Something different in D.C.: Take your teen spying at the International Spy Museum

by Jill Berry on July 8, 2010

International Spy Museum

About six years ago, my teen was all about spies: she was a spy for Halloween, her favorite movies were Spy Kids 2 and Spy Kids 3-D, and she asked for spy goggles and a motion detector for Christmas. But even as playing spies began to wane, I found that her interest in the International Spy Museum in D.C. held strong.

The Spy Museum is a great spot for families, especially those with older kids. Although the child admission rate applies to kids ages 5 to 11, the exhibits are more appropriate for kids ages 10 and up. My teen and I spent quite some time reading tags, labels, and maps. A younger child might not have the reading skills or attention span to fully comprehend the exhibits, and some of the exhibits focus on spies who murdered others or were executed (subject matter that would be inappropriate for younger children).

To begin: After stepping off the elevator at the Permanent Exhibits (which is split into Espionage, School for Spies, Weapons of Mass Disruption, and the Secret History of History, among a few others), my teen and I were instructed by the guide to read the spy biographies on the walls and choose a spy. For the duration of the visit, I was Carol Liu en route to Volgograd in search of museum papers. My daughter picked a girl around her age who was headed to Dublin. We were told by a museum guard to memorize our “covers.” I quickly memorized everything about Carol Liu. Could we stay undercover?

My teen and I walked from display case to display case marveling at how large and bulky the early bugging devices were. Today’s miniscule gadgets are marvels of invention, but can you imagine lugging around the big equipment carried by Cold War spies?

So did we stay under cover? A computer verification of our cover stories confirmed that my teen and I were true spies. Phew!

We worked up an appetite walking around the Permanent Exhibits, but luckily The Spy City Cafe offers a selection of salads, sandwiches, and hot dogs, as well as scrumptious looking cupcakes. Lunch at the Spy City Cafe fortified us for our next mission: Operation Spy.

For an additional $14, children 12 and over can take part in Operation Spy. The one-hour spy experience is “an intense challenge that combines live-action, themed environments, special effects, and hands-on activities like cracking a safe, decoding messages, and conducting a polygraph test of a suspect agent.” We boarded the elevator to the Middle Eastern city of Khandar, where our group of 20 was whisked to a briefing room to hear about our mission. We experienced everything from safe breaking, to escaping in a truck, to running down a darkened hallway. The hour was action-packed!

Ticket prices and museum hours can be found on the museum’s website.

As you plan your visit to D.C. with kids, you will want to find a hotel near the museum. For a hotel with everything, you will love the Grand Hyatt: 42-inch flatscreen TVs, iPod docks, Starbucks, and it is in walking distance to White House, the museum, and plenty more. The Marriott Washington Metro Center is another great option and has an indoor pool and a jacuzzi.

I would like to thank the Spy_Museum for allowing my daughter and I to experience the Permament Exhibit — we loved it! (I paid for admission to Operation Spy and for lunch at the Spy City Cafe.)

 –Jill Berry of Musings from Me

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