It’s all about the pirates this summer at Gaylord National Resort. (And any parent knows that you pretty much just have to say “pirates,” and kids perk up.) The resort’s swashbuckling SummerFest runs weekends through Labor Day and includes a shipload of pirate-themed experiences perfect for a weekend staycation or summer birthday party.
My family tried out the SummerFest overnight package one weekend as guests of the hotel, and here’s our suggested itinerary:
1) Show up mid-afternoon to best take advantage of all the theme experiences. The package includes early check-in at the resort at 1 p.m. and an upgrade to an atrium room if it’s available. These rooms have great views of the soaring atrium and beyond, to the Potomac River and Alexandria. Kids get little treasures chests on check-in (or delivered to your room later) with handy pirate bandanna and eyepatch.
2) Go on the First Mate’s Treasure Hunt, a free self-guided scavenger hunt throughout the hotel atrium to discover seven missing parrots. The clues are on a pamphlet you can pick up at the front desk or concierge. My kids (ages 10, 6, and 3) loved running around on the hunt for the colorful birds. You have to have a sharp eye: these guys are pretty small. Once completed, you can enter your answers into a Treasure Hunt Computer located in the atrium for a chance to win another overnight stay at Gaylord. Later, you can take the completed pamphlet to the Urban Pirate Ticket Booth on the Capital Wheel pier, by the waterfront, to redeem a prize from a treasure chest (pencils, plastic gems, bandannas, etc.).
3) Enjoy Atrium Antics. From 4 to 7 p.m., face painters, mimes, jugglers, caricature artists, and more stroll through the atrium – all dressed in pirate attire, of course.
4) Head to the pool for Pirates Pool Invasion, an event open only to overnight guests. From 5 to 6 p.m. on the outdoor pool deck near the water jets, kids can play pirate games, learn how to talk pirate, and do a boat-building craft. And of course they can splash around in the pool and water jets.
5) Have dinner at National Pastimes Sports Bar and Grill, back in the atrium. There are tables inside or out on the terrace, which faces the atrium’s dancing fountains. You get a front-row seat when the fountain shows take place nightly (but be prepared to get blasted by the sound system). The restaurant offers a special Summer Burger and Brew menu Saturdays and Sundays only during the season. The three specialty burgers (with toppings such as goat cheese or Chesapeake crab dip) come with suggestions for pairings with beers from Heavy Seas, a Baltimore brewery. The Kids Menu goes beyond the usual offerings of chicken tenders and hot dogs to include turkey or grilled chicken sandwiches, with side choices such as carrot sticks, a granola bar, Jell-O, or sweet potato tots.
6) At 8:15 p.m. head to Swashbuckler’s StoryTime, held when we were there at Pienza restaurant but often held in the atrium. A friendly pirate reads age-appropriate pirate stories with a lot of audience participation.
7) At 9 p.m. return to the atrium for the Summer Lights Laser Show. Light dim in the atrium, the fountains dance, the music blares Billy Idol and other tunes to get the kids rockin’, while multicolor lasers complete the night club vibe. My giggling kids got soaked dancing near the fountain spray.
8) The next morning, dine at Capt’n Bones Buccaneer Breakfast, included in the overnight package – but anyone can book just the breakfast, which takes place Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day in the Bella Vista room of Pienza restaurant. Seating times are 7:30 and 9 a.m. The room features a pirate set, and tables have a gold coin-filled treasure chest as centerpiece. Pirate servers come around with buccaneer hats, bandannas, inflatable swords, and a bigger treasure chest filled with finger puppets, jeweled rings, treasure maps, and other little toys. The breakfast is buffet style, and includes something everyone will like, from cereals to fresh fruit to made-to-order omelets (the line for omelets, though, can be long since the buffet is open to anyone coming to the restaurant). And if that isn’t stimulation enough, the pirates break out into song, banter with the guests, and get everyone up to practice hoisting sails. They all enthusiastically pose for photos as well.
9) If there’s time after breakfast, make another quick trip to the indoor pool before checking out at 11 a.m. Stow your things in your car (self-parking fee in the garage is included in the package price) then head down to the Capital Wheel pier.
10) Package guests get a 20 percent discount on Urban Pirates’ Family Adventure cruises, which are a fun way to get out on the Potomac. Cruises leave from the pier next to the Capital Wheel. We checked into our cruise at noon, and spent the first half hour putting on pirate costumes and getting temporary tattoos and our pirate nametags (I was Awful Amy). The cruise itself lasts an hour and is full of stories, games, songs, bad jokes (“A pirate walked into a bar and said, ‘Ouch!’”) and – the crowd favorite – water cannon blasting. There are several cannons, but a bell dings to indicate that it’s time to let someone else have a turn if there’s a kid waiting behind you. The cannons were aimed at Mad Dog Mike, a pirate who speeds by in a motorboat trying to take our treasure. I felt sorry for the poor guy who, though draped in a plastic poncho, still got several gallons of Potomac River water in his face. The real danger on the cruise, though, is heatstroke. There’s a shaded section at the back of the boat but the activities take place out on the deck where it can get really hot. Lather on the sunscreen, wear a hat, bring sunglasses, and drink lots of water (iced water from a water jug is available on board but you might want to bring your own). The cruise ends with a chance for all the kids to pick two items of booty from the treasure chest filled with trinkets, which by this time, you may have seen before. The pirates are all so good-natured and playful you don’t mind leaving them a tip in their hat as you leave the ship.
Your kids will come home from the Gaylord weekend awash in pirate gear and you’ll be newly appreciative of the power and lasting appeal of the pirate brand. After all, who doesn’t want to go around growling, “aaarrrrrrrr!”?
WHAT TO KNOW
- You can book your overnight SummerFest package at GaylordNational.com/SummerFest for any weekend until Labor Day. The package includes one night room accommodations, admission to Capt’N Bones Buccaneer Breakfast for up to four people, complimentary resort fee and self-parking, early check-in at 1 p.m., and complimentary atrium room upgrade based on availability. The SummerFest package starts at $199.
- Package guests also receive 20 percent discount on advance tickets to Urban Pirates’ Family Adventure cruises on National Harbor. You do need to book this yourself separately in advance. $22 for ages 3 and up, $12 for 2 and under.
- If you want to experience the Capt’N Bones Buccaneer Breakfast but don’t want to do the overnight package, the cost is $29.95 for ages 12 and older, $19.95 for kids ages 4 to 11. It is offered Saturday and Sunday mornings at 7:30 and 9 a.m. seatings. Advanced reservations are recommended.
Photos courtesy of Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.