For a price, you still can witness inaugural
WASHINGTON - Caught up in Barack Obama fever, you've just got to be here Tuesday, Jan. 20, for the inauguration of the first black president of the United States.
Not just for the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the swearing-in on the Capitol steps, and the speech that will captivate the nation and the world. You want to be among the expected 1.5 million celebrating "A New Birth of Freedom" in the streets, in the bars, and at the parties.
All you need is a place to stay. Have any friends who live here? Can you make some - fast? That might be your best bet, with most of the 95,000 hotel, motel and B&B rooms in the D.C. metropolitan area already booked.
But don't give up. You have options, though most of them are through-the-roof expensive. For hotel operators, this historic event is their Super Bowl, so they're doubling and tripling rates.
The Hotel Monticello, in Georgetown, is charging $899 a night. Booked. Many other hotels - even those in the suburbs - are charging $700 to $800 a night. And most are booked solid.
Or are they?
Over the next few weeks, hotels will be releasing scads of rooms. Tour operators reserved blocks of rooms at many hotels, but "initial interest" contracts may not come through.
"If they don't pay the deposits, a batch of rooms opens up," says Rebecca Pawlowski, communications director at DestinationDC.
That's your cue to pick up the phone and start calling. You'll have better luck calling hotels directly and catching rooms as they open, Pawlowski says, instead of checking Web sites such as Expedia and Travelocity.
DestinationDC is constantly updating availability lists and can save you wasted phone calls.
"We can serve as conduit to put you in touch with hotels that have rooms so you don't call a long list of hotels in hopes of finding something," Pawlowski says.
You also can get help from BedandBreakfastDC.com, a network that contracts with B&B's and townhouses. When I checked availability of hotels and B&Bs two weeks ago, the Web site had rooms for $550 to $750 a night, with a three- to four-night minimum, depending on location. They also had three-bedroom townhouses for $2,500 to $3,500 a night. Stick enough people in beds, couches and floors there, and you might almost have a normal per-person rate.
If you'd prefer a hotel, the Gaylord National, a new Maryland hotel with 2,000 rooms, seems to have slipped under the radar. While the staff at the seven-month-old resort and convention center eight miles south of here wouldn't say how many rooms were available two weeks ago, it sounded as though there were many to spare, at $599 per person.
Another lesser-known hotel is the Kellogg Conference Hotel at Gallaudet University in Northeast D.C., a liberal arts university for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. The newly renovated hotel has 93 rooms, and about half were available for $750 a night, with a four-night minimum.
Across the Potomac in Virginia, the Palomar and the Monaco, two Kimpton hotels, are charging $729 and $849 a night, respectively, and they had a few rooms. You also can get the Ba'Rock' Star Treatment - an add-on package starting at $705 that includes hair styling, makeup application, massages and snack platters.
If you're willing to drive, you can find a room two hours away in Richmond, Va., though many hotels were booked. The Jefferson, an AAA five-diamond hotel, had about 50 rooms, with a nightly room rate of $310.
Or, if money's no object, you could watch Obama take the oath of office just a short walk from your Presidential Suite in the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill. At last look, the hotel's four-night, eight-guest Presidential Entourage Package was still available for $75,000. For $2,343.75 per person per night (not including tax), you get:
Four-night accommodations in one Presidential Suite and three Capitol Suites.
Roundtrip limo service to the airport.
Welcome reception in the Article One private lounge.
Butler service in each suite.
Day at the Spa.
Private nighttime tour of the monuments.
VIP dinners for eight with wine pairings.
Eight tickets to the Inauguration Parade.
Designer scarves and gloves from Thomas Pink.
Besides the exorbitant prices, booking conditions are strict. For example, the Gaylord National requires a two-night minimum for guests checking in the day of the Inaugural, and the $1,198 deposit is not refundable. There's a four-night minimum for those who want to check in on Sunday.
If you're still looking, check couchsurfing.com, washingtondccraigslist.org, and Viscape (http://tinyurl.com/5qbx9o), a social travel network that launched two weeks ago, to stay in residents' homes.
The Craigslist Web site had 979 private residences available for rent, though many were more expensive than you might expect. For example, a 650-square-foot, one-bedroom condo in the Adams Morgan neighborhood costs $800 a day. And a three-bedroom, single-family home in Chevy Chase, "3.5 miles due north of the White House," is $20,000 for five days. At least it includes maid service.
You might want to try waiting them out. Since you're close enough to drive, you don't need to deal with flights selling out. If no one bites at the home listings, prices may come down. Keep checking into January, and your low-ball offer may start to look good.
If you're still out of luck by early January, make me an offer. I have a cluttered one-bedroom in a very convenient neighborhood with no closet or drawer space available. But I might be willing to give you a deal.
Hotel Hunting to Mark History
If you want to see the Inauguration on Jan. 20 and spend a night or two, here are some possibilities:
The Web site is tapped into furnished apartments and bed and breakfasts around the area. B&B rates are $550 to $750 a night.
Hotel Palomar Arlington
1121 N. 19th St.
A short walk from the Key Bridge into Georgetown. $729, four-night minimum.
Hotel Monaco Alexandria
480 King St., Alexandria, Va.
Close to the King Street Metro station, yellow line. $849, four-night minimum.
Kellogg Conference Hotel at Gallaudet University
800 Florida Ave., NE Washington, D.C. 202-651-6000
Offers free transportation to the Union Station Metro red line. $750 a night, four-night minimum.
Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center
201 Waterfront St.
National Harbor, Md.
Overlooks Washington from the Maryland side of the Potomac. A free shuttle runs to and from the King Street Metro station in Virginia, a few minutes away.
Less expensive hotels to try, in case a room opens up, are:
- Ellen Perlman