Monday, August 19, 2013

Fly Away: Colonial Williamsburg, VA

I'm a little bit of a junior history buff, so at the top of my list on our Virginia vacation was visiting Colonial Williamsburg. I had a general understanding of the Revolutionary War -- especially because we like to give our British Grandpa D-Rock a hard time. But when mom started pointing out various signs marking Civil War battles along the road on our trip down to Mathews, I got really confused. To begin with, mom unintentionally stumbled herself into a discussion on slavery. Then I couldn't keep straight how we were looking at the site of the Civil War, but were also going to see a Revolutionary city. And who wore the red coats, again?

After some googling while driving, mom had all of us confused to the point where, in an attempt to clarify her explanation, I summarized the two as "when the Mexican-Indians fought Spain." We eventually figured it all out and, regardless, I was pumped to go to Williamsburg because mom promised lots of fighting reenactments AND A GHOST TOUR. In addition to history, I'm into all things spooky and I couldn't wait to have a scary tour of the colonial city. 

Mom planned out a rough schedule for our day -- just to keep in mind the things she knew each of us would want to see. Mom has been to Williamsburg before and Grammie and Grandpa B went there on their honeymoon (!), but it had been a while since their last visit. And in the last 7 years or so, Williamsburg has revamped their approach to visitors a bit -- making it much more interactive and kid-friendly. To start, as part of their Revolutionary City program, each day actors put on a variety of reenactments right out in the streets. And for the last few years, visitors have the opportunity to take part in a scavenger hunt (included in the price of your ticket). This year's Rev Quest: The Black Chambers has participants acting as undercover agents in the city and looked awesome, but just a bit old for us. There are also a wide variety of other hands-on kiddo activities available -- it was really hard for mom to pick and we wished we would have done more than one day there. 

But, we think we fit a whole lot of goodness into our day. We started out picking up our tickets at the Visitor's Center (you can purchase all your tickets online ahead of time, which we suggest), received the daily schedule of events (also available online ahead of time) and our kids maps (don't forget these!), and then took the free shuttle ride over to the Capitol stop. The colonial city is basically situated along one main drag about a mile long (Duke of Gloucester Street) and although the first shuttle stop is the Governor's Palace, located about in the middle of that, most of the activities we wanted to center on in the morning were at the far east end by the Capitol. Seeing as most of the other shuttle bus riders got off at the first stop, this was also a good strategic move -- it was less crowded by the Capitol first thing in the morning (as an aside, all of this strategic planning showed mom that if she ever gives in and takes us to anything Disney -- someone else will plan it). 

Our first stop was to check out the 10:45 a.m. Swordplay reenactment -- sword fighting in the streets? Right up my alley (it was also outside the Bakery that serves coffee and that was right up mom's alley). We then checked out the Milliner & Tailor, which we knew Cam would like, and received our first punch on our kids map. Upon check-in at the Visitor Center, kids receive a special map showing a scaled down layout of the city highlighting stops that they might like. The back of the map lists several sites at which kids can receive credit for visiting and once they get 5 credits, they get a souvenir. Mom liked that we had to answer a question about each place we visited before we got credit for it, which meant that we actually listened to the spiel given at each location.

Then we hit up the public jail for me -- I like to see where bad guys go and I quickly learned that I did not want to be a bad guy in Colonial Williamsburg. Next, we set off for the most kid-centered spot in the city -- The Benjamin Powell House. Benjamin Powell was an undertaker, which back then meant he was essentially an architect and a general contractor who "undertook" the building of things, and his house offers children the opportunity to learn what it would have been like to live a Revolutionary household. Kids get to help out with chores, learn their lessons, and play 18th-century games. We LOVED it. We didn't want to leave and spent far more time here than mom anticipated. In fact, we had to hightail it back over to the Bakery for lunch before trying to make the 1:15 p.m. Pleasures of the Dance presentation, which is free, but has limited space. 

Mom had packed a few food items and we supplemented with sandwiches from the Bakery. If you plan to eat dinner at one of the City's taverns, as we did, it is a good idea to bring your own lunch. Food on site is a little pricey and we didn't want to stop for a sit-down lunch. We ate our sandwiches outside (there are plenty of benches for sitting around the Bakery), but mom wished she would have gone ahead and packed a full lunch to avoid purchasing at all. As we sat and ate we wondered why people were queuing up outside the dance site. And then we remembered too late that space at the presentation is limited and people line up about 20 minutes ahead of time. So we ended up missing the 1:15 presentation. Doh.

We took the time before the 2:30 dance presentation to check out the nearby Blacksmith shop and Silversmith. Then we made sure we were first in line for the 2:30 show. It was a great interactive presentation of various styles of social dances. Cam and I refused to participate, but loved watching Grammie and Grandpa B learn to bow, curtsey and dance.

After all that dancing I needed something more my speed -- The Magazine, which housed all the weapons and ammunition in the City. Yesssss. After a quick stop into the Shoemaker, where Cam and mom picked out some boots, we headed over to the Courthouse to hear all about 18th-century elections (the candidates basically held an all-day free booze fest at which people were required to publicly vote in front of all their drunk neighbors) before the much-anticipated Review of the Troops by General George Washington at which we got to see troops fire guns and canons (turns out both of us thought it was too loud).

Then on to the shuttle bus up to Christiana Campbell's Tavern for dinner. Mom had eaten there before and knew we'd like it. They have a great kid's menu, including the steak which I ordered of course. Cam fell sound asleep on the shuttle bus and remained passed out on mom's lap through seating and ordering. But woke right up when her mac and cheese arrived. Champ. One of the tavern's musicians that play throughout dinner came in and played us a special set of tunes for kids to see if we'd recognize them. They had much fancier names, but we were able to pick out "Twinkle, Twinkle," "The Muffin Man," and "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" right away. And mom and Grandpa were happy to finally get a pint.

I told everyone at dinner who came within earshot that I was going to a ghost tour after we were done, so we finished up and headed over to Shield's Tavern to meet our tour guide. As our guide asked whether everyone had checked in, I suggested loudly that we "get this party started." I got to be the first one up to carry the tour guide's lantern. I was on cloud nine and the tour hadn't even started. We spent the next hour walking through the city hearing "modern day ghost stories" of paranormal events experienced by people working in the city. Let's just say mom would not work there after that tour. I LOVED it. Especially when it got dark and bats started flying. It was a great end to our day.

Exhausted? So were we. When we go back, and we will go back, we will do two days at least (a 2-day ticket purchased online is only slightly more than a 1-day ticket, so it makes total sense even if you just want to view a few things on the morning of the second day). We also recommend making use of the free shuttle buses -- they come frequently and saved our little legs. Especially because we didn't bring a stroller for Cam (she's basically out of that stage, but it probably would have been helpful on this trip). If you go in the summer like us, make sure to bring plenty of water -- it can get really hot. There are plenty of bathrooms spread throughout the city, so no worries there. 

We really had a fabulous time and learned a lot. Cam might have been just a touch young, but she was a trooper and really enjoyed it as well. Cannot wait to go back! 

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