Pros: Lots of history; easy drive from most anywhere on the East coast
Cons: Not much to do in the event of bad weather; Much of Williamsburg is run-down
Our family took our summer vacation to Williamsburg in August 2003. We had high expectations. We had heard nothing but good things about Williamsburg.
I'll start off with the positive things about Williamsburg. There's a lot of historical value to the city, particularly Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary. Williamsburg is also close to historic Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States.
I really enjoyed Jamestown. If you are into the history of the founding of this country, you should definitely visit this settlement. Be sure to take a can of bug spray with you if you go in the summer! Jamestown, the original settlement, is located alongside the wide James River. You can still see evidence of the original fort that was built there, as well as the fort built during the Civil War. There is a replica of the first church built in Jamestown in the 1600s. The replica was built in the early 1900s, and part of the church dates back to the 1600s. Jamestown is located on a marshy plot of land. It's interesting to note that, because just a couple of miles away, in Williamsburg, parts of the area look as if you're in the foothills of the mountains. We did not visit the new living museum of Jamestown, so I can't comment on it, but we visited the original settlement. If you want to see things of more historical value, you will want to visit the original site.
Busch Gardens is another treasure of the Williamsburg area. We spent a day there, and really enjoyed it, with the exception of the two hour afternoon downpour that spoiled part of the day. Busch Gardens is divided into different countries, such as France, Italy, Ireland, Great Britain, and others. It has a train that you can ride that will take you to a different country if you don't want to walk. Or you can use the train to take a few minutes to relax. But don't ride on it to seek shelter from the rain! You will still get soaked! Trust me! Busch Gardens also has a nice selection of roller coasters. The only one I rode was the Big Bad Wolf, which is one of the first coasters built there, I believe. It was fast enough, and I can't imagine how some of the other roller coasters must feel!
Williamsburg has a fairly nice, but short strip of restaurants, hotels, shops, etc. on Richmond Road. We stayed at the Quality Inn Historic Area near the intersection of Richmond and Bypass roads. You may find my review of the Quality Inn at http://www.epinions.com/content_108689526404. The Quality Inn is now being converted into a Fairfield Inn. Richmond Road has restaurants such as Denny's, Pizza Hut, Olive Garden, IHOP, Friendly's, Applebee's, and several locally owned steak houses and buffets. If you keep heading west on Richmond Road, you will find a couple of outlet malls. Prime Outlets seemed to be the best and was very crowded. In fact, there might have been more people shopping there than there were in Colonial Williamsburg!
Colonial Williamsburg has several nice taverns to eat lunch or dinner. We ate at the King's Arms Tavern and Shields Tavern. We liked Shields better, but both were good. Another good thing about Colonial Williamsburg is that you don't have to pay to get in, despite what some people may have heard. You can just park and walk right in and walk down the Duke of Gloucester Street, shop in Merchant's Square, and eat at the restaurants. However, if you do not pay to get in, you don't get to go inside of many of the historic buildings, such as the Courthouse, the Governor's Palace, and others. You can, however, visit Bruton Parish Church, which is still an active Episcopalian church today.
While we were in Williamsburg, there seemed to be a lack of activity going on in the Colonial section. There were no parades, as I had read about. No real activities were going on. It did rain almost every day the week we were there, so that may have had an impact on things, but it just seemed a little subdued.
Although activities in Norfolk and Virginia Beach are only about 50 miles away, the traffic on I-64 between Williamsburg and Norfolk was often horrendous. The road is in bad shape, which makes for a bumpy ride, and many times, we got caught in a long line of slow-moving traffic heading east on I-64 toward Norfolk. I really think that it may be better to take U.S. Hwy. 60 that parallels I-64 if you plan to head to the Hampton Roads area.
Some parts of Williamsburg seemed to be run down, especially considering that it is a popular tourist attraction. Many of the hotels and motels are not quite up to par, or at least don't appear to be from the outside. Some of them are nice, however. We visited the Village Shops at Kingsmill, which is not far from Busch Gardens. The place was virtually a ghost town! It looks like a nice shopping area that has already seen its glory days and is heading downhill fast.
Williamsburg prides itself on hospitality, but we found that in several restaurants and other places that service was poor. In fact, in some cases, people were downright rude. But every store you go in, you see pineapples, which represent Williamsburg's hospitality. In the Colonial section, people were more friendly, but outside of that area, hospitality was more rare.
The Pottery Factory and the Candle Factory! A waste of time, I think! Two of the main things you hear about Williamsburg is the Pottery Factory and the Candle Factory. Well, these are two of the worst attractions in Williamsburg. The Pottery Factory is a conglomeration of old, outdated buildings with stuff everywhere. It almost looks like a landfill. Yes, you probably can find some nice things to buy there, but is it really worth tripping over the pink flamingos and fake pottery? Don't get me wrong, they do sell actual pottery, but much of it is the plastic kind. It was a total waste of our time. I have never seen such a trashy place to shop before. The Candle Factory is a little more upscale, but still needs some attention. The Candle Factory Restaurant is nothing to write home about and the shops are okay, but nothing really exciting. It wasn't a total waste of time, but I could have been just fine without a visit there. Both the Candle Factory and the Pottery Factory are located on the west side of Williamsburg as you head toward Richmond.
Also, as I mentioned above, it rained almost every day we were there, and we stayed there seven nights. If it rains, all you can really do is take an umbrella and dodge the puddles in Colonial Williamsburg. Or you can stay in your hotel room. There is only one movie theater, and they only show about seven or eight movies, so that wasn't really an option for us. I guess you could do some shopping at the outlet mall, but even that would be difficult to do in the rain.
-Other Travel Reviews-
1. Quality Inn Historic Area (Williamsburg, Va.): http://www.epinions.com/content_108689526404
2. Daytona Beach, Florida: http://www.epinions.com/content_109442797188
3. Gatlinburg, Tennessee: http://www.epinions.com/content_139471851140
4. Homewood Suites (Chattanooga, Tenn.): http://www.epinions.com/content_159617748612
5. Chattanooga, Tennessee: http://www.epinions.com/content_161285377668