Thanks to COVID-19, Colonial Williamsburg was virtually empty during the weekdays. We had both not been here in years, but as much as we like Williamsburg, we were never keen on the crowds. In this post you will see Williamsburg in a different view; basically one where you can take photos without out loads of tourists blocking your way! LOL!
It was sad of course that so many of the businesses were closed, including 3 out of 4 of the historic taverns that serve meals, most of the shops, and the remaining restaurants were serving at 1/2 capacity per the Virginia Governor’s declaration.
There were a couple outdoor souvenir shops among the very few shops that were open, but there weren’t many shoppers amongst those either.
We were looking forward to dining at the King’s Arms Tavern especially, however like the other two historic Taverns that were closed (Shields and Christiana Campbell’s), King’s Arms Tavern was unfortunately not on our menu this visit. Only one of the four historic taverns in the historic district, Josiah Chowning was open during our visit for meals and drink.
As we are both retired now, it was nice to be able to travel and tour during the weekdays, as Williamsburg is much less crowded then. During our three night stay in the historic district of Colonial Williamsburg only on Saturday were there any ‘crowds’, although I would hardly call that a normal busy weekend as the crowds were still very small. Due to COVID restrictions, however, the crowds did overwhelm the hotel dining room and the lone historic tavern open on Saturday, Chownings; but more on that in a moment.
On Thursday, as DOS and I toured the historic district, it was like walking thru a time warp – literally! (New technologies; i.e. smart phones taking photos of 18th century America! Horse drawn carriages instead of cars etc.) As you can see from this photo of Duke of Gloucester Street, it felt like we were the only people there at 11am. Seriously, there were perhaps 25 people on the whole long street! Oh, and I guess my Apple watch (shown below) is a bit of an anachronism too! LOL!
Coupled with hardly any other tourists, limited character staff (as many of the buildings were closed), 18th century buildings, and many people wearing masks for COVID, a few checking texts on their smart phones; it did seem like an eerie bit of a time warp! Even the staff working at the few places opened wore masks, which while understandable, did take a way a bit from the authenticity of the day.
We did meet Benjamin Franklin in character without a mask, but even Ben was careful to maintain social distance with us, while telling tales of his day circa the 18th century. Ben pointed to the wall map, and gave us directions back to the Commons Square, and answered our questions, including the taverns that were closed. We could have lunch in Chowning’s Tavern, but unfortunately all the other’s were closed.
He did point out nearby Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, which was his friend George Washington’s favorite tavern!
Below are some more photos of the Williamsburg historic district as seen on this mid-September visit. If you’ve been to Williamsburg before, you can surely appreciate this lack of crowds, although then again there weren’t many places open inside to tour.
As it was a beautiful fall day, we enjoyed having lunch in the Merchants Square area. The outdoor seating at a couple of the restaurants there was mostly full (due to reduced seating required by social distancing) so we opted for no-wait indoor seating at the Dog Street Pub in the square at the Commons.
Later we had a wine tasting at the Williamsburg Winery tasting room, just a few steps away in Merchant’s Square from where we had lunch. We had wanted to tour the actual Williamsburg Winery located several miles away, however due to COVID they temporarily only have one tour a day, and it was sold out until mid-November. This off-property tasting room, however was just perfect, and we sat outside at one of the three socially-distanced tables for our wine tasting.
The actual tasting room is on the second floor of a historic looking building, which is entered via the ground level where you immediately have to take a very narrow (and slightly curved) staircase to the second floor tasting room. The small tasting room was quite nice (and empty of customers) however I mentioned to the wine hostess serving us, “I wouldn’t want to walk back down that staircase after having a few sips of wine!” No joke – it was steep and had short footings on each step, and no handrail, so we were served outside after ordering and paying.
While they had a couple fixed wine flights available, we opted to create our own with some of their premium red wines, which were very nice. After paying for the flights, the wine hostess asked us to have a seat outside, and she would bring the flights down to us; obviously having done that many times using the special wine carrying tray she used. We stayed for an hour and a half or so, eventually meeting a couple at each of the adjacent tables when they came in later.
As for lodging, we switched hotels mid-week, after previously staying a couple nights at the very nice Marriott Manor Vacation Club to The Williamsburg Lodge; the former was a few miles away, and the latter is right in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. The Williamsburg Lodge is also part of the Marriott Autograph collection of hotels, so we received our Marriott points and elite status qualifying nights on our Platinum Challenge as well.
The Williamsburg Lodge was very nice, and what it lacked in size and amenities (vs the much larger Marriott Colony Vacation Club in the previous post) it made up for in its central location among the historic village, making it walkable for most anything in the historic area you wanted to visit.
We had a second floor room in one of the recently renovated rooms, towards the back and quiet part of the property. The room was nice and larger than a typical hotel room (although not a suite) and was modernly equipped with today’s conveniences; i.e.fridge, wifi, phone, shower and balcony overlooking a quiet side street.
Some people on Trip Advisor were commenting though that the room was “too modern”, and while it didn’t bother us, I can see why people would say that with the modern “artwork – rather dull”, instead of traditional piece reproductions of the era.
On Friday we a leisure morning walking around the historic district some more, and later walked a short distance to the five star resort – The Williamsburg Inn in Colonial Williamsburg.
DOS’s family had stayed there a few times when he was growing up, and what he remembered most were the classy breakfasts they had there! While we didn’t eat there (they only had the pool area restaurant open, and breakfast in the lobby area at this time due to COVID. They did refer quests to our hotel, (The Williamsburg Lodge) which is a sister property of the resort and for lunch and dinner, which is nearby and walking distance.
We strolled around the grounds for quite a while, past the sunbathing and pool terrace, looking out and watching people golfing, a couple having their pre-wedding portraits done, and a few others such as ourselves just looking around to see what made this property so special.
The sprawling Williamsburg Inn was very nice and classy (and of course very expensive), but quite frankly I enjoyed our Williamsburg Lodge Hotel better as it was less pretentious, much cheaper, and we had a balcony. With rocking chairs! We’re not golfers anyway, although they had golf packages from our Lodge Hotel as well, utilizing the Inn’s courses.
Oh the small things – I love to rock, and always missed having a rocking chair when I traveled for work! I always love having a balcony where ever it is, and even without the beautiful view from (the windows) of the Williamsburg Inn, we enjoyed the quiet gentle evenings on our balcony overlooking a quiet street in the district, watching a few tourists walk by occasionally, while we rocked with a glass of vino.
On Saturday we toured more of the historic district, mostly just walking around and enjoying the beautiful day and a bit more people-watching. Saturday was definitely busier, however it was still quite uncrowded, although there were short waits (due to social distancing) for some of the indoor attractions, such as the Palace, Church etc. We did not do any of the indoor attractions in Colonial Williamsburg this trip, even though the passes were included in our hotel rate package. We did have lunch indoors at Josiah Chowning’s Tavern. Unfortunately, the lunch was a bit of a disappointment due to the COVID restrictions on capacity, which affected wait times and serving staff.
Chowning’s Tavern was not super busy, although there were small groups of people were waiting out front. We put our names in for an expected 30 – 40 minute wait, and leisurely walked around the historic district a bit more.
When we got back, the wait for lunch at Chowning’s had increased to an hour for newly registered diners, and in the end we waited almost an hour and a half from our original time. We were both quite hungry by this point, and would probably have gone somewhere else in the Commons area had we know it would take that long just to get seated, much less a long time for our food to be served.
Chownings is one of the four taverns in the historic district normally open for meals. With the other three historic Taverns closed, and Chowning’s only offering 50% or less reduced capacity, it really affected the service and made for long and unexpected wait times for customers. There were only three or four tables in each of the rooms, which could have easily sat more than that even with the required social distancing.
We had an enjoyable, although rather long and late afternoon lunch as the service was as slow as well as the lengthy wait to get seated. We just had simple burgers and soft drinks, (no refills) but it took an incredibly long time just to get the soda, much less the Shepherd’s Pie for DOS, and burger for me, and then ultimately the bill.
I really don’t blame the servers, (rather the restrictions due to COVID) but tables weren’t turning over quickly and with less servers and kitchen staff, Chowning’s really was not up to par. Perhaps that’s why the other taverns are closed as well. As you can see from some of the photos below, we toured the other rooms in Chowning’s before leaving, and they were all scarcely filled with tables so no wonder the long waits. Plus as people had to wait so long to get in, they weren’t quick to leave either, compounding the seating problem. Perhaps when the COVID situation is cleared up we would eat there again, but right now Chowning’s is nothing worth waiting for.
As we had ultimately had lunch so late at Chowning’s, we had dinner at the hotel. The hotel was very busy this Saturday night only, and also didn’t have enough wait staff to accommodate the crowds of people. We had dinner in the busy lounge/dining area, and while it was busy, we got our food and drink served fairly promptly after a half hour wait to be seated. The bar area had a line spaced six feet apart, and plexiglas panels between the customers and bar staff like many places these COVID days.
On our last day it was a bit misty in the morning so we went to the Outlet malls in the afternoon as the weather cleared up. We didn’t do much shopping, although I did buy two pairs of jeans at the Vanity Fair store, as (yes) I have put on a few pounds this year – let’s just blame it on COVID! As a sign of the times, it was a bit odd that you couldn’t even try on clothes there due to COVID, although they did have a 90 day return policy. I took my chances and bought a couple pairs of jeans, which seemed to fit fine back a the hotel.
On our last night we stayed in and ate at the hotel as well. As it was Sunday night, the hotel and restaurant were not busy at all. We had a nice leisurely and quiet dinner in another lounge room, that had a masculine and more authentic Williamsburg feel with the tavern paintings adorning the walls.
DOS even had shrimp, salad and waffles, while I had my huge club sandwich. Pub, or should I say tavern food, but it was great!
So here ends our Williamsburg trip, and after being gone for several weeks in Virginia, it’s time to head back to Florida in the morning. We will be taking the Auto train home from Lorton, VA (135 miles and two hour drive from Williamsburg) to Sanford, FL, which is not far from our home in the Orlando area. Good night from Williamsburg!