A family vacation to Colonial Williamsburg is a working vacation. Families get “firsthand experience” of what life was like in 18th century colonial times. “Firsthand experience” in colonial history should be impossible, but don’t tell that to folks at Colonial Williamsburg.
Doing everything could easily take a week. Most families don’t have that much time. Luckily there are some easy ways to make the most of the time you’ve got.
Look for the Flag
The Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg stretches more than 300 acres. There are 500 buildings, 88 of them original 18th century structures. You’re not allowed to go in them all. Folks won’t like it if you come into their living room unannounced. (Yes, real 2012 people live in houses in Colonial Williamsburg). So how do you know what spots are open for historical business? Look for the British Flag. If it’s displayed out front, that’s a sure sign weary travelers are welcome.
Historic Trades Shops
Going at comfortable family pace is easy when visiting the Historic Trade Shops. They are also my favorite part of Colonial Williamsburg because they offer a great way for kids to see and be part of 18th century life.
Stepping through the Shoemaker’s door is like stepping through time as you magically transform from tourist to customer. Shoemaking was one of the most commonly-practiced trades in 18th-century Virginia. Watch shoes made by hand, even touch a pair you find to your liking.
The Weaver will want you to feel how soft the washed linen is the moment you walk in, but it will be watching the cantilever loom in action that will most likely catch the family’s attention.
At the Artificer’s Shop artisans make leather goods for the military. You can watch them do their skilled work.
From the Cabinetmaker to the Wigmaker, all the trades people have a story to tell. The beauty is kids can stay as little or as long as they like in the Historic Trades Shops. There are almost 20 scattered throughout Colonial Williamsburg. They aren’t all open at the same time, so look for the flag.
A majority of the activities and programs in Colonial Williamsburg are interactive. Many of the scheduled programs run about a half hour, which is long enough to learn the facts, but short enough to hold young attention spans.
Order in the Court
If you have time, Order in the Court is a fun family option. All visitors must rise before learning how the rights of Virginians were debated and decided in open court. Held in the 1771 original courthouse building, visitors volunteer to take on roles as defendants and justices. Cases on the docket range from questioning a man who has not been showing up to church, to granting permission for a young girl to become apprenticed to a seamstress. Even resident’s complaints about poor road conditions can be heard. Some of the history will escape young kids, but plenty will stick and the theatrics involved make the lesson clear.
Make sure everyone has on the most comfortable pair of shoes they own. Traveling back in history requires walking.
Included with your admission ticket is unlimited use of the fairly impressive Historic Area Shuttle Bus System. Shuttles run from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m daily dropping visitors in popular sections of Colonial Williamsburg and the Colonial Hotels.
Stay in the Heart of History
There are five official Colonial Williamsburg hotels in the Historic Area. The amenities vary from one to the next. Budgets can play a part in hotel choice, but don’t forget the golden rule of real estate, location, location, location! You want a hotel in the center of the action. Waiting 15 minutes for a shuttle is much more painful than walking five minutes from the battlefield to your bed.
Make the Most of Early Risers
Colonial Williamsburg opens at 9a.m., but that quiet hour before doors are unlatched is a great time of day. Other than joggers and dedicated dog lovers, the only folks moving are colonists on their way to work. Men in colonial hats with braids swinging. Women walking on dirt paths, carrying loaded baskets.
Before you know it a simple “Good Morning” turns into a history lesson no book can compete with.
Dana’s trip was sponsored by the Williamsburg, Virginia Tourism Board, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. Look for more tips on visiting Colonial Williamsburg in the coming weeks.