Taking a Break From History in Williamsburg
We went to Williamsburg, VA to explore American history in a hands-on way. But there’s only so much kids are willing to learn on summer vacation. If we didn’t break it up with some non-educational fun we would have had a rebellion of our own. Luckily, the area increasingly has family friendly attractions with nary a tri-corner hat in sight. Here were a few of our favorites.
Make Modern Candles
Yankee Candle Village* was the biggest surprise for us. At the store’s Wax Works you can make your own candle-type things. We tried a bunch, but the most fun and unique experience making was wax models of our hands. Choose a pose (Spock’s salute and peace signs are popular), and then let a staffer alternately dip your hand in cold water and paraffin. They somehow manage to slip your hand out of this new glove. Finally, they add a layer of colored wax and voilà, you have a hand!
The only challenge was that the paraffin wax is soft and melts easily. Getting the hands home intact and then finding a spot where heat from lights, electronics or baseboards wouldn’t make them droop was challenging! After a year, Tiny Traveler’s was still OK, but Rich’s and mine had both collapsed into themselves.
You can also take a Yankee Candle jar and fill it with your own “flavor” combination from dispensers that look like frozen yogurt machines. Tiny Traveler opted for a mash-up sweet and fruity scents, while Rich chose understated purple lavender stripes. I went for autumnal pumpkin and cinnamon layers. After you’ve filled your jar with wax crumbs, they sit under a heat lamp so the wax can melt into a smooth candle.
While you’re waiting for your wax goodies to finish, you can check out some of the other shops. The best by far is the Christmas store with a wooden footbridge, a room full of snow globes and dozens of holiday villages —choose from Downton Abbey, Whoville and Charlie Brown themes as well as your traditional Dickensian ones. It snows once an hour and Santa visits at 11:00 on most days. He looked for Tiny Traveler’s name in his giant book and made notes about her bedroom-cleaning and homework habits as well as her holiday wish list. She loved it.
Note: If you’re a candle collector look for scents that are unique to the store candles and check out the bargain shelf with candles from other countries.
We’re not roller-coaster people—we’re fairly chicken when it comes to theme park rides, in fact—so we skipped famous Busch Gardens. We thought Water Country USA* would have more activities that a timid 7YO and her slightly less timid parents could do together. And it was the right choice. Aside from letting Tiny Traveler play in the kids area while we made evening plans, we did everything together.
On a weekday in late August the crowds were manageable, but it still pays to get there a few minutes before the gates open at 10:00 am. You have your choice of lockers for your valuables and dry clothes and can easily find a group of chairs to be your base for the day.
After that, we recommend hitting the slides early on, especially the bigger ones. The lines got longer as it got later but the lazy river and wave pool were always readily available. We noticed shorter lines on the smaller slides, especially those where you had to carry your tube up yourself—and we were fine with that. Wild Thang, an older slide tucked away behind the Colossal Curl, is a good option with kids too small for many of the other slides.
Check Out the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market
Saturday mornings offer a good-size farmer’s market at Merchant’s Square. Seasonal produce, coffee, baked goods, pork products and southern specialties like boiled peanuts are for sale. It offers good people-watching and sampling and is a good resource for picnic goodies.
Note: if you have time, take a stroll around the nearby classic William & Mary campus while you sip your coffee.
Take a Swim
Yorktown Village is small but has an appealing riverfront and beach (above) called Yorktown Landing. It offers calm water kids can play and swim in, dockside fishing and waterfront dining. We didn’t get a chance to swim, to our chagrin, but enjoyed wading, walking and digging on the beach after dinner one evening.
Explore Your Hotel
We stayed at the Woodlands Resort Hotel*, steps away from the Williamsburg Visitors Center. It’s the family-oriented value hotel in the Williamsburg collection. We made time daily for the good-size pool and water-play area. And TT liked the small ship-themed playground. We missed most of the nightly entertainment, but did catch a bumbling magician one evening, to TT’s delight.
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*We were guests of Visit Williamsburg at Yankee Candle and Water Country USA. We received a discounted rate at the Woodlands Hotel. We don’t guarantee coverage in exchange for access and our opinions are always our own.
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