A bit of history: when I was a kid, I used to love wax museums. If we saw one, I’d make my parents take me. I remember with such clarity one (I think it might have been at Niagara Falls) that was all about medieval torture devices. That one had a lot of gore. 10-year-old me adored it.
I haven’t been to a wax museum in years. Madame Tussauds is undoubtedly the “rockstar” of modern wax museums, but I’d never been to one. There were always too many other things I wanted to see in whatever city happened to have one. I just couldn’t justify a trip to a wax museum whenever I was in London, Las Vegas, or New York.
However, there’s one in my hometown, and it was only a matter of time before I made it inside. This past weekend, we took the kids downtown and finally visited Madame Tussauds DC.
According to their website, there are an astounding 19 locations worldwide, with 6 of those in the United States. Each more or less has something unique about it. For DC, that would be the Presidents Gallery. All 44 presidents are on display, which, if you’re into presidents, makes this location the selling point.
It’s certainly what intrigued me about the museum. I’m interested in presidential history and enjoy visiting (authentic) historic sites. Yet Madame Tussauds unfortunately falls flat for several reasons.
I should be clear that my kids (almost 3 and 5) loved it. They wanted to take pictures with every statue, whether they knew who it was or not. For some reason, my 3-year-old was fascinated by Al Roker.
This is really all you do on a visit to Madame Tussauds: you take pictures of yourself with various statues. There’s no educational aspect to the museum. None. Each statue’s name is posted on the wall without so much as a sentence explaining who it is or why he/she is important.
With respect to the Presidential Gallery (which is also home to various First Ladies, Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill, and others), this is a crime. They could’ve at least made the attempt to provide some contextual or historical information about the figures.
So, if you have kids who would be into it—and you have nothing better to do or it’s a rainy day—it might be a good diversion. But it’s worth keeping a few things in mind:
- It’s very expensive: $21.50 for adults and $17 for children (slightly cheaper online).
- Despite the relatively large number of statues, the museum isn’t very big.
- The line for the Obamas is crazy long. In addition, employees will take your picture at replicas of the president’s podium, in the Oval Office, and with the Obamas. They then try to sell you those pictures for almost as much as you paid to enter the museum.
- The employees working the Obama camera are rude and very strict about taking your own pictures in the Obama space. We were told, “Your one minute [to take your own pictures] starts now. Go!” With several dozen people waiting in line and staring at us, it was very uncomfortable.
- I repeat: no educational value whatsoever.
Most important, I think, is that this is Washington, DC: City of Free Admission. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a hard time shelling out admission fees for museums in this city. The Smithsonian has spoiled us.
If you’re visiting Washington, please go see some actual historic sites or monuments.
If you want to see presidents, take a stroll through the America’s Presidents exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery (the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House) or The American Presidency exhibit at the National Museum of American History.
If you’re local, I recommend visiting only if you can get a steep discount from Goldstar or Groupon or wherever.
(Disclosure: We were guests of Madame Tussauds for the day. All opinions are my own.)