There's a lot to be said and done about National Harbor.
The man-made fantasy island just short of Johnny Rockets can be a teenager's bliss with plenty of curves and carousals, but it's the grown-ups who inhabitate this island and a rich island do they make. Frankly, it's gawkers paradise, with plenty of surf and turf for the ride, and weekends can be jampacked between the burgeoning restaurant corridor, off-the-cuff festivals, discovery creeks and pathaways, a gigantic hotel called Gaylord, and a grand finale of asphalt strip that leads to the river where weekend stalls and booths cajole the mood for some public good.
Last weekend we were in such a mood, thanks to Publicist Carlyle Fairfax Smith who shadows Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center when in-house PRshrink Amie Gorell is trailing the big guns. We had been invited for an overnight courtesy which included a luxurious suite, dinner at the Moonbay Coastal Cuisine followed by drinks at the uber-risque Pose Ultra Lounge. Breakfast the next morning was heralded at Pienza Italian Market.
As soon as we arrived in National Harbor, what struck us was how close this was to our usual surroundings as locals, yet how distant it seemed to our travel buds - and as soon as we took ourselves off the ramp, we were in a new man's land and among other welcomes, there it was - a new plaque announcing that Disney had arrived - or was planning to arrive as the announcement had just been made in screaming headlines just days ago that the Disney operatives had finally landed a lucrative landing spot in the nation's capital (for those who have been is Disneyland Paris all these years, the giant tried to get into town through the backdoor of Virginia's countrywide but those DisneyDollars were met with DomesticDisdain and a mini-revolt was quelched).
Taking a walk in the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center is like cruising on a ship. It balloons in proportions and looking into the courtyard can be dizzying heights from the premium, atrium-view guest suite we were in. Of course it's a hotel, but if course it's a conference center. But where does one begin and the other end, that's hard to say.
Where else could you fathom a walk-way that reminds you of work and pleasure both at the same time to make you feel guilty that you may be indulging in one while neglecting the other (the photo below shows the pathway one must take if going to a convention or just indulging in the spa, or vice versa, and its a reminder alright)
Even though it's a large property, the staff is very pleasant and service is extra-ordinary. Since we had arrived a bit early than the usual check-in, we were compensated for our early tidings with complimentary drinks at the bar thanks to the Front Desk.
So we hung out at the National Sports Bar and Grille - its the biggest and most opulent sports bar we have ever seen with a 30-foot video wall plastered with wall-to-wall HDTVs (see below).
After downing a pint, we decided to go for a stroll in the lower-level atrium of the hotel which is lined with trees and fountains and zigs-zags through eateries, a bakery, a coffee shop and a sundry store. Aptly, they even have a store named Pajama Party (below) for those looking for a late night , last-minute hook up (and this would be the place for it).
Once you've decided you've had enough of the indoor sunlight the place has to offer, and you want to actually be on the water, that's when discovery island fun has just begun.
We spent over 24 hours just discovering what National Harbor was all about and why the fuss was so real that it was making everyone in Alexandria, and DC, nervous.
A few minutes of jaywalking, and we figured out why. This place is being built strategically (Tommy Bahama Rum posters on restaurant windows inviting you to the life and beyond) and at a frenetic pace that would have even given Reston Town Center a run for its money in its heydays. In just two short blocks, there is so much to do, so much to eat, so much to drink, and so much to see - and gawk.
For starters, the weekend we were there there was a casual flea market on Saturday and a major schmoozer-casual United States Yacht Show.
We snapped Coral Anika Theill of Stafford, Virginia who is a regular at the flea market with her Honeycomb Keepsakes, which sells 100% pure beeswax ornaments and candles.
A few doors down was the monkey-business boat show and we couldn't help but take in some of the million-dollar yachts so puritanical in look and feel that you'd just want to stare.
The inside cabin of a million yacht that was yours for the asking only if you didn't say recession.
Lending some cultural cringe to the theory of a boat show in these times was the tall and characteristic Miss Ann which was moored for the evening and also hosted the after-party for the yacht show. Seen here are newly-minted owners and brothers Frank and Guy Schroff who entertained guests at the party and wanted everyone reading this article to know that they just bought the boat (for a steal) from the owner of The Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia and that she was available for private charters and they were taking reservations for a private sail for the 4th of July Weekend. (Contact Guy if you want to take Miss Ann for a ride.)
So, having sailed our minds away, and before we cocooned back to our room, we decided to take one last lap of luxury to see what other things were happening at the National Harbor when we saw a few folks buzz by on those human-wheelers called Segways so we poked around and found one of the few official Segway stores in the DC area which was a cool find.
Before we headed back to homeland, we ate at the Pienza Italian Market and guess who we found in the buffet assembly line on Sunday morning?
Former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder with a lady squeeze was seen hobknobbing the buffet the morning we ate.
Shaking Wilder's hand and taking his picture, it hit us:
We had finally arrived. And so had Gaylord's National Harbor.