After four years of missing Christmas with family due to deployments and underways, we finally were able to travel home to sunny Los Angeles for the holidays. “We” means me and my husband, Josh, who is a Nuclear Machinist Mate attached to an aircraft carrier. Our last Christmas was spent in Manama, Bahrain, when I traveled across the world to visit him during his port days in the Middle East (we unfortunately couldn’t fly Space-A, so we traveled on our own dime). We were so excited to come home and spend much-needed time with our families.
However, since my husband is active duty and constantly works with two reactors, and I teach English composition at Old Dominion University as an adjunct professor, we don’t have much time together even when he’s on land. That’s why we decided to stay at two fantastic (and very affordable!) military hotels during this trip home. We wanted some time to ourselves and lots of time with both our families. Since my husband’s aircraft carrier is currently attached to Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, flights across the country tend to range from $500–$600 round-trip per person, mostly because Norfolk flights tend to have layovers in bigger cities, like Atlanta or Dallas (Fort Worth).
To save some money and to get some alone time, we drove to Washington D.C. for a romantic getaway. Our flights were drastically cheaper and faster: we cut the flight time by four hours (D.C. to L.A. takes four and a half hours), and we saved at least $400 dollars on our flights. We also drove to D.C. from Norfolk, which takes relatively 3 hours, and we parked our car in the Dulles International Economic Parking Lot, which charges you $10 a day. Because we ended up saving money on our flights, we decided that spending $100 for parking and gas was definitely a better deal than spending more money because of a layover.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – FORT MYER (ARLINGTON, VA)
In D.C., we stayed at the elegant, bed-and-breakfast style IHG Army Hotel called Wainwright Hall, which was located on Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia. The address is 318 Jackson Avenue, Bldg. 50 Fort Myer, Virginia 22211 and their website is the following: www.ihg.com/armyhotels/hotels/us/en/fort-myer/mfmyb/hoteldetail.
Make sure to ask for a room in the newly renovated Building 48—the rooms are absolutely stunning and charming! The price was $90 per night based on an active-duty holiday rate, and what we got was amazing: a suite with a king-sized bed and complimentary breakfast (made to order!) every morning. We were incredibly close to downtown D.C., just a short 10-to-15 minute drive, but we also had the option to take the hotel’s shuttle, which takes you to the Arlington metro stop and picks you right up after a phone call. We adored the colonial mood and undertones of Wainwright Hall, and the hotel staff were always pleasant whenever we had issues. The only suggestion I would add is this: ask for a first-floor room in Building 48 if you have a lot of luggage! There are no elevators in the quaint hotel, and although we had no problems going up and down the stairs, it might be an issue for other guests.
We had three days in D.C., and we wanted to see it all. We’re a big fan of the Cooking Channel and we heard that Bobby Flay had a casual fast-food eatery in downtown. Our first stop was checking out Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace—it was delicious and very affordable for a gourmet burger and beer. We then headed to National Mall and wanted to see all the monuments! It was a bit cold, so we decided to rent one of the city’s bikes from the Capital Bikeshare stops across the city. There are over 2,500 bicycle stations in the D.C. area (even in Arlington), and for a 24-hour rental prior, it’s $7! You can take as many trips as you want, and leave the bicycle at another Capital Bicycle station (it doesn’t have be the same one you picked it up at). It was a great way to see the National Mall and to visit all the monuments in one day. We really loved visiting the Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. monuments for the very first time! After visiting all the monuments, we took a stroll to the National Xmas Tree, which wasn’t lit because it was daytime. But it was beautiful sight to see the National Xmas Tree in front of the Washington Monument.
The next day, we had our breakfast and then visited the Newseum for the whole day. We really wanted to visit this museum—it’s now one of my favorites. There were two exhibits that took my breath away: the Berlin Wall exhibit and the September 9/11 exhibit. Both exhibits had real artifacts from both sites—large parts of the Berlin Wall and a watch tower was transported to the Newseum, and you could see both sides of the wall—the West Berlin side with political and colorful graffiti art and the East Berlin side, which was completely untouched and menacing. The September 9/11 exhibit was heartbreaking—the exhibit showcased the damaged antenna from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Surrounding the antenna on the walls were newspaper front pages on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It was a powerful image that lingered with my husband and me for days.
On our last romantic night in D.C., my husband took me to my very first ballet: The Nutcracker at the Warner Theatre. It was very exciting because I had never been to a ballet before—I grew up in a lower-class middle immigrant family in Los Angeles, and it was the first time I was able to dress up for a beautiful and elaborate ballet. The Nutcracker was astounding and beautiful, and what was fantastic about Septime Webre’s version was that it was set in 1882 Georgetown. The gorgeous production showcased the grandeur of the Washington Ballet’s international roster of dancers and majesty of Tchaikovsky’s music. Replete with swirling snowflakes, cherry blossoms and historical characters, including George Washington as the heroic nutcracker, I was astonished at the majesty and talent of the Washington Ballet’s dancers and ballerinas. My husband was able to use his Expedia Points to obtain discounted tickets and parking, so we had a lot of fun enjoying ourselves! Afterward, we had dinner at the fabulous Founding Farmers restaurant in Downtown D.C., which has received four stars reviews from 4,966 reviewers on Yelp.com. I really suggest getting the honey cornbread—it was to die for!
After our romantic getaway, we checked out of the IHG Army Wainwright Hall and flew the four hours to LAX. It was so surreal to come home with my husband—I had visited home without him many times, but this was the first time we came home together during the holidays since he enlisted in the Navy. We were picked up by his brother and then rented a car at the airport’s rental place. We then drove back home to San Pedro, which was luckily where Fort MacArthur was located and where my brother-in-law and his wife lived. What was nice about coming home is that we had already visited the Fort MacArthur base many times before.
We knew the history of Fort MacArthur as a former U.S. Army installation. A small section remains in military use by the U.S. Air Force as a housing and administrative annex of Los Angeles Air Force Base. The fort is named in honor of Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, whose son, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commanded American forces in the Pacific during World War II. This interesting historical part of Fort MacArthur was incredibly important to our families and our community, especially because we are Filipino Americans. My husband’s uncle, who enlisted, and my grandfather, who was a major, served in the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East during World War II. Also, our old church’s picnics were hosted on Fort MacArthur’s beautiful park areas.
END OF PART ONE! PART TWO:LOS ANGELES: FORT MACARTHUR (SAN PEDRO, CA)is in the next issue ofR&R Travel News!
Melissa Sipin–Gabon, Adjunct Asst. Professor (Old Dominion University)
and Joshua Gabon, Petty Officer Third Class (Nuc MM3)
Reprint from Mar–Apr 2015 • Volume 45, No. 2