Our family (mom, dad, girls 10 and 14) just came back from our first trip to Williamsburg, and we hope it won't be our last. We had a wonderful time -- including our "been there, done that" NYC teen and tween. THANK YOU to all the Trip Advisors whose posts helped me plan our weekend. I hope these notes will be useful to others.
1. The Fifes and Drums by torchlight, in the wintery late afternoon dark. These are all kids, aged 10-18, and they play like pros. Hearing and seeing them emerge from the darkness and parade down the main street was positively thrilling. We happened to catch their performance the next day, in the early afternoon -- which was great too, but by night it's magical.
2. Another nighttime treat: The Lanthorn Tour, where guides take small groups (ours was about 10 adults and 4 kids) into some of the trade shops. Everything is by candlelight, which really enhances the feeling of stepping back in time. Our guide was Kimberly, who is a middle-school history teacher by day; her knowledge and passion for the subject made the tour exceptional. (She also let two little girls on our tour take turns carrying the lantern from shop to shop, which I imagine will be a treasured memory of their trip!) We visited the silversmith, the milliner, and the print shop and book bindery. Fascinating and atmospheric.
3. Other tradespeople we loved visiting: The wheelwright, the blacksmith, the carpenters at Great Hopes plantation, the weaver (our 10-year-old chose to remain there while the rest of us toured the Capitol... one of the young docents had her happily carding cotton for 45 minutes). In every shop, the workers described their trade and answered questions with enthusiasm and a commanding (in some cases downright scholarly) depth of knowledge.
4. By and large, the guides/docents were excellent. Standouts were the Governor's Palace (both our guide and the friendly and informative musician who was playing in the ballroom) and the Magazine. Somewhat disappointing were the guides in the Capitol (managed to be hokey and boring at the same time) and the Gaol (a young woman who gave conflicting information and exuded boredom - we were her last tour of the day, and she clearly couldn't wait to get rid of us... whereas the wheelwright welcomed us five minutes before closing, and seemed happy to continue his fascinating conversation as long as we liked).
5. Governor's Palace - plan to spend a couple of hours, or return the following day if you are dealing with short attention spans. The excellent tour of the Palace itself was about half an hour, plus 10 more minutes chatting with the docent; the outbuildings could easily take another 45 minutes (a fun guided presentation in the kitchen, then self-guided tours of the baths, scullery, cellars). The gardens alone could take an hour or more, depending on how hard it is to get your kids out of the hedge maze. (This was my most vivid memory from my own childhood visit, and returning 40 years later did not disappoint. Our 10-year-old had to be dragged away.)
6. Order in the Court -- this was a half-hour re-enactment of three misdemeanor trials, with audience members serving as the plaintiffs and judges, and docents acting as chief judge and bailiff. Educational and entertaining -- we only wished the two main actors had projected more; the courthouse was full and it was hard to hear.
7. Eats: We ate all our meals in or just outside the historic area, and were pleased to find both convenience and good food. We had a truly excellent meal at the Blue Talon (make a rez... we didn't, and were lucky to get seats at the bar)... a perfectly adequate meal at the Museum Cafe (where the staff did cartwheels to help our fussy eater find something she liked)... good sandwiches and soft ice cream at Retro's... excellent sandwiches and coffee at Aroma's... and a festive final supper at the King's Arms Tavern, where the food was rich but yummy and the atmosphere wonderful.
8. We heard a wonderful folk music concert at the Museum -- a well-known Scottish fiddler (John Turner) and friends. We learned a lot from their between-songs patter, and their playing was first-rate. The half-hour before the concert was about as much museum as our kids could stand, but enough to see some highlights: The giant antique dollhouse, an amazing collection of weaponry, and a fascinating exhibit on the excavation and reconstruction of the colonial coffeehouse building.
9. There were places on our list that we never got to (Powell House, Geddy House, the Play Booth theater, some of the trade shops that were open only certain days). We chose to take a fairly laid-back pace rather than check everything off the list, and that approach worked really well for us. We got to spend more time at the spots we most wanted to visit, and absorbed some great experiences. By the end of the third day we were all ready to bid Fare Thee Well to the 18th century and chill out at the hotel pool.