The idea of basing a family vacation around history might not seem that appealing but Colonial Williamsburg has found a way to bring it to life. For a brief moment we were living the Colonial life, working to defeat the enemy as spies during the day and reveling in the tavern atmosphere at night.
As you walk over the footbridge from the visitor’s center to the historic area of Colonial Williamsburg you are reminded of the advancements we’ve made as a civilization. In Colonial times women don’t have a voice, coloured people are property, and the King rules over all. Or does he?
It seems there are rebel forces at work in Colonial Williamsburg. These forces are working toward freedom from the monarchy and establishing democracy and they are looking for a little help. Of course my kids answered the call. They received their orders from the RevQuest: The Black Chambers, as well as a black bandana. These bandanas are worn as a sign to the allies within the village that you could be trusted to help the cause.
We met up for our first rendezvous, as per our secret orders. Thankfully our orders also gave us the password or else we wouldn’t have been allowed entry into the meeting area. There were a number of other allies on hand, eager to help. After our brief instructions we were given a coded map and directions to our next rendezvous point and our adventure began. The kids looked for clues around the village, they deciphered codes, made secret meetings, and communicated discretely with members marked as friends.
The ReQuest experience really had the kids feeling as though they were living the part and helping the villagers. For a more authentic experience you could rent costumes for the day (adults and kids) but we were fine with our bandanas under the hot, humid sun.
We didn’t complete our mission to the end due to some technical difficulties with text messages on our mobile device. You text enabled device is how you communicate back and forth on your mission but I was told afterward you could complete the mission without technology. I actually thought the idea of texting back and forth for clues would be the most appealing part of the mission but my kids really enjoyed the low-tech, using ciphers and hidden messages to solve clues. I think I would want to try the whole mission without technology next time.
The portion we did complete had the kids enthralled and working together. I love that the experience changes, making it a program families can participate in each time they visit. I know RevQuest will be top of mind during our next visit.
With our spy work done for the day we headed to the local tavern for dinner. Colonial Williamsburg offers a number of family dining options but if you’re looking for an experience you have to reserve a spot at one of their historic tavern experiences.
Located in the period Shields Tavern, we were taken into the main dining room, a privilege we were told. The furniture was sparse with every item authentic to the time frame and accounted for on the back of the menu. No fancy cushions or modern lighting in here. Light from a window on the other side of the room (an earlier dinner meant some daylight still) as well as a single candle on our table lit our dinner.
My husband and I enjoyed the local brew and the kids loved the King’s Arms Tavern Ginger Ale. I’m not much of a soda drinker but this stuff was delightfully delicious. While we enjoyed our dishes of Ale-potted Beef and Braised Pork, the owner of the tavern popped by to introduce himself and strike up a casual conversation. Like in a traditional tavern, roving instrumentalists entertained us with stories and music played on historical instruments.
My youngest daughter has no idea that her seat at the end of the table positioned her as the head of the house. Shyness fell over her when the tavern owner asked her to join him in a dance. Luckily her older sister saved her by taking the gentleman’s hand.
Other dinning guests in costume added to our experience. Dining at the Shield’s Tavern really felt like a step back in time but with modern bather facilities (my kids were a little worried on this point). We also discovered there is a downstairs dining area in the Shield’s Tavern, where you can enjoy ‘high life’ dining of the serving class.
A second night we ventured down the road from the Shields Tavern to dinner at Chowning’s Tavern, which also was a lovely experience though our novice server made it feel a little rushed. If you enjoy local beer you’ll have to try their sampler, giving you a choice of three ales to savour. Our entertainment for the evening was a roving musician who demonstrated many different musical instruments, sharing stories about them. Each time he made the rounds and entered the room he has a new instrument in his hand.
Tavern dining at Colonial Williamsburg isn’t just an experience by name alone, the furniture, tableware and lighting really felt like you were sitting in a recreated set. But what transports you back is the people, both the guests who rent costumes to get into their role as well as the staff who greets you, seats you, servers you, and entertains you. And they seem to really love and get into their roles.
You’re visiting Colonial Williamsburg to experience colonial living first hand, RevQuest and tavern dining move you from observer into participant. Discovering history has never been so fun.
For convenient accommodations we stayed on-site at the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel and Suites. Beyond their close proximity to the historic district, it offers many other benefits to families.
Thanks to the folks at Colonial Williamsburg for their hospitality.