Colonial Williamsburg in December
Last December, as our Christmas present to each other, my husband and I took a weekend trip to Colonial Williamsburg. We stayed at the Parkside Williamsburg Resort, which is just a few miles from downtown Williamsburg. We had visited in April 2009, and I had always wanted to see it again during the holidays. CW has many events, programs, and activities every day of the week, so you have to plan ahead and choose what you want to do. Their website www.colonialwilliamsburg.com has a detailed calendar and a printable PDF of the weekly events. After checking out the schedule, we decided that we could see what we wanted to on one very long Saturday. HOWEVER, if you go and have time, you could easily fill three or four days seeing and attending all that is available. I had to prioritize for this visit.
On Friday afternoon we drove down from Richmond and decided to hit the massive and amazing Yankee Candle store in Williamsburg. It was surprisingly not very crowded, which made it even better. This store is huge, with every Yankee candle scent they make available to sniff and purchase. They also have Christmas decorations galore. There are Christmas villages on display, a room with permanent Christmas trees where it snows every few minutes, gifts of all kinds, and in December kids can visit Santa! If you visit, give yourself lots of time to browse all the goodies. Our tip: if you find something there you think you want, don’t wait until Sunday morning before you are heading out of town to drop in and pick it up…that’s when the entire population of Williamsburg brings their kids to see Santa (and buy tons of candles). The lines get long, but the staff is super efficient and they keep it moving well.
A pleasant surprise was Rick’s Cheese Steak on Prince George Street. It isn’t fancy, but the cheesesteaks were way better than what we had in Philly. Sorry, Philly!
Next morning we were up bright and early to get breakfast at Colonial Pancake House. We enjoyed our meal then headed to Historic Colonial Williamsburg. You can walk from the Visitor’s Center over to the Historic Area, or you can take a shuttle bus. We opted to walk. Happily, the weather was fabulous for early December. It was cold but sunny, and there wasn’t much wind. Our plan was to walk around and look at some of the historic houses, catch a couple of programs, make absolutely sure we got lunch at the King’s Arms Tavern, pop in to a few more buildings and programs, take the decorations walking tour in the afternoon, tour the Governer’s Palace late in the day, watch the Illumination on the Palace Green, and finish up with another Christmas themed walking tour.
We attended the Rare Breeds program, where they explain about the heritage animals they keep and their breeding programs.
We did make it to lunch at the Kings’ Arms, which is a “refined chophouse” with authentic period decor but a menu that has been adapted to 21st-century tastes, and we knew exactly what to order. Norfolk Pottage Pye: “Tender Chicken and aromatic Vegetables made into a creamy Stew and baked beneath a flaky Pastry Shell”, which is a lovely way to describe the very best chicken pot pie ever. I had this when we visited in 2009 and had to get it again. It might sound like we came all the way back just for a chicken pot pie. Well, maybe. It is really good. I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture!
The Christmas Decorations Walking Tour was fun and very informative. All the decorations are fabricated with natural elements or things that would have been available to the residents of Colonial Williamsburg. Of course, during that time period, no one in their right mind would stick a bunch of apples and pineapples out on the front of their house to look pretty, or indeed even spend time and effort decorating outdoors for Christmas, but times have changed and it sure does look good! The wreaths are intricate and cleverly designed to reflect the occupation of the building’s owner; for instance, a tavern might include pewter tankards in their decorations.
All the fruit is real and is frequently replaced as it starts to look bad. There is a dedicated little group of people who go around checking all the decorations and refreshing them so they always look picture perfect.
After this bracing and fun tour, we felt like warming up, as the wind had picked up a bit and it was pretty cold. We were able to attend the tasting at R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse. This is a restored building that was once a social hub for all kinds of meetings. You have a choice between coffee and chocolate–prepared in a more or less historically accurate way. We opted for chocolate. This is not “hot cocoa” from a packet. It is very thick and not very sweet. They have cream and sugar on the tables and I added both to make it really yummy. It’s like drinking a candy bar from a tiny cup.
Our next stop was the Governor’s Palace, where we opted to go on our own instead of on a guided tour. The sun set while we were inside, and they have a few candles lit but it is REALLY dark in there. I was gawking up at the hundreds of muskets on the wall in the stairwell, missed a step, and pulled a muscle in my calf. Oh. My. Word. Had to sit down for a little bit, but there was more to see and we were leaving the next day. So I limped slowly through the rest of our visit, even though my sweet husband kept offering to go get the car and take me back to the condo.
The Illumination of the Palace Green was exciting. By then it was totally dark. Visitors assembled on and around the Green and the CW staff lit the cressets in front of the buildings, muskets were fired, and then the fife and drum corps played and marched down the center of the green as the crowd parted before them.
We had time to kill before our last walking tour so we went outside of the Historic District to Williamsburg proper, past the skating rink, visited a couple of cute gift shops, and had some great pizza for dinner. Then I hobbled back into the Historic District to join our last tour. It was interesting and a little sad. They took us through four time periods on Christmas Eve in Williamsburg and the struggles people went through.
All done (and done in!), we started limping back toward the Visitor’s Center where the car was parked. Fortunately, we were able to catch one of the shuttle buses halfway and ride the rest of the way back. It’s a lovely walk but less so in the dark when it’s 40 degrees.
I had borrowed my husband’s Fitbit for the day and logged 9 miles of walking–about one and a half after my little accident with the stairs. It was all worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I would, however, be more careful on the stairs.
If you get the opportunity to visit the Williamsburg area, I highly recommend it. There are so many things to do and see that you could easily spend at least a week.