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GETTING THERE: Air travelers have four airports to choose from: Newport News/Williamsburg, Richmond, Norfolk or Washington. Our late-evening drive on I-64 from Richmond to Williamsburg was especially pretty.

STAYING THERE: For the most authentic experience, guests may stay in one of the Colonial houses in the Historic Area. Prices start at $84 to $159 per night per person, depending on season. Colonial Williamsburg also operates four hotels. In descending order of price per person, they are the elegant Williamsburg Inn ($109-$191), Williamsburg Lodge ($78-$141), the Woodlands ($62-$77) and the Governor's Inn ($60-$66). Those prices include breakfast and a Patriot's Pass (see section below).

We stayed at the Woodlands and found the wooded surroundings attractive, though the accommodations were on the small side. These four hotels offer the convenience of being within walking distance of the Historic Area, and each is served by the buses that shuttle visitors. Less pricey accommodations can be found nearby in Williamsburg.

PRICES/PASSES: There's no charge for walking around the Historic Area, but a pass is needed to get into most buildings and events. The most access is gained with a Patriot's Pass, which is good for a year and costs $34 for adults, $19 for children. A Colonist's Pass is good for two consecutive days; $30 adults, $17 children. A Basic Pass is good for one day; $26 adults, $15 children.

PACKAGES: Felicity in Williamsburg is one of several packages that include accommodations, meals, tickets and amenities, depending in some cases on the time of year. Other packages range from romantic to Christmas holiday.

PROGRAMS: The best time to experience Colonial Williamsburg at its fullest is summer. Hands-on family programs and re-enactments are scheduled from June 13-Aug. 30. Call (800) 603-0948 for information about the Williamsburg Institute's hands-on learning programs.

EATING THERE: Several taverns in the Historic Area serve food, and it's advisable to make reservations. We ate at Chowning's Tavern and at the King's Arm Tavern, both on Duke of Gloucester Street. The food was excellent _ try the peanut soup at King's Arm _ and the ambience was unbeatable. But the tab was steep: for our two adults and one child, we kept the bill to about $50 in both places. A couple of non-historic restaurants are available at the western end of Duke of Gloucester, near William and Mary.

MISCELLANEOUS: Get in shape before you go. The Historic Area is closed to vehicle traffic, so you'll be walking from one attraction to another. The area is easily walked from end to end, but the cumulative effect left us exhausted and sore.

Other attractions in the area include Busch Gardens and Water Country USA. Based on our brief visit, the attractive Busch Gardens is quite popular, but a theme park is a theme park. The real fun, for us, was Colonial Williamsburg.

FOR INFORMATION: Call (800) HISTORY, or visit the Web site, http: //

_ St. Louis Post-Dispatch