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Costumed interpreters aren't just there for decoration but also to answer questions about Colonial Williamsburg. (Image: Courtesy Visit Williamsburg)

Take the kids time-traveling and zip-lining in Williamsburg

It should go without saying that teaching our kids about history is crucial. But let’s be honest—there is perhaps no greater satisfaction for a parent than to show our children how lucky they are, and a trip to Williamsburg, Va., hits both of those birds with one stone.

It also easily achieves another common parental goal: planning a fun summer vacation. Just be sure to balance out those forced photos in bonnets and tricorn hats and in the stockade with ice cream every once in a while, and be sure to check out all the other great reasons to visit this versatile town.

Where to stay

I’d love to say I’m an expert on all lodgings in Williamsburg, but we booked a room at Kingsmill Resort the first time we stayed in town as a family and never considered staying anywhere else. The sprawling property features golf, a spa and tennis, but the main draw for us is the lazy river pool. Grab an inner tube and an icy cocktail like the Southern Sweet Tea, a blend of sweet tea vodka and lemonade that goes down way too easy, and float your afternoon away. The kids will bob by every once in a while, then get out and go down the slide or play games in the adjacent pool, leaving you with nothing to do but relax. Golf cart shuttles whisk you to and from anyplace on the property with a phone call, and there’s also a free bus that takes guests to and from Busch Gardens.

What to do

You pretty much can’t go to Williamsburg without hitting what locals call CW, or Colonial Williamsburg. Even my self-avowed museum-hater 11-year-old enjoyed the day we spent learning about 18th-century life by walking down Duke of Gloucester Street and poking our heads into the silversmith shop, newspaper printer, book-binder, dressmaker and apothecary, among other places, learning about each from costumed interpreters who can answer any question about their craft. Check the calendar ahead of time to see what your kids might be most interested in, from ax throwing to ox wagon rides to participating in a real excavation. Some options are free and some are ticketed and require reservations.

For theme-park enthusiasts, Busch Gardens is another must-hit attraction with its top-notch roller coasters, a flashy new virtual reality experience and some great opportunities to experience nature at spots like the bald eagle sanctuary. Speed and heights junkies will also love Go Ape, a treetop adventure and zipline course in the woods, and Go-Karts Plus, which we unfortunately didn’t get the chance to try thanks to torrential downpours.

We did, however, manage to sneak more history into the itinerary with a visit to Jamestown Settlement, which admirably attempts to tackle our problematic history regarding colonialism, Native Americans and slavery. Despite the fact that your kids might only remember the cannibalism and the eating of dogs mentioned during the intro movie, it's still really cool to poke your head into re-creations of Powhatan structures and climb aboard replicas of the three ships that brought English settlers to Virginia in 1607.

To view these ships from another angle, book a tour with Jamestown Discovery, a pontoon boat that will allow you to see the ships up close and personal from the water, along with cypress trees, cormorants, Jamestown Island and a sunset, if you’re lucky.

Where to eat

Save the fancier places like Fat Canary, Le Yaca French Restaurant and Gabriel Archer Tavern at Williamsburg Winery for a weekend away from the kids. While you’re traveling with tikes in tow, stick with a place that my family has loved for decades—The Cheese Shop, a beloved sandwich spot in Colonial Williamsburg. Lines can get crazy long during peak times, so order online or have a designated orderer and someone to take the kids to the awesome candy shop next door to pass the time. The Cheese Shop also sells wine and gourmet grab-and-go items that are perfect for picnics. For those times when you’re back at the hotel and the kids are ravenous, the pastas, salads and pizza from Sal’s by Victor were crowd-pleasers. And Williamsburg has a weirdly wonderful obsession with pancakes. We’re still on the hunt for our favorite, but we definitely liked the pancakes at Southern Pancake & Waffle House over Astronomical Pancake House. We will continue our research in the name of science.