Family-friendly historical trips
By Elina Bolokhova
From Ideas That Spark
Looking to plan a family vacation that is both entertaining and educational? Go historical. Here are four places where you can step into the past and immerse yourself in Unites States history. Added bonus: your children will have so much fun, they won't realize they're learning.
In 1620, the Pilgrims fled religious persecution in Europe and boarded the Mayflower for the New World, where they settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Plimoth Plantation faithfully recreates the Pilgrim village of 1627. The site is populated by costumed role players posing as residents of the historical Plymouth colony. They'll be happy to chat with the kids in-character and you can even walk through their carefully reproduced, historically-accurate homes, gardens and farms. But don't worry -- if you get tired of playing Pilgrim, there are also modern Museum Guides who can give you information on life in the 1600s and United States history without the old-timey vocabulary.
A short distance away is the Wampanoag Homesite. Unlike the people in the English colony, the staff at the Wampanoag Homesite are not re-enactors. They are Native people from the Wampanoag and other Native Nations who are also happy to share their Native heritage with you. Ask them questions, admire their dress and try your hand at hubbub, their ancient tribal game that some still play today.
While you're in the area, pay a visit to the real Plymouth Rock. Mayflower II, the full-scale Mayflower reproduction, is usually berthed beside the rock and although the ship is currently undergoing repairs, a dockside exhibit on 17th-century maritime history has taken its place.
The Renaissance Faire
To picture a Renaissance Faire, one must first imagine a county fair with historical flair. It is a gathering of costumed entertainers, musical and theatrical acts, and local artisans -- with fried food and enormous turkey legs aplenty. The environment is immersive and Faire employees will freely engage with you or simply yell “huzzah” in your direction. The chance to oogle the many costumed attendees is often worth the price of admission, and you can purchase little lord and lady attire from the many costumers who are hawking their wares or simply rent some outfits for the length of your visit.
Throughout the day, you'll encounter vaguely period-appropriate performances, like jousts, falconer shows and Maypole dances. There is often a lot going on at once, so be sure to check the program in advance to plan appropriately. Children will be delighted with the hair-braiders who can weave elaborate plaits in mere minutes, face-painting, animal rides and craft stations. To find a Renaissance Faire near you, check Renaissance Magazine's directory.
What list of historical trips would be complete without Colonial Williamsburg, where guests of all ages can explore what life was like during the Revolutionary War, a monumental event in United States history? Visitors of the Revolutionary City will witness costumed characters play out the unique sequence of events that led to the founding of America as we know it today, from the stirrings of war in 1775 all the way to the eventual victory. Kids will enjoy the new “RevQuest: The Black Chambers” game, where they can act as an undercover agent for the Revolution and decode secret messages sprinkled throughout the City. The game, which is based on actual historical events and real people, is included with paid admission. More child-friendly activities can be found at the Powell House, where kids will be able to try out various eighteenth-century toys, games and chores.
When you grow tired of walking, take in the sites by carriage-ride or go at a more leisurely pace through the Art Museum. You can also take the Bits and Bridles tour, where you get close to the animals that live in the stables and on the pastures of Colonial Williamsburg -- it's perfect for little animal-lovers. The Colonial Williamsburg evening experience begins after five, with various shows, dances, games and ghost tours occurring every night.
Nestled in Fishers, Indiana is Conner Prairie -- the 850 acre preserved homestead of William Conner that now serves as a living history museum for life in nineteenth-century Indiana. You and your family can stroll through the fictional-yet-historically-accurate Prairietown and meet the diverse cast of characters. Move on to “1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana,” a $4.3 million interactive show that takes place in Dupont after a raid by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan.
In the “Follow the North Star” experience, offered in November, you get to glimpse of what life was like for a runaway slave on the Underground Railroad -- a valuable lesson that might be better suited for older children and their parents. Other things to do include a visit the Lenape Indian Camp for a dose of Native American history and booking a ride 350 feet above the prairie in a hot-air Balloon. In the summertime, finish out the day with tickets to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
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