The weather has turned in a very nice direction just in time for Spring Break. We’re looking forward to seeing lots of families spending their days off with us here in Williamsburg. So if you’re looking for a few tips for enjoying the 18th century with kids (and without too much stress), here are a dozen suggestions.
Your biggest problem is likely to be how to fit it all in. You won’t, so let that idea go now. But hopefully these will help you plan your time, and have something in the back pocket for that time in the day when someone starts to get a little restless. And with a few exceptions (noted below), these activities are included in the price of your admission ticket.
Before getting to the tips, it’s worth mentioning that there are some changes we covered in a recent post, so be sure to read that, too, because it covers different ground. On to the fun…
#1 Meet a Celebrity
The free Colonial Williamsburg app can be your best friend before and during your visit. It has a wealth of useful features, including tools for navigation, snippets of history, and daily program schedules. But it also has a feature that allows you to find out where certain famous people—and one famous dog—can be found in the Historic Area.
After downloading the app, find “Meet” on the top navigation bar. When you tap it, you’ll find out if one of our Nation Builders, such as Thomas Jefferson, or George Washington’s dog Liberty, are out and about. And if you tap the star to make Liberty or one of the people a favorite, you’ll receive a pop-up notification informing you when they’re out on the street, and help finding them.
#2 Play in the Dirt
Our amazingly popular archaeology program, DIG! Kids, Dirt, and Discovery, returns on weekdays in April (and will be back again this summer). There’s room for 20 kids in each hour-long segment. It’s recommended for ages 5 to 16, but there’s a special spot for younger children to play in the dirt while siblings are busy. Participants are given a trowel and get to do some real excavation of an 18th-century cellar right in the middle of town. Looking for more background? Check out Meredith Poole’s primer from last year.
Monday through Friday, April 3-28, at 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, 1:30, and 2:30 (no program on Friday, April 21)
#3 Hitch a Ride
Ox Wagon Rides around Palace Green are offered Wednesday through Sunday at 10, 10:30, 11, 11:30, 12, and 12:30. Purchase tickets at any onsite ticket location (the closest to the departure point is the Lumber House ticket office). If you’re feeling fancy, of course, by all means book a carriage ride.
#4 Visit the Lambs
Every spring brings a bevy of frolicking furballs, and this year is no exception. Guaranteed to bring a smile to everyone’s face. (They grow up so fast!) Most days you’ll find them in the pasture at the corner of Nassau and Francis Streets not far from Merchants Square. You can always ask where to find them, or our other rare breed animals, at the ticket office.
#5 A Little Bit of Drama is OK
Every day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. dramatic programs are presented at the Charlton Coffeehouse stage and the Governor’s Palace stage. The schedule rotates, so you have to check the calendar to see what’s on tap during your visit, but you’ll always find fascinating characters and compelling stories. Whether it’s a public audience with a Nation Builder, a spy story, or a drama that gives insight into the lives of enslaved Virginians, our interpreters bring the emotions and struggles and debates to life in ways that will give you something to talk about long after your visit.
#6 Make Time for Work
Yes, work. Historic trades are the backbone of our aspirations to authentically present 18th-century Williamsburg, but don’t miss the trees for the forest. As tempting as it may be to try to check off as many trades as possible with quick visits, find something that fascinates the family and settle in to really learn. There’s no requirement to keep up a steady barrage of questions. Much can be gained by quietly watching, picking up tools and other objects, and simply admiring the work of men and women performing top-quality work by hand.
#7 Sneak In Some Learning at the Magazine
When you step off the bus at the main entrance by Market Square, don’t pass too quickly by the Magazine. There you’ll find the Indian delegation, where you can learn about Native American lifeways and talk colonial diplomacy, and nearby, explore a soldier’s life at the military encampment.
But there are a couple of especially great programs to catch at the Magazine Yard. At 11:55 a.m. there’s the Firing of the Noon Gun, marking the end of morning drills for the soldiers. And at 2:30 p.m., find out how fighting fires was everyone’s job in the 18th century in Running of the Engine, where you can join the bucket brigade. Both programs are short, so don’t be late!
#8 Stop By the Playbooth
Family entertainment, ranging from music to plays to puppet shows, is staged every Wednesday through Saturday at 1:30 & 3 p.m. at the Playbooth Theater on Palace Green. An excellent half-hour diversion for the young, and the young at heart. Check the marquee out front to find out what’s playing today.
#9 Explore the Capitol and Governor’s Palace on Your Own
I remember trying to take a guided tour of the Palace with my 2-year old son in tow. Let’s just say my wife enjoyed it while I entertained Liam outside. Now, if you’d like to see the Palace or the Capitol but you worry about attention spans and restlessness, just come by at the end of the day. From 4-5 p.m. daily, the two landmarks offer a free-flowing experience. Wander through at your own pace, ask our interpreters questions, and breathe easy knowing you don’t have to pre-plan an escape route.
#10 March with the Fifes and Drums
At 5 p.m. the Fifes and Drums perform at Courthouse Green in the Marching into Evening program. But if you’d like to make a little more of the experience, why not head down to the Capitol a little early so you can follow the march to the Courthouse? It’s a fine walk punctuated by the corps’ military music, and maybe the kids will even be inspired to practice a little more when they get home after seeing how well their peers are playing.
#11 Find Time for Art
Check the schedule for all the listings of tours and exhibits, but here are a couple of ideas for April. On Thursday mornings at 10:30, people with pets will enjoy A Dog’s Life, with a look at pieces in the collections related to man’s best friend. Or maybe you’d like to know more about what the world used to sound like. Listen to period instruments in Music in the Museums, Thursdays 2:30-4.
#12 Make the Most of Your Whole Day
Consider dining in one of our historic taverns, which are a great way to stay in the 18th-century a little linger. And afterward, take a walk in the city by night, and enjoy one of our evening programs. Following are some especially family-friendly options.
Escape the King is our revolutionary take on popular “escape the room” games. It offers kids 10 and up—and adults, too—the chance to test their wits as they try to solve puzzles that will enable them to escape the Raleigh Tavern. Various dates. More info and tickets.
The Official Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Walk offers spooky hour-long walks nightly at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Don’t confuse this with Ghosts Amongst Us, a different nightly ghost walk that is unsuitable for youngsters. More info and tickets.
Papa Said, Mama Said runs on the first three Mondays in April (check the calendar for other dates). It’s a long-time family favorite that shows how African Americans used storytelling to pass along cherished values through the generations. More info and tickets.