Tag Archives: North Carolina

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


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.


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!

SpringHill Suites – A More Spacious Stay


My family and I recently took a last minute trip to North Carolina to see some friends. On a whim, we found out where they were staying and decided to grab a room at the same hotel. We had never stayed at a SpringHill Suites before, but we knew it was part of the Marriott family. Marriott is a safe bet. Included breakfast is always a plus with us, and this hotel offered a breakfast similar to those at Fairfield Inn or Hampton Inn. The nightly rate seemed to be comparable to those two hotels, as well. So far, so good.

When we checked into the SpringHill Suites in Pinehurst, NC, I was immediately impressed with our room’s size and layout. We had two double beds. I did see inside one of the rooms with one king, and I will say that the room seemed to be smaller, overall, than our room with two doubles. So that’s a good observation to tuck into the back of one’s brain. But for our family, the kitchenette (with microwave, fridge, sink, counter) in our room was just right. On the same side of the unit with the kitchenette was the desk, which was comfortable and convenient for the full day that I spent working in the room while my family joined our friends! I had no trouble accessing the WiFi.


In a typical hotel room, my husband and son and I are usually tripping over each other’s bags, searching for shoes underneath dirty clothes, you get the picture. And we don’t usually want to “spring” for a suite (see what I did there?).  But SpringHill Suites don’t have to cost more than any other hotel room in the same price range. They do, however, offer superior space and floor plans.  We were not tripping over each other at all for the three days we spent there. There was a place for everything, and we hosted our friends in the room for a visit without anyone having to sit on a bed.



Food for any meal!

I should also note that I thought that my husband would be returning with the car about halfway through the day. His day went better than planned, and he stayed gone until later in the afternoon. I was in the hotel ALL. DAY. LONG. Not to worry, though! I did not have to starve. There is a small store in the lobby, in case you need anything. Not only do they have the obligatory toothbrush and Tylenol kind of items, but they have an abridged grocery store. There is a frozen section with Lean Cuisines and such, a refrigerator with drinks, beer, wine, and more, and there are non-perishable items such as protein bars, chips, and candy. Coffee and tea are available all day long in the breakfast area. I had the luxury of finding a small boxed lunch for the gluten-challenged traveler. Sometimes I get stuck just eating a banana, but not this time!


The long sofa is comfortable for watching the television, which can also be viewed from the beds. While there’s not a door between the living space and the sleeping space, there is a definite division of the rooms with a partial wall and arrangement suggesting separation.


Pinehurst, NC location

As far as amenities, this hotel had a nice pool and weight room. But being in Pinehurst, North Carolina, it also had a putting green for guests to get in a few extra strokes for the day. What a delightful unwinding activity for late afternoon, before going out to dinner. This location is convenient to just about anything you need to reach. Pinehurst Golf Club is about 2 miles away, and other golf courses are nearby, as well. A vast array of shopping, dining, and grocery store options are all within a few miles.

Long story short, I don’t know where SpringHill Suites has been all my life, but it’s going to be one of the first brands I look for when I’m traveling with my family!

Contact me to book your next hotel stay!

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!