presidents from Tennessee, but in the end I cropped William out because he was spoiling the pictures! Lorelei is a much better model. :-)
Now, all these presidents were not in the same room. There were a few in each room, which helped to spread out the crowd. It also helped to provide context for what we were seeing. Some of the presidents were presented in rooms with period furnishings. Some were placed before murals illustrating events from their time in office. Others were accompanied by other figures who were important during their presidencies. As we walled through each room, we were immersed in the American story.
Below, Lorelei shares a moment with Frederick Douglass, as we learned about slavery and the abolitionist movement.
Below, she was again invited to immerse herself in the scene, even being provided with a costume as she helped General Lee negotiate the terms of his surrender.
Everyone wanted to take a turn at hanging out with President Lincoln in his box at Ford's Theatre. This was especially cool since we knew we soon would be visiting the actual theatre!
Last time we brought the kids to D.C. we visited Theodore Roosevelt Island, site of a lesser-known monument that I highly recommend.
Eisenhower is one of William's favorite presidents. He and Lorelei both immersed themselves in the WWII section.
Despite an interrogation from J. Edgar Hoover, the kids threw themselves into the Civil Rights Era.
Lorelei kindly helped President Nixon deliver his resignation speech. Seriously, y'all, the speeches were actually there, so if you felt like declaiming them yourself you could.
John enjoyed posing with his favorite president.
I cannot praise the realism of these figures enough. They look so real that Facebook asked me to tag them when I uploaded my pictures! Standing right next to them and looking in their eyes makes you feel like you are really with the actual people, and you start to get a sense of who they really were.
Every one of the presidents and many of the other exhibits are accompanied by placards that tell you a little something about them and include a some of their own words.
After President George W. Bush, we found ourselves in a short line to view the piece de resistance, our current president and the British Royal Family. Only one party is let into this part of the exhibit at a time, because they have a staff photographer there who wants to take your picture for you to buy at the end of the tour. However, I was extremely impressed that not only were we allowed to photograph this part of the exhibit ourselves, but the photographer asked if we we would like her to take pictures of us with our own camera (i.e. my iPhone). Because we are frugal, those are the pictures you see below.
Before the next section of the museum there was an optional "wax hand making" station (also not free) which William and Lorelei begged to participate in. I believe it was $8 per hand, and they had fun doing it. While you wait for this to be done (there will be a line) you can look at some artifacts from the first Madame Tussauds, including heads of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, which come from the originals Madame Tussaud made from their death masks. Also there was the blade from the actual guillotine that killed them. Did you know Madame Tussaud was forced to make wax replicas of decapitated heads for display on pikes? It's true, and it's how she escaped the guillotine herself.
Here she is, by the way. I love these pictures. I love her delight in her own artistry, and I think it's fabulous that her legacy lives on. The company is still run by her descendants.
Next came the entertainers room. I'll be honest, I was much more interested in the presidents. Not that these weren't good, because they are. And very realistic, at least the woman who was kissing the one of Justin Bieber seemed to think so!
Next was the sports room, which was really small and had only about four figures, none of whom were interesting to me, so I have no pictures. Last was the media section.
Then, predictably, came the gift shop (where we could have picked up the pictures they took of us and where we DID pick up our wrapped wax hands), and then out into the hot sunshine to find some lunch before heading over to Ford's Theatre.
We had a great time, obviously, and I have no reservations about recommending this attraction to you. Plus I can offer you a coupon:
KIDS GO FREE! Free Child (Ages 4-12) Ticket to Madame Tussauds Washington, D.C. with purchase of regular same day adult admission. Present this coupon at the Madame Tussauds box office to receive one free child admission with every purchase of a regular same day adult admission. Valid for up to 6 people. Not valid on online, advance or combo ticket purchase or with any other discounts. Restrictions apply. Promo Code: V373.