Bláithín O’Donnell of Carlson Wagonlit Travel is our July winner in the ITTN Budding Travel Writer competition – and hence receives a €100 One4all voucher, an invitation to the Irish Travel Trade Awards at the DoubleTree by Hilton Dublin on Friday 28th November 2014, and the chance to win the overall prize of €1,000 – and so could YOU!
If you are a travel agency or tour operator staff member in Ireland (RoI or NI) and have been on a fam or prize trip in the past 18 months (i.e. since 1st January 2013) or will be in the coming months, send your 500-1,000 word report to [email protected] by Friday 29th August and you could be our next monthly winner. The competition rules can be read at:
Bláithín won with her write-up on the United Airlines / GHA / Doyle Collection fam trip in March 2014 to Washington DC:
St Patrick’s Weekend in Washington DC
St Patrick’s weekend in Washington DC – and not out of my own pocket? Who wouldn’t want to go!
With United Airlines as airline host and Global Hotel Alliance and the Doyle Collection duetting as hotel hosts, the trip promised to be two nights of back-to-back luxury, good food, a few drinks, culture and sightseeing. Brian Hughes of United was our airline host and, as I have known Brian for years, I was delighted that he would be coming along, for you couldn’t get a more amenable travel companion. With a group of six staff from my agency, the trip also had the feeling of a school tour – but we resisted the urge to sing on the plane!
When the group met at Dublin Airport I had arrived with a pack of hydroponically grown shamrock as gifts for our hosts. The website said it could be exported to the USA, but the packets didn’t…so I had to sweet talk my way through US Customs and Border Protection, which was heaving. It seemed that half of Ireland had decided to celebrate being Irish in the USA. I put myself at the mercy of a US Customs agent, who examined my hydroponic shamrock and declared that it would just pass the test.
The flight to Washington DC was heaven. I watched three films, catching up on ‘me time’. With two young children, ‘me time’ is heaven enough, never mind being served a glass of wine and a meal you don’t have to make yourself.
As we arrived in Dulles in the domestic terminal it was a swift exit to our minibus transfer – and when we arrived in the lobby of the Dupont Circle Hotel we were greeted with Jameson Mojitos in honour of the weekend that was in it!
We also had a surprise in store because the hotel was also where An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his entourage were staying on official business and as we were in the lobby they passed by on their way to a meeting with President Obama at the White House. We had to resist the urge to shout out “Howeya Enda” as they passed through.
With the Doyle Collection owning this hotel, the Dupont Circle has a familiar boutique-style feel – nothing brash, simply understated luxury all the way. Our rooms had little surprise gifts, including a bucket of Samuel Adams beer for the gents and a bottle of bubbly for the ladies. My Irish name had obviously caused confusion, however, as I was provided with the bucket of beer! The evening brought a hosted dinner with our hosts and an almost seductive description of each dish from our waiter. He certainly had us drooling over our plates.
The following morning, after a night in a local Irish bar where some among us (not me!) showed the locals how to Irish dance, we took in a city tour that stopped off at the main sights – the Lincoln Memorial, the White House (where we tried to relive the Forrest Gump moment), and Arlington Cemetery – and finished with a shopping trip in Crystal City Mall. We didn’t have time to see the many museums on offer. You would need days to explore them all.
We were surprised by the amount of Irish flags flying jointly with the Stars and Stripes on the city poles and it seems that half of DC had Irish in them somewhere from the amount of green tee-shirts and shamrock regalia that were being worn proudly. Every second person we met seemed to be a political lobbyist and I could see how an Irish person would fit into a system and way of life where talking your way in and out of situations could be a livelihood.
Dinner on Saturday night was a quieter affair then the previous night, as jet lag had set in for some of us, but the portions in the Hill Country BBQ were huge, and the pitcher of margaritas helped liven things up. We had already transferred to the Omni Shoreham Hotel, which was a little further out of Washington than the Dupont Circle and had more of a resort feel to it. It is a much larger hotel and has an outdoor pool with relaxation area that would be delightful when open for the summer season.
On Sunday morning we had free time so I wandered into Georgetown and saw the founding district of the nation’s capital. It was quiet and peaceful along the banks of the Potomoc River. Locals were fishing and jogging or walking with their children.
After an afternoon shopping in the factory outlets in Leesburg, we returned to Dulles for our return flight. Most of us had been upgraded by United so we had great comfort and food to top off our whirlwind tour of the airline’s newest US destination from Ireland. We arrived back into Dublin on St Patrick’s Day morning…just in time to start the festive celebrations all over again!
Washington DC surprised me. I expected a busy, built-up noisy city full of traffic. Instead, I found it almost residential, leafy, quiet, refined. It is full of museums, culture, learning, and, of course, politics.
Would I go back? Yes, and I would bring the children too next time. After all…I still have all those museums to explore!