American History – The Living Kind

Genie Davis February 14, 2011 No Comments


If you want to teach your children about history, it’s never too early and you should try and make your history lessons come alive. With that advice in mind, we were eager to take our children to Colonial Williamsburg Virginia, where re-enactments of famous moments in American history are part of the fabric of this historical attraction’s daily routine, and where children of all ages are welcome. From tots to teens, Williamsburg offers a fascinating look at American history and culture, and a painless way to present knowledge about our country’s past couched inside a vacation. Maybe best of all for the kids, Williamsburg has recently linked admission tickets to the town with a combination packet that allows entry into Busch Gardens Amusement Park. Want a little taste of roller coasters with your American past?

Williamsburg was a wonderful way to experience history for kids of all ages!

Williamsburg was a wonderful way to experience history for kids of all ages!

We weren’t quite sure what to expect from Williamsburg, a classic attraction that I’d visited both as a small child and a mid-teen. In recent years attendance has dropped and some parents have told me that the attraction felt a little dated. But no worries: the trip was well worth undertaking. From reenacted historical scenes to the scent of fresh baked pies wafting from “colonial” bakeries, our trip was enriching and fun.

Colonial Williamsburg is a wonderful family attraction, and along with the history you’ll consume, you’ll also get to enjoy pleasant walks that allow you to experience the town. We’d heard in the past that Williamsburg is best for upper elementary aged children; that teens and tots can be bored by the experience, but we did not find either to be the case. The buildings and crafts people offer plenty of good visual enjoyment, and the staff that portrays pre-Revolutionary war characters make the entire town not only feel alive but transport visitors to a different era. My kids felt as if they were in a “time machine,” and this experience is truly created by the actors and actresses who roam through the town and recreate conversations and key events of the period. There is an organic feel to the re-enactments; they are not performed on a stage.

We were a mix of teen and toddler and everyone had a good time. The teens learned more about history than they had in high school classes, and painlessly. The tots loved the colors, sights, sounds, gardens, farm animals, costumes and pageantry. No matter what your children’s ages, they’ll have a good time.

For us, staying right in town was best of all – most of the tourist crowd leaves after dark, and there are carriage rides and walking tours that feel almost private by comparison. Our favorite moments were at twilight, strolling through the bright and cheerful gardens in the last waning light. We felt an almost “Brigadoon” like moment then – you know the story of a town that sleeps for hundreds of years and is frozen in time. A moonlit carriage ride was a real highlight, offering us a relaxing view of the town and its architecture.

Back to the past – Williamsburg, VA

Back to the past – Williamsburg, VA

All of the character actors participating in the re-creation of the era were uniformly friendly and answered questions that they had probably heard a hundred times before without flinching. This was a special delight, having encountered cranky Disney characters in the past. We heard George Washington plan a campaign and watched him attend a Salem Witch Trial. We watched a blacksmith create horseshoes, saw candles being made, barrels staved, bread being baked, and butter churned. Yes there were crowds, but the experience was still wonderful. The kids learned about kneading dough, melting wax into molds, heating and shaping hot metal. They didn’t just hear about these activities, they saw them. Seeing how people actually lived in this time period was like participating in this era. The kids were excited to share in the experience.

After watching, listening, absorbing the life of the town, it was time to take a break. Both days spent in town, we took our break in the formal gardens. The best part: the maze. Plenty of space to run around and let off a little pre-revolutionary steam for the tots, and a nice time to relax for the older kids and adults. The bakery near by offers fresh hot rolls and muffins for a nice pick-me- up snack. The gardens themselves hold plants that were grown in colonial times. Trees line the paths.

Our combined admission to Williamsburg with Busch Gardens gave us a day away from colonial times and very much in the present. But unlike many amusement parks, the Gardens have plenty of shade, actual gardens, and a relaxed feel which makes it a better companion attraction than we’d thought.

Small children will like Sesame Place the best, with it’s kid-sized rides similar to those the big kids can enjoy. Dragon Land also has rides that will appeal to all ages. For older kids and adults, The Griffin Roller Coaster is a top pick.

We spent most of our time in Williamsburg. While just strolling through town and joining in when we found a re-enactment or crafts person at work was perfect for us, there is an i-Phone application available that includes an interactive children’s game allowing kids to find clues in town that lead them to different attractions.

As to our overnight accommodations, we would’ve loved to stay in a colonial home, but no one invited us in. So, we had to make do with the Williamsburg Lodge, a reasonably priced and pleasant location in town, which was convenient as well as clean and comfortable. The rooms were good sized and our room, like many, had a fire place. Dining options are somewhat limited but the lodge offers a somewhat standard breakfast buffet. For dinner we chose Chowning’s Tavern, where the Colonial atmosphere makes for a special meal. Favorite dish: welsh rarebit. The cheesy warmth kept us going for an evening carriage ride through the moonlight streets of another era.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

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