The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown has replaced the old Yorktown Victory Center. It’s a smart move as the story of the Revolution is more than one battle and involves more than the soldiers. The formerly dowdy Victory Center is brand spankin’ new, both in its facility and its kid-friendly outlook. Travel Hack Traveling Mom took two tweens to Yorktown, Virginia, in order to check it out.
Did you know America’s true Independence Day is October 19th? Yes, I know we celebrate July 4th as our nation’s birthday But a case can be made for the triumph at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19th, 1781 being the true beginning of the United States of America. Before Yorktown, we were a bunch of Colonial rabble-rousers. After Yorktown? Americans who (with an assist from the French) conquered the mighty British army.
Semantics aside, Yorktown, Virginia, plays an enormous role in American history. Yet this historic city in Virginia often gets pushed aside in favor of more glamorous Williamsburg. I confess to thinking of Yorktown as another battlefield, and you can’t throw a rock in Virginia without it landing in a battlefield.
Yorktown: Single Favorite Museum Experience for Kids
Yorktown is being given the place it deserves with the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. I was invited to preview the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown with my 9-year-old daughter and a friend. The verdict: it may rank as my single favorite museum experience for kids 6+. Ever.
That’s not praise I hand out willy-nilly. I grade museums with tweens on a very steep curve because let’s face it: they are a tough crowd to please. Museums- which don’t involve going upside down or a funnel cake-can be a hard sell. Yes, I want the kids to learn while traveling, but I also want to have a relaxing family trip! I tend to weigh the educational benefit against the amount of expected eye-rolling.
Not a single eye roll was to be found at Yorktown. The tone was set with the introductory movie that showed the museum’s artifacts in action. This movie did a terrific job of weaving in the individual stories of many living in 1781 (a Colonial wife, a Native American, a foot soldier), in addition to some of the more famous faces you would expect.
The American Revolution Museum’s Curators Must be Parents
I say this because parents know what kids like. Kids like stuff they can touch. Every three feet we encountered a puzzle, trivia question (with a slide-out answer) sensory comparison, sample artifact or demonstration activity such as a printing stamp. There’s even a 2 person video game that allowed us to re-enact three battles and compare our results with the historical results. That one got the adults’ attention, too.
About 1/2 way back in the museum is the film “Siege of Yorktown.” It’s easy to miss- we almost did. Don’t. I won’t ruin it for you but will say it’s a state of the art 4D experience (calling it a movie doesn’t do it justice) on par with a Disney production. Sit in the front row if you can. (But stay away if your kids are under 5 or have issues with loud noises. Even my two 9-year-olds plugged their ears. They LOVED it, but it is loud.)
I budgeted about an hour for the inside exhibits (now open) and films. Then I thought one hour would do for the outside living history preview (grand opening March 23, 2017). Wrong.
We spent more than three hours exploring the exhibits before lunch. After lunch, we spent two hours outside. Then we spent another hour inside re-doing our favorite activities before walking the mile-long path along the river into town.
Don’t Forget Yorktown, Virginia, is Also a Town
Next time we go (and there will be a next time, soon), I’ll plan more time in Yorktown, the town. I’d recommend hitting the museum at opening. If the weather is nice, walk down to town for a seafood lunch before checking out the battlefield. It’s a total of 1.5 miles each way and really scenic. You can then finish up the museum before heading out.
If you go on a Saturday, I’d recommend hitting the town first as Yorktown has an adorable outdoor market on Saturdays between May and October. Pick up some picnic supplies and have lunch on the museum grounds. Our kids cartwheeled their way along the grassy lawn, keeping an eye out for horse poop as Cavalry soldiers came by from time to time.
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown was a reminder to me of the uniqueness of America. It’s something to remember- especially this year- about the special place we call home.