A nearly empty Amtrak car en route to Colonial Williamsburg. (Credit Leonard Kinsey)
Due to COVID-19 I hadn’t been out of Baltimore since March, and wanderlust was starting to get the best of me. I definitely needed to get out of town for a few days, but wasn’t ready to commit to a full-on vacation, and certainly wasn’t ready for international travel. So, weighing my options, I decided that an Amtrak trip to Williamsburg hit all of the right notes: it was relatively close, I didn’t have to drive, and there was a theme park with coasters in the cards.
So, Jess and I packed our bags and headed to Penn Station to catch a train to Williamsburg. I’d previously done a comparison between Amtrak’s Business and Coach classes and decided to not even bother with Business for this trip, which was the right choice since the trains are running at about 1/6 of the ridership that they were pre-COVID. According to the employee at the café car, where they used to see 400 riders on the Northeast Regional, they’re now seeing 60-70. And on the pricier Acela it’s even worse: where there used to be 400 riders there are now 7-10! Unfortunately this means that furloughs are likely in the near future.
Amtrak wasn’t much different during COVID. You’re supposed to wear your mask when you’re not eating and drinking (and the Conductors were good about enforcing this). There were so many empty seats that social distancing wasn’t an issue – I think there were three other people in our car. And now that they have to ensure proper air circulation, the AC actually worked great, which had been a huge problem in the past on the NE Regional line, so that’s actually a big improvement!
We stayed three nights at Marriott’s Manor Club at Ford’s Colony in Williamsburg, which was about a fifteen minute Uber ride from the train station. All in all it was a nice resort – very well-landscaped with large, affordable rooms. However, a lot was closed (and not just because of COVID) including the indoor heated pool, and there were a lack of amenities such as a lounge/bar, breakfast, and decent toiletries.
It’s also confusing to get to, especially at night – the website gives the wrong address for GPS, so you’re much better off just following the signs instead (if you can see them). All in all it’s a pleasant place to stay if you want to be away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Williamsburg, but you’ll definitely want to bring your own toiletries and entertainment.
The big event of the trip was an evening at Busch Gardens Williamsburg for their 4-hour reservation-only limited-time event, “Taste of Busch Gardens Williamsburg”. About half of the park was closed and only three coasters were open, but it was still nice to stroll around and eat and drink and ride some rides with little to no wait times. At a cost of $45 (food/drink not included) I’m not sure it was a great deal, but since the park is still closed to the public because of COVID, this (and future reservation-only events) is the only way to visit right now.
We also enjoyed a few days of just strolling around Colonial Williamsburg. The weather was amazing, so we went up and down the strip a few times, popping in and out of the shops. We ate a very pleasant meal in Chowning’s Tavern’s courtyard, grabbed a fancy coffee at Illy Café, picked up some kick-ass sandwiches and drinks at The Cheese Shop, and had some awesome queso, beer, and hard seltzers at the Precarious Beer Hall/Electric Circus Taco Bar.
All in all I think this was a perfect trip to satisfy my travel cravings – Williamsburg is far enough away and different enough from Baltimore that it feels like a destination. And since most of its activities are outdoors it seems like an ideal place to visit during these times. Those who want to be super cautious would likely drive rather than taking Amtrak, but we felt very safe due to the extremely reduced ridership, and the convenience and relaxing experience make for a positive risk/reward ratio.
Leonard Kinsey is the owner of Bamboo Forest Publishing, and the bestselling author of “The Dark Side of Disney”, the Anarchist Cookbook of Disney travel guides. He has lived in Baltimore for over 15 years, and enjoys drinking craft beer in unique places, eating nachos and pizza, listening to 80s hair metal, and arguing about Star Trek minutia, often all at the same time. Watch out ladies!