Friday, May 16, 2008

Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown: My Review

We're home! We've spent the past few days on a long-awaited trip to the Virginia historic triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. We wanted to do this trip this year, as all three kids have been studying American History. This is one of those times when book-learning history meets hands-on history full force, and I am so thankful that we were able to make this trip as the culmination of our year!

Neither Dr. H. nor I had been to Williamsburg since were were 10 or 12, so we had very little memory of the town. Because we wanted to stick within our travel budget, we decided to do Williamsburg in just one day and Jamestown and Yorktown both on another day. Seems like most people I talked to beforehand spent at least a couple of days in Williamsburg, but we just didn't have the extra funds and decided we could still do it in one day.

We were right. For our kids, Williamsburg was not the highlight of the triangle. At 7 and 10, our youngest two are just too young to appreciate the historical magnitude of walking on the same streets as our founding fathers--and that's really what makes Williamsburg so special in my view. The best part of Williamsburg was the Revolutionary City reenactment, which takes place each day between 3 and 5 p.m. For two hours, you become a citizen of Williamsburg from 1775-1781 and witness various events: the reading of the Declaration of Independence, the British takeover of Williamsburg, and several other dramas played out by Williamsburg actors. (Click on the pictures to see the albums.)

Williamsburg trip 5/16/08 7:39 PM

Jesse, Randy and I loved visiting the buildings and listening to each re-enactor talk about what went on there, but this got old quickly for Duncan and Laurel. They really just wanted to know if I had any candy in my bag. For those two, Williamsburg was too much show-and-tell and not enough hands-on. Still, I'm very glad we went. Again, the Revolutionary City part was fantastic. Williamsburg tickets vary, and of course the price goes down per day the longer you stay. For us, we paid around $36/adults and $18/kids, but you can get slightly cheaper tickets than that online.

The next day we visited Jamestown for most of the day and finished our tour with Yorktown. Jamestown was hands-down our family's favorite. If we were to do this trip again, we'd spend a whole day at Jamestown and another whole day in Yorktown. Jamestown was absolutely packed with hands-on activities. First of all, the galleries inside are awesome, displaying artifacts and information from where English, African, and Powhatan Indian cultures meet. There is a 25-minute film that chronicles the convergence of cultures in Virginia, and we all loved it. Duncan could easily have watched it again.

Outside there is a re-created Powhaten Indian village that is loaded with things to touch and do. The guides encourage kids to lie on the furs, grind corn, scrape animal hide, shake gourds, etc. We could have spent an hour here, except that we managed to pick a day when about a dozen large school groups were also there, so we moved on to the ships. These are replicas of the colonial ships the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery. You can climb onto and around each ship, squeeze into a sailor's bunk, try steering, etc. Each ship has a couple of guides to explain the various parts of the ship and other details.

From there, we headed to the James Fort, which is a recreation of the 1610-14 fort, home to Jamestown's earliest colonists. Again, there were countless hands-on activities and great talks by the re-eanactors. In all, Jamestown was absolutely fantastic. I don't think Duncan or Laurel ever asked for candy or snacks; they were totally enthralled with all the activities and stuff to see.

Jamestown, Virginia

We drove about 20 minutes to get to Yorktown when we finished in Jamestown, and we only had about two hours to spend in Yorktown before it closed. We could have used another hour or more, as we rushed through the last part and didn't even get to watch the film. Like Jamestown, Yorktown was full of hands-on activities, from hornbook practice to tobacco planting. We spent a lot of time at the Continental Army encampment. The guides told tales of meager rations and demonstrated a musket drill and cannon firing, among other things. We spent so long at the encampment that we only had a short time to visit the 1780s farm. Laurel especially enjoyed this, as she planted tobacco, swept out the house, and shelled peas. Jesse and Duncan preferred to chase the turkey.

You can get a combination ticket for Jamestown and Yorktown and even use them on different days if you want. The combo tickets are $19.95/adults and $9.25 kids 6-12 (under 6 is free for Williamsburg, too).

The town of Yorktown is definitely worth a visit, too. We spent at least an hour just hanging out on the beach of the York River. We had planned to have dinner at one of the riverfront restaurants there, but Duncan and Laurel couldn't resist getting soaking wet. And, of course, we didn't have extra clothes with us. That was a lovely way to end our trip, though--relaxing on the sand by the pier, watching the big boats come in.

Yorktown, Virginia

All in all, this was a fantastic field trip. Our trip to Disney last year was, admittedly, a whole lot more fun, (although certainly this one was more educational!) but not every year can be a Disney year here in SmallWorld.

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