Today I went to the newly opened Capitol Visitors Center. I wasn’t really that impressed, I am a big fan of the way things use to be done.
The entrance to the visitors center is on the East side of the Capitol so now that entire area with the Library of Congress and Supreme Court isn’t covered with construction anymore which is nice. To get into the museum you need to go through a metal detector which is fine, but the flow of people was not thought out very well and the lines to get inside were very long. Once inside you had to get in another line to pick up your tickets or try and get one that remained for the day. After that you waited to get into the theater.
One thing I did not really like was how the pre reservation of tickets has changed. In the past you could reserve tickets for a certain tour time and pick them up in the morning, come back in the afternoon for your tour and not have to wait in line for it to start. Because you have to go through security to get your ticket and if you leave wait in security again when your tour is going to start it makes the most sense to reserve a ticket show up two-three hours early and use the time to get through security, pick up your ticket and then go through the museum part of the visitors center before your tour starts.
The building has two theaters that are used to start the tour with a ten minute video that gives an overview of how government works. It was a good video and can see it being very useful for school trips. After the video the guided tour starts with groups of around twenty people. One thing that I really liked was the use of headsets on the tour. Every visitor got a head set with a receiver that matched up with your tour guides microphone and it made hearing him a whole lot easier.
The tour guide was good with lots of information to share but I was disappointed with the length of the tour. The tour consisted of the rotunda for fifteen minutes, and then a quick peek inside the old Supreme Court room which is now used for the “behind closed doors” meetings. And that was it for the guided tour, no House of Representatives or Senate Tour; you get another ticket at the end of the tour and go through some more lines for those.
The museum was just ok, it had videos about the house and the senate little exhibits about key legislation in twenty five year blocks.
It may seem like I am down on the new Capitol Visitors center and the reason is because there is a much better option to see the Capitol, it just requires planning ahead. You have the ability to schedule a tour through the office of your senator or representative and it is lead by someone on their staff.
You get a smaller more personal tour sizes, and you don’t have to go through as may lines. Because you are with a member of someone’s staff you get access to a few more rooms and if the house is not in session instead of looking from the gallery you can go out on the floor and sit in the chairs. Another thing you can take of advantage of that not a lot of people know is in the rotunda. At the top of the dome is a walkway that goes around the mural and you can also go out on the roof. The problem is you need to go up 18 flights of stairs to get there and most of the staff do not like to hike up there, so you need to ask about this when you get a tour. And if the scheduling works out a lot the time you can meet your Senator / Representative.
So if you want to visit the Capitol I strongly suggest you take the time to set up a tour through your Senator / Representative office.