Hotel Review: Gaylord National a Perfect Family Base to Explore (or Escape) Washington DC

“There’s the Smithsonian, you have 30 minutes” – was our daughter’s report after a rite of passage 7th grade trip to Washington DC.  She loved it, but needed more time for in-depth exploration.  Therefore, we quickly decided to return to DC over April Break, but where to stay?  The Gaylord National is 8 miles south of the city, on the banks of the Potomac River in the National Harbor area of Maryland and an ideal base to explore (or escape) Washington DC.  Continue reading for more thoughts and photos from the Gaylord National Resort.

Gaylord National - Washington DC

After spending two nights scouting Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (more on that later), we headed towards our Nation’s Capital.  It should be a quick drive – 90 minutes, 2 hours tops… alas, we were not prepared for Beltway traffic, and what turned into a 3 hour trip.  By the time, we arrived at the Gaylord National the sun was setting over the Potomac, and we were beat.  However, the stress of the drive dissipated upon opening the door to our room.  But first, let’s take a step back, and talk about the hotel itself.

Gaylord National - Washington DC

Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center

The Gaylord National Resort and Conference center is HUGE!  We’re talking 19 floors, 2,000 rooms, 110 suites, and a large convention center.  A meeting space big enough to host the East Coast Women’s club volleyball Championships taking place during our visit.  [I was amazed they could play volleyball in a convention center, but it’s equipped with sport courts.]  All Gaylord resorts are known for their immense atriums, and the Gaylord National was no different – its nearly 2 acre, glass enclosed atrium brought the outdoors in, complete with gardens, fountains, and two-story period houses that served as gift shops.  Check out the view from our balcony overlooking the atrium, Capital Wheel at National Harbor, and Potomac River.

Gaylord National - Washington DCGaylord National - Washington DC

Accommodations

Check-in was friendly, quick, and we made our way to the 18th floor, atrium view room.  Open door, jaw drop…

Gaylord National - Washington DC

Without a doubt the nicest hotel room we’ve ever stayed in, period. The two-room suite had rich leather wall coverings, and included a sitting area with couch, two chairs, big screen TV, and dining room area.  The kids weren’t quite sure what to do with a dining room table in the suite (they instantly wanted to call for room service), but it didn’t take long to fill the table with “stuff.”

The couch in the sitting area had a pull out double bed one daughter used, and a roll away bed was brought up for our second daughter.  The room was so big, the roll away easily fit behind the couch and was totally unobtrusive.  Our teens could stay up late, watch TV, and not even bother Mom and Dad in the next room.

Gaylord National - Washington DC

The master bedroom had a plush, soft king bed and, best of all, DOORS.  Oh magical portal blockers that allowed privacy from the children!  This king bedroom was certainly big enough it could have been its own separate hotel room, and had a 32” flat screen TV to boot.

The bathroom was glorious – 2 doors that closed off the washing area from the rest of the suite; double sinks, granite counter tops and a separate pocket door to close off the water closet and deluxe marble shower.

Gaylord National - Washington DC

The room also had a nook with a desk, high-speed internet, mini-fridge with bottled water, coffee maker, and a room safe large enough for a laptop computer that even had an outlet for charging.

Gaylord National - Washington DC

Finally, not one, but two balconies to sit out and watch the sunset over the Potomac or observe the comings and goings of people in the atrium below.

Gaylord National - Washington DC

Dining and Restaurants

National Pastime Sports Bar and Grill

Since we arrived on the later side, we were hungry for dinner, and headed to the National Pastime Sports Bar and Grill in the hotel’s atrium.  If it weren’t for the glass walls around us, you would think this was your local sports bar, outside the stadium, complete with trees, plants, and “outdoor” seating.

National Pastime Sports Bar and Grill at Gaylord National - Washington DC

National Pastime was a lively sports bar with burgers, salads, and comfort foods.  It was very family friendly, and we felt perfectly comfortable dining with our kids.  [Don’t worry it’s called a bar.]  We started our meal with chips, house-made guacamole, and wings, and moved on to the house specialty burgers for our entrees.  The burgers were delicious with my daughters and I each trying a different one.  The lamb burger in particular was a unique, flavorful hit.  My wife went with a healthier option and had a salmon salad with a generous filet on top.  We ended the meal with a banana split and Espresso brownie sundaes.

National Pastime Sports Bar and Grill at Gaylord National - Washington DC

The atmosphere was bustling, loud, and filled with stimulation (over-stimulation?), but we had a great time and were quite pleased with our dishes.  We left the National Pastime feeling stuffed, headed upstairs to our room, introduced heads to pillows, and crashed for the night.

Pienza Buffet

We also sampled Gaylord National’s Pienza Buffet during our visit – open early for hearty breakfasts, and even though they are only listed as open for breakfast and lunch, we had a dinner buffet there as well.  [We speculated they were open late because the hotel was so full with volleyball teams.]  Three meals in all at Pienza, the food was plentiful and tasty – with a variety of healthy options to pick from if you wanted, and the service was always outstanding.

Pienza Buffet at Gaylord National - Washington DC

During breakfast we filled up on eggs, pancakes, waffles, French toast, pastries, and breakfast meats, and the generous protein fests more than held us until dinner.  The evening buffet included soup, salad, salmon, flank steak, a pizza/flatbread station, and more.  The only misstep in our opinion were the desserts on the buffet, but, that being said, everyone was able to find 1 or 2 offerings that satisfied our sweet tooth.

Pienza Buffet at Gaylord National - Washington DCPienza Buffet at Gaylord National - Washington DC

In addition to National Pastime and Pienza, there are a number of other eateries inside the resort as well.  My wife grabbed a sandwich at The Cocoa Bean coffee shop that served Starbucks, grab and go pastries, salads, and snacks.  The Old Hickory Steakhouse offers a fine dining option with beef, chops, artisanal cheeses, lobster, and more.  [We didn’t get a chance to try Old Hickory, but it gives us an excuse to go back – although for a date night.]  There’s also the Belvedere Lobby Bar with cocktails and appetizers overlooking the atrium and Potomac, and the Pose Rooftop Lounge reserved for those ages 21 and over.

Activities and Grounds

The Gaylord National has lush gardens inside the atrium – creating a larger than life terrarium with us hotel guests as the specimens.

Gaylord National - Washington DCGaylord National - Washington DC

The hothouse flowers are not always calm and tranquil – in the evening, the fountains come alive with a 15 minute dancing water and light show set to music.  There are two different musical versions “American Fanfare” and “International Waters” that alternate on the half hour.

Gaylord National - Washington DC

The manicured landscaping continues outside including a gently burbling stream and zen meditation garden.

Gaylord National - Washington DCGaylord National - Washington DC

As the only waterfront resort in Washington DC, the Gaylord National embraces the Potomac River for recreational activities including a walking and running trail along the riverbank, and a dock with water taxi service from the Potomac Riverboat Company offering river cruises to Old Town Alexandria, Mount Vernon, and the Washington DC monuments.

Potomac Riverboat Company at Gaylord National

The hotel also has a pool, fitness center, and full service Relache spa.  In fact, there was so much to do, we couldn’t experience everything during our two night stay (more reasons to come back).  However, as our visit was right before Easter Sunday, the hotel had set up a free PEEPS Pursuit scavenger hunt with plush version of the PEEPS chicks tucked away throughout the lobby and atrium.

Gaylord National - Washington DC

Once they successfully found all the PEEPS they were eligible to receive a free treat from the PEEPS and Company store at the National Harbor waterfront entertainment district right across from the hotel.

National Harbor

This was another huge plus of staying at the Gaylord National – we were just steps away from National Harbor and all of its family entertainment options such as the: National Children’s Museum, Carousel, Potomac Playzone, Capital Wheel, and Awakening art installation.

Awakening at National Harbor

Oh, and of course, dining, and shopping including the first PEEPS and Company store in the country where the girls received their free scavenger hunt prize, and Mom and Dad ended up spending much more on souvenirs.

PEEPS and Company at National HarborPEEPS and Company at National Harbor

Now, getting back to the title, the Gaylord National did make a perfect base to explore the area.  It was an easy drive down to George and Martha Washington’s mansion of Mount Vernon (you could even take the water taxi to the estate), and we spent nearly a whole day exploring the home, grounds, and farms of our Founding Father.  However, we never made it back into Washington DC.  The Gaylord National was such a wonderful retreat, we didn’t want to leave the property.  We needed a getaway where we could relax, unwind, and just enjoy the day as it came, and the Gaylord National was just the perfect escape.  Now we just need to plan that return visit so our daughters can properly explore the Smithsonian (and Mom and Dad can go to the steakhouse and spa…).

DISCLOSURE: Dave Parfitt and family were hosted by the Gaylord National Resort and received complimentary accommodations and some meals for the purposes of writing this review.  However, all opinions expressed are those of the author.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on Twitter and “like” our Facebook page, too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.