Last Thursday I accompanied my son and the entire fourth grade at his elementary school on a field trip to Jamestown, VA. His school is so big that the children took up two commercial tour buses. The accompanying parents drove separately, so we got up at 5am to get him settled on the bus before our little motorcade embarked on the three-hour drive south a little after 6am.
Colonial Williamsburg has been on my VA bucket list since we arrived, but I have yet to muster the motivation for the six-hour round trip. So this seemed like the perfect opportunity to help out a bit as a parent and to check a few things off the list. I got permission from his teacher to keep him out of school the following day and booked us in for two nights at Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg.
We first stopped on Jamestown Island to see what was left of the fort, then we visited the Glasshouse and the reconstructed Jamestown Settlement. The kids didn’t seem particularly interested in the history, and there was much scuffing of small shoes in the dirt during teacher and guide lectures. But there were a few highlights…like the statue of Pocahontas, the musket demonstration, and the ships you can climb on. Other than that, I think the kids were just happy to be running around outside.
Here’s a bit of quick Wikipedia history for you, if you’re unfamiliar with the area: “The Jamestown settlement in the Colony of Virginia was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas [and] served as the colonial capital from 1616 until 1699. […] In 1699, the colonial capital was moved to what is today Williamsburg, Virginia; Jamestown ceased to exist as a settlement, and remains today only as an archaeological site. […] The museum complex features a reconstruction of a Powhatan village, the James Fort as it was c. 1610–1614, and seagoing replicas of the three ships that brought the first settlers, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery.”
I keep meaning to watch the Netflix series Jamestown, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Kids would probably enjoy the Disney movie Pocahontas, even if it is historically inaccurate. And I thought the cinematography was great in The New World when it came out in 2005. Will have to watch that again now that we’ve been there.
The Glassworks was pretty cool. They had bright fiery kilns, two artists that were actively sculpting glass, and an extremely expensive gift shop. The school purchased a glass paperweight for every student, which I thought was super sweet and said as much. My son’s teacher pointed out that the fact that the cost was included in the field trip fee. But I still thought it was a nice idea.
The buses left around 3:00 to head back to Falls Church, so A and I cruised over to Great Wolf Lodge, which was by far his favorite part of the entire trip. I figured this was the only time we’d probably be staying here, so I booked a “Wolf Den” room with a queen bed and a bunk bed in a little alcove decorated like a wolf den. I figured there was a 50/50 chance of A actually wanting to sleep in it by himself, and he didn’t. So happily the room also came with a pull-out couch.
The whole place was amazing for kids, and apparently there are 18 of them scattered across the country. It was like a Disney-themed hotel with big fake trees and log cabins in the dining room, paw prints on the carpet, and a giant fire place decorated with stuffed wolves and bears. They also had a spa, gift shops with pick-and-mix candies, a Dunkin Donuts, a Build-a-Bear workshop, an arcade, an ice cream parlor, and separate pizza and burger kiosks.
The food was mediocre, but the main attractions were the giant indoor waterpark with half a dozen heated pools and slides and the MagiQuest scavenger hunt. We ended up only going in the pools one time, but A spent hours running up and down the halls and riding the elevators back and forth between the floors with his infrared wand collecting virtual gems and herbs and battling dragons. He LOVED it.
On Friday I managed to drag him out of the hotel for a few hours to check out Colonial Williamsburg. We parked at the Visitors Center and walked along the path through the Great Hopes Plantation, along a tiny section of the Colonial Parkway, and into the living-history museum. It’s free to wander around the town, but if you want to go in any of the buildings (other than the restaurants) you have to pay for a tour.
The one thing that I wanted to do was to eat at one of the colonial restaurants and “order a local craft beer and keep the traditional salted mug,” as advertised on their website. So we stopped for lunch at Josiah Chowning’s Tavern, which opened in 1766. I loved the architecture and the history, but our waitress was a bit surly, and the food wasn’t very good.
And the mug was disappointing! If you wanted to “keep” the mug, it was an extra $19 in addition to the cost of the beer. You might as well buy one in the gift shop. And there wasn’t a cool picture on it…just the name of the tavern. But the beer was great! They were out of the Spiced Ale, so I had the Weekend Lager. I usually find lagers boring, but it was a lovely color with great flavor and brewed locally by the Alewerks in Williamsburg. I’ll have to see if I can find some more of their stuff at home.
Outside of the living-history museum is the historic section of Williamsburg called Merchant’s Square. It looked really cute and reminded me a lot of downtown Alexandria. And this was definitely the right time of year to go. Not too crowded, the trees driving through Northern Virginia were absolutely amazing with their fall colors, and it was cool enough to walk around comfortably. So I’m happy that we went, but I’m not sure that I’d make the effort to go back.