You might consider the greatest vacation destination to be someplace warm and sunny, maybe even tropical, with sandy beaches and saltwater waves. Or maybe you prefer the majesty of the mountains and hiking and skiing. Or maybe the hustle and bustle of the big city with its lights and landmarks and museums is more your taste.
I love it. Truly. And early American/Revolution era history is my favorite. Which is what made our recent family vacation so incredible.I have always wanted to go to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, but only more recently did I learn just how close it is to other historical sites like Jamestown and Yorktown. Talk about American history overload! Then you cannot imagine my delight when I realized Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello would be in our travel path as well. Oh, what bliss!
It is a 9 1/2-hour drive to Williamsburg from our neck of the woods in Kentucky, which is hardly a skip-and-a-jump, and yet when you’ve made a 14-hour drive in the opposite direction multiple times, a road trip less than 10 hours is a virtual breeze. We still broke it up, however, just to make the drive a little easier on us all.
Like I said, in Charlottesville, Virginia we stopped in at Monticello, the home of our third president and writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. The house was amazing…
|Lovely…minus the scaffolding, of course. Naturally they would be in the
middle of restoration efforts. Ah well. It was still beautiful, even if it
messed up my perfect photograph…
It was really the gardens I loved most!
There were activities for the kids, too, which was great, since this trip was a week-long homeschool field trip as much as a vacation. The kids got to try their hand at writing with a quill pen and iron ink as well as play with some 18th century toys and a code-maker like the wheel cipher Jefferson himself invented.
Williamsburg was about two hours beyond Charlottesville. We settled into our lovely condo there and made plans to visit Jamestown the following day.
Now here’s where we wish things had been a bit clearer for us: Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne are two separate places, though they are often advertised as if they are part of the same attraction. Getting through them both took more time than we had anticipated. Basically Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum and a recreation of the original Jamestown while Historic Jamestowne is the actual site of the original settlement. The two are close in proximity, but they are separate attractions with separate entrances and ticket fees. Of course I really can’t imagine visiting one without the other.
And just a couple of notes:
- I loved the area with a passion, but if I had any complaint about our visit, it was the lack of clarity when it came to ticket options. There are a lot of historic sites and attractions in the area, several with very similar-sounding names, and most of them requiring a ticket for entry. There were dual-entry tickets and combo ticket options galore, not to mention all the tickets available for specific programs and specialized tours. I may never have sorted it all out had I not played 20 questions with an employee at the Jamestown Settlement. She confessed to me that many of the combo tickets save little to no money at all, so if you go, don’t feel pressured to buy combo tickets, especially if you’re not sure you’ll have time to visit each attraction. It may not be saving you money anyway.
- But just so you know, a receipt from Historic Jamestowne will get you free admission to Yorktown Battlefield if you can visit within 7 days.
The Jamestown Settlement did much to bring Jamestown alive for us all. We explored a native American village…
…Where the kids helped hollow out a canoe…
…And then we toured replicas of the 3 ships that brought the first settlers to Jamestown. Just hearing how many people were squeezed on these ships made me queasy.
We walked around the replica of the fort itself, trying on 17th century armor and taking in a musket demonstration.
We explored a church, (with the most miserably uncomfortable pews EVER,) and walked through various homes and meeting houses.
Historic Jamestown was a short drive away. While there aren’t as many activities for the kids there, it’s pretty amazing to walk on the actual site where English settlement began in America.
|Harvesting tobacco at the Great Hopes Plantation at Colonial Williamsburg|
|Little Man looks genuinely miserable in this picture, but I promise
you he wasn’t REALLY being punished.
The “historical interpreters” are a big part of the fun at Colonial Williamsburg. I think I would love the job! While most of them will gladly come out of character long enough to answer a question or give directions, others like to keep up the 18th century performance. We passed one man in waistcoat and breeches and a tricorn hat striking up conversations with passersby about “current” politics and some “recent” statements by Patrick Henry. Others in period dress sat playing games together and at one point a man left a shop with a loaded handcart and started down the street, informing those who asked that he had to make a delivery to the blacksmith shop.
It was as if 18th century life was carrying on and we were just there to observe. I loved that.
The military encampment was probably our favorite stop.
The sergeant put our family and about a dozen others through musket training, which was hilarious. I really wish I had pictures, but I was having too much fun to put down my “gun” and pick up my camera. Both my boys also got to be part of a cannon crew, which probably helped me really understand the operation of a cannon for the first time in my life. We just thoroughly enjoyed this stop.
We were informed, too, that British General Cornwallis was surrounded at Yorktown and his surrender was imminent. All kids, (big ones, too,) who wanted to join the march to Yorktown to join General Washington and his army were invited to meet at a nearby tavern just a couple of hours later. My boys wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
|It speaks truth.|
|The view from the Yorktown Monument out over the Chesapeake was just lovely…|
The Thomas Nelson house is also nearby and open for self-guided tours. It’s said General Nelson asked George Washington to destroy his home when he learned Cornwallis had made it his headquarters. Whether that story is true or not, you can still see holes from cannonballs in the side of the house. Of course by this point my were kids were saying, “Oh, Mom, please! Not another old house tour!”
If you get done at Yorktown Battlefield and still have some time, make your way down the hill to Yorktown Beach and the Riverwalk. It’s such a pretty, charming area.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Historic Triangle area of Virginia. We had actually learned our way around pretty well by the time we left and by then we knew things that might have saved us some time if not money, had we known them in the beginning. But if I can pass along some of the things we learned to help someone else planning their own trip, then I’m satisfied!
If you’re considering a visit to the Jamestown, Williamsburg, Yorktown area in your future, by all means DO IT! It was a perfect vacation.
And I’m ready to go back…