Other places to visit near Busch Gardens: Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Washington, D.C.
Published: July 29, 2009 at 7:20 PM
Today, we visited Colonial Williamsburg:
Laurie and I started the day by leaving the kids with Williamsburg's free babysitting service:
Since this is a working trip, I spent some time with the 18th-century version of an independent website publisher:
Then, we decided to get good and lost in the Palace Gardens' maze. Just remember, if you get into trouble, shoot up red sparks.
Eventually, we had to reclaim the kids. So we took 'em over to the green for a game of hoops.
Later, Natalie and Brian looked into some 18th-century science projects.
Williamsburg gives kids 14 and under an activity guide, which they can get punched to earn a prize. The prize is ultra-lame - a postcard - but Natalie and Brian enjoyed the activities (like playing hoops) so much that they didn't care.
The only disappointment? The food. I mean, the barbecue sandwich I had for lunch looked fine:
But, for $9+, plus drink and tax and tip, it just wasn't special enough to match the surroundings. (Our dinner, at Aromas Coffee and Cafe in Merchants Square, was much, much better... and recommended.) So go outside "the park" for your meals.
Ultimately, Colonial Williamsburg is a theme park. Not one with rides, but a themed recreation of another time, nevertheless. Almost all the buildings date from the 1930s or later. And to get the most from your day, it demands planning and strategy, just like visiting a theme park.
I think of CW as a colonial RenFair. If you want to get the most from the day, you need to interact with the players. My kids loved playing games with the actors, such as the hoops. And if you follow along with the various reenactments, you really can begin to feel and enjoy the spirit of the place.
Walk up and down the streets without interacting, however, and you'll just feel like you're chum for the sharks in a highly-themed shopping mall. With mediocre food.
For real history, though, I much preferred the authenticity of Historic Jamestown:
This is the site of the first successful English settlement in the Americas. (Don't get it confused with the theme park-y re-enactment, Jamestown Settlement, next door.) It's ruin now, but with such powerful history here, actors and reconstructions aren't needed for visitors to feel its ghosts.
Last weekend, we visited Washington, D.C., on our way to Williamsburg. I won't review every detail, but did want to note two worthy choices that many other visitors seem to miss.
Ever since Barack Obama moved in, getting tickets into the White House has become next to impossible. And long lines and crowds greet almost all visitors to the Capitol, even with advance reservations through your Representative or Senator. But most of the time, you can walk right into the nation's third branch of government, with few others in your way.
When the court is not in session (i.e., the summer through September), you can sit in the courtroom itself for hourly talks about the court, given on the half hour. The rest of the building is a shrine to American jurisprudence, and well worth visiting for legal and history geeks, like me. And no lines to get it in.
Mitsitam Cafe, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
This is, simply, the best meal in town. Several of the Smithsonian's cafeterias excel (with the regrettable exception of the one at the most popular museum, Air and Space), but the cafeteria at the American Indian museum resets the standard for what a cafeteria can be.
Let's put it this way, if we made themed museum cafeterias eligible for the Theme Park Insider Award for Best Restaurant, I'd be sending a framed award to Mitsitam next July. It's that good.
How about a cedar-planked, fire-roasted juniper salmon? Or a razor clam stew, with potatoes and leeks, that will be taunting my dreams for weeks to come?
One final tip for D.C. visitors. I'm a big fan of the district's excellent subway system, Metrorail. But if you'll be taking more than one round trip during weekday rush hours, go ahead and pay the $5 for a Smartrip card. That'll save you the soak-the-tourist surcharge that Metrorail charges during rush hours to passengers who don't pay via Smartrip cards.
Tomorrow... our visit to Busch Gardens.