The Mother of all NC Attractions
I won a four pack of tickets from a Carolina Parent online contest so we decided to take the kids for their first overnight family vacation.
I discovered that a vacation with young kids =
- no vacation sex
- no enjoyment of the hotel cable of which we do not have at home
- and early bedtimes for parents as well as kids that are essentially futile since the kids giggle and chatter like they're at a slumber party for the next hour
The following are my recommendations for taking young children to the Biltmore:
Do arrive as early as possible to the Biltmore. Crowds and wait times increase as the day wears on.
Do check your tickets and the ages of your children. Children of certain ages do not require a paid ticket to enter the House.
Do leave the stroller in the special stroller parking area inside the House on the first floor. It's too hard maneuvering even a folded standard stroller with the crowds, especially when you start using the narrow servants' stairways.
Do visit first without the kids. My wife and I went twice before bringing the gang. You need to appreciate it on your own before having to keep the little ones from touching things and charging the velvet ropes. Plus, only you know what will intrigue your kids about the House and where the trouble spots may be.
Don't bother with the audio tour for you or your kids. This is why it pays to visit alone first. You and your spouse can enjoy a leisurely visit with the audio tour which will provide you with the background and stories you will need when introducing your kids to the House. The audio tour requires a lot of time and young children wouldn't sit through it. And the audio player would probably only become a weapon in the hands of my four year-old.
Do find all of the hidden passages. On your first visit to the House sans les enfants, make note of where all of the oddities and hidden doors are - they make for good distractions when the kids get antsy.
Do printout the Treasure Hunt from the Biltmore website. Even if your child doesn't obsess over solving every single riddle like our 7 year-old did, there's still a dollar coupon on the back good towards merchandise and food.
Plan to eat lunch on the Estate. There are several options including places that specialize in lunch only. We spent about $50 feeding our family of 5 at the Courtyard Cafe outside the Stable Shops.
After lunch and visiting the Shops, we went down to the gardens and Conservatory. There are no ramps to take you from the House to the gardens so plan to carry the stroller down the steps. And as much as you may not think your kids will give a rip about a humid building with lots of plants, the Conservatory contains some very exotic plants, including some imaginatively shaped cacti that captivated my previously plant-indifferent four year-old.
Beyond the Conservatory is a long and meandering walk through the Azalea and Asian Gardens down to the Bass Pond where there is a small boat house. Ms. Cruise Director and I took this walk on our first visit but didn't think we could stand the kiddie complaints this time.
Do make time to visit Antler Hill Village. On your way there you'll cross the brick bridge featured in the movie Last of the Mohicans. Get to the Estate Farm at Antler Hill before 5pm so your kids have the chance to pet very friendly farm animals. (There's a well-appointed wash station at the barn for cleaning hands after petting.) If your kids are into it, there are plenty of antique farm implements around the stable and try to catch the blacksmith's demonstration if you have time.
Antler Hill also has a new playground featuring water-play, a slide, and sandbox.
Ah, and then there's the winery…….
If you're like us, the tasting has become one of your favorite parts of a visit. I had expected to reluctantly skip it this time due to our wee encumbrances, but Ms. Director had no such intentions and better yet she had a plan. Feeding them candy from her copious stash, she bought herself just enough time for an abbreviated tasting.
When the candy runs out, you or your spouse can always take the dear ones to see George Vanderbilt's automobile - a 1913 Stevens Duryea - which is kept in its own room at the Winery.
We finished our day with dinner at Yoshida Japanese Steakhouse in Asheville. It's a cozy Hibachi restaurant. Our chef was great with the kids - juggling eggs, making an onion volcano, flaming up the grill. My four year-old's review: "It was awesome!"
On the way home the next day, the video players crapped out again so we decided to take the Blue Ridge Parkway for part of the trip. We had to take a detour around Mt. Mitchell since that part of the Parkway is closed during winter. The GPS had no idea where we were so we had to make like our ancestors and get out a paper map. We were able to get back on the Parkway around Little Switzerland just in time to see the Linn Cove Viaduct and Grandfather Mountain.
|Linn Cove Viaduct|