- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 17, 2005

Touring the District with DC Ducks is part history lesson, part campy fun. Whatever draws you to the amphibious 1942 vehicles, it’s a good time for tourists and area residents alike.

DC Ducks runs six of the same type of World War II vessels used in such operations as D-Day. The 28-seat boats cruise the streets of the nation’s capital, then glide into the Boundary Channel for a slow ride that offers a spectacular view of the District from the Potomac River.

It is the river view that sets it apart from other Washington tours, says DC Ducks General Manager David Cohen.

“You get two different perspectives,” he says. “It is the same land tour as the motor coach ones, but going on the river is a whole different way of doing it. There is really a novelty element riding into the river.”

Filomena Mealy of Cherry Hill, N.J., and her children, Maura, 4, and Timothy, 9, agree. The family took a DC Ducks tour on a recent weekday. They loved the fun facts, Ms. Mealy says.

“I liked the quacking,” Maura offers.

Ah, yes, the quacking. About two-thirds of the way through the 90-minute tour, the guide hands out souvenirs of a duck-billed “quacker,” sort of a custom-made kazoo. Duck riders happily quack as they head back to the drop-off point. People on the street — from police officers to random drivers — often quack back at them.

DC Ducks tours start and stop at Union Station. The driver/tour guide takes riders past most of the big points of interest — the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian Institution museums, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and several federal office buildings, to name a few.

The guides are schooled in well-known information, such as the year the Washington Monument was built and how many steps it takes to reach the top. The quirky tidbits, however, are what keep riders engaged.

On a recent Wednesday tour, guide-driver “Capt.” Rob Gabler pointed out that the waterfall at the Canadian Embassy represents Niagara Falls; that J. Edgar Hoover called the FBI Building — which bears his name — “the ugliest building he ever saw”; that Martin Luther King started his 1963 march at what now is Freedom Plaza; and that the little house at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW used to house the lock keeper and his family.

A lock keeper was necessary in Washington’s early days because Constitution Avenue was then Tiber Creek, a two-mile creek instrumental to the federal city’s growth and development in the 1800s.

“So just imagine we are floating down it,” Mr. Gabler says as he turns onto the thoroughfare.

The tour continues to the Columbia Island Marina, where the boat enters the water and Mr. Gabler plays a clip of the theme from “Gilligan’s Island” over the loudspeakers. From this angle, riders can see an expanse of the District as well as low-flying planes taking off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

While cruising down the river, Mr. Gabler gives a history of the boats and a little information about how they can float as well as be driven. About 22,000 were manufactured for beach landings during World War II. After the war ended, 20,000 of the boats were left behind in places such as Italy, France and North Africa.

The 2,000 that stayed in the United States for training found homes at police and fire departments, Mr. Gabler says. When technology rendered the boats obsolete for that purpose, many became tourist vessels in places such as Boston, Baltimore and the District (which has had a Ducks boat tour since 1993).

The tour gets back on land at Gravelly Point, then heads over the 14th Street Bridge and past a few more notable places (the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the National Museum of the American Indian, the U.S. Botanical Garden and the Holocaust Museum among them).

Mr. Gabler, a former lawyer, says he likes to take locals as much as tourists. He wants to teach even longtime residents something they don’t know, and he makes sure everyone has fun.

“I like to get people laughing,” he says. “It’s a lot like being a stand-up comic. This is the best job.”

When you go:

Location: DC Ducks tours depart from Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington.

Hours: Boats leave on the hour from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily. In July and August, boats leave every 15 minutes from 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Admission: $30 for adults, $15 for children ages 4 to 12; children 3 and younger are admitted free.

Parking: Parking is available in the pay garage at Union Station. Metro’s Red Line also stops at Union Station.

More information: 202/966-DUCK (3825) or www.dcducks.com.


• DC Ducks gives a 90-minute ride in a World War II-era amphibious vehicle. The tour is about 60 minutes on land, past Washington highlights such as the White House, the U.S. Capitol and memorials. The ride also spends about 30 minutes in the Potomac River, which offers a unique vantage point of the nation’s capital.

• Purchase tickets in the main hall of Union Station. The boat departs in front of Union Station.

• There is no smoking on the boat.

• Passengers can bring their own snacks.

• The river ride is very slow, so seasickness should not be a problem.

• The 28-passenger boats are available for group rentals.

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