Vacationing in Colonial Williamsburg is one of the greatest experiences a kid can have. I can say this as a little girl who did it and now, as a mom who does it with her own kids. I can also tell you with absolute certainty there are many, many employees you can walk up to and ask about their first time at CW. Their eyes will get big, they will smile, and they will gladly share the tales of their childhood family vacations. It is quite literally a life-changing experience.
My kids are 2, 6, 7, and 13 and this place is still as magical as it was when I was their ages. Though now, as a parent, it is also exhausting, dirty, and a test of one’s patience. Still, it’s an experience I know they will never forget. And now that I live here in the Historic Area, I have become an expert in the field of study I like to call “family fun.”
Whether I am herding my brood around town (and collecting missing shoes), messaging a friend/family member planning a trip, or answering questions of guests on the street—there is so much information to share and to take in. There are a variety of experiences that make CW unique and, consequently, tricky to navigate. For example, did you know one of our hotels has a Splash Park for its guests? It’s a couple miles outside DoG Street, but close to the Visitor Center. My kids love it, even when they were babies.
So, how best do you take in all the Revolutionary City has to offer? The truth is that it varies from age to age. But I guarantee—toddlers and preschoolers, grade schoolers, tweens/teens—there’s something for everyone. And there are plenty of awesome things to do if, like me, you have a pretty big age gap between your oldest and youngest children. Before we get to all that, I have a few general questions I get a lot. I would love to answer them to help you better prepare for your visit.
What time of year should you visit?
February through December! We have a “winter pause” that happens during January. While there’s still programming, it wouldn’t be my choice with the kids in tow. But any other time is awesome. If you are working with a school schedule, spring break is a gorgeous time to be here. If your kids are not yet school age, come after the older kids are back in school like May or September/October. The weather is still great, there are still tons of programs offered, and there are fewer crowds. My personal favorite: 4th of July or Christmas break. Nothing makes you feel more patriotic than a 4th of July in our Revolutionary City or more festive than a Christmas in our cheerful community. And I think the biggest piece of advice I would give is don’t try and see it all in one day… or maybe even one trip. Check out ticket options here.
Where should you stay?
Since moving to the ultimate vacation destination, we have family/friends in town all of the time. While I love all of our hotel offerings, I have to say the Woodlands is my #1 choice for families. It’s affordable, and the pool and splash pad are amazing. When you are exhausted after a long day in the 18th century, you can relax in the sun while the kids run the rest of their energy out. And they have mini-golf and other fun 21st-century activities on site. They also have a wonderful (and free) breakfast. This is a huge money saver if you, like us, have a big family and are on a budget. They also have a great restaurant with a kid-friendly menu, right there on the property. The Visitor Center is also next door and you are just a short shuttle ride from the Historic Area.
Where should you eat?
We have four wonderful taverns, each with a different ambiance and menu. I highly recommend Chowning’s. The atmosphere is always fun and lively with the musicians and costumed characters all around. (Disclaimer: I am completely biased by the fact that the gentleman that goes by the name of Mr. Chowning is a handsome devil and looks remarkably like my children). But, even if he didn’t spend his days there, I would still tell you it is the most kid-friendly. If you need more grab-and-go options, stop by the Raleigh Tavern Bakery. They have great lunch items, and no one will judge you if you just eat the fresh-baked gingerbread for lunch. Not that I have done that or anything…
Merchants Square is full of great sit-down restaurants. Aromas and the Cheese Shop are also ideal for a quick grab-and-go meal or a picnic lunch. There are plenty of lawns and gardens to take advantage of if you need more free range space.
What should you pack?
Comfy shoes. You will walk… a lot! Pack layers. It will be chilly in the morning and at night, but you will roast in the middle of the day. Bring the stroller or a wagon! The kids will get tired and there is an infinite amount of leaves, shells, and other miscellany to pick up and bring along the way (and plenty of trash barrels when they aren’t looking). And, if you have a choice between the big stroller or umbrella stroller, bring the big one. Between the stone paths, the grass, and other terrains, you will want one with better “off-roading” capabilities. Food and fun are very accessible in the Historic Area, but you are leaving some 21st-century amenities behind. Make sure you bring plenty of diapers and other necessities to make your day easier. And wet wipes! If you do it right, the kids are going to be covered in gingerbread, clay from the brickyard, dirt from the archaeology DIG, and grass stains.
How do you get around town?
Colonial Williamsburg is very walkable, but, it is a lot of walking. I recommend parking either at your hotel, if you are staying in one of the CW properties, or at the Visitor Center where you can hop on the shuttle. The shuttle system is your friend. Ask for a map and overview at your hotel or any of the ticket offices and you can plan your day accordingly. Also, any employee would be happy to point out the nearest shuttle stop to you.
Try and plan ahead, either with our app, our website, which offers the daily schedules. It’s a spread out town, so make sure if you want to see any of the programs, you give yourself plenty of travel time. Or, if you have specific trade shops and buildings you want to tour, mark them on your map so you don’t exhaust yourselves by going back and forth.
What if you need special accommodations?
Call ahead. The employees of CW are happy to work with you. They are a talented group of individuals with many resources and they want to make everyone’s visit special. If you have any particular needs, just let them know!
This is a very general overview of what to expect during your visit. I will be back to talk about specific age group recommendations in upcoming posts. In the meantime, if you have more specific questions, leave them in the comments and I will be happy to answer!
GUEST BLOGGER: KATHERINE MORRIS AINSLIE
Katherine is the Externship Program Coordinator for the William & Mary Law School. She has four children: Alexandra (13), Senet (7), Thaine (6), and Flynn (2). Katherine and her significant other, Alex Morse, are avid board gamers and boast an impressive and ever-growing collection of games. Beyond having their weekly board game parties, Katherine loves hosting visitors and throwing big parties including their famous annual Kentucky Derby party. She also enjoys British costume dramas, obnoxiously bright colors and patterns, cooking, and consuming large quantities of Aromas coffee.