There are three airport options for flying into Colonial Williamsburg: Norfolk, Newport News and Richmond, Va. Opt for Norfolk. It’s about an hour from Williamsburg, but there are direct flights from Chicago (unlike the nearest, Newport News, which requires a plane change—never a good option when traveling with kids) and you can stop in Hampton, Va., on your way to Williamsburg.
Admittedly, I had never even heard of Hampton before getting a call from the town’s convention and visitor bureau inviting me to stop by on my way to Williamsburg. But I’m glad I got there.
This charming area is home to several huge military bases, Hampton University—which houses a wonderful African-American art museum—a beautiful nature park with boat rentals and fishing, a large commercial harbor with charter fishing and tour boats, the U.S. headquarters for the Cousteau Society, a restored wooden carousel and, the coupe de grace, the amazing Virginia Air & Space Center.
My daughter, Tess, 10, and I were there only about 30 hours and could easily have stayed two more days.
We stayed at the Radisson Hotel, located within walking distance of the harbor, the Cousteau headquarters, the carousel and the air and space museum—all highlights of our visit.
The harbor tour aboard the Miss Hampton II included a trip through the Hampton Roads harbor to the Chesapeake Bay, a lesson on the history of the area and an up-close look at the destroyers, submarines and aircraft carriers docked at the Norfolk Naval Base, the world’s largest naval installation. We even got a look at a repaired USS Cole—yes, the one that was damaged in the terrorist attack in the Middle East—heading out to sea.
But the highlight, without a doubt, was the Virginia Air & Space Center. This facility serves as the visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base. But that isn’t the coolest thing about it. The coolest thing is the interactivity. We launched rockets, piloted the space shuttle, tested paper airplanes and learned about weather. We only had 90 minutes there; it wasn’t nearly enough. Plan to arrive early and stay until the kids have flown every aircraft and played with every exhibit.