So you scored tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll. Congratulations! It’s an amazing historic event, and great fun to be able to walk around on the White House grounds. It’s also probably nothing like you imagine. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the experience:
1. Forget your preconceptions. Based on years of news features, most people picture kids in frilly Easter clothes rolling eggs on the White House lawn while celebrities wander about and the First Family pops out to greet everyone. That does happen. But it happens at a single, carefully controlled point in the day. The rest of the day involves over 30,000 people being ushered through the event en masse. Picture an image of “people everywhere,” and then add a few hundred more. It’s still historic. It’s still an amazing event. But it is a cattle call.
2. Plan your priorities. Manage lines accordingly. There are five timed entries throughout the day — check your ticket for your entry time. The timed entries ensure that you are attending with “only” a few thousand others instead of the full crowd. The ticket also tells you when to line up, but treat this as a general guide. If you definitely want to participate in the actual egg roll or the little kids’ egg hunt, show up very early to be sure you’re toward the front of the entry line. That way, you can rush right to your chosen activity once you’re inside, hopefully heading up the line for that activity. There’s nothing worse than waiting in line to get into the Easter Egg Roll itself, only to spend your whole time waiting in more lines for your chosen activities. If you don’t care about specific activities (and there are plenty of things to see that don’t require waiting in line), show up at the actual entry time. You won’t waste time standing in the entry line before the gates open. You’ll be at the back of the entry line, but it moves quickly once the gates actually open.
3. Check the weather. Even though the Easter Egg Roll is a spring event, the weather is almost always hot and sunny. Don’t dress the way you would for an Easter brunch — dress for several hours outdoors in the elements. Think sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and clothes that will be okay if you sit down in the grass for a while.
4. You will go through Security. Once your entry time arrives, you will move through Security on your way into the event. Don’t worry. There are lots of lanes, the employees are efficient, and the lines move quickly. You will walk through a metal detector and open your bags for a visual check. There’s a list of prohibited items, but all are fairly self-evident (leave your weapons, pets, and fireworks at home) except maybe large bags and outside food and drink. And don’t worry too much about the food and drink rule if you have a baby or toddler — we were never hassled about our small cooler bag of bottles and sippy cups.
5. There will be some food and drink. In our experience, the Easter Egg Roll is a tremendously well-run event. Corporate sponsors and helpful volunteers ensure that you rarely lack for anything. When you first enter the gates, you are greeted with a cold beverage (bottled water or one of the sponsors’ bottled drinks), a snack (granola bars and the like), and a row of port-a-potties (including special ones with changing tables). The “health and fitness” themes of the past few years means more giveaways of healthy foods like fruit once you’re inside. And there are usually volunteers handing out additional bottles of water if it’s hot — if you need hydration and can’t find someone, just stop by the First Aid tent and ask.
6. There will be random celebrities. Every Easter Egg Roll includes musical performances by kid favorites, sports stars there to support the fitness efforts, and actors and actresses who read kids’ books to the crowd. Each celeb generally appears at only one of the timed entries, so you never know who you’ll get. (Mr. T and I usually have no idea who the people are, but we did geek out over seeing John Lithgow in 2011, for decidedly NON-kid-friendly, Dexter-based reasons.) The event also features costumed characters like the Easter Bunny and cartoon favorites: They’re accessible for photo ops if your kid loves them, and fairly easy to avoid if your kid is the type to run away screaming.
7. Take public transportation, and bring a stroller. Unless you are willing to spend time searching for an open garage, pay exorbitant parking fees, and still walk many blocks to the entrance, consider taking the Metro or the Circulator downtown and walking from there. And if your child ever uses a stroller, bring it. Strollers are okay with Security, and it gives your child a place to rest during a long event with lots of walking.
8. Bring your camera. Frolicking on the White House lawn makes for a very special photos! The organizers understand this and provide lots of Easter-themed and Presidential backdrops (in addition to the White House itself) for your photos. And the friendly event volunteers are always willing to grab your camera to shoot that rare picture with the entire family in one shot.
9. Stay till the end. You can leave at any time, but there is an official “end time” just as there’s an official start time. At the end time, volunteers line up at the exits to hand you packages of Peeps and souvenir wooden Easter eggs on your way out. The eggs are really quite nice, and most people would find them worth sitting around on the grass till exit time if you’re done looking around a few minutes early.
10. Have fun! Despite the crowds and other drawbacks, the White House Easter Egg Roll has been a cherished tradition for over 130 years, and it’s something very few people (in the grand scheme of things) ever get to attend. So take lots of photos, try to shrug off and logistical hassles, and have a great time!