Let me preface this by saying this was my first and only proper visit to Maryland and it only lasted about 5 hours. Unfortunately, those 5 hours were about 3 hours too many — at least with National Harbor. I’m not usually one for writing on negativity but this night just could not be salvaged.
My first half hour was spent trying to find parking. There was at least one lot, some street parking and a garage. There’s probably more options but these are the ones I passed in those 30 minutes. I ended up going to the garage which ended up being its own kind of nightmare. I think I may be a bit spoiled in this aspect. Here in Florida, the closest comparison I have to National Harbor would be City Walk in Orlando. There are restaurants, bars, small rides for kids and plenty of room to park without having a stare down in the parking garage over a space.
The real purpose of this visit was to take a ride on the Capital Wheel. First, my daughter and I needed dinner. She is your typical 8 year old – picky as hell when it comes to dinner. She is not adventurous in the least. I went with BBQ — the restaurant was right by the exit of the garage and every BBQ joint has chicken fingers (her favorite). Before making our way to National Harbor, I checked Google and yelp! for restaurant reviews. She can have her chicken tendies but I want something tasty, you know? I had a difficult time finding any place with a rating higher than 3.5 stars. Now, National Harbor isn’t huge but it is a few blocks in each direction, definitely large enough to house at least one good restaurant. So I took us to Brother Jimmy’s BBQ. I’d never heard of this place but its a chain of some sort. My meal had 5 options to it – brisket, pulled chicken, mac n cheese, french fries, and cornbread. Five opportunities to be tasty. Nope. Brother Jimmy couldn’t even pull off french fries. Pulled chicken is one of my favorite BBQ meats and I left all of it on my plate, sans about 3 bites. My daughter enjoyed the (soggy) fries but wouldn’t touch the chicken tenders. I assumed she was being overly dramatic but nope, again, terrible. They had the texture of sand and the flavor of it too. We left out of there pretty quickly to skip straight to dessert – Ben & Jerry’s. Thankfully that couldn’t be messed up.
Now it was time to get to the wheel.
On our walk over, we passed a giant Peep-mobile. I thought, hey, Easter is soon, must be some Easter candy store, right? No. There is an entire shop dedicated to Peeps. That in itself should tell you what to expect from National Harbor. But on to the wheel. At night, it looks pretty awesome. It’s lit up in alternating purple, pink and white and makes for some pretty nice photos. The line for the wheel was short. We waited about 10 minutes to get on. Looking around, it’s easy to see we picked a good time; there was plenty of room for many more people to wait. My daughter was nervous at first. She doesn’t like heights or trying anything new, really. Once she got on and we moved about 1/4 of the way, she changed her tune. It was night time but plenty of buildings were lit up. We could see a huge cruise ship on the other side of the bridge into the harbor. Overall the view was pretty cool. We went around 5 times I think, more than what I imagined it would be. There is a similar wheel in Orlando, the Orlando Eye. That one takes you around twice, so 5 times was a nice little surprise.
After the wheel, my daughter wanted to play in the sand where a huge statue had been installed. This was definitely the kids’ spot. Plenty of climbing, sliding and falling to be done there. In front of the statue sat a large screen. Earlier there had been a basketball game on so perhaps they play movies some weekends. It looked like a nice idea.
She finished up her playing and we headed back to the parking garage. It was now 4 hours later (!) and 10PM, I was definitely ready to go home. Leaving the parking garage looked easy. The exit was about 100 feet from where I parked. I attempted to exit – insert ticket and wait to pay. No. Not here. I seem to have missed the single tiny sign that says to pay while you’re outside a floor away from where I was. With no cars behind me, I reversed it and tried to park again in the same spot. Taken.
My only option was to drive around (again) to find a spot just to pay. There wasn’t any other way out of the garage. I have never parked in a garage that did not at least have an option to pay at the exit or call and get it worked out. I wasn’t the only one who missed the little sign directing you to the one pay station on a completely different floor. Finally, about 10 minutes later, I got a spot so I could actually pay for this insanity. We break out of the garage and set back for our place in DC, never to set foot in National Harbor again.
So should you visit? I can’t recommend it. The Capital Wheel doesn’t bring enough to the table to make up for the rest of National Harbor. It was 4 hours I’d rather have spent in DC with much better food and easier (ha) parking.