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Cherry Blossom Festival Draws Large Crowds on Opening Weekend

Eri Ogawa, the Japanese Embassy's cherry blossom princess, prepares for the lantern lighting ceremony yesterday.
Eri Ogawa, the Japanese Embassy's cherry blossom princess, prepares for the lantern lighting ceremony yesterday. (Katherine Frey - The Washington Post)

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By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 30, 2009

No, it wasn't margaritas on the beach or cabanas by the pool, but the pink puffs of the cherry trees and the grandeur of Washington are standing in as a decent Plan B for spring break 2009.

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The Tidal Basin was a light blush of pink yesterday, with the cherry blossoms in their gawky, preteen stage of early bloom.

Still, the area was flooded with people: the veteran blossom watchers who fuss over the flowers and visit them several times every year; the natives who decided to finally see what all the buzz was about; and the tourists, who seem to be coming in large numbers despite the faltering economy.

Some blossom watchers were frank about watching their wallets.

"We decided to drive down and see the blossoms. All we had to pay was the toll, since we're staying with friends," said Faith Merino of Long Island, who said it was the only vacation she and her husband can afford.

Although hotel booking rates are down as much as 20 percent this spring at other destinations, in the nation's capital the rate is only 3 percent below the best of times, said Vicki Isley, senior vice president for Destination DC.

The crowds, dotted with the usual fans who dress head to toe in pink, girls in sundresses and boys in shorts, looked lively and bigger than in years past, said National Park Service spokesman Bill Line.

The Park Service does not keep crowd counts, but Cherry Blossom Festival organizers said visits to their Web site were up 30 percent this year before the festival began.

The Ronhovde family of Jacksonville, Fla., often goes to Orlando or New York or somewhere else for spring break.

But Diana Ronhovde's husband is working in the District, so the family decided to save money on hotels, stay with him and tour the sights.

"It's just cheaper, and that makes sense," Ronhovde said.

It helps that most attractions in the nation's capital are free.

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