Colonial Williamsburg, VA

What I remember most about Colonial Williamsburg was that it was crowded and a bit chaotic. Although we purchased our tickets ahead of time, we had to stand in a 20 minute line. We found parking at the visitor center, but it was getting full. After finally getting our tickets, we walked the trail to the historic area. Not everything is open all the time. For example, on that Saturday, only certain houses were open for tours. We stopped first at John Chowning’s Tavern where we had a delicious meal. While we were waiting, we went to the Magazine to see the old weapons.

Then, we went to the Peyton Randolf House. During the tour of the two-story dark red wooden home, we learned not only about the Randolf family, but about their slaves as well. Originally owned by Sir John Randolf, the property consisted of two separate houses that were later joined together.

Along the way, we walked into the Old Courthouse to hear how people were treated back in the day. Additionally, there was a military parade – complete with drum and fife.

We went inside R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse. From what I recall, only men were allowed inside and they would sit at one large table and discuss politics and read the newspapers. On this tour, the woman dressed up like chamber maid offered us cocoa.

The precursor to Starbucks – R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse

We then went to the Rockefeller House called Bassat Hall. Most fascinating was that our tour guide was completely blind. He’d been giving tours for 20 years and knew every step of the place that you wouldn’t even realize he had a vision problem. The John D. Rockefeller Jr’s visited the area as a guest of Dr. W.A.R. Bruton and decided to restore Williamsburg to its original town design. They bought Bassat Hall home, which had been built in the mid 1700s and lived here while renovations occurred during the 1930’s and 1940’s. With it’s almost 600 acres, the house is on the far edge of Colonial Williamsburg and somewhat set apart from the town. I remember we walked in the kitchen located in the back of the house where we saw a cookbook and old recipes. It seemed a humble house for such a wealthy couple.

A demonstration at the printing shop

Along the way, various demonstrations show what colonial life was like. We saw the workings of a printing shop, book bindary, millaner and shoe cobbler.

Waiting for the tour of the Capitol to begin

Later that day, we took a tour of the Capitol. We were in a large group of 30 people but got to see where the House of Burgesses met. One side was for the House of Burgesses and the other for the Council. A rectangular room connected the two wings. Upstairs, was a large room with tables for signing things. With it’s green tablecloths, it felt more like a Revolutionary blackjack hall.

Blackjack Anyone?

The next morning, we were more rested and toured the Governor’s Palace. Being a Sunday morning, there were fewer people and a more enjoyable experience. The front room was completely filled with armor. We learned how Governor John Murray, also called Lord Dunmore barricaded himself in the palace, before fleeing back to England after the Gunpowder Incident of 1775. At the back was a beautiful blue ballroom. Outside, the backyard boasted beautiful gardens.

Ballroom at the Governor’s Palace

Overall, Williamsburg is a fun and educational place to visit. Be prepared for crowds and plan to spend more than one day so you can tour more buildings. Go online to study the map and plan out times of various tours.

 

For more information, visit here.

 

 

 

This was my review on TripAdvisor which explains the ticket situation in better detail.

You really need to buy the ticket to get the Colonial Williamsburg experience, but prepare for lots of walking and crowds. It was like Disney for History Buffs. We got to the Visitor’s Center around noon on Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. We had purchased tickets ahead of time online, but had to stand in a “pick up tickets” line for about 20 minutes. Although there were several computer kiosks to print out tickets, they had run out of the plastic clips to wear your tickets (required) so we had to stand in line anyway. There appeared to be 10 ticket stations, but only 3 attendants on duty. I felt they could have been better prepared for Memorial Day tourists.

What makes the visit confusing and chaotic is that not every place is open every day of the week so you have to make a strategic plan of what to see. For example, the Randolph House was closed on Sundays, the Joiner was closed on Fridays and Saturdays, but the Thomas Everand House was closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Some sites like the James Geddy House and the Printing shop were open every day, but only until 1pm, while others like the Bindery didn’t open until 1pm. On top of all of that, there are special events for the day such as the Fife and Drum march and participation in a courthouse trial. It should also be noted that most of the houses, the Capitol and the Governor’s Palace are all about 25 minute tours (included in admission). However, for most of the trade shops, you can just walk into it (with a ticket) and watch a demonstration.

The next morning was a much better experience as we got there at 9am before most of the crowds. By then, we knew what to expect and planned accordingly. The tour guides are extremely knowledgable and friendly. It is truly a living history museum. Our favorite places were the Governor’s Palace, Charlton’s Coffee House (a historic tour, not a place to buy coffee), and the Gunsmith shop.

Overall, I recommend this, but be prepared – buy tickets online, research their website for opening/closings of each site, have a game plan, and stay at least 2 days.


Washington DC & Virginia Itinerary

In 2013, our vacation plans called for a week-long trip to Washington DC and Virginia as soon as school ended in May. In retrospect, we should have waited a few days. After picking up our kids directly from school on their last day, we stopped in Charlotte to have dinner with some friends and then drove as far as Durham, NC that night. Colonial Williamsburg was crowded when we arrived around 11:30 the next day (which also happened to  be the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend). By the time we got to DC on Sunday afternoon, everyone was tired and cranky. We learned a very valuable lesson – give our kids at least a day or two to unwind from the school year before going on a week-long trip!

Thankfully a good dinner restored us on Sunday night and we were refreshed by Monday morning. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve pushed everything back by two days, avoiding most of the holiday weekend. Other than that, the trip met our expectations and then some!

Friday

Drive to Durham, NC

Saturday

Colonial Williamsburg

Duke University campus

Colonial Williamsburg – including lunch at Chowning’s Tavern, tours of Rudolf House, Rockefeller House, Tea Room, Magazine, House of Burgesses

Dinner Blue Talon Bistro

Sunday

More Colonial Williamsburg – Governor’s House

Lunch at Trellis

drive to DC

Old Town and Alexandria waterfront

Stayed at Hotel Monaco, now the Alexandrian, Autograph Collection

Monday

Newseum

Dinner at Taverna Cretekou

The U.S. Capitol

Tuesday

The Smithsonian Museums – American History Museum, National Gallery  with one child, Museum of Natural Science – spouse and other child

US Capitol Tour

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Hotel Washington Bar with friend

Wednesday

Spy Museum

Ate at Pi Pizzeria

Annapolis, MD ferry tour

Mt. Vernon

Thursday

Mt. Vernon

Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Drive to Charlottesville, VA

Dinner – Continental Divide

Friday

Monticello

Home

 


Trip Report – West Virginia (and parts of Virginia)

West Virginia is one of the prettiest states. It’s very similar to Arkansas in the fact that the beauty is being outside. There’s no one place to visit in West Virginia as the population is very spread out. The largest city is Charleston with a population of only 51,000 people. We made Beckley, population 15,000, our home base for this Columbus Day weekend trip. To really see the state, prepare to drive around — a lot! But the real beauty is found on the scenic winding roads through coal towns. If you’ve never been, put West Virginia on your bucket list! Please click on the individual links for more pictures and details of the sites we visited.

 

Itinerary for a Weekend in West Virgina 

click here for map

Outside Beckley Miner's Museum, WV

 

Day 1:

Scenic Drive – Abingdon, VA

Exhibition Coal Mine Museum – Beckley

Scenic Drive to Charleston, WV

 

 

Day 2:

The Greenbrier Resort – White Sulphur Springs, WV

The Omni Homestead Resort – Hot Springs, VA

Covington, VA area

Spruce Knob & Seneca Rocks

Blackwater Falls – Davis, WV

 

 

 

Day 3:

New River Gorge Bridge – Fayetteville, WV

Mt. Airy, NC (home of Andy Griffith)


The Omni Homestead Resort – Hot Springs, VA

Founded in 1766, the Omni Homestead rivals the Greenbriar. Remember these were both in Viriginia when founded as West Virginia didn’t become a state until 1861. A little less pretentious and right in the middle of town, we drove through a residential area (reminiscient of the Grove Park Inn) onto the grounds into a parking lot. the massive red-brick, Federal style hotel looked very Thomas Jefferson. The sun glistened on visitors sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch.

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Come sit for a spell on the broad veranda

Inside, a large 2-story, classical lobby, also with palladium windows but not a zillion varieties of chintz, greeted us. At the far end, a more casual restaurant bar with more updated furnishings awaited.

Main Lobby at the Omni Homestead

Main Lobby at the Omni Homestead

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We veered towards the right past Martha’s (like a Starbuck’s with coffee and pasty counter service) to the George Washington Library. Two women played a game of checkers. Pictures of famous dignitaries who visited the resort flanked the book-lined cases. On the other side, visitors sat on floral lounge chairs in a light-filled sunroom. This is the front of the Tower, which was built in 1929 as an addition to the property.

The George Washington Library

The George Washington Library

 

Solarium

Solarium

Photos of celebrity guests

Photos of celebrity guests

Continuing along, we walked through rooms used for private events. Turning back around, we headed the other direction and walked past the arcade. Outside we saw the golf clubhouse and pool with water slide. A baby in a stroller cried. Kids ran by. The atmosphere seemed less pretenscious.

One of the Homestead dining rooms

One of the Homestead dining rooms

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The town reminded me almost of a ski town. We wanted to eat at Sam Sneads Tavern but it was closed for Sunday lunch. We settled on ___ and had hamburgers before departing.

Hot Springs, VA

Hot Springs, VA

We had another hour in Virginia and the towns just seemed to be a little bit better maintained. The scenery was beautiful as we were in the George Washington National Forest. For more information, click here.