In a few important ways, America was “born” along the banks of the James River, where, in 1607, Captain John Smith and his crew of settlers arrived to establish the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Smith called the place Virginia, after the “virgin” queen Elizabeth I. The settlers’ first winter was the stuff of nightmares, as were the inevitable conflicts between the English newcomers and the Powhatan Indians who had hunted and fished the region for millennia.
Four centuries later, recognition of what happened to the Native Americans is at least acknowledged. The Powhatan tribe remains here, still carrying on their traditions amidst modernity—as well as educating visitors about their culture.
It’s a peaceful place today. Homes dot the James River, and the adventurous can take to this seminal waterway that eventually flows into the Chesapeake Bay. It is also home to Kingsmill Resort, a AAA Four Diamond Condominium Golf Resort, the only one in all of Virginia. Kingsmill offers a blend of active fun and leisurely pleasures for the luxuriant traveler.
Once we exited Interstate 64, the noise and bustle of the Historic Triangle—Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown—quickly vanished. In fact, once we turned past Busch Gardens, it was hard to believe we were in fact headed to a major resort. The terrain became very quiet, with golf courses and elegant homes dotting either side of the road. The feeling of relaxation was immediate.
My wife Victoria and I arrived on a Friday morning, pulling our car into the roundabout at the front desk of Kingsmill. We were greeted and checked in at the front desk by extremely friendly clerks, who not only pointed out our appointed accommodations on a resort map, but dutifully offered suggestions on dining, activities and places to enjoy the outdoors.
Kingsmill is a mammoth property, and golf carts were seen whisking visitors about as we drove to our stay in a cul de sac known as Anderson’s Ordinary. Our room was on the third floor and was spacious even by such standards. The main living area featured a full kitchen, dining table set for four, as well as a sitting area apportioned with a large couch and recliners. These faced the wall-mounted TV, but one could swivel the recliner and face room-length windows. Even better, we were able to open those doors to enjoy balcony-level views of the peaceful James River but a few hundred feet beyond.
A separate bedroom likewise offered room-length windows. The bed was extremely comfortable and there was ample space to feel not that we were visitors but “guests.” For any city dwellers, or those who live near a major highway, the tranquility of Kingsmill is palpable.
It was lunchtime, and so we headed to the nearby Mill Cafe. One rather energetic lady was taking orders, making sandwiches and running the cash register on her own. Yes, this made things a bit slow, but it was a reminder that, as we are all recovering from the pandemic, labor remains somewhat in short supply. She was friendly and courteous, even as she performed the jobs of three people. We couldn’t help but smile as, in addition to our sandwiches and drinks, we picked up packets of Miss Vickie potato chips. Of course, I asked Victoria to take a picture holding up one of the bags as we took our lunch back to our room.
But a short walk away from our room is the River Pool, where you can hop on an inner tube and take an unhurried cruise in the lazy river. Or you can enjoy a reclining chair by the pool with a book in hand. Just beyond the River Pool, one can sometimes see golfers traversing the Plantation Course. In the ponds that dot the property, ducks swim—possibly mocking how we humans get on in water.
For dinner, we ordered takeaway meals from Eagles, another restaurant on the Kingsmill grounds. I opted for the Winter Salad, comprising 12 various mixed greens, roasted apples, cranberries, walnuts, blue cheese crumbles served with house dressing. It’s a portion fit for royalty, which was also true of the Caesar chicken salad. Smiling in between delectable bites, we chased down the healthy meal with a bottle of Robert Mondavi 2019 Private Select Chardonnay, which did not in any way disappoint as an ideal pairing for our main course, the ricotta and shrimp tortellini, served with pesto sauce, sun dried tomatoes and fried onion crisps. Well done, Eagles!
The next morning, we met up with Bill McKay, Kingsmill’s vice president of sales and revenue. He recently moved up to Virginia from Florida and has been working hard to get people back to Kingsmill in the post-pandemic world. At Elements we three chatted over the buffet-style breakfast that included omelets made to order, and seemingly anything else one could want to start off the day with a full belly.
Bill then took us on a driving tour of the greater Kingsmill property. We got a rather informative history lesson, stopping at the foundations of what had once been the manor home of Lewis Burwell III, built in 1736. The Burwell’s were among the first members of Virginia’s wealth class and, naturally, the Burwell family was able to maintain its riches thanks to their use of enslaved African laborers. This is another reminder of the complicated history of this unique place in American history.
Bill also took us to see the interior of the building housing the Eagles restaurant. Here, in addition to the bar and restaurant, are photographs of golfing greats teeing off at Kingsmill. Their various crystal trophies were displayed in a spacious lobby case that adjoined the restaurant itself.
Concluding the tour, Bill pointed out the Estate at Kingsmill, a 7,000-square-foot mansion originally built by the Busch family (as in the beer magnates, and nearby Busch Gardens). The Estate, sited upon a cliff overlooking the river, recently underwent a $3 million updating, and it can be yours for the night for a king’s ransom.
It was a bit of a cloudy day, but that wasn’t about to stop me from taking to the James River on a jet ski. For those who have never revved up the motor of this aquatic conveyance, it’s difficult to explain the sheer adrenaline rush of flying down the river at 60 miles per hour. My guide brought me downriver, where one can see the original Jamestown settlement as well as the nearby recreation village made to appear as it might have in the early 17th century. We also cruised downriver, where the James widens to such a degree that it’s possible to rev the engine up to maximum capacity for miles without perhaps meeting another vessel.
I spent a good two hours cruising the James, not wanting the experience to end—but my hands said otherwise thanks to the constant vibrations of the handles of the gas. I returned the adrenaline machine back to shore and then worked my way back to the room.
We then took a little drive into nearby Yorktown, where a beer festival was underway. Historic markers dotted nearly every bit of road along these parts, requiring the historically curious (such as myself) to stop off and learn more about this area’s history not just in colonial times but more recently thanks to the James’s importance as an artery for U.S. military naval traffic.
Back at Kingsmill, we popped by the James Landing Grille for dinner, mere feet away from where I had jet skied hours earlier. As with the Mill, where we had lunch the day before, dining at the James Landing Grille required some patience. Staff shortages and supply chain issues remain problems for everyone, let alone a four-diamond resort. However, the staff who waited on us were upbeat and hospitable.
Despite the slow ticket times and limited menu—yet another result of the supply chain—we enjoyed ourselves. I ordered the Filthy Martini, a twist on an old classic containing Jack Daniel’s, sweet vermouth, bitters and muddled cherries. Victoria, with a gin and tonic in hand, and I toasted our good fortune as we gazed upon the sunset over the James. The beef nachos starter was sumptuous, and for our entree we just had to try the pork belly tacos, a fine way to cap our day.
On our last day of resort stay, we made our way over to the spa and fitness center. For those so inclined, the gym has all the machines and weights one could want to work off any high-calorie meals. But for us, it was time to enjoy lazing in the indoor pool and hot tub. The hot tub was especially pleasant, sited right next to tall windows allowing views of the grounds and river.
Alas, it was time to return to the “real” world. As we drove out of the Kingsmill’s property, I could see the roller coasters of Busch Gardens to my right. If only I’d had the chance to tackle them—though likely that would have necessitated another massage! Next time for sure.