Williamsburg at Christmas: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

So I want to make it clear from the get go that I am not recommending you do or do not travel this holiday season. We aren’t making our annual trek to Williamsburg at Christmas and haven’t been on any vacations or gone any further than an hour from our house since the pandemic started. We’re all very high risk but we’re also choosing to reduce our Covid-19 footprint. However, if this pandemic has taught me anything it’s to resist judgement. So maybe you’ll use this information this year or maybe you just hold onto it till another year.

Williamsburg, VA is in-between where we live, near Baltimore, MD and where Pat’s parents live, near Suffolk, VA. His brother and sister in law both went to William and Mary College, so Williamsburg is the perfect meeting place for our holiday celebrations. When we went the first time we stayed at one of the hotels within walking distance of Colonial Williamsburg, furnished to look colonial, but they’re really expensive and it didn’t sufficiently add to our experience. It didn't hurt that my parents were there to meet Pat's parents for the first time and they paid the hotel bill. We stay at the Williamsburg Residencs Inn, because we’re Marriott Gold Members and they have a large living area with a sofa and table, a full fridge, and a door separating the bedroom. It’s great for a longer stay with our 9 year old. There’s no pool but there’s another Marriott across the parking lot and you can use their pool regardless of which hotel you stay in.

I am going to lay out our usual itinerary and also talk about things we’ve done and haven’t enjoyed. I will also discuss what Scarlett has enjoyed at different ages. Also keep in mind I loathe and despise the cold. So warm gear is a necessity for me. Last year I took my puffer coat, winter boots, hat and mittens and I had fleece lined leggings under my jeans.

Day 1

We drive to Richmond, where my brother in law lives, and we hit the Metro Richmond Zoo, if it’s warm enough for the animals to be out. It’s a private zoo that does all sorts of things that proper zoos won’t. Like feeding giraffes with your hand like they're goats in a petting zoo. By the age of 5 Scarlett had been bitten by a giraffe no less than three times. 1. Perhaps I shouldn’t have let my 3 year old do this, so go ahead and judge, that’s totally fair. 2. It doesn’t hurt, much. 3. It’s soooooooo fun, the feeding, the bitting not so much, but she always wants to do it. They also have a budgie (parakeet) enclosure where you get a stick of birdseed and try to get them to land on you and eat the bird seed. This can be wonderful and one or two will hop on to eat. Or they totally ignore you and find some dad stuck in there, who doesn’t want to be there, and every single bird knows it and lands on him. They also have a ski lift that goes over the big and scary african animals and a train that goes through the paddock with the african animals who probably won’t hurt you. It’s loads of fun. If you get nothing else out of this post, read about the cheetah and puppy pals. Seriously, it's adorable.

We usually eat dinner at the Capital Ale House, where the food is pretty good and the beer selection amazing. They also have a great cozy Christmas vibe. Then we make the 45-60 min drive down to our hotel and hit the hay.

Day 2

We also like that the Residents Inn has breakfast included. While Pat and I fast, Scarlett can’t so we get her a quick breakfast at the hotel. Then we head to the epic Yankee Candle Store. This place is so crazy I don’t know where to begin. We’ve only done photos with Santa once and waited 45 mins easily, though Scarlett and I shopped while Pat waited. They have a room where it snows every 5 min, they have rooms of christmas ornaments, gifts galore and of course all the candles you could want. There’s also a candy, fudge, ice cream “food court” and a place where kids can make their own candles. More than a few of my family members have gotten candles Scarlett made that are scents she created like lavender and candy corn mixed together.

After a morning at Yankee, we head to brunch near colonial Williamsburg. I like Barretts, my brother in law likes Baker’s Crust, my mother in law likes Blue Talon. We often then head over to Aromas Coffee Shop, which is the perfect college town coffee shop with amazing roasts and biscotti. We take our coffee and my in-laws walk the kids around the college and reminisce. There’s been discussion about doing the ice skating rink right on the edge of the college/shops and the entrance to the colonial section, but I hate ice skating (going round and round on ice??? nah) and none of our kids know how so maybe when they’re older. Sometime we venture past the barrier to Gloucester Street and pet the horses, but we leave it at that. We hop into The Cheese Shop for amazing sandwiches, snacks, beer and wine for back at the hotel and then the Wyth Candy Shop for sweet treats.

So, I’ll say that we’ve only done this once and we only had a 1 and a 3 year old at the time. We planned on trying it again this year, but definitely next year we will do the Busch Gardens Christmas Celebration. They have the greatest hot chocolate ever, better than at Hershey Park's winter event. There isn’t a ton open and most of the action is in Germany. Go into the Oktoberfest haus for the floor show. Lots of the kids rides are open and the skyliner but it was freezing and none of the roller coasters were running. There is pretty decent food and other beverages available and the park full of lights is beautiful. There’s always an early ticket discount or a groupon, so check before going.

Day 3

Sleep in for starters. Then we head to Colonial Williamsburg for the full historic experience. Absolute musts: carriage ride, ginger cookies at the bakery, hot chocolate at the coffee house, the blacksmith, the shoe maker, the apothecary, the governor's mansion, the armory, and Randolph House. Scarlett did not really get into it until she was 8. At 6 and 7 she could not have cared less. You should eat at one of the historic taverns, exactly once. They're the easiest restaurants to get reservations at the last min because while the experience is great, the food is bland and boring. My favorite part is the Christmas decorations. They have competitions with classic historic decorations, made with fruit, wood, cotton, etc. I take dozens of pictures of wreaths. If you go to my instagram @mandiesdiary and scroll to last December you can find all of them. My absolute favorite part was not there last year and I can’t seem to find out if it’s gone for good. There was a 20 min, one man act, with a few puppet supporting actors, in a horse trailer, performing Charles Dickens Christmas Carol. It was such a joy to watch and I hope he comes back. We then head back to The Cheese Shop, get cheese and wine to go and enjoy it in our hotel while watching a Christmas movie on TV.

Day 4

We usually head home on the fourth day. Sometimes we hit some of the local breweries on the way home. Our favorite, Aleworks, conveniently has a tasting room located in the Williamsburg Outlets, which are pretty legit so stop by with caution. Sometimes we hit the zoo with our cousins on the way back instead of the way down, depending on the weather and the day (they’re closed Sundays). The drive from Williamsburg to Baltimore is around 4 hours but it can be much longer depending on traffic. The E-Z Pass lane isn’t always faster so I recommend trusting Google Directions and not your gut instinct that the HOV lane should just have less cars on it. At some point along the way stop at a Wawa and get their version of a pumpkin spice latte. You will not regret it. Don't stop and eat at the Taco Bell near Fredericksburg because you could have another 3 hours with that heartburn.

I can't possibly express my distress over missing our annual Williamsburg Christmas tradition and I can not wait for it to hopefully be safe to return in 2021. Come spring I will give you all the details on our longer trip over the summer. Please spam me with questions if you've got them. Or tips for things to do I have been missing out on. Yes I know I didn't mention either Jamestown or York. We just haven't made it over to those places yet because Scarlett has only just begun being interested in history and we have so much on the docket with family over the holidays it just doesn't fit in. I hope we will be able to spend a whole week in July or August this summer and add the other colonial towns onto our trip that is usually filled with amusement parks. Stay tuned.

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