It seems a little odd to me that my boys don't have Veteran's Day off of school. They had the Monday and Tuesday off last week though, so I took a day of leave on Tuesday to spend the day with the boys.
We took a trip into downtown DC to visit the International Spy Museum. We've been wanting to go for a while, and this just ended up being a great day for us to go. From talking to other people, it sounds like going on a weekday was ideal. I hear the lines get really long on the weekends, but there was no line for us on Tuesday morning.
In researching the museum on their website, I was excited about all the cool stuff they had listed to see and do. I was thinking we would spend like 2 hours in the museum, eat some lunch, then go to the Spy-in-the-City mission where they give you a GPS with a set of headphones and you embark on a practice mission along a 1.2 mile walking circuit through the city.
My plans didn't work out so well though.
I had no idea how big the museum itself is, or how much time we would want to spend there. There are two floors to the museum. Right after you pay for your tickets, they put you in an elevator to the second floor. When you come out of the elevator, you are in a room with several displays of fake identities of various combinations of age and gender. You each pick out a fake identity and try to memorize as much of your cover story as possible before you embark through the rest of the museum. Periodically as you go through the museum, there are interactive touch-screen displays where you have to apply some knowledge from the tradecraft you just learned about in the museum along with knowledge of your cover story from the very beginning.
As in any museum, there were plenty of static displays, but there were also a lot of hands-on, interactive things to do. For example, there was one section about disguises, and in the interactive computer touch-screen display there, you were supposed to spot the spy in a crowded room. They gave you an identification photo of the bad guy you were trying to catch, but then the bad guy would be wearing a disguise and it was a challenge to figure out which person it was.
My favorite section of the museum was the cryptography stuff. They had some really cool exhibits that explained basic ciphers and the history of cryptography. They had some virtual Enigma machines to practice encoding a German message and then using some code-breaking techniques with a stolen Enigma figure out how to break the message into plain text. Very cool stuff!
Unfortunately, they don't allow photography in the museum and there were museum employees everywhere, so the only picture you get from this field trip is the photo of the boys out in front of the museum.
After the boys and I spent 2 hours just on the second floor, we came down the stairs and saw there was another whole floor for us to explore and learn. So we went out and put more money in our parking meter (actually, we bought another slip from the pay-and-display machine), ate some lunch in the Spy City Cafe, and then went back in to see the exhibits on the first floor for another hour. By the time we got out of there, it was time to head home for the boys swimming lessons, so we didn't get to do the Spy-in-the-City mission. I'd like to go back and do that someday though.
Food-wise: The Spy City Cafe is adjacent to the museum lobby and gift shop. The service was courteous and professional, and the food was actually pretty good. The boys each had a hot dog, I had a turkey reuben, and we shared some french fries and gourmet cupcakes. I suffered a mild-case of sticker-shock when the total amount appeared on the cash register though. In fact, the whole day's outing cost me a bit more than I had anticipated.
- $45 on one adult and two child tickets (with the military discount - $17 adult and $14 kids)
- $31 on lunch - the food was good, but they really nickel and dime you. I mean, $3 for a fountain soda??? Common! They give you like an 8 oz. cup for the soda, so you'd have to go back and refill it like 6 times to get your money's worth at $3 per cup. When I saw the size of the cups, I mistakenly ordered 3 drinks, not realizing how much they were charging.
- $8 on parking
Total not including gas: $84 for the three of us to tour the museum and have lunch. Luckily we escaped the gift shop without any souvenirs, and luckily we ran out of time and didn't need to pay for Spy-in-the-City, too.
In spite of the sticker shock, we really enjoyed the International Spy Museum. It was a day of leave very well spent. I'm glad we went, and I hope to go back to do the mission someday.