This weekend: Colonial Williamsburg kicks off the holiday season

By JD Rinne
October 3, 2012
Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Colonial Williamsburg will celebrate its Grand Illumination this Sunday, with the Fifes and Drums Corps celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The Fifes and Drums Corps is a throwback to the early days of American history—traditionally, musicians belonged to the military and traveled with the troops playing flute-like instruments (called fifes), drums, and occasionally other instruments. Nowadays, the Fifes and Drums Corps is made up of kids between the ages of 10 and 18. The group performs nearly 500 times a year at Colonial Williamsburg.

The Grand Illumination event, in addition to showcasing the corps, also signals the beginning of Colonial Williamsburg's holiday season—candles are lit in public buildings, shops, and homes, and then fireworks are shot into the sky at three locations. There's also live entertainment on four stages.

And in case you were wondering, the use of fireworks is completely appropriate for a historical reenactment. "Illuminations" (or fireworks displays) are as old as our nation. It might be hard to believe, but before professional sporting events, fireworks were used to celebrate war victories and other official holidays.

There are lots of events in December at Colonial Williamsburg, including more Fifes and Drums marches, family events, and a Thomas Jefferson Wine Dinner. The colonial capital also offers hotel packages.

113 Visitor Center Dr. The Grand Illumination begins at 4:45 p.m. this Sunday (fireworks are around 6:15 p.m.) and is free to the public. See for more info.


George Washington's boyhood home uncovered

A new way to explore Jamestown


Read Thomas Jefferson's "blog" at

For more travel blogs, visit

Plan Your Next Getaway
Keep reading

D.C.: The Capitol gets a new visitor center

The old treasure of the Capitol building has been rejuvenated with a new visitor center. The most practical improvement is the center's enormous size. The public area is nearly half the size of the Capitol's dimensions—made possible by the fact that the structure is underground. Under the old system, visitors stood in long lines outdoors. Now citizens can stand indoors in a temperature-controlled climate. The center's 530-seat cafeteria is also a welcome addition because the National Mall is notoriously short on affordable places for families to eat. Additional security is another plus. Visitors are screened at a safe remove from the center itself. The process for getting tickets for a Capitol tour should also become more straightforward. Starting tomorrow, a new online reservations system is supposed to allow visitors to obtain free tickets. You no longer have to contact the office of your member of Congress, though that method will still work. A tip from the Washington Post: A small number of same-day passes will be handed out on what seems like a first-come, first-served basis at the information desk on the lower level of the center. It's free to visit the Capitol Visitor Center or to take a 45-minute Capitol tour. Located on the side of the Capitol facing away from the National Mall, the center has its public entrance on First Street, roughly between the Union Station and Capitol subway stops. It's open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. Monday through Saturday, except for major holidays. Tours can be reserved via


This weekend: Downtown Indianapolis lights up

For the 46th year, Indianapolis will celebrate the Circle of Lights this Friday. The entire lighting ceremony and display is centered around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown, a late-19th century structure. Fifty-two garland strands of lights (that's 4,784 colored lights total) hang from the top of the monument to its base. Monument Circle is also adorned with 26 toy soldiers and sailors, huge peppermint sticks, and a Santa's workshop scene. With 56,700 more lights in the surrounding area's trees, it's quite the sight. The flipping of the switch happens at about 7:45 p.m., but live entertainment, chosen from open auditions around the state, starts at 6 p.m. Indy leaves it to the pros for this spectacle: Circle of Lights is sponsored by Contractors of Quality Connection and Electrical Workers of IBEW 481. Are you going to a lighting ceremony in your city? Leave a shout-out in the comments! Free, Monument Circle, Indianapolis. Editor's note: If you Google map Monument Circle, you can easily get directions. MORE Indianapolis' new, $1.1 billion airportFind local bloggers at Indianapolis Bloggers PREVIOUSLY How To Travel During the Holidays


New York gets its first "fake ice" skating rink....But is it skate-able?

On Saturday, the American Museum of Natural History opened New York City's first synthetic ice-skating facility, the Polar Rink, on its outdoor terrace. The eco-friendly rink reminds visitors about the effects of global warming with a 17-foot glowing polar bear centerpiece. Its "ice" is actually a plastic surface engineered to match the density of frozen water. Every morning, a light spray lubricates the surface for skaters. Thanks to the clever new material, the museum doesn't devour enormous amounts of energy the way traditional ice skating rinks do. It also doesn't need to spend money on Zamboni cleanings. The "ice" isn't biodegradable, but the museum can re-use the same sheets for several years, and then they recycle the plastic. But can plastic skating still mean good fun? I went for a whirl to find out. Lined with twinkling trees and awash in cool blue floodlights, the terrace felt like a winter wonderland. And the museum's other-worldly planetarium seemed appropriate, looming in the background. When I stepped onto the strange material in the rink, I quickly learned two things: First, synthetic ice is harder to skate on. Second, it's softer when you fall. It took a lot of leg strength to push myself a few inches, and I couldn't dig my blades in to get a stronger push. To be fair, I've never been the most graceful skater, but looking around, I noticed that no one else was either. Even experienced skaters felt their skills tested. Falling wasn't a problem, though. The surface isn't wet or cold, and it has more bounce than ice. Plus, every wobbly skater had plenty of room to spread out: The 150-foot by 80-foot rink can accommodate up to 200 people in each one-hour session, but when I got there at 6 p.m. on a Sunday night, there were no more than 20 people on the ice. Another 15 or so spectators guarded shoes on the sidelines. (There are no lockers available, so pack lightly or bring a designated bag-watcher.) One group that seemed to love the faux-ice were children, who happily shimmied around the edges. A pair of laughing kids crawled around the center on their hands and knees pretending to be polar bears, something that would be too cold to do on real ice. I was happy to watch them from the adjacent snack shop, which serves rich hot chocolate ($3.25) and candy, small sandwiches, and pastries. It's a cozy place to take in the picturesque scene—and to rest your quads. Open until February 28, 2008 Arthur Ross Terrace at the American Museum of Natural History, enter at 79th St. at Columbus Ave. $10 per person per hour includes skate rental. (Children $8, seniors/students $9.) Sessions start on the hour. If you prefer a traditional ice-skating experience, note that South Street Seaport is opening up an 8,000-square-foot rink (with real ice) on November 28. Details at


A few good links: Finding serenity at the airport

A few travel stories that caught my eye this past week: Airport Havens A website for finding the quiet spots at O'Hare and so many other stressful airports. [via Chicago Tribune] Debunking Thanksgiving myths at Plimoth Plantation A serious lack of pie is just the start of it. [CNN] Gucci frames for $20? Try Shanghai market "It's a shame the market's so hard to find, because it's a Four Eyes' dream." [Los Angeles Times] Google Maps Translate Reviews Suddenly that primo cafe is just a little easier to find… [Google Maps Mania] Across France, Café Owners Are Suffering …unless it's closed already (blame the smoking ban). [New York Times]