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“Museum has a Doorway to Hell??? Why???” 3 of 5 stars
Review of International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum
800 F Street NW, Washington DC, DC 20004 (Downtown / Chinatown)
202-393-7798
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$23*
and up
Ranked #65 of 471 things to do in Washington DC
Activities: Group tours/bus tour, Driving
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Attraction details
Fee: Yes
Recommended length of visit: 2-3 hours
Owner description: Opened in 2002, the International Spy Museum provides interactive exhibits and contains the most extensive collection of spy artifacts ever displayed.
Useful Information: Bathroom facilities, Stairs / elevator, Wheelchair access, Activities for older children
Chicago, Illinois
1 review
1 helpful vote 1 helpful vote
“Museum has a Doorway to Hell??? Why???”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed March 3, 2011

This weekend, our family made our first (and possibly last) visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. Lots of cool spy stuff, but one thing was very disturbing. About mid-way through the exhibit was a large door ajar through which everyone must pass to proceed into the next section. The door was labeled either Gateway to Hell or Doorway to Hell…something like that. We are a Christian family and needless to say, my young children were very uncomfortable passing through that doorway and didn’t want to go. I was shocked at the text on the door, which seemed totally out of context. There was nothing to do with Hell anywhere in the museum, so why was this sign on the door? After much consternation, we decided to proceed as I explained to the kids that this sign made me angry, was stupid and out of place, and that we would have to discuss the issue later. Interestingly, the very next exhibit was not horrific; it contained toys and memorabilia from old spy movies and TV shows. Then it hit me: museum guests (particularly the young) were being subliminally trained to believe that the pathway to Hell leads to fun! --- Why is this message being perpetrated on paying customers? What is a “Doorway to Hell” doing in a spy museum? Why should Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith have to go through that door? Families have few entertainment options these days that are wholesome and uplifting, and unfortunately the International Spy Museum doesn’t make the list because of this one issue. I am considering urging a boycott as a matter of principle until this issue is remedied -- simply take the sign off the door!

Visited February 2011
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
SpyMuseumManager, Guest Relations Manager at International Spy Museum, responded to this review, March 17, 2011
Hello,

Thank you for visit to the International Spy museum. We would also like to thank you for taking the time to leave a review about your visit. I am sorry you and your family had an issue with the " Door way to Hell". The International Spy museum has Spy material, Spy situations and Spy history from all over the world and we try to cover all phases of the Spy world. Sometimes it is positive and in other incedents it may be negative. Here at the International Spy museum we attempt to cover the Spy world as acurately as possible and try to educate our guest on the subject as well. In order to do so we must cover the positive and negative phases of Spying. In the 1700's during Catherine the Greats reign Moscow's Butyrka Prison was built. During Stalin's and Felix Dzerzhinsky purges of the 1930's and 1950's this prison became the most feared symbol fo the Communist excesses when Spying was turned against the Soviet Unions own citizens. People were brought into the office to be interogated if they were deemed to be Spies, a cabinet with a wooden front (like the replica we have in the museum) would be pushed back and there where stairs that led to the dark heart of the Butyrka Prison where suspects were held under the most inhumane conditions and some even executed. This cabinet with the wooden front was known throughout the Soviet Union as " The Doorway to Hell". All this is explained on the exhibit. Hear at the International Spy museum we are not in anyway trying to offend, frighten or make anyone feel uncomfortable and we are absolutely in no way suggesting that the pathway to hell leads to fun. We are offering a look into the Spy world and " The Door way to Hell" was part of that world and is just an exhibit in our museum. The International Spy Museum is Interesting, Fun, Interactive and Educational and a fine option for Families. There are several great options of all kinds for Families in this area and at the Spy Museum we are extremely grateful when Families such as yours choose to visit us. If you have any more questions or comments feel free to let me know. Thanks for your visit and we appreciate your feedback.
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Scranton, PA
Senior Reviewer
10 reviews 10 reviews
Reviews in 8 cities Reviews in 8 cities
2 helpful votes 2 helpful votes
“Great - but not for young children...”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed February 22, 2011

If you're a spy buff, then this was a fun 2 hours. If you're a casual fan or if you have children 12 or younger, then this is overrated. I went there with my three children ages 7, 9 and 12 and after about 1/2 hour they were bored. Way too much reading and not enough interactive things. The gift shop was overpriced, although I will say it did have a pretty extensive array of items.

Visited February 2011
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
SpyMuseumManager, Guest Relations Manager at International Spy Museum, responded to this review, March 17, 2011
Hello,

Thank you for visiting the International Spy Museum. We appreciate you taking the time to leave a review about your visit. We have Spy material, Spy information and Spy history and it can be a-lot and we understand each guest may view and experience the museum differently. That is why we are so appreciative of you and each guest who visits us. We value your opinion, it helps us to improve to make each guest visit a pleasant one. Again Thank you for your visit and your feed back.
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Seattle, Washington
Top Contributor
146 reviews 146 reviews
47 attraction reviews
Reviews in 68 cities Reviews in 68 cities
124 helpful votes 124 helpful votes
“Informative, fun add-on games, but not for young kids”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed January 31, 2011

We made a point to come to the Spy Museum with our twelve-year-old to experience the Spy in the City game. We had a wonderful time deciphering clues in order to accomplish our objective. He kept seeing random people watching us -- and though I'm sure it was all paranoia from the tone of the game, it made our adventure jumpy and fun. We were a bit tired by the end, so be sure to plan this for a cooler day, or bring water and snacks.

The gift shop was one of the better ones I've seen. Besides the usual t-shirts and key chains, there was good selection of books about espionage and mysteries, as well as tools, tricks and other spy-like items.

Our museum time was fun, but quite crowded for a weekday in October. The biggest difficulty of our visit was that strollers were not allowed in the museum. Imagine a toddler in a museum with no exhibits for young children. He's tired, and he would have ordinarily napped quietly in his stroller, but instead he was walking and being carried around for hours. He was unhappy, we were exhausted and unhappy, and the visitors near us were unhappy. We were on the museum's website several times before our visit and didn't think to visit the policy page. I would never have expected this type of policy in a location other than a fine-art museum. I think having rental backpacks available would make both parties happy. I could bring my baby in peace, and they could have even more of my money.

we also had an issue with a security guard on our way out of the cafe. I left the museum and waited outside for another in my group to use the restroom. I started to use my iPhone to take a photo of the Spy Museum logo when a guard rushed out to chastise me about not taking photos. I did see the "no photos" policy *in* the museum, and I respected it; however, I was no longer within the museum. I didn't argue, and I respectfully apologized put away my camera; however, a second guard came outside to watch me until my group member returned from the restroom. I felt extremely unwelcome. Had it happened on my way in, instead of my way out, we would have simply left.

The museum admission and cafe items were fairly pricey. Between the museum, the game, and lunch, this was an expensive afternoon. If I were to do the day over, I would skip the museum and simply choose Spy in the City.

Visited October 2010
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
SpyMuseumManager, Guest Relations Manager at International Spy Museum, responded to this review, February 22, 2011
Hello,

Thank you for visiting the International Spy museum and accepting the Spy in the City mission. I am glad you made it back in one piece and completed your mission. The museum traffic is a bit busier during the busy season, I apoligize if this affected your museum visit. We do offer baby carriers free of charge. As a guest service manager I will make it a point to speak to staff and inform them to always give guest all reqiured museum information. We do not allow photos in the museum, the lobby included for copy right reasons but if you where not in the museum you are allowed to take photos. I will speak with the security director to ensure we are all on the same page with our policies and procedures. Your visit and comments are greatly appriciated. Keep Spying.
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Baltimore, Maryland
1 review
2 helpful votes 2 helpful votes
“Disappointed; better focus needed”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed January 26, 2011

The good: plenty of exhibits, good videos explaining important events, methods, and personalities of espionage
The bad: poor organization and focus, price

The International Spy Museum is an example of a great idea with poor implementation; attempting to accomplish too much without really defining what it is trying to accomplish as a museum -- is it an interactive learning center trying enhance patron's visit by putting them in the shoes of a spy? is it a exhibition of an collection of espionage gadgets, relics, and techniques? Is it an amusement park? I don't know; the museum is aimed for a family audience, trying to have "something for everyone" with simple computerized interactive exhibits, historical pieces, gadgets on display, and even some role-playing. They try very hard to mash this together into something cohesive, but it ends up, at best, just mildly engaging.

For the interactive part, when you first enter the museum, you are taken to a room with the "dossiers" of a bunch of cover identities; you are given 3 or 4 minutes to study the details of one which is supposed to be your "cover" throughout the museum -- they warn you that you'll be tested on this. Then you go to a "briefing room", where you sit in for a 3-5 minute video telling you everything you probably already knew about espionage, otherwise you wouldn't be at the spy museum in the first place. Never the less, I would not bother spending too much time worrying about memorizing the "cover" details because, unless I missed something from the 2+ hours I spent there, as far as I can tell, it doesn't lead to anything.

The next room, the "ninja room" is where much of the gadgetry is. You have to take a short test on the cover you had just memorized, then given the details of your "mission" -- they again warn you that you will have to remember this later. The thing is, there was only one spot where I saw anything else relating to this whole cover and mission business -- where there was a woman sitting in the corner of a random room interogating a little girl -- but it didn't seem to lead to anything.

At this point you get into the "real" museum -- there are a few interactive games, but few of them are really that informative or interesting. I felt that they weren't designed well -- I wasn't sure if they were there to grab childrens' attention, and for me, I found them way too simplified or incoherent for adults to take away anything from them. For instance, there was one about encoding and decoding using the WWII German enigma machine -- the "game" consisted of 3-4 modules about the history -- which was dry, then it was followed by a "game" part didn't make much sense -- it was over simplified to the point where there was little you could learn from it, or for that matter, get much entertainment -- sort of like the flight simulator/space shuttle deals they have at some museums -- but not as fun.

The dioramas ranged from amateurish to decent -- there was a model of the tunnel system in Vietnam made with green army men and papier-mâché, not painted or anything...it felt out of place and amateurish -- almost like a high school student had put it together.

On a positive note, I will say that I really enjoyed the video displays, unfortunately, I think I could have gotten the same from watching the History Channel. That being said, I would have like to have seen more artifacts -- more material directly from the spy experience instead of models and dioramas -- more about the individuals involved in espionage...more history.

To be fair, I understand much material still remains to be classified and thus outside the access of the museum, but as a whole, the museum really does little to unshroud the mystery, or worse further entrenches the myths associated with intelligence gathering. In the end, I felt that this exhibition is to espionage as Epcot Center is to science and technology, just smaller, more disorganized, and less entertaining.

I will mention that the cafe is very resonable for this part of Washington, DC -- probably the best value for breakfast in the area.

Visited July 2010
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
SpyMuseumManager, Guest Relations Manager at International Spy Museum, responded to this review, February 22, 2011
Hello,

Thank you for your visit to the International Spy Museum. We appreciate your visit and your comments. The museum does try to have something for everyone. We do understand every guest view museums differently. For guest to have as complete of an experience as possible we give a lot of information and our mission is to do so in a fun and educational way. Comments like yours help us to keep improving the museum to ensure our guest have a pleasant Spy museum experience. Thanks again and have a pleasant evening.
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Virginia
Senior Reviewer
8 reviews 8 reviews
5 attraction reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
2 helpful votes 2 helpful votes
“Great Visit”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed January 25, 2011

had the pleasure of visiting your museum on 1/22/2011. We enjoyed the
Operation spy special program and the museum. I wanted to take out time to
compliment the staff of the museum. We were treated with great courtesy and a
genuine interest in our needs by all of the staff members. I want to
specifically mention the guard/security staff. Upon entering around 1 PM we were
greeted by pleasant young man who made sure we were in the right place for
Operation Spy, took time out to direct us to restrooms, cloakrooms, and checked
up on us as we were waiting. Later there was another young man who replaced him
that did the same. The operation spy hostess was fun and made our experience
better as a result. The museum itself is interesting and enjoyable.
Thanks to all of the staff both the front of the house and those behind the
scenes for a great time.

Visited January 2011
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
SpyMuseumManager, Guest Relations Manager at International Spy Museum, responded to this review, January 26, 2011
Hello,
Thank you for visiting the International Spy Museum. We appreciate your kind review. I will make it a point to share them with our staff. We are glad you accepted the Operation Spy mission and made it back to tell about it. I hope you got at least a 4 on your mission. Thanks again for your visit and Keep Spying.
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