The Blog Squad

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jamestown Jam

When the Queen of England visits Jamestown next month, I have no doubt the place will be ready for her. Muskets raised! Cannons loaded! Toilets agleam! Yes, without question Jamestown is ready for the Queen. But is it ready for you and me? Um, not so much.

Last week, the family took a little Spring Break day trip to the Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne site. It started with a scenic drive down Route 10 — "Kids, look at the factories!" — and then the windy but fun trip on the Jamestown Ferry.

The niggling annoyances started immediately. The signage pointing the way to the Settlement and other points of interest didn't explicitly point to the parking, so it was a matter of just following the stream of cars. OK. Let's ask. There was a gentleman pointing the way into the parking lot. "Do we park here for the visitor's center? Is this where the Settlement is?" Reply: "That's up the road a bit, I believe." (Later, I would realize he was confusing the Settlement with the Historic Jamestowne site, which is not connected with the Jamestown Settlement.) Not good. We wove our way through the jam-packed parking lot with no success in finding a spot. Turning down one parking row we found ourselves at a dead end where only delivery trucks were permitted and had to do a tight u-turn to get out. We left the lot and followed the other stream of cars going into what was clearly becoming default overflow parking. We were directed into an adjacent muddy field with a sign marked "No Motor Vehicles."

Once in the lavish visitor's center, the first stop was the restroom. The tops of the sinks were not just wet but held an actual layer of water, and the paper towels were gone. (When I would visit again several hours later, after the trash had obviously been cleared, the paper towels were gone still, or perhaps again.) Coming out of the bathroom we joined my husband, who was having trouble getting his tickets. The cashier had first incorrectly rung him up for combination tickets with the Yorktown Victory Center. Then, in trying to correct her mistake, she couldn't make the computer system void the transaction.

Once in the Indian village, the experience took a turn for the better, but you still wondered with this many people here just on spring break, what will it be like when the serious (anticipated) crowds start showing up. The three replica ships — most especially the Susan Constant — were very crowded to navigate, especially up and down the steep steps to the deck below. Guides were having to remind children to stay with their parents. And though there are plenty of interpreters, you don't see employees just strolling around ready to offer assistance or answer a question. All I can say is, I'm glad we didn't do the trip in the summer.

The Historic Jamestowne site, which is part of the National Parks Service, is a much more relaxed experience. Of course, there isn't nearly as much to actually do or see. But the natural beauty of the place is undeniable, with the James coursing wildly beside you (as I said, it was very windy) you can get a real feel for the actual settlement. There was digging and sifting going on at the site of the fort, which I'd never seen before, and even the kids enjoyed the archaearium, which houses many of the artifacts they have uncovered. In tandem, these two places can work wonderfully together. Having gotten an idea at the Jamestown Settlement for the structures and the spaces and the things they housed and then standing on the actual ground was a powerful experience. If only the folks over at the Jamestown Settlement can pull it together from an organizational and logistical standpoint, then maybe all visitors this summer can get the royal treatment.

—Janet Giampietro


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