The annual Cherry Blossom Festival begins March 20, and with it comes the annual question for parents in the region: Do we deal with the hassle?

Are cherry blossoms worth dealing with crowded Metro cars and a mass of tourists at the National Mall? (BILL O'LEARY/THE WASHINGTON POST)

One parent asked, “What’s traffic like going downtown during that time?”

Answers: “It is insane. Really, really crazy. I did it one year. … But — it’s beautiful and only happens once a year and our kids still talk about how much fun it is.”

“I go every year, but always during the week around 10am — 2pm to avoid as much of the craziness as possible.”

“Suggest leaving at 7am … Or if you just want to drive by the Cherry Blossoms — go in the evenings after 7pm.”

The exchange (which, before transit folks howl, also included advice about taking the Metro) gets at a constant issue for parents who live in and around one of the country’s top tourist destinations.

How do we take advantage of all the family-friendly offerings this season without getting stuck in a tourist-jam that would ruin the experience?

For some it’s an easy answer. The, “Of course go!” crowd may be the same type who stand in line outside cupcake shops — any amount of hassle is worth the chance to savor a treat and be part of an “experience.”

The “No way” crowd is more like my friend who told me she’d turn down tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll because she heard it’s usually crowded.

The rest of us are in between, debating the joy vs. hassle factor.

We all make our personal choices here, sometimes patting ourselves on the back for making the effort to navigate the Beltway or squeeze the stroller into that sixth Metro car to give our kids a glimpse of wonder. Other times we regret we joined the tired, huddled masses (no more air shows for me) or feel guilty that we didn’t (next year, I will get the family to Chinatown’s New Year celebration.)

The Cherry Blossoms are the official launch of the tourist season here. And, the launch for these debates. If not the blossoms, how about Nationals opening day, the Folk Life Festival, the July Fourth festivities, the Air and Space Museum anytime between June and September?

My own parents confronted the New York version of this dilemma. We made the annual summer treks to the Statue of Liberty and winter ones to Rockefeller Center and to see the Rockettes and Radio City.

Were they worth it? From my own memory, I can unequivocally say yes. The bustle of the city, the excitement of a show, the crack of a perfectly warmed soft pretzel crust, it was all so different from my every-day suburban experience.

Then again, it was my parents who navigated the traffic, kept track of their five girls in the crowds and paid for pricey meals and souvenir trinkets. That’s probably why we never once made it to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

How do you manage the hassle vs. joy debate? When is it worth it to join the tourists?

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