Rediscovering D.C. by Duck

By Jessica McFadden
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, July 4, 2008

If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would be quacking my heart out on a DC Ducks tour, I would have never believed him. As a 23-year-old Senate staff member, I would see the bright yellow, aquatically equipped buses in front of Union Station each morning as I bustled out of the Metro. Rolling my eyes, I would congratulate myself that my sophistication and Washingtonian status prevented me from ever engaging in such a touristy activity.

Then I became a mom.

These days, I am willing to sacrifice chic for fun with my children. I'll do just about anything in the name of a summer activity that helps us beat the heat and is educational to boot. The DC Ducks tours are a blast for kids of preschool to middle school age and, dare I say, adults.

The fleet of seven open-air, drivable boats gives 90-minute tours of the major monuments and memorials by land and by a cruise on the Potomac. With a shade overhead and a breeze off the water, it's a surprisingly fantastic way to view our nation's capital, even if the capital is your home town.

My children loved the novelty of the tour, and I loved the chance to see the city without worrying that the minivan's parking meter on Constitution Avenue would expire or that I was in the wrong lane for my turn off Memorial Bridge. Driving directly into the Potomac via the Columbia Island Marina was as exciting for the seniors sitting in front of us as it was for my 4-year-old. We all laughed unabashedly at the corny duck and Americana-themed jokes the captain interspersed among the historical facts in his loudspeaker spiel.

Frank Pitts, 65, of Reston led our tour. "I enjoy playing on the Duck everyday. I don't consider it a job," says Pitts, a former employee with the U.S. Geological Survey. After retiring, he became "a legitimate boat captain and a licensed tour guide, the requirements to captain a Duck, and this is my fourth season of fun."

We shared our tour with tourists from Japan and Great Britain, as well as from Adams Morgan, Northern Virginia and Maryland. "I've lived in the D.C. area for seven years, and I found it family-friendly and fun to be a tourist in my own town," says Siobhan Carroll, 31, of Silver Spring. She brought her visiting niece and nephew. "They even got a chance to drive the boat, with the captain's help, of course."

The Ducks were built in the 1940s in Detroit to serve as delivery vehicles for Allied troops in World War II. The Ducks brought supplies from the sea to the battlefields of Europe. In the 1970s, cities in the United States started to use the Ducks for sightseeing tours. A DC Duck leads the Marine Corps Marathon in October, and, according to the Old Town Trolley Tours of Washington, the DC Duck tour is the most-requested sightseeing tour in its fleet.

"There are adult passengers that are part of a 'Duck culture' and travel the country taking the tours in different cities," says Laurence Warren, director of DC Ducks.

My kids started to get restless as we drove onto dry land, but then out came the quackers (noisemakers that made our sightseeing party sound like a bevy of mallards). Passing young staffers briskly walking into the Senate office buildings, the kids and I quacked loudly and embraced our complete lack of cool.

DC Ducks Tour Old Town Trolley Tours booth, Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE Contact:800-213-2474. www.dcducks.com. Open: Tours on the hour daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. mid-March through October. Closed today. Cost:$32, ages 4-12 $16, free for age 3 and younger. Discounts online. DC Ducks Tour Old Town Trolley Tours booth, Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE Contact:800-213-2474. www.dcducks.com. Open: Tours on the hour daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. mid-March through October. Closed today. Cost:$32, ages 4-12 $16, free for age 3 and younger. Discounts online.


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