D.C. Tourists Shell Out Admission Fees Amid Shutdown

With the Smithsonian museums, the White House and other popular — and free of charge — venues closed, visitors are left scrambling to find other Washington, D.C., sights. Many have added admission fees to private museums to their travel budget.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The government shutdown is now entering its second week. That's left many lawmakers with little to do and many tourists in Washington, D.C. wandering wanly through the streets of the city, wondering how to spend their pre-planned vacations. NPR's Alan Yu checks in with some of them.

ALAN YU, BYLINE: Some tourists planned a trip to their nation's capital for months, even years. Even with the shutdown, they couldn't get a refund on their travel or change plans. Jack Ramsey and his wife are from Oregon and they were in Cape Cod when they heard about the shutdown.

JACK RAMSEY: I retired about four months ago. We have driven across the country from Portland.

YU: They've been doing a lot more hiking outside of D.C. and they'll keep that up here.

RAMSEY: We're going to do a lot of walking and see things from the outside, I guess.

YU: They did get to visit the International Spy Museum. It's private and has seen 30 percent more visitors during the shutdown. But, unlike the Smithsonian, the private museums change a fee for entry. Cheryl Wickham came with her husband and son from New Orange, New Jersey for her 40th birthday.

CHERYL WICKHAM: Then, yeah, we heard about the shutdown and so it's no longer free basically. Everything's costing us much more than we expected. Cash is really tight and if it wasn't for my mother saying she was going to pay us back for the admissions as a birthday present, we wouldn't have been able to do it.

YU: Laura Scrimgeour from Denver, Colorado, says she'd do a bit of civics homework before planning her next trip.

LAURA SCRIMGEOUR: Try and look at the climate and the government in different places when I am scheduling it if it's not for work.

YU: Vicki McConnell, head teacher of an elementary school in Oregon had been planning a visit to the capitol with her students for more than a year. Since the public tours are not an option during the shutdown, she called her state representative, Greg Walden, who gave her students a private tour of the capitol.

VICKI MCCONNELL: They got to sit through a live session and a live vote and they got to meet Speaker of the House Boehner, Paul Ryan, Markwayne Mullin from Oklahoma. So, that was pretty exciting for them.

YU: The students also visited the Republican cloakroom and left via the tunnel Walden uses to get back to his office, places tourists don't usually go. But Vicki McConnell and everyone else I spoke to agrees it's far worse for the furloughed government employees, so they wish Congress would just start funding the government again. Alan Yu, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "WASHINGTON, D.C.")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Singing) W-A-S-H-I-N-G-T-O-N baby, D.C. W-A-S-H-I-N-G-T-O-N baby, Washington, D.C. it's paradise to me. It's not because it is the grand old seat of previous freedom and democracy, no, no, no. It's not the greenery turning gold in fall, the scenery circling the mall. It's just that's where my baby lives that's all.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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