I know that many Insiders have been to Colonial Williamsburg and I have too, but never at Christmas time. It was very, very cold but there was something very authentic about warming your hands at one the many outdoor fires, and eating and having a drink at the taverns that dot the small village.
We had a two day pass, a small card encased in plastic that allowed admission to the historic area venues. Our guides were excellent and glad to be able to be indoors for their work. Those outside checking badges must have had flashbacks to 1760 when cold was cold and heat infrequent!
Recommended tours include the home of Peyton Randolph, perhaps the most unsung of American patriots, the Governor's Palace, Shields and Chowning's Taverns. Recalling that these hardy colonists existed with crude tools (by modern standards) and a dependency on locally grown crops and animals,
it's a wonder to see the beauty they created in what was a Virginia wilderness. Bathing only twice a year, as the guides mentioned most did, must have been a challenge for the senses.
Yet, within the hearts of these British colonists there burned a yearning to be free, to unyoke themselves from a disinterested George III and his oppressive taxation of goods and services. It was Randolph among others who started what would become the American Revolution.
This was brought home to us at a meeting with a gentleman who played Thomas Jefferson, and sat with a bunch of us speaking and answering questions for an hour. His words rang true then and now.
I took over 100 photos there but will post only a few. I recommend going if you've never been, and if you have, going at Christmas to see the decorations and to get a sense of where the United States began.
I took TJC's advice and just got back for Wentworth by the Sea this Christmas and will soon be sharing the experience on the Insider. Today, (Before I read your information) had selected Williamsburg for Christmas 2011. Have been there before a few times, but really had no idea Christmas was so special there. I like to plan and reserve early.
Could you share with us and me some real tips and details about your stay?
Where did you stay? Buy tickets in advance? Best way to get from closest airport? Etc.
I read your story out loud tonight to my friends and everyone really enjoyed it. Thanks!
Dear Jerry, first Happy New Year to you and yours!
Williamsburg has a a great website that has all the details on tickets and events, but I think, after you visit the site, you should check back as you get closer to your trip to determine what's happening during the week that you choose.
We did that and found out that there was a fireworks show called the Grand Illumination during the time we were there. (early December). There are plenty of things every day during the holidays.
As for the logistics and other details you asked about:
Airports: We flew into Washington Dulles from CA , located just outside DC in Virginia. IAD (Dulles) is huge with long runways, almost never closed for weather and has the advantage of being a federally owned airport. That means when you rent a car, and find that though there are some minor state taxes added. overall the extra tariff for renting a car is quite low. We had a car for two weeks (a 2011 brand new Ford Escape SUV) and with all the extras it was still under 500 dollars!
There is an airport in Richmond VA as well but you'll be an hour and a half from Williamsburg when you land, and it normally is not served by that many airlines.
Car Rentals: Every one of them is there and fairly close to the airport. We chose National because we're Executive Elite (aka Platinum) with them, but Hertz and Avis also run specials and might be cheaper.
Driving there: Getting to Williamsburg from Dulles is a straight shot--into the Capital Beltway (I-495/95), 95 South to Richmond, I 64 East to Williamsburg. Took us a little more than three hours, but we encountered Beltway slow downs. It's a 65 mph drive and there are loads of trucks on 95 but keep focused on the fun you'll have once you get to Colonial Williamsburg. Google Maps tells me that it's 166 miles and should take 2 hours and 59 minutes.
Lodging: CW owns a bunch of places where you can stay from the 5 star Williamsburg Inn to more modest Motel style accommodations. Even if you don't stay at the Inn you should go there to see the decorations and meet the very welcoming staff (Ask for Linda, one of the bar servers, and she'll treat you as family right away).
There are several Marriott brands (including one full service hotel) in and around CW. I have not stayed in them but recommend you check them out for rewards stays etc. None of the Marriott's are far from CW.
Marriott Vacation Club International has a place called the Manor Club at Ford's Colony that is very nice, but a distance from CW. Fantastic grounds and beautiful setting too.
With our relatives (who are owners) we stayed in one of the other timeshares, called Greensprings Plantation, a part of Diamond Resorts International. While it was nice, and huge, I am not terribly fond of timeshares and this one had rules for everything: including a detailed list of "fines" for not doing things as they wanted. (take a towel from the pool and you're charged 50 dollars for example!) Not really that welcoming, but then as I said we're not timeshare people. But the relatives paid, so guess what, we suffered!
Bottom line for a big splurge, I would stay at the Williamsburg Inn! Convenience and ambiance are tops.
Transportation within CW: Large CW buses are free to visitors who've paid the entry fee (we each bought a two day pass that cost $93 total for the two of us (as I recall). There are annual passes to buy as well, and if you come more than once in a year they are the best buy. Prices will likely go up in the new year.
Staying at the Inn means that your admission is covered if you choose that package. It also allows you to park at the Inn and catch the every 15 minutes bus to and from the restored CW area. Driving within the area is not that easy and there are few parking choices. The bus is a better idea since it starts early, makes stops, and runs late too.
CW Places to Visit: You'll have literally hundreds of choices of things to do and places to go.
We did the following in our two days in very cold weather.
Governor's Palace, which has a great tour guide. The Capitol is also an excellent place to visit and lovingly reconstructed. Taverns (Shields, Chownings and others are fun places to eat--there is musical and colonial gamboling in each of them and fun for the whole family. Many are first come, first served so you'll have to eat early or wait for a table, or eat very late. Tavern were the place that people of all classes gathered (though in distinctly different rooms) for food, drink and for lodging. More wealthy patrons were given rope beds with mattresses, and the ropes needed to be pulled tighter--hence the saying "Sleep tight...")
Historic Houses are everywhere and feature tradesmen hard at their labors, all willing to discuss their specialties and the way it was to make a living. Cabinet makers, for example, did a brisk business in coffin making -- the first undertakers in colonial America. Visited the Cooper (barrel maker), the Blacksmithand many others--all entertaining and informative.
Special Events: Re-en-actors, as they are called, will appear for an extra fee (normally 5 or 10 dollars) at theater style venues to tell you about themselves. We spent an enjoyable hour with the fellow playing Thomas Jefferson and another with Patrick Henry. Each is very hard to stump, gracious to the bone, and totally immersed in their own and CW history. One CW official told me that these folks spend three months reading about the person that they will play, and nothing else, before they even consider getting into costume to meet the tourists. It shows in their demeanor.
The College of William and Mary, the US's second oldest college, is in town and worth a walk around once you're through with CW, or in between colonial adventures
Taking the bus home we asked about other places to eat outside CW. We tried these:
Chain food places are everywhere, for every price range. But there are enough places within CW and the town to keep you happy no matter what you'd like. Dinner at the Inn is a life changing experience, not only for the cost but the service as well. Worth the price, as I keep telling myself!
Well, that's my Colonial Williamsburg report for today. Hope that it answered your questions. We also hope that you'll enjoy it once you've been at Christmas.
Stepping and Mrs. Stones
I live in northern Virginia and have gone to Williamsburg many times. I first started going there with my kids on their field trips, which was great because we got backstage tours that a lot of tourists don't get. Now that my kids are grown, my wife and I go down there at least once a year, usually in the Fall. I made my avatar on TripAdvisor from a photo I took at Williamsburg.
SteppingStones gives a great overview, but I'd like to add a few things.
As far as the Marriots go, I stayed at the Manor Club at Ford's Colony this past fall, but I cannot recommend it. The experience was bad from beginning to end. There are four or five other Marriots in town, ranging from a Fairfield Inn (not bad, but can get crowded with groups) to full on Marriots (good choice, probably where we'll go next time). If you want the full experience, you can also stay at an inn on Williamsburg property. These often require a minimum stay, so keep that in mind.
You will buy your pass at the visitor center. They have different level of passes (I can't remember the name), but I recommend buying the top-level pass if you can afford it. From there, you will be walking all day. You can take a shuttle bus, but we usually prefer to walk from there, starting with the bridge that has a nice timeline bringing you back to the 1600 and 1700s. This walkway takes you to the north side of colonial Williamsburg, near the governor's mansion.
As I said, you will be walking a lot, and you will be outside a lot. We like the Fall the best -- the days are pleasant, the evenings are cool but not cold, and the crowds are manageable. Summer gets pretty hot and humid here in Virginia.. As SteppingStones said, Christmas at colonial Williamsburg is special, but be sure to bring your warmest clothes because you will be outside a lot.
It will take you a good day to take it all in, and if you are a history buff that won't be nearly enough time. When we have visited in the Fall, several times we have signed up for the ghost stories, which were very well done. In the afternoon, they will block off the east end of Duke of Gloucester Street for a series of historical re-enactments centered around the capitol; when you buy your pass, look to see when these will be held and try to plan it so that you are there. One year we saw Washington and Rochambeau actors (on horses, of course) calling for volunteers to help them defeat Cornwallis, who was holed up nearby at Yorktown. We have also seen Jefferson and Patrick Henry re-enactors. The people that work there are very good, and know their stuff.
I think we have eaten at every restaurant and tavern there. I'd recommend trying a tavern, if nothing else for the atmosphere and for an authentic taste of colonial food. If you want to eat in town, I'd recommend Food for Thought, which is on one of the main streets.
For airports, Dulles (IAD) is one choice. That's around 200 miles from Williamsburg. IAD is a UAL hub. If you're flying into the DC area, you can also consider Washington Reagan airport (DCA), which is about the same distance from Williamsburg (it's maybe 15 miles closer than IAD but is pretty much the same from a traffic standpoint). DCA is a US Airways hub. Richmond (RIC) has more limited service, but since it's on the east side of Richmond, it is actually much closer (about 50 miles), and your rental car will be cheaper than IAD or DCA. It's definitely more convenient, and isn't really that small of an airport. The closest airport is Newport News/Williamsburg, also known as Patrick Henry Field (PHF). It's about 10 or 15 miles away, but it is a small airport with more limited service. I flew into PHF last October, took a short taxi ride to Ford's Colony, and met my wife, who had driven down from home.
Besides Williamsburg, there are other historical sites very close. Jamestown is just a few miles away, and I believe you can get combination tickets to both colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown. It would be tough to do both of those in the same day, although on my kids' field trips we did that (but we just scratched the surface at each of these sites). A few miles away is Yorktown, the site of the British surrender to US (and French) forces that ended the revolutionary war. If you are bringing kids and they get tired of historical stuff, Busch Gardens amusement park is close by. And if you're a runner, they have a great half-marathon in February.
Thanks for those great additions on Williamsburg.
We would have walked but it was so cold the though of a warm bus won out. I did check rates at Richmond airport for rental cars and for me at least at National/Alamo they were almost the same but the extras made it a costlier rental, but rates vary hourly so it's worth a check to see.
Since you mentioned other nearby things to see I would recommend a trip to Shirley Plantation on the James River about an hour away. It's owned by a 12th generation member of the original family. The tour is like walking into the home of landed gentry, with most of the original furniture still there, as if they owners has just stepped out.
And this year (2011) is the 150th anniversary of the start of the US Civil War so I'd also recommend visiting Richmond for and Fredericksburg VA for their historic sites as well. (at the very least)
"And this year (2011) is the 150th anniversary of the start of the US Civil War so I'd also recommend visiting Richmond for and Fredericksburg VA for their historic sites as well. (at the very least)."
Indeed. I live a few miles from Manassas, where the 150th anniversary recognition will begin this July. The first battle of Bull Run was fought there, and this is often recognized as the first significant battle of the civil war. (Some people recognize the first battle to have taken place at Fort Sumter, and there will also be a small recognition recognition ceremony in Charleston SC in April). Manassas is about 15 miles from Dulles airport, and maybe 20 from Reagan airport.
60 percent of the civil war battles were fought in VA. Besides Richmond and Fredericksburg, VA has many civil war sites, including Appomatix, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and both battles of Manassas (otherwise known as Bull Run). Around Virginia, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of signs marking lesser events that happened in the civil war. In and around Wiliamsburg and leading to Richmond was the Peninsular Campaign. Just to the north of me is Antietam (Sharpsburg), and Gettysburg.