Sunday, April 10, 2016

White House Easter Egg Roll 2016 - Part 1

One of the "big events" in the nation's capitol every spring is the White House Easter Egg Roll.  It's a hot ticket and most people use multiple email addresses to enter into the lottery to increase their chances of winning every year.  I read somewhere that 300,000+ entered this year's lottery and only 35,000 receive tickets for the 5 time slots.  Prior to this year, I was convinced that using out of state email addresses increased your odds of winning since they like to brag that all 50 states are represented.

Back in 2013, we "won" the lottery after an email address that I borrowed from Mimi was selected. 

Flashback to 2013 (G wasn't even 2 yet!)

Georgia was much more interested in her cereal in 2013!

Truthfully, this year, Easter was so early in the year that I forgot all about the lottery.  I was sitting at my desk at work when I got a Twitter ping reminding me about the yearly lottery.  I quickly entered my emails, Nick's emails and my mom's emails again.  I didn't think anything of it and didn't even write down the date to go back and check to see if we won entrance.  My mom emailed me about a week later to say that she received an email saying that we didn't win.  I quickly logged into my Gmail account and was shocked to see that we had won!  I was even more shocked when I logged into my work account and saw that we won again.  There went my theory that out of state email addresses had an advantage.

Obviously, we didn't need two sets of tickets (especially since they were for two different time slots), so I passed along one set to our neighbors as we prepared to head back to the White House for our second Easter Egg Roll.  As I recap our experience, I'm also going to include some TIPS because I really struggled the first year to find any practical tips for attending the event.  The White House sends you lists of banned items, but doesn't do a great job of actually prepping you for the event.

As the date of the event approached, my weather stalking was in full effect and the weather reports kept getting more dismal.  Rain, rain, and rain.  Knowing that the event takes place on the south lawn of the White House (and is a rain/shine event), I was picturing a very muddy mess.  By Easter weekend, the local weather guys were talking about thunderstorms for that Monday.  By the night before the event, the rain/storms were predicted to be moving out by mid-morning.  Our time slot was Group C, which meant that we entered at 12:15.  It was gonna be close!

When I woke up on Monday morning, it was POURING at our house. Luckily, all the local news channels kept reporting that the rain was going to end sooner rather than later and that a sunny afternoon was on the way.  I had a hard time believing it as I packed our bag for the day.  The local news was showing Group A at the White House and people looked miserable walking around in rain boots and carrying umbrellas.

However, by the time we all got dressed and were pulling out of the driveway to head downtown, the sun was shining and the birds were chirping.  Due to the early dose of warm weather this year, the Cherry Blossom festival was also occurring at the same time.  Throw in spring break for the local school districts and we allowed plenty of travel time to get into DC to find parking near the White House. 

Tip#1 - Get there early!  The tickets recommend being in line at least an hour before your time slot.  Plan more for 90 minutes or 2 hours.

Back in 2013, I wasn't sure how to dress up, what to bring (there is a very long list of banned items), when to arrive, etc.  I felt much more confident prepping us for this year's event.  Our big debate was whether or not to bring the stroller (pro - it's a long day of walking around downtown; con - it's hard to push on the grass).  By the end of the day, we were glad we brought it again.  

Tip #2 - Think about Disney World or a large amusement park.  If your kid needs a stroller there, they will need it at the White House!  

We packed lots of snacks, iPads, and dressed in layers.  

Tip #3 - Snacks are on the banned list and you are not supposed to enter the event with food.  Fact, the Secret Service and security could care less about your granola bars!

Tip #4 - Bring an iPad for entertainment.  There is a lot of hurry up and wait as you move from one queue line to the next.

Waiting as "patiently" as a 22 month old can

Tip#5 - Layers, layers, layers.  We were in the security line by 10:30am.  It was still a little chilly.  By 1pm, I was sweating!  Wear practical shoes.  You wouldn't believe the number of ladies in high heels.  Yes, it's the White House and you should look presentable (at least in my opinion).  However, you will be walking in the grass.  People wear EVERYTHING from jeans/t-shirts to dresses/suits.    

As Nick navigated us into the city and to our favorite parking spot near the White House, I quickly made us a late lunch reservation (3pm) at Old Ebbitt Grill for after our time slot ended (2:15pm).  When we left the roll in 2013, we were starving and couldn't find any place to eat without very long wait times.  We ended up walking miles away to find a place to sit and eat.  Knowing that the cherry blossoms were in bloom, spring break was in full swing, and an extra 35,000 people were downtown for the event, I wasn't taking chances again.  

I also checked the official White House website to see the list of entertainers for the day and spotted some big names... and the Paw Patrol!  Unfortunately, they don't list the times for the various entertainment acts, so you never know who you will get to see during your time slot until you get there.

Tip #5 - Know where you are going to park.  You cannot wing it at this time of year downtown.  My favorite lot is on F Street and is only a 5-10 minute walk to the security gates.

Tip #6 - If you plan to eat downtown that day, make your reservation in advance.  There are lots of great restaurants within a few blocks of the White House.

By the time we drove downtown, parked and walked down to the security entrances off of Constitution Avenue, it was around 10:30/10:45am.  The security lines were already LONG!  Hence, my recommendation to get there early.  Security wasn't officially open yet, so we headed into our first queue line/waiting area.  There was a total of around 15 roped off lines.  We were herded into line 5 or 6 and waited for opening.

Tip #7 - Before you enter this first line, there are porta-potties. They are the LAST ones you will see until you enter the event.  USE THEM!

Security officially opened around 11:30am to start processing our group for the 12:15 entrance.  The lines move fairly fast and the volunteers are super helpful and friendly.  We watched as the first few lines ahead of us were processed.

Tip #8 - EAT!  Take this time to have a good snack.  We inhaled some sandwiches and snacks while we waited in the security lines.  Everyone was eating.  Those families that did not pack snacks had very whiny children.

Security is no joke.  To me, it was reminiscent of the airport, including metal detectors.  We originally got into one line, but were then moved to another line when they realized we had electronics (aka - our iPads) with us.  

The security area was a muddy mess.  As in, several inches of disgusting mucky mud.  People in heels were a sight!  We made it through quickly and were guided into our next waiting area.  Thankfully, we had a group of singers from Harvard University entertaining us while we stood around for another 15 minutes or so.  

It was also at this point that we were given the official map of the event and the list of entertainers who would be out and about during our time slot.  

Nick and I discussed our plan of attack, which is always to do the actual "egg roll" immediately before all the crowds and lines form.  It's the best photo opp since you're so close to the White House and it gets crazy busy during the latter portion of the time slot.  Since we were one of the first lines through security, we knew we would have an advantage of being one of the first groups admitted onto the grounds.

Tip #9 - Make a plan while you wait!  You probably can't do/see everything within the 2 hour time slot.  We find getting the egg roll out of the way works  best for us.

Rolling eggs

A lot of people were chatting about whether or not the President/First Lady would make an appearance during our time slot.  From years past, we figured it wasn't likely.  They tend to come out during the early morning sessions.  In 2013, we were Group B and Nick got to shake Michelle Obama's hand as they all walked by him.  We had already heard a rumor that the group had come out earlier in the day again, so we figured we probably would not see him again this year.

Tip #10 - If you want to see the President and crew, select Group B as your preferred time slot when entering the lottery.

Nick's view of the President from the 2013 event

Right around 12pm, the lines started moving again as we headed up to the official entrance.  We were in...

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