Williamsburg is a small college town nestled between the York River and the James River on the East Coast of Virginia. It is remarkably lush and green in the summer. As you slowly wind your way through towering pines, oaks and poplars you instinctively begin to slow down and breathe deep. Williamsburg offers a huge variety of things to do for every member of the family. Between going back in time in Colonial Williamsburg, relaxing on the James River and playing till you drop at Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, one week there may not be long enough! If you are looking to visit, here is the scoop from The Trip Fairy.
The Historic Powhatan Resort is a nice combination of space and amenities at a great price of about $200/night for a large 2-BR condo. Accommodations are 1-3 BR townhouse-style condos with full kitchens, living rooms and direct access to outdoor space. Our condo was a little dated but quite large. I noticed that some of the other buildings looked a lot newer than ours, so you could perhaps request a newer condo. If you don’t have a problem with stairs, you might want to request staying on the top level as the creaking from our upstairs neighbors was noticeable.
I really enjoyed the deck off the back of the condo that looked out onto a huge green space and felt semi-private. The resort is 250+ acres of woods, manicured lawns, and gardens. There is lots of space to take leisurely walks but everything is still within easy reach. Amenities include a large pool, a restaurant serving three meals a day, a coffee shop, a general store, and a small gym on the property. Generally, everything was sufficient but nothing was spectacular. I would have liked the general store and coffee shop to have offered a larger selection and perhaps the restaurant to have been a little more upscale. The best part of staying at The Powhatan was certainly the grounds and the fact that our family had tons of room to spread out. The resort is a 15-20 minute drive to both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens but there were shops and restaurants within a 5 minute drive as well.
If you have a larger budget, consider staying at the Kingsmill Resort on the James River for a more pampered experience with great views of the river, apartment style accommodations, an on-site spa, a golf course, a destination pool complete with lazy river/slides and a full kid’s camp. The Kingsmill is one of the top rated resorts in the area.
If you are a play-all-day, every day type family, the Great Wolf Lodge could be the perfect place for you if you want to pay for the constant access to the water-park as opposed to roomy accommodations.
Colonial Williamsburg is living history at its best and highly educational for the entire family. The entire colony is still functioning just as it did in the early 1700s and you get to observe, inquire about and participate in many of the moving parts. Every family’s experience there will be different depending on which aspects of the colony most appeal to you.
Consider getting a multi-day pass so that you can come and go at your convenience, without overdoing it on any one day. I found that my kids (ages 9 and 7) would be really engaged in the first few places, asking lots of questions, and then want some time outside petting the horses, and then be about done with living history for the day. So a few 2-3 hour visits suited our family well because there really is so much to see. Be sure to check the daily schedule and make reservations when you can because a lot of the scheduled activities are great. The don’t miss attractions are the brickyard where you can learn to lay a brick and mix up the clay with your feet, the courthouse reenactment (for older kids), the family tour of the palace and the art museum. Definitely go into a few other little places as well, we liked the foundry and the shoe shop, but there are lots of options.
You can eat lunch at Colonial themed taverns, but we found that the wait was always 45 minutes or longer. Instead, we had great food in Market Square just outside of the colony but still within walking distance.
Dare I say it, but I think our family had more fun at Busch Gardens Williamsburg than at Disney World. It’s hard to say for sure, but we certainly set a new record for how long we could stay at an amusement park (a whopping 11 hours straight). What a difference short lines can make! The good food, availability of beer/wine, an afternoon rain shower, downtime watching wolves and feeding lorikeets, and the large number of mid-thrill rides didn’t hurt either.
The park is organized into countries, so we had sausages and turkey sandwiches in Germany, chocolate in France, and pizza, pasta and gelato in Italy. The country themes are cute and the food is higher quality than most amusement park food. I really liked how the food pavilions were organized around the big shows, so you could eat and watch a show at the same time but not feel like you had set too much time aside to see the show.
The park was just the right size. We were easily able to walk around the entire thing twice over the course of the day. There are some huge coasters that we mostly stayed away from but we still had plenty to do. A lot of the rides are like fair rides – high swings, the scrambler, the pirate ship - except I wasn’t scared they weren’t put together properly! The entire park is sparkling clean and beautifully landscaped. Even our 4-year-old nephew had lots of things to do, as there are two little kid areas (Sesame Street and The Land of the Dragons) and little kid-friendly attractions spread throughout the park as well. I know this was not our last visit to Busch Gardens!
We loved our full day at Water Country USA and definitely could have gone back for a second day. There is a huge pool area for little kids called H20 UFO that had a water playground, lots of room for swimming, and a small slide (with tube) as a nice introduction to tube rides for younger kids. This is a great place to start the day before moving on to the big slides or the perfect spot to take a break from all the action. There are lots of slides with tubes, which I find much more comfortable than body slides, and lots of rides that were just high enough but nothing too crazy. If you are just graduating from H2O UFO, head to Big Daddy Falls for a tube ride with the whole family or Hubba Hubba Highway for a fast lazy river in a life jacket. If you are ready for the bigger slides, our favorites were Jet Scream, Wild Thing and Meltdown. Eat lunch at the Launch Pad, if you are looking for the healthiest option.
TIP: Rent a locker to put your bag in and link your credit card to a waterproof bracelet for a NO hassle day.
The Kingsmill Resort has a small, sand/shell beach right on the James River where you can rent kayak, jet skis, and stand-up-paddleboards. Spending a half day here can make for the perfect, slow-paced morning in the water after a long day at Busch Gardens or Water Country USA. The water is shallow, warm, and very calm. Don’t forget to look for baby ospreys in their nest along the shoreline. There is a playground nearby and many miles of paved trails throughout the resort if you want to have a family stroll or bike ride (bike rentals at the resort). You could also grab lunch with a great view at the James Landing Grille on the property.
All of the restaurants we tried came highly recommended by our family that lives in Williamsburg and they did not steer us wrong! You can grab gourmet sandwiches at The Cheese Shop and English pub food at DoG Street Pub, where the homemade beef jerky is a must try. These are both in Market Square, right next to Colonial Williamsburg.
If you need a night in, try Italian takeout from Sal’s in downtown Williamsburg. Closer to the Powhatan Resort, don’t miss a night out at Craft 31, from the huge beer selection to the gourmet burgers to the upbeat, chic decor, this is an all-around great spot and was my favorite restaurant in Williamsburg. Other highlights include brownies from Blackbird Bakery and made-to-order, pick-your-own-toppings donuts at Duck Donuts.
We didn't even begin to exhaust the possibilities of things to do in Williamsburg! Next time around we may visit the Jamestown Settlement, try a ropes course at Go Ape Treetops Adventures Park, or maybe even take a drive to Virginia Beach to visit the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. Read Trekaroo's article on The Top 10 Things to Do in Colonial Willliamsburg for even more ideas!