When the wheels of the school year really start turning, homework and extracurricular activities become overwhelming. By October, it’s time to break the weekly routine and get out of town. There’s one destination that provides not only a change in scenery, but an escape to a whole different time period. A trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, offers a hearty dose of history and culture in an entertaining atmosphere, and even better for active families, it serves up plenty of fun for thrill-seekers as well.
The bedrock of Williamsburg’s notoriety is the pivotal role it played in events leading to the American Revolution. As the capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1790, the thriving city was at the center of political and cultural developments during the colonial period. Restoration of individual buildings and a vision for the area as a historic site began in the early 20th century, and today Williamsburg is the anchor of the state’s Historic Triangle, which includes Jamestown and Yorktown; the three cities are linked by the scenic Colonial Parkway. Drawing more than 4 million visitors a year, the Historic Triangle is the state’s largest tourist attraction and includes a major theme park, outdoor adventures, the College of William and Mary and a shopping outlet, in addition to historical attractions.
Most kids aren’t interested in a weekend history lesson, but Colonial Williamsburg takes the term “interactive” to a whole new level. This living history exhibit encompasses an entire city where every detail of colonial life is represented, including clothing, speech, food, trades, transportation, goods and even the American spirit. Guests stroll down the main thoroughfare, Duke of Gloucester Street, which runs between the Capitol building and the Palace Green, and may stop in to see the trades of the blacksmith, the shoemaker, the gunsmith, the wigmaker and an array of others. Each of the trades is a public, ongoing demonstration complete with discussion of why the goods were in demand, the politics and economics of the goods and the tradesman’s status within the community.
Colonial Williamsburg offers more than a presentation of colonial life, however. Scheduled events throughout the day reveal the ideological debates and issues simmering at the heart of the fledgling nation. Guests can experience a public meeting with Thomas Jefferson, join a mob of citizens storming the Palace to demand return of their gunpowder or participate in a court case involving stolen crops or unpaid taxes. Stealthy kids will enjoy RevQuest: the King’s Advance, a spy program that involves joining Jefferson’s network of secret agents to thwart an attack from the British. And for parents, shops and taverns abound where one can browse period products, gifts and clothing or take a load off and enjoy a pint of ale. Colonial Williamsburg is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so families should plan to spend the majority of one day exploring the attraction.
The other points of the Historic Triangle include Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center. Jamestown Settlement chronicles the years 1607 to 1676, focusing on the legend and legacy of Pocahontas, Captain John Smith and other key figures in the first permanent English settlement in America. At Historic Jamestowne, visitors can explore the archeological dig that uncovered key artifacts from the original site. The American Revolution’s decisive battle of Yorktown is the focus of the Yorktown Victory Center, which is currently undergoing an expansion and upgrade and will emerge as the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown in early 2016. These attractions include interactive museums, life-sized replicas and restored living sites where history becomes real.
When the kids’ heads start to buzz with fun facts, figures, and impressions of history, it’s time to divert their gaze to other amusements—and here as well, Williamsburg’s got families covered. Busch Gardens theme park offers the ultimate in adrenaline-inducing experiences with rides, shows and animal encounters. The range of activities for any age family member makes a day at the park a perfect balance to the more introspective historical attractions. Depending on the weather, a trip to Busch Gardens’ water park, Water Country USA, may also be a fun and exhilarating way to get one’s adrenaline fix.
For those seeking a different kind of outdoor experience, Williamsburg also offers the Go Ape! Zip Line and Treetop Adventure. Climb up, down and across a forest canopy ropes course complete with multiple ziplines. The course is similar to the one in North Myrtle Beach, with one significant difference: the Go Ape! experience is restricted to children older than 10, which can be a problem for families with younger kids. The Williamsburg attraction caters to the younger set with its Go Ape! Treetop Junior, which is open to monkeys as young as 3. Just make sure when planning your visit to check for availability, as the Treetop Junior course is open only on weekends during the school year. (For more information on the North Myrtle Beach location, see Treetop Adventures on page 126).
Williamsburg is also home to the College of William and Mary, the second-oldest college in the United States, boasting alumni that include three of the first 10 U.S. Presidents and four Supreme Court justices. The architecture and landscape of the college make it a beautiful place to stroll and explore, as it sits right in the middle of the city’s historic district, with adjacent shops and restaurants that add to the area’s appeal.
Dining options abound in the Williamsburg area, whether the taste is for time-period fare, seafood or pizza. We found Fat Tuna Grill and Oyster House to be an excellent choice for an array of fresh fish, oysters and shellfish in a casual atmosphere with first-rate service. For those seeking a pub atmosphere, Brickhouse Tavern is a perfect place for families to enjoy homemade pizza and pasta in an authentic college scene. Adjacent to the William and Mary campus, the tavern is saturated with Tribe paraphernalia and brims with students during the school year.
Williamsburg offers ample lodging options for families of any size. In addition to considering hotels, however, think about renting a timeshare or house through VRBO. Our condo at Kings Creek Plantation Resort was ideal for our family of five, as the unit was spacious and the resort site included not only a pool but tennis courts, a mini golf course, a movie theater and a video game room, all complimentary for guests.
Offering an alternate dimension in time and history, Williamsburg is a perfect antidote to a weekly routine that’s become a bit stifling. In just a few hours’ drive, the family can be in a place where the landscape changes, the pace slows down and new adventures appear around each corner. The kids may learn something (and even enjoy doing it!), and everyone will find their version of fun and excitement.