Usually when visiting large and famous cities, premium hotel choices abound for the right price but in Washington, D.C. recently, I discovered the best place to stay of all – and is not even in the city limits. Rather, its neighboring Maryland water-view destination on the renown Potomac River gives the feeling of staying at the shore in a small community while actually only 20 minutes from downtown Washington, D.C.
The Gaylord National Resort convention center and Spa in the boat-accessible planned mixed-use community of National Harbor simply blows the other guys away in value and luxury. With the entire waterside of the Gaylord Hotel in a glass enclosed atrium not unlike Oz’s Emerald City, this complex includes indoor and outdoor gardens, waterfront docking and pier pavilions, premium restaurants and shops, colored fountain shows accompanied by music, special seasonal events, a spa, and retro rooftop nightclub with a magnificent view.
Much like a self-enclosed small town, visitors can also enjoy the neotraditional commercial pedestrian community nearby, but may well not even want to leave the Gaylord and save D.C. sightseeing for another trip – perhaps combining it with a couples or holiday retreat, or even better a business convention which is a popular two-in-one trip for many.
Comfortable and contemporary is not incompatible with eco-urbanism. What may not be as evident to visitors is, besides the solar benefits of the atrium in winter and summer energy savings, the extensive thought given to sustainable design and architecture for those that value eco-friendly comfort. Prior to the construction of the Gaylord, the property was a deteriorating relic gravel mine with an eroding and polluting shoreline.
Today the Potomac River benefits from wise-use riverfront restoration and aesthetic enhancements. Inside the Gaylord are numerous subtle yet innovative approaches to energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, and air cleanliness utilizing low-flow faucets, low-flow toilets, water efficient landscaping indoors and out, a closed irrigation system, compacting of recyclables, green business center practices, and computer-automated utilities. Gaylord’s food services support local and sustainable farming enhancing the community while reducing air travel and transit distances – topped off with its very own Green Roof.
In my experience, hotel amenities and restaurants are usually of mediocre quality as they seem to bank on the convenience of their location over a quality experience but the Gaylord is a major exception. Even locals go here for a night or weekend out to enjoy special events or the region’s largest hotel spa – the Relache Spa – which has so many beauty and salon treatments, I have not heard of them, but I am a guy.
Nevertheless, we are also welcome and my favorites are the various types of massages available. Try the various spa packages for a real bargain or even the Couples Retreat. Do not forget the fully equipped fitness center and pool and, if bringing kids, include the kids’ pool and sign them up for the various activities.
As for dining, the possibilities are numerous and unique offering four world-class restaurants – Old Hickory Steak House, Pienza Italian Market, Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine, and National Pastime Sports Bar Grill with a 30 foot video wall. The attentive visitor will notice how each restaurant or shop area is architecturally modeled after local historical themes. With deliberately wavy antique-style window glass as in a Washington DC 18th century Georgian row house, my favorite is the Old Hickory with a river view, awarding winning wine cellar, lounge, rare Japanese beef and DC’s only “artisanal cheese cave”.
What is a cheese cave you ask? Think of it as a wine cellar for popular and rare cheeses served up by a cheese sommelier of sorts. This Maitre d’Fromage will entertain with a table-side presentation leaving you knowing more about cheeses than thought possible – with a sampling of the various kinds. With fresh breads, this can be a light meal of itself. My favorite entree is the grain fed beef with sides of fresh garlic mash potatoes and asparagus. Other entrees and sides feature regional ingredients from the local farming community. For those so inclined, the evening can be concluded at the cigar terrace – the humidor even has pre-revolutionary (legal) Cubans. If not your thing, instead enjoy the Pose nightclub’s tunes and rooftop view while sipping their unique alcohol infusion cocktails.
There really is no off-season at the Gaylord and this is most evident during the winter holidays when the nationally famous Gaylord National’s ICE! winter wonderland event featuring a 15,000 square foot of ice sculptures and displays – exclusively at only the Gaylord. Locals can enjoy this new experience as a regional alternative to the D.C. tree and holiday events around the National Mall or out-of-town visitors can sign up for a room package. Children of all ages will enjoy this must-see attraction of several interactive scenes made of 2,000,000 pounds of ice hand carved by artisans from China – where its own similar festival originates. Favorite features are internally illuminated wonders of structural engineering and ice slide rides two stories tall. If needed, guests can borrow cozy winter coats which are also necessary for the slide – but give them back.