The kids and I went on a mini-vacation/extended field trip last week to Virginia’s Historic Triangle (Jamestown, Williamsburg, Yorktown). It was a lot of fun and a good way to escape briefly from election news. (I did vote absentee ballot before going.)
Visiting this area can be a little confusing because there are multiple sites at each location and multiple different ticket packages. At Jamestown you can go to Jamestown Settlement or Historic Jamestowne. Jamestown Settlement is run by the State of Virginia and is a “living history” museum with recreations of a Powhatan Village, the Jamestown Fort and the three ships. Historic Jamestowne is a National Park and is at the actual site of the original Jamestown Fort. There you can visit archeological digs and a museum with many of the artifacts they have discovered. To make it more confusing they each are associated with a different site in Yorktown. Jamestown Settlement is run by the same foundation that runs the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (also a living history site). Historic Jamestowne is part of the same national park as Yorktown Battlefield. You can buy tickets to each individual site, to the associated sites, or as a combo of all four sites. You can also buy one giant pass that includes Colonial Williamsburg.
So what to see? The living history sites at Jamestown Settlement, the American Revolution Museum and Colonial Williamsburg definitely appeal to kids. History comes alive when they get to grind corn or swab the deck or stand in a tiny tent meant for 6 soldiers or see a musket fired or watch a woman cook over an open fire. On the other hand, if you are more of a history buff or like knowing that you saw something real vs. re-created the National Park sites will appeal to you. If you aren’t from Virginia (so unlikely to return) and have enough time, I would get the pass to see everything. If you have limited time and/or money and smaller kids I would do the living history sites of Jamestown and Yorktown and just walk around Colonial Williamsburg.
We ended up seeing all four sites at Jamestown and Yorktown and walking around Williamsburg without buying a pass. Jamestown Settlement was fun for the kids and I think they all preferred it to the archeological digs at Historic Jamestowne. John and David were pretty interested in both and I thought the archeology museum was fascinating. We’ll just say Ruth is not a fan of history so this trip was already a challenge for her. Historic Jamestowne also had the one thing that was hands-down the favorite of everyone (including Ruth): the glass-blowing house. The kids could have stayed and watched the glassblower making vases for hours.
I decided not to buy a pass to Williamsburg for multiple reasons. It’s by far the most expensive of the sites and to really do it justice you need to spend at least a full day. We didn’t have that much time to devote to it if we also were going to go to the other sites. However, you can do quite a bit without buying a pass: walk down Duke of Gloucester Street and see all the historical re-enactors, go in any of the shops, go inside Bruton Parish Church, and see the Governor’s Palace and Capitol. We also happened to be there at noon when they fire the noon gun (cannon) outside the Armory which is open to the public.
I decided last minute to go to Yorktown on our last day in the area. I was really glad we did. The American Revolution Museum had only been open three days and it brought history alive in the same way that Jamestown Settlement did. The boys also enjoyed walking around Yorktown Battlefield and seeing the earthworks and remains of the forts there.
If you are a homeschooler, Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum offer special homeschool rate tickets. They also offer special homeschool days (as does Colonial Williamsburg) but if you are there on another day you can just ask for the discounted ticket. It saves a LOT. Total for both sites for all 4 of us was $42 which was a huge bargain and totally worth it. Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield are free for kids under 16 so the total for both sites for all of us there was $14. Another huge bargain. All four sites also have attached museums or visitor centers that are well worth exploring and have excellent introductory movies.
This trip wasn’t really frugal but I tried to keep it reasonable. We ate well as you can see above. Breakfast one morning was Duck Donuts, which are as good as everyone says. And actually a fairly cheap breakfast ($15 for 4, including coffee and juice). Dinner one night was pizza in our hotel room (Sal’s Ristorante Italian). Another fairly inexpensive option and we got to eat while we played Pandemic, a new to us board game. For dinner the second night we went to Pierce’s Pitt BBQ, a local classic. For some odd reason, Williamsburg overflows with pancake houses so I felt like the other “must do” food thing was to go to one for breakfast. It was very tasty, but our most expensive meal. For lunches we enjoyed The Cheese Shop on Duke of Gloucester Street (really good sandwiches) and Pita Pit. (I think we liked the sandwiches there even more but it doesn’t have the ambiance of being right on the main street of the historic district and it’s a fast food chain.) The one meal I regretted was the one at the Jamestown Settlement Cafe. It wasn’t actually that bad for a cafeteria but there is also a deli on the Historic Jamestowne island that looked much better and I wished we had waited.
As for hotels, we used Hotwire for one night and got an amazing deal. The other night we stayed at Great Wolf Lodge. The kids love the water park there and they also offer really good homeschool rates on most M-Th nights that aren’t holidays.
This was my favorite photo of the trip because it reminded me both of why we go on road trips and why we homeschool.