Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 6: A Colonial WIlliamsburg 4th of July

We spent five nights in the Williamsburg, Virginia area. After what seemed like a lot of moving around, we were ready to de-camp and make the Woodlands hotel our new home base. I debated and debated (and debated) over where to stay in Williamsburg. I ended up choosing the Williamsburg Woodlands because 1) it looked very child-friendly, with a big outdoor pool, and lots of daily events for the children; 2) its an official Colonial Williamsburg hotel, so its convenient and close, and I had hoped the atmosphere would make me feel more colonial; 3) our entrance tickets to Williamsburg are included with the rate for the entire length of stay - This seemed important because I really wasn't sure how much the boys were going to like Williamsburg, and how long it would take us to see things, considering Ryan especially has a threshold he will reach at which point he crashed; and finally 4) the free shuttle that would take us to Jamestown, Yorktown, and Busch Gardens. However, I wouldn't stay here again. While the kids enjoyed the magic show one night, and the circus pool party another night, it was often hard to coordinate being at the hotel for those events. Driving is easy, but we still had to take a shuttle to get to the "revolutionary city." And the shuttle was a long walk. Breakfast was a long walk. The pool was a long walk. This property was huge (think, Disney hotel sized), and it seemed to take us 10-15 minutes to walk anywhere in the hotel. That adds up over the course of a day, especially when you are tired from walking everywhere. And the property of Colonial Williamsburg is enormous - way bigger than I had thought, so there was lots and lots of walking. Everywhere. 
That being said, I loved Williamsburg. LOVED it. Carl and the boys liked it, too, although during the two days we spent there, we clearly stayed a good hour or so past when we should have left, because it tended to end with unhappy boys. The heat didn't help things, either. It was HOT during our time here.

When we checked in, I was handed a HUGE map and schedule of events (brand new pencil shown at bottom for size reference).

Oh. My. God. I didn't even know how to process this schedule. There was SO MUCH planning to do, and it was seven o'clock at night. Help! WHY they couldn't have sent this information to me in advance I'll never know. Or PRINTED IT ON THEIR WEBSITE. Adding to my freak out was the fact that I was told we needed to show up at the visitor center early when they opened due to crowds to get our tickets for special events. The tickets were free, but you they limit the numbers, so its first-come, first-served. I was not happy at ALL. (And yet I was also overjoyed. I LOVE schedules and trying to plan a perfect itinerary, and make it all work somehow). (*edited to add* apparently some of this information is on their website, just not easy to find, and given the number of emails I received from the place before we arrived, you might think one of them would have mentioned to check out the calendar. I had been looking at the specifics for the 4th of July, rather than a day-by-day grid)

Somewhere around midnight, I had our schedule in mind. Somehow we would do everything we wanted to do on the schedule, let alone see the 20 plus homes/living history museums/art museums. We woke up early, headed hiked to breakfast, and there, waiting for me by the food table, is this sign.

Announcing a special 4th of July "float" parade just for hotel guests, and with the Fife and Drums band. Something that was going to take at least two hours out of my carefully planned day. Oh. My. God. How can they do this to me??? And what does it mean when they put the word "float" in quotes? Are there floats? What does one have to do to get to carry one of the flags? Is it a competition? My mind was in overload. I had to eat, carefully rearrange the schedule, and run/hike to the visitor center all in the space of thirty minutes. Also waiting for me at the visitor center: the costume rental shop. I was SUPER excited about renting little colonial costumes for the boys for the day. I mean, how cute are these kids on the official website photo?

I know, I have boys, but they had costumes, too. And hats that are a separate purchase, for what I assume are lice-related reasons. And guns. Alex and Ryan were PSYCHED, because Safety Mommy showed them the pictures in advance to make sure they would really wear the costumes, and I promised to get them a hat and gun each.

And here is where I made a crucial mistake. Because I was short on time, I assigned my husband the costume-renting duties, in case there were schedule and ticket conflicts I needed to resolve. Problem is, the husband declared that $24.95 per costume (plus hat) was too much to spend. The other problem? The guns are HUGE, and were too big for our suitcases, and we once again ran into that whole TSA security problem about carrying toy weapons onto aircrafts. Which led to, well, several of us unhappy, at least two of us in tears, and only wearing hats when all was said and done. So big note to others going to Williamsburg: rent the costumes on your own, without husbands anywhere near the visitor's center. I will add this, though. Given the heat facing us, not having costumes probably wasn't the end of the world. And hats work pretty well.

Finally, hats on our head, and tickets around our neck, we boarded the shuttle to the Revolutionary City. One of the first people we encountered was this lovely lady (and yes, I do note that my children are the only two people not in costume in this photo.)

But we do like our hats.

And the fact that our shadows make us look like Darth Vader.

First up, we admired the Governor's Palace.

We didn't take the tour, though, because we didn't want to miss the special 4th of July event, the cannon salute to the 13 states.

Wow, was this ever a special event. Hotter than hell, but special. The militias come out, and then the Fife and Drums play the Star Spangled Banner.

It was amazingly beautiful, mostly just flutes (sorry, fifes) and the drums, and I've never heard a rendition like this in person before.

Even Alexander was touched, exclaiming a loud, "WOW! That was the best national anthem EVER." (Ryan was in the shade, climbing a tree. It was hot, and he was, as he put it, near death. At ten a.m.)

After the national anthem, it was time for a thirteen musket salute.

And then they set up the cannons.

 One cannon was shot off for each of the original thirteen colonies.

These were very cool to watch.


When each states's name was read, the Fife and Drums would play a bit of their state song.

And the crowds would cheer very loudly when their states' name was read. As Texans, we cheered for Connecticut, home state of Danger Daddy.

And then finally, one state was so special, all the cannons fired for it. Can you guess which one?

Not a big surprise, considering we were in Virginia!

And then it was over.

This took up the bulk of our morning, and we ate a very early lunch here, at the King's Arms. No reservations are allowed for lunch, so its first come, first served. We had about a ten minute queue until they opened, so we decided now was the perfect time for our air-conditioned, candle-lit, colonial meal.

Feeling refreshed, we next started to go visit a lot of the homes/museums. Colonial Williamsburg is a huge collection of colonial era homes and buildings, and almost every one of them has something inside of it, showing parts of colonial life off.

But its more than just a building you walk in - there are experiences to make history come to life, and its just perfect for kids.

There's a wigmaker, and you can see how they made the wigs everyone wore. There's a silversmith, and you can see him make his silver wares, and then you can go shop in the silver shop (which is set up in a colonial style, but, alas, with modern-day prices). And there's a brickmaker, where you can see and learn about how they made bricks.

And experience softening the clay for the bricks yourself. Messy!

One of the things I was handed on check-in was this adventure checklist for the kids.

We spent a good chunk of the rest of our time here working on our checklist. The brickmaker was our first stop. Our next stop was the woodsmith.

Carl loved the woodsmith, and he really loved seeing his workshop.

We also visited the printing office, to learn how newspapers and books were made in older days of yore.

The boys also really liked this (go figure). Or maybe they just loved the air conditioning inside the building Happily, not everything was as it was in colonial times.

We also spent a lot of time on the 4th of July at the military encampment, learning all about the life of a colonial soldier.

We watched how the fifes and drums were used to signal the general's orders to his troops, because the fields were so noisy, but the fife sounds can carry really well.

All this time, I never knew that the fife and drum playing was done for strategic reasons. I always laughed at the idea that you would march into battle making such a loud noise. Who knew??

And then this guy was demonstrating... something.

I thought he was one of the better looking guys I'd seen there, so here's another shot.

And then the boys lined up for musket training.

Much to their disappointment, they did not use real muskets.

Or even toy muskets.

Just ... big sticks.

Still, it was fun, and they learned a lot.

And have I mentioned how much I loved their hats?

Throughout the day, we would pass dozens and dozens of Williamsburg "residents." I just loved seeing them in costume. They never broke character, and would completely interact with each other as if they were just on their way to the butcher.

Or they would start a debate with a tourist.  We spent about fifteen minutes watching this guy on the bench argue with the man in the center about how independence would affect his relationship with the Church of England. Ryan was utterly FASCINATED with this exchange, and would not budge (which is why we looked on for so long).

He even moved in closer for a better view of the debate, and to feel more a part of things.I don't think he understood a single word being said, but that little fact didn't phase him at all. This was the highlight of his day, bar none.

We crashed pretty much after this. The boys (Carl included) were hot and done, and wanted to head back to the pool. But before the pool, the beds looked pretty tempting for a brief rest / DS time. Needless to say, we bailed on the Fife and Drums parade of  "floats,"  so I never did find out why "floats" was in quotation.

Up Next: Fireworks!

Day 1: Blackbirds, Canals and Poison Ivy
Day 2: Antietam and Monocacy National Battlefields
Day 3: Gettysburg's 150th Anniversary
Day 4: Harpers Ferry National Park (and yes, that name is grammatically correct)
Day 4, Part 2: Shenandoah National Park
Day 5: Monticello
Day 6: A Colonial Williamsburg 4th of July

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