Not too late to plan Inauguration trip to Washington, D.C.

Stan Honda / Today
Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th US president by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in front of the Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2009. Travelers heading to Washington, D.C., this time around face smaller crowds and an easier time getting around and finding a place to sleep.

Travelers planning a trip to Washington, D.C., to celebrate festivities surrounding President Barack Obama’s swearing in for a second term are in luck.

Inauguration Day is Monday, January 21, and visitors are expected to be welcomed by cheaper hotel prices and an easier time getting around town.

Obama's first-term inauguration attracted an estimated 1.8 million people -- the largest crowd ever recorded on the National Mall.

"After hours of being outside, we were all icicles," recalled Tyra Berger of Upper Marlboro, Md. "Leaving was the worst. We had to stand in line for almost three blocks to get into the subway station. After we got in it still took at least half an hour to get down to the platform."

Up to 800,000 people are expected to attend Inauguration Day events this time around. There will be two official inaugural balls -- compared to ten in 2009 -- and no big concert on the Mall. "A smaller crowd and a scaled-back scope of activities keep with the tradition of most second inaugurals," said Cameron French, spokesperson for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. "But there are still plenty of opportunities for people to get involved in the activities."

Getting there
Many streets and parking spaces in Washington, D.C., will be blocked off, so consider riding with a group that has booked a tour bus, taking scheduled bus service -- such as the Bolt Bus -- or the train.

Unlike 2009, Amtrak won't offer extra service. “There will be increased security along the Northeast corridor and in the Washington, D.C., Union Station area, but there are still plenty of seats available,” said Christina Leeds, a spokesperson for Amtrak. (A 30-percent discount on companion fares to Washington, D.C. is available through, but Leeds says there will be limited availability for that promotion on January 21st.)

Some good airfares may still available, especially if you can extend your stay to avoid the crowds leaving immediately after the events. Be sure to include all D.C.-area airports -- Dulles International, Reagan National and Baltimore Washington International -- in fare searches.

Where to stay
Many hotel websites are noting a three- or four-night minimum stay, but there are many hotels throughout the city and surrounding areas with rooms available, according to Destination DC's Inauguration website.

Many vacation rentals are also an option. “Availability is holding relatively steady with about 61 percent of the properties showing they're booked for the weekend of January 18 to 21,” said Jaime Dito, a spokesperson for HomeAway, a vacation-rental website.

“Rates and restrictions for hotels in the D.C. area are dropping and some hotels are even dropping the ‘non-refundable’ clause for reservations,” said Expedia spokeswoman Sarah Gavin. Three- and four-night searches are bringing up deals for less expensive hotels right downtown and there is plenty of availability, at a slight premium, for one- or two-night stays with arrivals on Saturday or Sunday night.

“Overall, this could be the most open and accessible inauguration we have seen in a long time for out-of-town guests wanting to experience a piece of history,” Gavin said.

And, if money isn't a concern, it’s not too late to book the $15,000-a-night, four-night-minimum P.O.T.U.S. Package (Presiding Over the Ultimate Suite) in the Presidential Suite at the 400-room Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC. The suite has three bedrooms, a private gym, a dining room, panoramic views of the city and, at 3,500 square feet, is the largest hotel room in the city. “The package includes 24-hour butler service, use of the house car and four special amenities,” said Linda Beltran, the hotel’s director of communications. “Two are food and beverage-related; the other two are functional and memorable and will be surprises for the guests.”

Beltran says the Mandarin Oriental is experiencing “different interest levels” than in 2009, so is being flexible and “responsive” with bookings for the remaining rooms for inauguration weekend.

What to do
Obama has asked Americans to kick off the weekend with a National Day of Service on January 19 by volunteering for community service projects. Anyone in Washington, D.C., for the weekend can participate in an event taking place on the National Mall.

There will a private, official swearing in on January 20 and a ceremonial event on January 21, followed by an inaugural parade and a variety of official and unofficial balls and parties. See the full schedule, and the way (and places) the public may participate. Tickets aren't necessary to see the swearing in ceremony on the National Mall or for a street view of parades, but there are restrictions on what people may carry (no backpacks, balloons or coolers along the parade route, for example) and where they may go. Click here to see security information released by the Secret Service.

And, when nature calls, savvy travelers can avoid those dreaded portable toilets. “Keep in mind that some of the best bathrooms that will be open on the National Mall on January 21st will be in the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History,” said Kate Gibbs, media relations director for Destination DC.

“And if you want a picture taken with the current, or any past, president, go to Madame Tussauds Washington, which has 44 wax presidents on duty.”

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