by Erica Lamberg
There’s no doubt about it–a visit to the Washington, D.C. area offers an experience that’s truly monumental. For a family escape close to Washington, D.C., the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center, located in National Harbor, Maryland, is a full-service hotel that is also the only waterfront resort in the Washington, D.C. area. Families are greeted inside the 19-story glass atrium with shops, restaurants and perfect views of the Potomac River. Gaylord National offers an abundance of family amenities, and the resort is within a short distance to the history and sites of Washington, D.C., Mount Vernon and Alexandria Virginia.
As the focal point of National Harbor, Gaylord National Resort is a popular destination in the Mid-Atlantic market. Family-friendly dining, entertainment, a junior-Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool, shopping, outdoor fun along the riverfront and spectacular family special events are just part of the reason to plan a visit. And, within minutes, the museums, monuments and other exciting attractions–many of which are free–are also part of the fun. The setting on the Potomac River seems a world away from the urban hustle and bustle of D.C., but area attractions are within a short distance by vehicle or ferry boat: 10 minutes to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia; 15 minutes to the National Mall, U.S. Capitol and the Smithsonian; 15 minutes to Mount Vernon; and 20 minutes to Georgetown.
If you can spring for it, plan to visit the resort during the winter holidays. The Gaylord National offers a seriously epic ICE! event, with millions of pounds of ice sculptures and a multi-story ice slide. Kids will love the Christmas Village, where they can join Mrs. Claus for story time, as well as the nightly holiday light show inside the resort’s atrium.
With several onsite dining options, activities happening around every corner, and comfortable guestrooms, your family will absolutely love a stay at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center–no matter what time of year you visit.
Our Editor Loves
- Potomac River setting
- Summer and winter festivals and events
- Indoor play area with splash fun
- Theme Park
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Free Wi-Fi
- Game Room
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Gaylord National Resort has 2,000 guestrooms with both standard guestrooms and suites, which make great choices for a family stay. Rooms feature classical design influences inspired by the National Capital region, with views of the Maryland hillside, Potomac Riverfront and the resort's dramatic 19-story, glass atrium. All rooms feature flat-screen TVs; high-speed, wireless internet access; iPod docking stations, mini-refrigerators stocked daily with two bottles of water; and sitting areas with coffee tables and an oversized sofa or chair. Cribs and rollaway beds are available upon request.
Standard rooms provide king or queen beds in 400 square feet of space.
Suites (of which there are 110) provide 800 to 2,800 square feet of space. The junior suites, outfitted with nautical touches, include a sofa bed, as well.
For a little more bang for the buck, select one of the eight concept suites, expertly designed to feature their own signature color palette and custom furnishings; one of five hospitality suites, featuring classical designs with nautical touches; or one of six presidential suites featuring residential-inspired opulence.
I arrived around 10:30 at night to stand in line with about 40 other people who were probably in the same boat- and that is this was the only open option in 25 miles. It felt like an assembly line. I was only there to sleep and wake up and leave two hour before my 9 am in DC - I was told to leave at least 2 hours early due to traffic. the room was ok- the amenities- were not stocked not even hand soap the towels as scratch and rough as they get - but there was nice coffee and tea. Really won't ever stay again unless it is once again the only option open.
Attended a conference, spent 3 nights in the resort. Room was very nice, view of the atrium was great. Sports bar and Steakhouse were very good. A lot of great eating spots within a short walk of the hotel.
Children will feel at home at the Gaylord National Resort. Upon check-in, children are given a colorful activity booklet with crayons; inside, they find a scavenger hunt activity to search for a stuffed bear in the lobby area. Through clues, they find the furry friend, and upon finding him, they approach the front desk, where they are given a sweet treat!
Potomac Playzone Arcade
Kids can unwind in the Potomac Playzone Arcade, located on the lower lever, between the fitness center and the pool. The arcade features a few games and a pool table. While here, youngsters and teens can enjoy a variety of video games. Parents accompany most younger children, while teens visit on their own, so decide for yourself if your children are old enough to hang with the big kids.
Just a short walk through doors from the Playzone awaits the junior-Olympic indoor pool with splash fountains. While the lifeguard-manned pool is a lap pool for adults looking to squeeze in some fitness, families are welcome to play. In the warmer months, the pool becomes an open-air pool, as the front doors open to a gorgeous sun deck and resort-style pool bar. Pool hours are 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Performing Water Fountain
Another popular attraction in the hotel is an indoor water fountain that "performs" shows nightly in the 19-story glass atrium that the resort centers around. The fountain sprays--37 individual jets shooting water up to 50 feet in height--are perfectly synchronized to lights, special effects and a patriotic musical score. This same fountain becomes the centerpiece during the holiday experience, Christmas on the Potomac, when the show includes Christmas music and ends with a flurry of snow inside.
During SummerFest at the resort, Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend, and Christmas on the Potomac, Mid-November through mid-January, free dive-in pool movie for families are offered at 8:30 p.m. During the summer, family classics and animated movies are featured, while during the winter months, family classic holiday movies and animated movies are shown.
Christmas on the Potomac
Christmas on the Potomac is a magical holiday destination your family must experience! Shows, rides, shopping and treats can be found around every corner of the hotel from mid-November through early January. Kids can write letters to Santa and place them in the designated mailbox and check out the elaborate gingerbread house display with a different theme each year--and that’s just in the hotel lobby.
The 19-story, glass atrium is transformed into a magical Christmas dream that's pretty to see during the day. But it really comes alive at night, with a free laser light show, music, and flurries of indoor snow hourly. There's a free, daily Cirque du Soleil show that is perfectly timed at 20 minutes for young children’s attention spans. Kids (and parents) will be in awe of the flips, flying and twisting these actors display on stage. A character breakfast is available on the weekends, and there's also a Christmas Tree Trail, where you can stroll around and see themed trees and decorations.
Wander over to the attached convention center and you'll find the Christmas Village. It is free to enter the indoor village, but a ticket is necessary for each activity or ride. Kids will most definitely want to ride the Christmas train or carousel (for ages 3 to 11)! There's also hot chocolate; gingerbread house decorating; storytime, singalongs, and photos with Mrs. Claus; a holiday-themed shop; and ice skating!
Families will want to head outside to ICE! at the Gaylord National Resort from mid-November through early January. Situated inside a large event tent that lives outside on the Gaylord property, this attraction features millions of pounds of ice. There is a different theme each year; previous years have seen Charlie Brown, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Christmas Around the World and more.
Inside ICE!, it is a blustering nine degrees, so be prepared for cold temperatures. Each visitor is provided with a long, blue parka with a hood (kid-sizes, too) that is necessary for extra warmth. Families will walk through the experience and marvel at the amazing ice sculpture creations. But the highlight will surely be the multi-story ice slide. Kids will not be phased by the cold temps as they slide down the ice in their blue parka!
Remember to dress accordingly for the ICE! experience. Wear boots, gloves, hats, warm clothes and your own winter jacket underneath your blue parka. Gloves are a must. It may seem like overkill and you may be sweating for a few minutes while you put on all your gear, but you will be grateful for all the warm attire once inside. Trust us!
The resort is happy to direct families looking for fun off-resort, such as the 1-mile walking/biking trail that runs along the scenic Potomac River. The resort offers onsite seasonal bike rentals. Bike rentals are offered seasonally between the months of May through October for a fee.
National Harbor's Pirate Ship
Located just two blocks from the hotel is the National Harbor's Pirate Ship, a ropes course, rock climbing wall and zipline like none you've ever seen. Families can climb the main ship, a three-story sailing ship with 15 high rope elements; the clipper ship, with lower rope elements; and a standalone lighthouse, featuring a 400-foot zipline platform and 30-foot-high rock-climbing wall. The grounds also provide more fun with a treasure map for exploring and a balancing puzzle. The attraction is open seasonally to the public on weekends May through November, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
There are several restaurants within the resort, all offering a variety of cuisines in casual, grab-and-go and fine-dining atmospheres.
This grab-and-go marketplace, located in the atrium, is convenient for families. There are fresh, take-away options like sandwiches, salads, snacks, cookies, ice cream, beer and wine, and on-the-go meals. In-room delivery is also available from the marketplace.
Old Hickory Steakhouse
This onsite restaurant is a sophisticated steakhouse with a serious menu offering traditional selections of premium-aged steaks. Don't worry about bringing kids, though. Kids are welcome to dine here, and will enjoy it just as much as the adults. Crayons and activity books are great for the table and views of the Potomac River outside are a great attention-keeper. But if you need a restaurant to provide children's activities and kids' menus, this may not be the place for you.
Serving a delicious buffet breakfast, Pienza is located in the heart of the atrium. Buffet options include an omelet station, variety of egg dishes, pancakes and waffles, fruits, pastries and more. Character breakfasts also take place here on weekends during Christmas on the Potomac. Lunch and dinner are available here on select dates.
National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill
The official sports bar of the Washington Nationals features a sports-lover's paradise, boasting a 30-foot high-definition video wall and sports memorabilia. Visitors will enjoy unique sports artifacts, including a hand-carved, life-size statue of Maryland native, Babe Ruth. Families will find burgers, sandwiches and salads here for lunch, dinner and late-night eats.
The Cocoa Bean Coffee House
Serving Starbucks brand coffee and drinks, the Cocoa Bean is open all day. Coffee drinks, snacks, sandwiches and more can be found in a grab-and-go setting.
Boathouse Pool Bar
If the unique indoor/outdoor pool isn't the only liquid refreshment you're looking for, visit the poolside cabana for a cool, colorful drink and a fresh bite to eat. Quick bites and drinks are offered so kids can get snacks and a light lunch while still suited up and soaking wet.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
- Fitness Center
The onsite fitness center is equally impressive. It is a 24-hour fitness center with sophisticated fitness equipment available, including cardio equipment outfitted with personal televisions.
- Consider It Done
The resort's "Consider It Done" concept provides a button on every guest phone as part of the hotel's commitment to meet the needs of every hotel guest. Just press the button, and make a request.
The Gaylord National Resort provides parents with an outside nanny service for in-room babysitting. White House Nannies babysitting services can be arranged through the concierge.
The Gaylord Resort provides valet, as well as self-parking for a daily rate.
The Best Time to Visit
The hotel is most crowded in summer, spring and fall, when the area weather is at its most mild and most beautiful (think Cherry Blossom season!) and children are off from school. The winter holiday season, from mid-November through early January, is also a popular time to visit, when The Gaylord National hosts Christmas on the Potomac and ICE! every holiday season. During this time, the resort becomes a magical place filled with holiday decorations, indoor snowflakes and a walk-thru ice sculpture wonderland. The least crowed time is winter, from early January through mid-March.
Most facilities are open all year, except the boathouse pool bar, which is only open seasonally. Bike rentals are only available during warm-weather months.
Gaylord National Resort is located about 20 minutes south of Washington, D.C. The Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is situated 15 minutes away and the Dulles International Airport is situated about 40 minutes away. The Union Station train station in D.C. is located about 20 minutes away.
The resort takes advantage of its waterfront location by offering water taxi service to popular nearby destinations (Mount Vernon, Old Town Alexandria, Georgetown), as well as scenic cruise tours of the Potomac River--all from the resort's private pier. The Potomac Riverboat Water Taxi offers narrated tours with history, folklore, and current points of interest, and departs several times daily from the Gaylord National and National Harbor piers. Service is offered between Old Town Alexandria, Mount Vernon Estate and Georgetown, seven days a week. Hours and schedules vary.
The Circulator shuttle bus is also an easy and convenient way to get around town and it is free for resort guests to use. The shuttle bus makes stops at the Gaylord and MGM hotels, Tanger Outlets and near the town center. Your Gaylord room key card gives you free access to the Circulator bus. Otherwise, there is a small fee to ride.
An added convenience is the resort's connection to the attractions in the region, with shuttle services running continuously to Old Town Alexandria (King Street Metro station), Washington, D.C, (Old Post Office and Union Station), and the area's three major airports.
Adults will love some time relaxing in the onsite resort spa. Relache Spa and Fitness Center is a must-visit while here. Appropriately named Relache, which is French for "relax" or "respite," the spa has a European flavor with its sassy decor. With 11 treatment rooms, including a couples' suite, the spa offers a variety of signature services and treatments to promote relaxation.
Several bars can be found throughout the resort and they all offer excellent views. Gaylord's rooftop Posh Ultra Lounge, located on the 18th floor of the resort, is a late-night hot spot. It overlooks the Potomac and features a wrap-around terrace. Open 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., bars offer nightly entertainment, dancing and cocktails. There is no cover charge for hotel guests, who must be 21 years old to enter. The Belvedere Lobby Bar is also a great place to relax with a drink. The elevated, casual lobby bar offers couch seating and views of the atrium below. Light fare is available here, and children are welcome.