The world’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg, has lured us to Virginia twice before. We now know two things with certainty. A) There’s not a lot of shade on a hot day. B) Despite that, there is a lot of entertaining and educational fun to be had by all ages.
If you’re planning a trip this summer, there are a few highlights I would strongly recommend to maximize your experience, especially if you’re only there for one day. It’s best to have a plan of attack at a place this big — Colonial Williamsburg includes more than 400 restored or reconstructed original buildings, museums, lodging, and restaurants, retail stores and gardens.
Start your day at the Visitor Center. The map includes a weekly program guide, with kid-friendly programs highlighted. If you haven’t done so before your trip, make reservations for on-site meals, and purchase additional passes for special programs or tours not included in the general pass. You can even rent costumes for everyone in your family to wear so you can blend in with the colonists.
Walking through the streets is partly about watching, and also about participating. You can stop by the blacksmith shop or the bindery to observe these artisans in their trades, march along with the Fife and Drum crew, or stop into the Courthouse to hear a case before the judge. Make sure you hit the Kids Corner at the Gateway, where they taught our kids games like Whirligig.
When it’s time for some air conditioning, take the tour of the Governor’s Palace, or visit the Folk Art Museum. At the Governor’s Palace, your tour guide–in character and period dress–will lead you through a moment in time in the life of Lord Dunmore and his staff. The Folk Art Museum has antique toys on display, gives special children’s tours, and offers craft sessions. Our kids loved the audio tour!
Play RevQuest, especially if you and your kids are tech fiends! This is a text-message based alternative reality game, where texts help players navigate through Revolutionary City in search of secret meeting spots and hidden messages to locate an ally critical to saving the American Revolution. The game is free with your admission.
Make sure you’re “downtown” in the late afternoon for the Revolutionary City programs, which are like 18th century flash mobs. You’re a bystander on the street while costumed re-enactors play a series of emotionally-charged scenes, such as two enslaved Virginians considering leaving their familiar lives for potential freedom in the North.
Have an early dinner in a tavern; just make sure you’ve made reservations, especially in the high summer season. There are four to choose from, and all offer kids’ menus with items like “Chicken, Fife ‘n’ Drumstix,” and “Thomas Jefferson’s Macaroni and Cheese.” This is an experience worth the expense, because your servers will be dressed in colonial clothing, and strolling musicians will visit your table, with instruments like the hurdy gurdy! Each tavern now provides a distinctive experience, whether it’s the 18th century alehouse atmosphere at Chownings, the chophouse feel of Kings Arms Tavern, or the entertainment hub at Shields Tavern.
If you still have steam after the attractions close at 5:00PM, try one of the evening programs. Some are best suited for adults (like the witch trials and ghost tours), but others are fine for all ages. We joined an 18th century dance lesson lead by costumed gentry. First, we learned to curtsy and bow. The Boy took part in a country dance called the First of April, and I danced a cotillion with a guy in a wig.
NOTE: There’s a summer 2014 family promotion that might interest you if you’re planning to go this year; the Kids Stay, Play & Eat FREE offer. Kids ages 12 and under, accompanied by a paying adult, stay free for a minimum of three nights at the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel & Suites or the Williamsburg Lodge.
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