#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: DCBX

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DCBX other than being a loyal yearly attendee and Lee and Kat being personal friends of mine. I have not been hired by them to promote DCBX in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

So, with DCBX coming up in a little over a month and hotel rooms selling fast, now is a good time for me to release my comprehensive in-depth #FrugalCongressLife DCBX survival guide, the first survival guide for a specific dance congress on this blog.

DCBX, or the DC Bachata Congress, is, if not the single largest dance congress in the United States, one of the largest dance congresses in the United States, with attendance upwards of 10,000 people. The event, held at the beautiful and upscale Renaissance Washington DC Downtown Hotel located at 999 9th Street NW in Washington, DC from August 22nd-26th, 2019, is a massive-scale dance congress featuring international artists for a variety of Latin and African dance genres (including zouk, kizomba, and salsa – DCBX is not just a bachata congress!) teaching a variety of workshops, the biggest bachata ballroom in the US playing a mix of sensual, urban, and a small amount of traditional bachata, along with separate ballrooms for traditional bachata, salsa, kizomba, and zouk, several concerts, social dancing from midnight to 8AM each night, and even such unheard-of-elsewhere additions as a food festival and a film festival.

DCBX, the brainchild of husband-and-wife DC Latin event promotion juggernauts Lee “El Gringuito” Smith and Katherine “Kat La Gata” Aguilar-Smith, and further supported by an outstanding team handling everything from social media to artist relations, is a massive festival and the top choice of many dancers who can only go to one or two festivals a year. The festival is currently in its 10th year and this year promises to be the biggest and best DCBX yet. More general info on DCBX can be found at http://www.dcbachata.com, and more info on the DCBX company and other DCBX events can be found at http://www.dcbx.org.

The festival is located in the very heart of downtown DC, and DC, being a coastal metropolitan city, is very expensive by every possible metric. It’s not as expensive as NYC, but all the same, those of you coming from anywhere other than a metropolitan city should be prepared for everything costing much more than you are used to as a matter of course.

Fear not, for the #FrugalCongressLife blog is here to help you attend this congress, have an outstanding time, and leave with your wallet intact.

A NOTE ABOUT DC STREETS:

DC often has two or more streets with the same name, each located in the northeast (NE), northwest (NW), southeast (SE), or southwest (SW) quadrants of the city, and distinguishes between the streets by putting NE, NW, SE, or SW at the end of the name to identify which quadrant of DC it’s in.

Pay special attention to the quadrant initials at the end of street names when planning trips or consulting your GPS for directions — if you accidentally type in L Street NE when you meant to go to L Street NW or 7th Street SE when you meant to go to 7th Street NW etc., you could wind up in an entirely different part of the city from your intended destination.

This is something us DC natives take for granted from living here for so long but can really trip up those unfamiliar with the area.

PASS:

Buy early, that’s your best option. A VIP early bird pass goes for $150 and an early bird full pass goes for $125 when passes first go on sale about a year out from the festival.

Otherwise, follow the standard #FCL procedures for getting your pass as cheap as possible legitimately. We are about a month out from DCBX at the time of this guide’s publication, so I can imagine the passes are much more expensive at this point.

TRAVEL:

For those of you flying, your most frugal travel option for this congress is, naturally, Spirit Airlines. The closest airport served by Spirit Airlines to the congress is Baltimore-Washington International airport (BWI) in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, about 40 minutes north of DC.

An UBER/Lyft or cab from the airport to the hotel is VERY expensive, around $50 or possibly even higher than that, so try to avoid this if possible or split the costs with another festival attendee if you must go this route.

If you are able, try to get into BWI during the day when the MARC train is still running. Take the MARC train’s Penn Line from BWI to Union Station in DC. Tickets for the MARC train can be purchased at a kiosk at the BWI train station near the airport for about $8.

Directions to the hotel from Union Station: Once in Union Station, take the DC Metro red line towards Shady Grove two stops to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop and the hotel is a short walk away. Exit the Metro station from the Gallery/9th & G St. NW side; you will see signs around the station pointing out which exit is which. Once out of the station, walk down G Street NW toward 9th Street NW (if you see 7th Street NW you’re going the wrong way, turn around) then make a right on 9th Street NW and the hotel will be on your right two blocks up at 999 9th St NW. It’s hard to miss.

If you’re taking any airline other than Spirit, you will either fly into BWI, DCA (Reagan National Airport), or IAD (Dulles). Try to avoid flying into IAD; IAD is too far away from the congress to be practical, and there is no Metro stop that services IAD directly yet.

Follow the above directions if you are flying into BWI.

If coming from DCA, take the Metro yellow line from the Ronald Reagan National Airport station towards Greenbelt/Fort Totten to the Gallery Place-Chinatown metro stop and follow the above directions from there. The yellow and blue lines share the same track and the blue line’s route is very different and will add extra time and transfers to your trip, so be sure the train you are getting on is a yellow line train. Follow the walking directions from Gallery Place once you get there.

If you must come from IAD, take an UBER, Lyft, or cab to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro stop on the silver line, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to Metro Center, then transfer to the red line towards Glenmont, take the red line one stop to Gallery Place, and follow the above directions from Gallery Place.

Since the DC Metro system did away with paper farecards a while back, a SmarTrip card will be essential for paying the fares on the Metro system and parking at Metro lots (see below). A SmarTrip card costs $10 for the initial purchase but can be refilled as many times as you want at designated SmarTrip kiosks, but prepare for this initial expense. Try and keep your SmarTrip card if you plan on visiting DC again in the future.

Information on the MARC trains can be found here: https://mta.maryland.gov/marc-train

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here: http://www.wmata.com

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/maps/upload/2017-System-Map.pdf

If you are driving from any points out of town or outside of the city, know that parking at the hotel or even near the hotel can get very expensive, and street parking is tight – not as bad as other parts of the city, but I wouldn’t count on it being there and you will probably have to move your car at least once if you park on the street anyway – not very convenient.

If you are driving from out of town I personally recommend parking your car at a suburban Metro lot and taking Metro to the hotel.

Overnight parking is available at four area Metro stations: Greenbelt (green line), Wiehle-Reston East (silver line), Huntington (yellow line), and Franconia-Springfield (blue line).  Each of these stations have 15-17 parking spaces allotted for overnight parking for up to 10 days available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Parking is $4.75 per day on weekdays and free on weekends and is charged to your SmarTrip card on exit.

You can take the green line toward Branch Avenue from Greenbelt or the yellow line toward Fort Totten from Huntington directly to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop.

From Wiehle-Reston East, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to Metro Center,  transfer to the red line toward Glenmont and take the red line one stop to Gallery Place-Chinatown.

From Franconia-Springfield, take the blue Line toward Largo Town Center to the Pentagon station and transfer to the yellow Line toward Fort Totten/Mount Vernon Square to Gallery Place.  Do not miss your transfer at Pentagon, otherwise your trip will take much longer and you will have to transfer at Metro Center to the red line per the above directions.

Expect your Metro ride to be about 20-30 minutes.  Once at Gallery Place-Chinatown, follow the above walking directions to the hotel from there.

Of course, if you don’t want to go through all that, the baller option is valet parking at the hotel at a cost of $40 per day.  My guess is you’re reading the #FrugalCongressLife blog because you don’t want to do that.

For anyone wanting to take the train or bus, look for any Amtrak, Greyhound, MegaBus, or Bolt Bus route that goes to Union Station in DC and follow the above directions from Union Station.

LODGING:

Your best frugal bet is, of course, a room share at the event hotel. DCBX currently has an active room block at the event hotel featuring rooms that can accommodate up to 4 people for as low as $155 per night, or about $45 per person per night for a four person room-share when taxes and fees are included. A link to book your hotel room online can currently be found here or at DCBachata.com under the hotel section if that link doesn’t work. The room block is very close to selling out at the time of this writing, so jump on it now! Rooms at the event hotel are clean, comfortable, luxurious, and aesthetically pleasing, and are well liked by the festival’s regular attendees.

For those who still wish to go offsite, there are some offsite hotels and hostels within a comfortable commuting distance from the main event. I can not personally speak on these options as I have never used them; I have either commuted from home or stayed at the main hotel for as long as I have been going to DCBX.

Most of the offsite options, with the notable exception of the hostels, will only save you a very marginal amount of money over the event hotel while providing the logistical headaches inherent in offsite congress lodging.

Per my personal code of ethics, and to encourage attendees to support the event hotel, I will be posting no information on offsite lodging options until the event hotel fully sells out, if that happens. If the event hotel fully sells out and no DCBX room block is available at an overflow hotel, I will write a separate entry detailing offsite options then.

FOOD:

For the frugally-minded traveler wanting to get groceries near the congress, you have many options. The closest is Walgreens, located at 7th & H Street NW near the Gallery Place Metro stop, but this is not the most frugal option.

There is also a Safeway (east coast chain grocery store similar to Vons on the west coast) located at 490 L Street NW, a 5 minute UBER/Lyft ride or 9 minute walk each way from the hotel.

If you want to grocery shop as frugally as possible, the Walmart Supercenter at 99 H Street NW is your best bet. It is a 9-10 minute UBER/Lyft ride or 15 minute walk each way from the hotel. Expect the DC Walmart stores to be slightly more expensive than suburban and small-town Walmarts, because they have higher operating costs due to their location. However, Walmart will still be your most frugal option in the immediate area of the congress for staples.

For those wanting to go to Whole Foods for specialty items (such as my beloved Bulletproof ingredients), the Logan Circle Whole Foods at 1440 P Street NW is a 9 minute UBER/Lyft Ride or 20 minute walk each way from the hotel.

There is also a Smoothie King located near the Gallery Place metro station at 703 7th St. NW. A good #FCL strategy for those who don’t want to grocery shop at the congress but still want to save some money on food is to walk to Smoothie King in the morning (about a 5 minute walk) and get a 40 oz Strawberry Hulk smoothie for $9.99. The Strawberry Hulk, as I discussed in my NYC survival guide, is a 1000+ calorie meal replacement smoothie which provides a large portion of most people’s daily calorie and macronutrient requirements and should last you until dinner. I would allow some time to digest before being active in any way if you go this route. [Disclosure: Per the DCBX site, Smoothie King is a DCBX sponsor this year, but this has no bearing on my recommendation, I honestly think the Hulk smoothies are a quick easy way to knock out a good chunk of the day’s calories and macros in one fell swoop for a relatively low cost.]

For your coffee needs, the Starbucks located directly in the event hotel’s lobby is your best bet.

As far as options for your one restaurant meal, there are hundreds of restaurants directly around the hotel, most of them chains, and writing about all of them would be at least one whole separate article. The restaurant I’m looking forward to having at least one of my daily meals out at is New Big Wong, an underground Chinese restaurant located at 610 H Street NW, a short walk from the hotel. They have some of the best General Tso’s Chicken in the city in my opinion.

I’ve also heard good things about Oyamel Cocina on 401 7th Street NW, which I have never been to but which was featured on a TV show I worked on several years ago. They serve grasshopper tacos (no kidding) for those of you with adventurous palates. For those of you with less adventurous palates looking to eat out frugally, good old McD’s can be found at 601 F Street NW near the Metro, with Chipotle located right next door.

Other than these recommendations, Google Maps is really your best friend for navigating the staggeringly abundant food options directly around this festival.

That’s all the info I have… sound off in the comments if you got anything else to add and I’ll see you at DCBX!

– Owen

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