By Emma Young
From mountain retreats and wild beaches to amusement parks and country hideaways, the Prince William area is perfectly situated for drivable weekend getaways. Looking for a quick escape? Here are four destinations that earn top billing.
Everything you expect, and everything you didn’t.
Local markets laden with homemade goods and home-grown produce, famously warm Pennsylvania-Dutch hospitality, local picturesque landscapes dotted with clothesline-trimmed farmhouses, and the clip-clop of horses pulling Amish-driven buggies waking you in the morning—the romanticized expectations of Lancaster certainly hold true. Yet Lancaster delights with modern surprises as well. Find contemporary fine dining from scratch kitchens, Broadway-quality musicals and professional theater, and first-class service aboard historic railcars to name a few.
Begin your best-of-Lancaster tour in Bird-in-Hand, an historic “Amish Country” village, where the locally owned Bird-in-Hand Family Inn offers three pools, a playground, petting zoo, duck pond, free guided tours of Amish farmlands and more. Online package options include onsite Magic & Wonder Show tickets. For those seeking romance, the historic Bird-in-Hand Village Inn & Suites offers custom amenities and packages, including wine tastings and hot-air balloon rides.
Family fun begins at the hands-on interactive Lancaster Science Factory. Adults and children alike enjoy experimenting with light and magnetism, building race cars and ball tracks and exploring acoustics on the rock ‘n roll stage. The adventure continues at the Turkey Hill Experience where you start by milking a mechanical cow and end recording your own ice cream commercial, learning the process of creating and enjoying unlimited samples of ice cream. Or you can opt for the Taste Lab where you choose among a wide variety of flavors, syrups and mix-ins to create your own custom ice cream.
Nearby you’ll find not-to-be-missed Loxley’s Restaurant. Imagine feasting from the seasonal menu’s grilled filet mignon or pickled beets and chevre salad in Robin Hood’s large treehouse structure and you’ll touch on why dining here is an experience, not just a meal. “The scratch kitchen can accommodate any diet from vegetarian to gluten-free,” and “giving to the poor” is honored as the owners donate a percentage of the profits each month to multiple charities, said general manager John McCarthy.
Downtown Lancaster offers much, including the Lancaster Central Market, the oldest continuously operated farmer’s market in the U.S. “Staying true to tradition, 90-95% of the stalls are small business or family-owned,” said market manager Mary Goss. The market offers abundant local produce, desserts, crafts, freshly prepared foods and more. A two-minute walk away leads you to the oldest continuously operated theater in the U.S., the Fulton Theater, where Broadway-quality productions include musicals, children’s theater and plays in this historic landmark.
Learn about local culture and history at the interpretive Amish Village and nearby Strasburg Rail Road. “We wanted people to interact with a whole different culture, get on a buggy, walk through an Amish farmhouse,” said Shane Ackermann, Amish Village’s owner.
Station Manager Steve Barrall explained the Strasburg Rail Road offers a chance to ride back-in-time through the Amish Countryside. “We run steam trains entirely,” Barrall said, “with beautifully restored wooden passenger cars. People enjoy the step back in time.” While you may opt for an exclusive and authentic historical dining car experience, you could decide to stop by DJs Taste of the 50s on your way back to Bird-in-Hand. This fun 1950s-styled diner offers burgers, fries and shakes and the taste of yet another era.
Wild horses on untamed island beaches are just the beginning.
Chincoteague Island, gateway to Assateague Island National Seashore and untamed horse herds tough enough to survive the windswept barrier island, is a resort beach town unlike any other.
“What we find really sets it apart is the simplicity,” explained Ginger Motley of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. “It does not have a boardwalk or amusement park, it is not a town of big shiny lights or anything flashy…the quaintness and calm of the island is what we love,” said Motley. “We kayak, we fish, we crab,” she added.
“My absolute favorite thing to do is wake up early before the kids and take my coffee and my current book out to the dock,” Motely said. “I will sit all morning reading. The best part is watching the fishing commuters coming and going into work by boat. Then again, after a day at the beach, we return home and swap out the coffee for cocktails. The sunsets on the dock cannot be beat.”
Assistant General Manager Christopher Clark of Marina Bay Hotel & Suites understands the appeal of visiting the island. “I absolutely recommend taking a trip to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. You can drive straight to the beach and park jut feet from the ocean. There are nice hiking/walking trails… There are a few benches and overlook points, and it’s a great way to hear and see wildlife,” he said.
Optional activities abound on the island and nearby, with locals recommending boat cruises, Assateague Lighthouse tours and the uniquely situated NASA Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center. “It had me even more excited about the next [rocket]launch,” said Jaime England of Montclair. “There are some hands-on
activities inside. They have lots of information about rockets and the payloads they take up. There’s a viewing area outside for the launches.”
There’s big time culture, with a small-town vibe, in this historic Shenandoah Valley crossroads.
“This small town is a gem to all who visit,” said Mindy East from Manassas. “[It] has all the amenities of a big city… [with]theater, live music, wineries, art, fantastic restaurants and more.” “It is such a lovely walkable historic town,” said Katharyn Wheeler from Montclair.
Chart your route with respite and family fun at Skyline Resort and Massanutten Resort. Situated along Skyline Drive’s highest elevation, Skyland Resort offers breathtaking Shenandoah Valley views on a 16-acre site. Owned by the National Park Service, the historic property accommodations range from rustic cabins to suites with private balconies and fireplaces. Massanutten Resort’s unique offerings include an indoor/ outdoor waterpark, two golf courses, family adventure park and seasonal fun like skiing and mountain biking.
Accommodations in Staunton are readily available, ranging from modern hotels to quaint bed and breakfasts within walking distance of the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriar’s Playhouse and the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Presidential Library.
The world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater, the Blackfriar’s Playhouse offers inclusive and accessible year-round performances of Shakespeare’s plays and other works. The nearby Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Presidential Library illuminates not just the tumultuous (World War I, suffrage, prohibition,
etc.) time period in which Wilson was president, but a guided tour through the manse, beautifully restored to Wilson’s 1856 birth year.
Take a walk back further in time at the Frontier Culture Museum. You’ll want to pack for a hike as this indoor/outdoor museum includes stops at several authentic historic homes relocated to the site and representing the various cultures which settled the region, from a West African compound to a German
farm. [It is] “a learning experience about colonialism in America, but also lots of outdoor fun for littler kids. We learned about homes that existed in the past while the children pet and fed farm animals,” said Dr. Amy Goodwine of Montclair.
“Staunton has great dining options,” said Wheeler. Enjoy locally sourced farm-to-table southern cuisine or experience some spicy Thai, among other choices.
On your way home, a stop at Luray Caverns offers a 90-minute underground tour through the Eastern United States’ largest caverns. A historic toy museum and local Luray Museum entrance tickets are included with your cavern tour, and additional fee add-ons include a garden maze and ropes course.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
This Gateway to the Smokies is an entertainment destination.
“Living in Knoxville, we used to call Pigeon Forge the ‘Las Vegas of Tennessee,’” said Jessica Reed, a self-described Knoxville transplant in Montclair. “It is flashy and fun, a bit on the tacky side at times, but an all-around fun place. Nowhere else can you rent a wilderness cabin for serenity, drive 15 minutes, and be surrounded by a myriad of entertainment for people of all ages.”
According to the USA Today 2018 Reader’s Choice selections, Dollywood, the Pigeon Forge amusement park founded by singer, songwriter and actress Dolly Parton, is one of the top two “best attractions in Tennessee.”
“I love Dollywood,” said Parton at an onsite spring media event. “It’s a place to celebrate the spirit of the Smokies…and I’m really excited about this season,” she said.
Dollywood has undergone its largest expansion ever with the Wildwood Grove addition. Nature-themed amusement park rides, waterplay areas and participatory kid-friendly activities are all added to an area surrounding the large central Wildwood Tree. “That tree is amazing, especially at night,” said Parton.
“I used to go to Dollywood annually for Deaf Awareness Day, where I volunteered interpreting shows into American Sign Language,” said Reed. “I haven’t seen another theme park that goes out of the way to provide unencumbered access like that. They also added a calming room with guidance from Autism
Speaks three years ago. It is the perfect family park, and even more fun around the holidays.”
Local fun continues at Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud Show, where professional teams compete in authentic lumberjack events, homage to the Smokies’ lumber industry heritage. Axe-throwing, speed climbing, sawing, chopping and crowd-favorite log rolling are highlights. Kids are invited to come down during breaks to try sawing themselves, with professional assistance and safety guides.
For indoor amusement, families can try Wonderworks. Readily noticeable from the main street through town, the building looks as though it had fallen upside down. Inside you can make person-sized bubbles in the bubble lab, climb a ropes course or rock wall, dance on the floor piano and partake in games, rides
and activities by the tens.
Just look up once outside, though, and you’ll see the area’s other star attraction: Great Smoky Mountains National Park towers over the region. “I always visit the Smokies in Springtime,” said visitor Karen Hawbecker. “Hiking through the fresh green glens with their carpets of ferns, rushing mountain streams and wildflowers in bloom make me feel like I might be the first one to be discovering such beauty. It’s difficult to pull oneself away.”
Buffets, dinner theaters and hotels are abundantly plentiful in the region and easily booked online or found on any quick trip through downtown Pigeon Forge.
Ready for more great escapes? Look for other drivable destinations at princewilliamliving.com.
Emma Young is a freelance writer who loves gardening and travel. She visited each place mentioned in this article and would gladly do so again.