Why We Will Get the Disney Hopper Pass Next Time



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.

See Europe, Unpack Once.


Looking for a discount on a fabulous European vacation? What if I told you that you could see multiple countries and unpack only once?  It’s true.

Avalon Waterways offers several itineraries that allow you to board their vessel, unpack in your suite, then sit back and relax as the the sights, sounds, and tastes of Europe come to you.

Their staterooms are totally different from those of any other river cruise line, and here’s why:

The average river cruise cabin gives you the equivalent of a sliding glass door overlooking the riverbanks and a narrow balcony that is big enough for two chairs to face forward. That doesn’t sound too bad when you’re enjoying the Danube, does it?

Well, Avalon Waterways reclaimed that tiny balcony space, and instead, they give you a larger stateroom with a bed facing the sliding door. Oh, and their sliding door just happens to be an entire wall of glass, floor to ceiling. Take a look:


Avalon Waterways is currently offering savings of up to $3000 per couple on select European river cruises. Contact me at Azalea Travel for details!


Oceanfront Litchfield Inn


The South Carolina coast is figuratively flooded with great places to stay. Litchfield is a beach located on Pawley’s Island, SC. There is no shortage of things to do including beach activities, golf, shopping at the famous Hammock Shops, and all that Myrtle Beach has to offer, just thirty minutes away. Pawley’s/Litchfield offers a quieter, more sophisticated environment than Myrtle Beach, and it happens to be a place I love. The Oceanfront Litchfield Inn is a fabulous retreat.


This refurbished old beach motel stands out because of its vintage charm and modern updates. Aside from fresh paint, this hotel has modern conveniences that are so important, like cable television and WiFi. Add a couple of great restaurants and a very modern tower of newer rooms, and you’ve got everything you need.  There are two pools, one of which has access for handicapped guests. Sitting between the two pools is the Cabana Cafe, where burgers, salads, and fish can be eaten in an open air environment or outside on the patio under an umbrella.  Both positions overlook the ocean. The restaurant upstairs (a little fancier than the cabana, thank you) is called Oceans One, and the view from up there is just what you would expect.  In fact, I know of someone who had their wedding reception in that very space many years ago.

The rooms are privately owned, as this is one of those “condotel” arrangements. So each one may have slightly different decor. But the room categories are reliably consistent, even if decor is different. I have stayed in the deluxe oceanfront tower room, which provides the view you see in the picture.  It was sort of a studio or efficiency with an oceanfront balcony, small kitchenette, table and chairs, and choice of 2 queen beds or 1 king.




Apologies for the dark picture. But look at that ocean!

For booking information, contact Azalea Travel.

Travel is Continuing Human Education


I believe everyone should travel as much as possible. You see new things, meet new people, have new experiences, and gain a broader perspective. Find out just how beautiful this world is. See how small you are in it. Be inspired.

You don’t have to go to Nepal or climb a mountain, unless you want to. And it’s cool, if you do. I believe that education is all around us, including in amusement parks or in an old diner in a mountain town. There is always something to learn from the people and places around you.

This blog is an account of some of the places I’ve been (and some places I’d like to go), beginning with the southeastern United States, and moving beyond.

Travel and writing are two of my greatest passions. So here, I have the pleasure of joining them into one project. I’m the author of two books, A Quiet Cup of Tea and The Ballad of the Shirley T. I’m also the owner of Azalea Travel, where you can find your way to some of your favorite destinations.

Biltmore Place: America’s Castle


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.


In the garden


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!


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!