Category Archives: Attractions

Good Old Times in St. Augustine

History, beaches, beautiful architecture, shopping, and fun are some of things you will find in St. Augustine. I’ve been trying to think of a category of traveler who would not find something to do in this fascinating Florida gem of a city, and I can’t.

There are so many things to choose from (museums, historic homes, activities, and tours) that it might just make your head swim. One thing my family did there recently was buy the Old Town Trolley passes. I thought it was a great way to get an overview of the city, get our bearings, and figure out what we wanted to do. It also helps you find free parking in a place where that sort of thing comes at a premium. The trolley passes are good for three consecutive days, so you can use them for transportation in addition to getting background info on all the famous haunts in the oldest city.

One of the places we visited was Castillo de San Marcos. Now, being from Charleston, I always think that if there’s a fort somewhere, I have to see it. But honestly, now that I’m in my mid-40s, I have come to realize that if you’ve seen one fort, you’ve seen most of them. Notice that I said “most” and not “all.” Castillo de San Marcos is bigger and has a little more to take in than the majority of forts I have seen. (Although my favorite remains Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, SC.) It offers a unique experience with live performers, areas that are set up to look as though life is carrying on in 1700-something, and stunning views. It’s worth the visit.

There’s a little free museum that you can walk through if you have the trolley passes. It makes for a nice, air-conditioned twenty minute stop. That’s nice when you are visiting in July. The attached gift shop is also a good place to get your alligator heads, all things key lime, and other touristy must-haves.

At the Mission of Nombre de Dios, you will find the Great Cross, which marks the founding of St. Augustine. Visiting this cross and the adjoining cemetery and chapel is actually a free activity, but donations to the Mission are appreciated. It’s so lovely and peaceful that I almost can’t quite describe it. It’s definitely a holy place, and just a special experience. Even if you visit on a hot summer day, it feels cooler and pleasant as you stroll through the cemetery, but that may be in part because of the river on which it borders. I personally feel that no trip to St. Augustine will be complete for me without a stop at this inspirational spot.

We skipped the ever-popular Fountain of Youth, but it was a stop on our trolley tour. We just didn’t have time for everything. I do wish we had made time for the Flagler Museum. Next time.

A walk through the old gates and through the Old City proved fruitful and fun. The Oldest Schoolhouse is on that stretch, along with many fine shops and restaurants. Columbia’s is where all the locals say you simply *must* eat.

Potter’s Wax Museum was one of our favorites. I really thought this was going to be a short stop with little value other than entertainment. But there was great historic value in this visit for the whole family. It was definitely fun, but it was educational, too.

The last thing we did before leaving town was the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum.  Be amazed, be fascinated, and be grossed out at Ripley’s. As you are probably aware, this is a chain, and there are many Ripley’s Museums, but this one was the original. Each location is going to have different things in it, and this one is in an old mansion. There’s a good ghost story that goes along with it, too.

This was a great little summer vacation for my family, but would be nice at any time of year. Due to the great variety of things to do in St. Augustine, I would recommend it to families, couples looking for a romantic getaway, a girls’ weekend for shopping and sightseeing, a guys’ golf weekend, or a nice place for retirees to toodle around.

Contact Azalea Travel for help planning your St. Augustine vacation!

Azalea Travel is a proud member of ASTA and CLIA.

Family Fun in Savannah

Rich in history and beauty, Savannah is a no-brainer as a fun family destination if you live in the southeast. It ranks right up there close to St. Augustine, if you are making your way south or north on I-95 and need a good overnight spot. Now, I may be a little biased since I lived in Savannah for two years when I was single, but it was always on my must-visit list with my husband and son. We went over President’s Day weekend, and it was unseasonably warm ( like 80 degrees!).

Our first stop was Fort Pulaski. Since it’s a national park, admission is reasonably priced. On the day we were there, admission was free in honor of the holiday. Now there’s a great “See 3 Pass” where you can get discounted admission to your choice of historic or educational sites, and it includes Fort Jackson in its range of choices. However, Fort Jackson is much smaller and doesn’t have the history that Fort Pulaski does. Fort Jackson might be closer to downtown and have daily cannon firings, but Pulaski saw actual battle action and offers a lot more to see and learn. Especially if you’re only in town for one day, I would opt for the slightly longer drive to Pulaski (located on the road to Tybee Island) and choose one of the “See 3” destinations, depending on the ages of your children.

The Georgia State Railroad Museum is also a a great stop for your kids who like transportation. I think it’s fun even for someone who isn’t that much into trains. You might find a new hobby or passion there, because the place is so interesting! Be sure and catch one of the guided tours of the old passenger cars that happen throughout the day. My son and I spent a good hour and a half at this museum but could have easily spent longer. If you’re interested in visiting the Savannah Children’s Museum , be aware that it is adjacent to the Railroad Museum. If you have kiddos interested in both, you should definitely go ahead and buy admission to both. It makes sense.

A walk down River Street is a must. The cobblestones and the steep, uneven staircases can be treacherous, but knowing that you are climbing the same stairs that pirates and merchants used hundreds of years ago is pretty fun. Your children might convince you to board one of the riverboats for a tour or a meal. You have been forewarned. If you’re lucky, you might get to see a freighter ship coming or going. It’s quite the close encounter and pretty neat.

If you have any Brownies or Girl Scouts in your family, you can’t miss the Juliette Gordon Low house, of course. Otherwise, I would save that for a grown up trip, unless your children are way into historic home tours.

As for trolley tours, the green and orange trolley never does us wrong. This is one of those hop-on-hop-off affairs and can be quite handy for seeing as much as possible without moving your car a lot.

Where to eat? Definitely Pirates’ House. This is an experience, even apart from the dining aspect. Check the website for menu choices and times, because you might prefer to go for the lunch buffet while you’re already walking around downtown. This building has been a restaurant for a couple of hundred years, but served as a place for pirates to gather back in the days of yore. Kids get a special hat (that also serves as their menu), but what will entertain them more than anything is the ghost stories and staring down into the old tunnel under the restaurant. There is said to be an underground tunnel that leads all the way down to the waterfront. Legend has it that unsuspecting drunks would pass out at the bar, then be carried through the tunnel to the pirates’ ships. By the time they woke up, they would be out to sea, kidnapped, and enslaved.

If you’re looking for a good pizza, don’t pass up Vinnie VanGogo’s. It was one of my favorites when I lived there, and it’s still the hip place to go for a pie.

Where to stay? If you’re looking to save a few dollars, try a Southside chain hotel. You will be near all the malls and chain restaurants, but with the Truman Parkway, you won’t be terribly far from downtown. There are a few good chains in great downtown locations, too, such as Hampton Inn or Doubletree. But if you’re going to stay downtown, the fun places with ghost stories and local charm are River Street Inn and East Bay Inn. Parking costs in downtown Savannah, whether it’s at your hotel, metered places on the street, or garages.

One more thing – I downloaded the ePass app on my phone, and I do recommend it for a weekend or more. It provides you with discounts and specials all over town for dining, activities, and more. I only used it once – at the Pirates’ House – but it paid for itself after one use.

Contact Azalea Travel to assist you with your travel plans including cruises, group travel, and Disney!

Cabana Bay Beach Resort – an Orlando favorite

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Whether you are visiting Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and the new Volcano Bay water park opening in 2017 or not, the Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a fantastic place to park yourself when in Orlando. As an official Universal hotel that is connected to the parks via shuttle bus service, it certainly has a lot to offer if those attractions are your destination. Aside from that, the 1950s and 1960s decor is so much fun, you might just find yourself wishing we were still living in that era. When you call guest services for things like extra towels, the person on the phone will tell you to “have a swell day” before you hang up. They are all in when it comes to the theme, and I love it!

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On the day my family and I checked in, everything was decked out for Christmas, which made it even more spectacular. The teals, oranges, blues, and crisp whites in the color scheme had me thinking I had just gotten out of one of those classic cars parked out front and left my gigantic hard suitcases in the back seat.

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This lobby is actually one where you might spot a few Universal characters. We saw Scooby Doo wandering through when we first arrived. A few minutes later, we had the most delightful visit with Lucille Ball, who gave my son an extra “free piece of cake” coupon since it was his birthday. The employees and characters go the extra mile and make the place truly special – even down to the folks at the cash register in the gift shop.

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There are several dining choices at the resort, but we tried Bayliner Diner, which is similar to a food court in that you have many choices, and Galaxy Bowl, because my son had become obsessed with the cosmic bowling on the first night, so we elected to just let him bowl while we ate there on the second night.  There is also a Starbucks, Swizzle Lounge for procuring your adult beverages, and the Hideaway Cafe near the lazy river.

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What a beautiful Florida night this was (see picture above).

We were upgraded to a suite in the Starlight building, which was quite pleasant and welcome, considering I had just booked a standard room with 2 queen beds. We had a small living room, a tall kitchen counter with stools where we could eat, and a small kitchenette with fridge, sink, microwave and Keurig (because let’s face it, some modern conveniences are “the most”). There was a sliding door separating all of that from the bedroom, where we had 2 queen beds and a closet area. The sink and mirror were in the same room, but the toilet had its own room to the left, and the shower plus another sink had their own room to the right. Fantastic set-up with 2 televisions. The rooms do mostly have outer entry, like an old-style motel, but some have interior entry if you prefer that.

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There was more to Cabana Bay Beach Resort that we didn’t even have time to explore, since we were there to enjoy the Universal Parks, too. Speaking of which, there are regular shuttles that run back and forth to the parks and City Walk every 10 to 15 minutes from 7am to 2am. You also get into the parks an hour earlier than the general population, since you are staying at one of Universal’s hotels. This also means you have some dining plan options at your hotel, if you are on the Universal meal plan.

This was such a fun place to stay. I think we would stay there again even if we were not going to the Universal parks, but just visiting Orlando for other reasons.

To book your stay at Cabana Bay, contact Azalea Travel, a proud member of ASTA and CLIA.

Disney’s Pop Century Resort

I’ve been booking a lot of Disney trips for folks lately, and it definitely has me in a Disney state of mind!  If you’re looking to go to Disney World on a shoestring, a good place to start is staying at one of the Value Resorts.  The Pop Century is one of the newer Value resorts, and everything you might have ever wanted to know about it is right here:

Pop Century

For questions or booking information, call the College of Disney Knowledge graduate at Azalea Travel!

 

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Greenwood, South Carolina – Part 2

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The reason for my last trip to Greenwood was to celebrate the grand opening of the Carolina Executive Car at the Railroad Historical Center.

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This car was of particular interest to me, because it was the car my great-grandfather, Frank Harrison Cothran, used as his mobile office during the years that he was President of the Piedmont & Northern Railroad. My parents made the trip with me.

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That’s my father down the narrow hallway, right outside the bedroom that was his grandfather’s.

But even without the family connection, this train was well worth the trip to see inside. It makes for a fascinating trip back in time. The wood paneling, the service quarters, and kitchen all give rise to imagination to see the car in its heyday, when it was more than just a mode of transportation.

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You can almost feel the motion of the car sliding forward and see gentlemen in their suits sitting at the table in the conference room, mulling over contracts and making things happen with inkpens, handshakes, and friendly jokes.

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It is part of The Museum & Railroad Historical Center in Greenwood, which has two locations with two different functions. From April through October, the train cars are open Thursday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm. There are other cars being renovated, and a depot will be built, as well.

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In the meantime, the museum portion of The Museum and Railroad Historical Center, which is just down the road a few  blocks, is open year-round.  And it is a treat.

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It’s the best museum I have seen in a town of Greenwood’s size.  The only better ones I have seen are in larger cities. Their collection is quite impressive on the first floor.

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Upper floors reveal additional exciting historical items, plus educational exhibits for children of all ages.

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Are The Museum and Railroad Historical Center worth a trip to Greenwood?  If you have a train enthusiast big or small, then I say yes, without a doubt. Absolutely. Even if no one in your family is a train buff, it’s still interesting and is something folks of all ages will enjoy. Note: Those with mobility issues may not be able to board the train cars.

You can make it to Greenwood from Summerville in less than 3 hours. You could potentially make a day trip of it. If you want to be leisurely and enjoy other things Greenwood has to offer, like shopping and dining in its revitalized Uptown Greenwood area or a production at the theater next door, then Azalea Travel can book you a room at the Inn on the Square, which was the subject of my last post.  Make a night of it, and have a fun family getaway!

Delightful Days in Wilmington, NC

If you live in the Carolinas, the ancient port city of Wilmington makes a great weekend destination. If you have been hitting up the same Savannah-Hilton Head-Myrtle Beach-etc. weekend spots over and over, why not try something different? There’s a little too much to see to just take a day trip. Historic and charming, Wilmington is often overlooked in favor of its southern sisters Charleston and Savannah, I think, but is definitely worth every minute you spend there, and probably many more.

Things to Do

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My favorite spot was the antebellum Bellamy Mansion last time I visited Wilmington. If you are a preservation buff or if you just like grand old homes, this is a must-see. The admission is not steep at all, and the architecture alone evokes a true portrait of life in the past. Back with the Tide is a fascinating little book written by Ellen Bellamy, the last Bellamy family member to live in the house. It makes a nice keepsake from your visit at just around $10 and offers a personal memoir of her days in the mansion.  The picture below is of a little stage on one of the upper floors of the house.  Children who lived in the house would use it as a stage to perform plays.

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A couple of other attractions include the Battleship North Carolina and the Wilmington Railroad Museum.  If it’s a tour you’re looking for, you might want to try the Cape Fear Riverboat Tours or a Segway Tour.  If you’re into ghosts, the Haunted Cotton Exchange Tour can hook you up with chills and a little humor. But call ahead to make reservations. The tour guide will only come out if she has pre-sold tickets.

Shopping

Walking around in downtown Wilmington is just a delight in itself. The buildings and streets remind me of Charleston and Savannah with the charm of the old world and a glimpse into trade in centuries past. (Explore a map of shops here.)  No matter who you are, you’re almost certain to find a shop that suits your fancy. And you know, wherever I go, if there is a good book store, I must find it. I found it here: Two Sisters Bookery.

Dining

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As you can see in the picture, my friend and I enjoyed lunch on a wrought iron balcony at Roy’s Riverboat Landing. The picture is a little dark due to an overcast day and a less than stellar camera, but you can take my word for it that we were very pleased with every aspect of lunch. The little balcony is just the right size for a table for two, and it’s delightful when the weather is right. The picture below is the front of the restaurant. One of the side balconies on the second floor is where we sat.

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Hotels

If you don’t stay overnight, you are cheating yourself.  And the ghost tours happen at night, if that’s one of your objectives. If you prefer a hotel chain, Courtyard by Marriott has a location in the downtown area and offers a reliable product with spacious rooms and suites.  Hilton Wilmington Riverside also has a nice location. But if a more intimate, charming setting is what you seek, then the Port City Guest House is a lovely B&B near the Bellamy Mansion.

For One Tree Hill fans

These stairs were used in at least one episode.

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Okay, I’ll admit to watching a few episodes. I was in law school at the time and didn’t have cable. I would come home from a long afternoon in the library and look for something to watch while I ate dinner. And a little bit of unrealistic, cheesy teen drama that left me asking Where is the parental supervision?! was sometimes just what I needed to unwind.  Please don’t judge me.  So anyway, if you want to check out some of the spots where the show was filmed and do a little self-guided tour, here are a couple of resources:

A local perspectivehttp://wilmingtonishome.weebly.com/one-tree-hill.html

And a fan page http://onetreehillweb.net/show-filming.html

So, what do you think? Are you ready to go this weekend?  Contact Azalea Travel to help you make your plans!

News for Disney Enthusiasts 9-30-2015

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SO, I have a few exciting pieces of news for all you Disney-loving folks out there! And I know there are plenty of you.  I’ll start with what’s happening at Walt Disney World in Florida, since most of my readers are on the east coast.

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  1. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN! We know it and love it. I’ve been on that ride about five times since I was eight years old, and January was the most recent trip. It has seen some changes over that time, like the addition of Captain Jack Sparrow. The attraction has been closed over the last few months for refurbishment, but it’s open again now. You can expect to see some more realistic pirates and cannons, smell some new scents (I don’t know the details on that – someone who gets there before I do next will have to fill me in!), and see some new special effects in terms of lights for weather effects. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to experience it. This has always been one of my favorite rides at the Magic Kingdom, maybe even at all of WDW.
  2. Introducing Disney Springs! Downtown Disney has been undergoing some construction this year (which was even ongoing when I was there in January). The purpose of it all was to add some new stops and transform the whole place into Disney Springs.  As of today, the launch is official! Downtown Disney is now Disney Springs, and a new restaurant opens today, as well – Morimoto Asia.  Already open are new spots The Boathouse and Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar at The Landing. There are new retail shops, as well.  Coming soon are Tommy Bahama, Lilly Pulitzer, UNIQLO, Pandora, UGG, and more!!  Don’t worry; all of your old faves are still there, such as T. Rex, Cirque du Soleil, Rainforest Café, and the Lego Store. Click here for a glimpse.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qu5F50DWmXw#action=share
  3. And moving on to the west coast . . . Awesome Star Wars stuff at Disneyland! So for those of you who live closer to Disneyland in California or plan to go there, you are in for a wonderful treat starting November 16. Disneyland will be opening some new Star Wars attractions, some of which will be similar to what we can already experience at Disney World in Florida. One thing that’s different, though, is a new ride called Hyperspace Mountain. This is a ride comparable to our Space Mountain on the east coast, but you will be part of an X-wing Starfighter battle instead of plummeting through total darkness.  Sounds pretty cool to me…I might have to make a special trip to California for that. Other experiences include the Jedi Academy (which we already have at Hollywood Studios) beginning in December, but it will be based on the popular Disney XD television show, Star Wars Rebels. In the Launch Bay, you can enjoy character experiences, get a peek at some snippets of the upcoming movie, The Force Awakens, and also see some of the props used in the movie.disneyland star warshyperspace mountain

Click here to start planning your next trip!!!

 

Surprise Your Littlest NASCAR Fan

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When my son was just a baby lying on a Boppy pillow on the floor, he would make revving engine noises and extend his chubby, little leg like he was pressing the accelerator . . . but only while NASCAR races were on television. He has always had a passion for racing, and I’m afraid it’s not going away anytime soon. If your child has the same interest, and like me, you’re just not ready to take him or her to a big race, then I’ve got a great idea for you!

Myrtle Beach is the perfect place to catch a little racing activity without breaking the bank, and without exposing your child to whatever unsavory activities might take place at one of the big races, like Darlington. Instead of watching a race, what if your kiddo could actually take a ride around the track? And then practice his or her own skills at a safer speed?

Earlier this year, we decided to cater to my son’s racing obsession and see how he liked it. We didn’t tell him where we were going, but drove up to Myrtle Beach. We went straight to the Myrtle Beach Speedway, still pretending not to have a plan, saying we were just going to “get out and look around.” I think we could have stopped with that and gone back home with a happy kid. But as it turned out, there was another family on the track, getting rides from a professional driver. The official NASCAR Pace Car made its way past us in the stands, blowing our hair back. After those folks finished, we made a brief inquiry, and the next thing we knew, my son was getting ready to take a ride. The young men working at the track that day were beyond wonderful. So friendly and helpful, they made what is probably my son’s most memorable day yet. And for only $20!

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Rain was approaching, so they rushed us onto the track before they had to close. My son got his ride in a real pace car with a real driver on a real NASCAR track where Dale Earnhardt himself once raced and won. After he got out, the driver let him go in the garage, where he was able to touch and investigate one of Dale Jr.’s old red #8 cars. I’ve never seen such a joyful, contented smile on my son. After that, the driver let him climb into an actual stock car used for racing and sit in the seat. He got what we felt was the real V.I.P. treatment, because we happened to be the only ones there at the time.  My son had close to 1,000 questions, and the driver, Brian Voss, answered them all patiently.

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I should point out that adults can also drive an actual stock car around the track, or be driven. That costs more, of course, but it can be a fantastic gift for a grown-up with a need for speed, as well.

Now, it’s hard to beat that. We blew the big surprise right up front. But we did go to Broadway Grand Prix the next day and let him drive go-karts all day. The wristband ends up being the best deal, where you can drive and ride all you want for $35, for the whole day. So he drove until he was worn out, then we went back to the hotel. We freshened up, took a walk on the beach, ate dinner, and actually went back for more go-karting that night, using the wrist bands for re-entry. If you’re not into racing, they also have other rides, mini-golf, games, and an arcade. It’s a fun place. It’s also across the highway from Broadway at the Beach (visible in background of picture below), so if anyone wants to skip the karting and shop instead, they can split off for a bit and do something different.

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All in all, it made for a fantastic, indulgent trip that didn’t have to cost that much.

Want more details? Click here to contact me to make your hotel reservations and find out how to make it a great weekend for your NASCAR fan.

Why We Will Get the Disney Hopper Pass Next Time

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If you’re not familiar with Walt Disney World’s Hopper Pass, allow me to explain it. Let’s say you buy passes for your family for three days at the Walt Disney World Parks. Without the Hopper Pass, once you choose a park and enter it, that’s the only park you will see on that day. Now, don’t get me wrong. You can definitely spend a full day inside any of the parks and still not see/do everything!

However, if you want to see Magic Kingdom on the first day, because you went there as a child and your children have never seen it, but you also want to attend the fireworks show at Epcot later that night, you will definitely need the Hopper Pass.

The first time my husband and I took our son, he was only four years old and could not have handled more than one park in one day. We spent a day at Magic Kingdom and a day at Hollywood Studios (because of Lightning McQueen, of course). But the last time we went, we decided we were ready for the Hopper Pass. Here are a few great reasons for you to consider it:

  1. As I mentioned before, you can spend the day at one park, then enjoy fireworks in a different park that night. You don’t have to limit yourself to one park all day.
  2. Similarly, after you know what you like to do in each park, you can, for example, get Fastpasses for Expedition Everest and the Safari Ride at Animal Kingdom and enjoy them early, then hop on a bus to have lunch at Hollywood Studios and catch the stunt show. Surf around and just do your favorite rides in more than one park.
  3. It doesn’t cost much more to add it on to the price you’re already paying for your tickets.

Planning your next Disney trip? Let us help! You can email azaleatravelagency@gmail.com or contact us by clicking here: Azalea Travel.

Biltmore Place: America’s Castle

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If you want to see a castle and can’t make it to Europe, here’s your chance. Biltmore Estate, touted as America’s largest privately-owned home, is truly a palace. At 175,000 square feet, it has 33 bedrooms for family and guests, to say nothing of the servants’ quarters. Built in the late 1800s as George Vanderbilt’s bachelor pad, it has dazzled millions of guests.

The house is not only beautiful and historic. It’s so fantastically frozen in time, but also surprising in terms of some of the technology they had 100 years ago. Electricity and indoor plumbing were novelties in the time George Vanderbilt erected his mansion, but dumbwaiters, drains, the indoor pool, and many other special features were amazing in those days. Maybe you are interested in enjoying its beauty and envisioning yourself living there, or you are just curious to see one of America’s castles. But it’s a must-see if you are in the area.

Please note: Photographs are not allowed inside the house. There is a photographer in front of the winter garden (in the entry hall) who will take a photo of your group that you have an opportunity to purchase when you exit the house.

When my father was a teenage lad sometime around 1960, he drove up to the grand palace with his grandmother and his aunt. He thinks he remembers paying $10 or so to get in. But once inside, they literally had the run of the house and could poke and prod and tread anywhere they liked. No ropes, no guided tour. At one point, my father stared down a dark hallway. As a docent walked by, he asked if it was okay to go down there. The response was, “Sure, just be careful.”

Today, things are quite different, but it’s all still wonderful. You may not be able to see the entire house like my father did, but you can see about 80% of it. Is the admission price worth it? Yes. Plan to spend your whole day there and drink it in. The highest traffic days tend to be on weekends (particularly Saturdays). Many of those high traffic days require advance ticket purchases, with limited or no access for last-minute walk-ups. Check the calendar on the website before you go, so you won’t be disappointed.

Included in your $60 admission ticket is a self-guided tour of selected rooms on three or four floors of the house (only a portion of the 80% I mentioned), the gardens, the conservatory, and Antler Hill Village & Winery. If you would like to actually see 80% of the house, you will need to purchase the additional add-on tours, such as the Behind the Scenes Upstairs Downstairs Tour and the Rooftop Tour (which is only pleasant depending on the weather). You can look up the current add-on offerings here. If you would like the narrated audio tour, you can rent the hand held recorder for $10. It operates like a phone, so that each person can listen quietly. The audio tour does pay for itself with interesting little facts. For instance, there is a hidden door that you wouldn’t otherwise spot alone. You will also learn that it took three days to fill the indoor pool with water, and they only filled the pool when someone wanted to use it.

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In the garden

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Enjoying the view at the back of the house

Will children like it?

Most likely, yes. but this will depend on the child. In preparing my son for where we were going, I built up the fact that we were going to see a castle. He was definitely not disappointed. There is an audio tour that is specifically geared toward children, too, which can be rented for $10 like the adults’ audio device. We were there on a summer day, so there were plenty of children to observe. Every single one I saw with the audio device seemed to be listening intently and enjoying the tour. The Halloween room is a favorite, of course, and much different now. If you’re like me and visited as a child 30 years ago, you probably remember a big, open basement room with fun murals. The murals are still there, but there are displays through the middle of the room showing different phases of construction of the house. There is more historical content available now, even to the guest who simply purchases the $60 admission ticket without any add-ons.

 

Are there discounts for admission?

Check the website for any special offers or deals. When we went, children under 16 were free. That is very attractive to families who aren’t sure whether their little people will enjoy touring the big house or not. There is also currently an opportunity to buy a second day’s admission for only $10.

You can save $5-10 on your tickets by pre-purchasing them online ahead of time. This will also save you some time standing in line when you arrive on the 8,000 acre estate.

 

Parking and Logistics

Many years ago, one could drive right up in front of the house and park. This is no longer possible, due to the size of the crowd visiting every day. There are multiple parking lots with free shuttles to the house and back. However, for an additional $18, one can drive right up front and enjoy valet parking, skipping the large, remote parking lots and shuttle rides. Shuttle drivers provide a little narrative about the property, though, so there is some value in skipping in the valet.

The natural flow of traffic through the estate will dictate the order of your activities. Your first stop is the visitor center where tickets are purchased, unless you already have tickets. Parking attendants will direct you to a parking lot, where you will pick up your shuttle to the house and gardens. After you enjoy the house and gardens for several hours and return to your car by shuttle, your exit route will take you right in front of the house and through the gardens, so you will have additional quick photo opps from your vehicle. Just please don’t hold up traffic. Following the exit signs, you will wend you way to Antler Hill. Even if you don’t have any plans to stop at Antler Hill, the exit route will loop you through the parking lot and back out again before you exit. They clearly really want you to park, come in, and buy some wine. There is a playground for the kiddos, so they won’t be too worn out with the grown-ups tasting wine and shopping. You will also find some of the property’s many dining options at Antler Hill.

Overall, did I like it or love it?  Love it!

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Overnight Stays

There are now three different hotel or cottage offerings on the Biltmore Estate. The Inn is a special place for an anniversary or a weekend getaway, complete with a spa and other luxurious amenities. The Cottage is a special experience where a limited number of guests have the opportunity to stay in what was once the home of the Vanderbilts’ groundskeeper. The Village Hotel is a brand new offering and will open in December of 2015. Click here to contact me about booking.

If one of these arrangements on Biltmore Estate is not right for you, there are many other options outside the gates which may fit your travel needs better. Contact me to find your best fit!