Archive for the ‘North America’ Category

The Egalitarian Promenade of Washington, D.C.

Monday, March 11th, 2013
Washington D.C. skyline at night

Washington D.C. skyline at night

Washington, D.C. is such an iconic city that it is hard to imagine it not existing. But like all great cities, our nation’s capital was imagined, planned out and then built, and certainly not in a day.

In 1971 Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a Frenchman who fought in the American Revolutionary War and a comrade of George Washington’s, was announced as the master city planner for the future capital. He envisioned a place that married grand European style with American ideals, a city designed for citizens who were were truly equal. In that light, he turned an area full of marshes, hills and working plantations into open public squares, wide avenues and formidable architecture.

Image source: Wikipedia

Image source: Wikipedia

After surveying the land, L’Enfant came up with a very Baroque layout for the city. His plan called for ceremonial spaces and grand radial avenues, while respecting natural layout of the land. Thus, as his design took shape it became a system of diagonal avenues intersecting with and laid on top of a grid system. L’Enfant symbolically placed the Capital Building, the seat of Congress and therefore the people, on a high point of land, a location usually reserved in European city plans for the monarch’s palace. The grid would begin and branch out from where the Capitol Building would be built. 

The U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

As L’Enfant biographer Scott Berg explained to Smithsonian Magazine, “The entire city was built around the idea that every citizen was equally important,” Berg says. “The Mall was designed as open to all comers, which would have been unheard of in France. It’s a very sort of egalitarian idea.”

This was L’Enfant’s vision, and a good one at that. However, he did not have popular support for his plans, in large part because his plan required the demolition of a number of high-ranking official’s houses. L’Enfant eventually resigned his post, and at the time of his death in 1825 he had received no compensation, recognition or realization of his efforts. But a century later, the Senate organized a team of architects and planners to resurrect L’Enfant’s original plan and finally bring his concept to life.

Image source: Wikipedia

Image source: Wikipedia

This vision culminated in the National Mall, a site L’Enfant had called a “great public walk.” The National Mall stretches for two miles, from the Potomac River to Capitol Hill, and is lined with shady trees, gardens and the Smithsonian Museums. While the end result, as we know it now, may not have been completed in L’Enfant’s lifetime, it has certainly lived up to his vision as a great congregating area for public events and protests, as well as many a pick-up ultimate Frisbee game.

Planning a trip to D.C.? Check out Smithsonian Journeys’ new Washington, D.C. Family Adventure here.

Book of the Week – The Civil War, A Visual History

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Civil War Visual History BookOur book partner, Longitude books is always searching for new books to inspire and inform your travels.

This week’s recommendation is The Civil War, A Visual History, edited by Jemi Dunne.

Published to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, this enticing illustrated survey draws on the unparalleled collections of the Smithsonian Institution, giving insight into 1860s America, battles and troops on both side of the divide. This book is a definitive visual history and includes detailed timelines, revealing first-person accounts, and discussion of other topics, including medical treatment, transportation, and the economy.

To honor the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Smithsonian Journeys has created  several tours that enable you to experience this defining moment in American history in a unique, immersive way.

Please don’t forget to click here to see all the Smithsonian is doing to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

Q&A on Small Ship Cruising

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Nancy Blount is President of Blount Small Ship Adventures, one of our esteemed travel partners specializing in small ship cruising, talks with Smithsonian Journeys staff member MaryBeth Mullen about several cruises scheduled for 2012.  We look forward to welcoming you on a Smithsonian Small Ship Adventure in the near future.

Q.     Nancy, your family has been in the cruise business for a very long time.  You must have some pretty wonderful memories of time spent aboard your ships.  How many ships do you operate and how are they different from other ships in the marketplace?

Sailing towards shore in Belize.

A.     Our family has been in the cruise industry for 45 years but also in the shipbuilding/operating business since 1949…62 years! We have many fond memories of our family vacations onboard a variety of cruising vessels as well as a lot of summer time fun spent swordfishing with my Dad off of Block Island. We currently have three vessels in our fleet. Our vessels are built to enable our passengers to experience things you can’t on a big cruise ship. Things like navigating narrow rivers and canals, or bow landing on remote beaches. Our amazing small ships are specially designed to take you closer to the places and people often out of reach.

Q.    What are some of the most popular destinations?

A.    This is a great question but the answer is also a moving target and changes with the seasons. Currently our more popular destinations include Belize, New Orleans to Chattanooga and Lake Michigan, all destinations that Smithsonian travelers can explore this coming year.

Q.     Can you describe the accommodations and amenities aboard your ships?  

A.     Blount ships have never stopped evolving.  Through the years, we’ve added many features and refurbished the décor. But one thing has stayed the same – a dedication to a casual cruising experience. There’s no white glove dining service, no formal attire, and no luxurious staterooms. But there is a 180-degree vista-view lounge —the ideal place to get to know your fellow passengers as glorious, scenic landscapes unfold before you. Go upstairs, and you’ll find the upper deck, the perfect place to catch a breathtaking view, or catch a few rays.

When it comes time for a good night’s sleep, our ships offer four categories of small-ship cruising cabins. Each feature individual air conditioning, which continuously brings fresh air into your room, day and night. Your room also features a private shower and washrooms, and a fresh, smoke-free environment. Add the refurbished staterooms onboard our Grande class ships and you get a casual, relaxing, welcoming place to end the day.

It’s all a part of what makes cruising on a Blount ship so amazing. The kind of innovations that make adventure possible, open up new places to exploration, and make your journey as comfortable as possible.


The Grand Mariner at port in Milwaukee.

The Grand Mariner at port in Milwaukee.

Q.     How are meals handled?  Do guests get to choose who they dine with?  What is the cuisine like?


A.    Single -sitting meals with an open seating policy allows you the freedom to meet many traveling companions. With a maximum of 96 passengers aboard, you can meet and dine with nearly everyone over the course of your trip.  Our chef-prepared meals are delicious, healthy, and often reflective of the region in which you are traveling.

Q.     Will there be Smithsonian study leaders and tour managers to handle logistics aboard each cruise?

A.     Yes, there will be Smithsonian study leader and a Blount Small Ship Adventures Cruise Director onboard to handle logistics aboard each cruise.

Q.     On average, how many ports are visited throughout a cruise?  Essentially, how active are these trips? 

A.     There is no “average” number of ports visited on a cruise as “ports” visited are determined by length of itinerary and distance traveled.  We have a variety of activities available for our passengers to participate in and our passengers can pick all or none depending on what level of activity appeals to them.  There are rental bikes and kayaks onboard most cruises; other programming options may include photography workshops as well as naturalists and lecturers. On our Caribbean itineraries we also have snorkeling, swimming and the glass bottom boat.

Q.     Where are you traveling this year?  Do you have a favorite destination?

A.     I will be traveling to the Caribbean this winter on our Caribbean Spectacular: St. Maarten to Antigua.  Last year it was the Virgin Islands and the year before Belize! I try to get aboard different itineraries every year but I have to admit that one of my absolute favorites is the Best of Belize and the Barrier Reef.  I am an avid snorkeler and the Barrier Reef provides superb snorkeling…the itinerary is also a wonderful mix of water sports (snorkeling, swimming, kayaking) as well as a splash of cultural mixed in. I always learn something new on the trips to the Mayan ruins of Quirigua in Guatemala as well as Xunantunich and the fabulous Belize Zoo.

Click for more information on our small ship expeditions. 

Dinosaurs at the Smithsonian

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010
T-Rex at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC

T. rex at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Recently, 7-year-old Aidan Isenstadt of Elkridge, MD, found a dinosaur jawbone at Dinosaur Park in nearby Laurel, MD.  Since 2009, park officials have allowed the public to dig for fossils there; nine-year-old Gabrielle Bock also found a dinosaur tailbone there.

So what’s the best way to treat your own kids to some hands-0n discovery? Check our our brand-new Planet Earth and Beyond Smithsonian family adventure right here in Washington, DC. You and your kids (aged 9 to 12) can spend four days here at the Smithsonian, learning about science, nature, exploration, and discovery from Smithsonian’s scientists and experts.

A Virtual Tour of Alaska

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Glacier Bay, Alaska

Don’t forget! Our virtual Alaska expedition launches tonight – Tuesday, October 26th – at 8:00pm, ET. It’s free and features Alaska expert Sue Perin.

Drawing from her vast experience in Alaska’s Inside Passage, Sue will share her insights on this remarkable expedition and what you could experience and enjoy on our May 22 – 29, 2011 voyage aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird.

- Discover Alaska and the value of expedition travel with an expert team of naturalists and Smithsonian Study Leader Patty Hostuick.
- See expedition highlights—humpback whales feeding, brown bears, soaring glaciers and lush, temperate rainforest.
- Get sense of daily activities – from onboard activities to kayaking, Zodiac rides, hiking and more.

Ready to go? Click here more more information on our virtual Alaska expedition, and here for more our Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness Cruise.

Where was your last adventure? Please share.