Category Archives: United States

Christmas in Charlotte, North Carolina: What to See and Do During the Holidays

Charlotte, North Carolina, is a welcoming city with a plethora of activities especially during the holiday season. Here are my picks for the best things to during Christmas in Charlotte.

 

  1. Christmas in CharlotteStroll through Charlotte Christmas Village, a European-inspired Christmas Village CharlotteChristmas Market located in Romare Bearden Park. You’ll find an array of vendors selling crafts, clothing, jewelry, and other gifts for everyone on your holiday list. While shopping, you can nibble on German glazed nuts and sip mulled wine, cider, beer, wine, or the traditional drink called Glühwein. Hungry? There’s a variety of foods available, but I highly recommend a German bratwurst or knockwurst, with or without sauerkraut. For dessert, head on over to Helmut’s to savor an Austrian strudel. Whether you choose apple, cherry, cheese, or apricot and almond, you’ll be in holiday heaven! Admission to the village is free, and this little piece of Europe in North Carolina is open from just before Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve Day. For more information, head on over to their website.

 

  1. Christmas in CharlotteSee the lights at “Holidays at the Garden” in the Daniel Stowe Botanical GardensChristmas Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens.   Located just 30 miles outside of Charlotte, the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens puts on a dazzling display that’s fun for the entire family. Stroll through the gardens to see over 600,000 holiday lights.   Be sure to check out the conservatory to see towering fanciful seasonal displays, tropical plants, beautiful orchids, and a fairy village.   Inside, marvel at the huge white orchid Christmas tree and the model train displays. Children will enjoy the a horse-drawn carriage ride and a variety of activities scattered throughout the gardens.   Holidays at the Garden runs from mid-November to New Year’s Eve. For exact details, visit their website.

Christmas in Charlotte

  1. Take a spin around the ice rink at the annual “Holiday on Ice” rink located on the NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza.

 

  1. See a Singing Christmas Tree in an hour-long presentation put on by the Carolina Voice Choir and other local singing, dancing, and puppet groups.

 

  1. Check out Christmas Town USA which features over 375 trees, 200 wreaths, and a 46 foot image of Old Man Winter blowing snowflakes. The town of McAdenville has been attracting visitors to its holiday displays for over 60 years!

 

  1. Sing along to holiday songs with animatronic bears at Founders Hall in the Bank of America Corporate Center. The 45 minute performances are free and run every hour on the hour.

 

 

Locations for Christmas in Charlotte

Click on the name to get specific driving directions.

 

Charlotte Christmas Village is located at Romare Bearden Park at 300 South Mint Street in Charlotte.

The Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens are located at 6500 S New Hope Rd in Belmont.

Hoilday on Ice is located at 400 East Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard in Charlotte.

Founders Hall is located at 100 N Tryon St in Charlotte.

 

 

Latta Plantation: Early Americana and 300 Years of Christmas

Latta PlantationLatta Plantation is a historic home and living history site located Latta Plantationapproximately 30 minutes outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Guides and re-enactors portray life in the Carolinas from 1800-1865. The site features a Federal style house, built in 1800, a detached kitchen, a farm with animals, a slave cabin, a log cabin, and several other outbuildings.

Latta PlantationWe visited during their annual “100 Years of Christmas” event. The house andLatta Plantation Christmas its outbuildings are decorated for the holidays, and costumed interpreters are on hand to demonstrate historical crafts. Each building is decorated in a holiday style specific to a different time period in history, including the Colonial times, the Victorian Era, and the Regency Period, and rooms contains placards explaining period holiday traditions. Re-enactors from local Colonial militias and civil war companies are encamped onsite in order to show you what life was like for a soldier or camp follower. You’ll also be able to peruse the booths of local craftspeople and vendors. I particularly enjoyed the wares from a Scottish trader from who I purchased some scones and decorations for my UK-themed Christmas tree.

 

Latta Planation is located at 5225 Sample Rd, in Huntersville, North Carolina.  Click on the map below for specific driving directions.

Latta PlantationLatta Plantation

Christmas at the North Carolina Arboretum: Winter Lights!

Christmas at the North Carolina ArboretumIf you love Christmas as much as I do and are in the Asheville area during theChristmas at the North Carolina Arboretum holidays, you and your family will love seeing Christmas at the North Carolina Arboretum.  It’s called Winter Lights, and you don’t want to miss it!

Bundle up and head to the arboretum, located just 20 minutes outside Asheville, to wander through an amazing display of over 500,000 holiday lights scattered throughout the gardens. Enjoy a cup of hot cocoa, cider, or beer, while you walk through this outdoor winter wonderland. I particularly Christmas at the North Carolina Arboretumenjoyed the enormous Christmas tree and light display that dancesChristmas at the North Carolina Arboretum to holiday music, while my fiancé showed off his skills at playing the whimsical games of snowflake tic tac toe and wreath Simon. Where else can you do that?!? If you’re vising on a Friday or Saturday night, consider taking a Winter Holiday Lights Tour. A trolley will pick you up and drop you off at a specific location in Asheville or Hendersonville. Upon arrival at the gardens, you’ll Christmas at the North Carolina Arboretumreceive a complimentary cup of hot cocoa to enjoy as you see the Christmas at the North Carolina Arboretumlights. Admission is included. For more information see the botanical gardens’ website.

 

Christmas at the North Carolina Arboretum: Winter Holiday Lights is held in the evening from mid November to the end of December. Check out their website for exact details and to purchase tickets.

 

The North Carolina Arboretum is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way in Asheville, North Carolina.  Click on the map below to get specific driving directions.

 

Pair a night at Christmas at the North Carolina Arboretum with a day trip to Christmas at Biltmore.  For more, see my blog post “The Biltmore Estate: How to See It at Christmas and All Year Long”.

Christmas at the North Carolina ArboretumChristmas at the North Carolina Arboretum

 

 

The Biltmore Estate: How to See It at Christmas and All Year Long

Ever since I was young and my mother and I watched the TV special “Christmas at Biltmore”, I’ve wanted to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. As an early gift for my birthday, my fiancé surprised me with a trip to Christmas at Biltmore.  In this blog post, I’ll fill you in on how to get the most out of your time at the Biltmore Estate during the holidays and the remainder of the year

Christmas at the Biltmore Estate

Christmastime is a truly magical time of the year to visit to visit the Biltmore Estate, and you must experience it at least once in your Biltmore Estatelifetime. During the day, the house is decked out with more than 55 Christmas trees decorated in the Victorian tradition and with evergreen wreaths and garlands, incredible floral displays in the conservatory, and a gingerbread house in the main kitchen.   At night, you can visit the Biltmore Estate for a Candlelight Christmas Evening.   Upon enteringBiltmore Estate the gates, you’ll be confronted by an enormous Norway spruce covered in giant white snowflakes and glittering lights.  Make your way towards the mansion on pathways lined with holiday luminaries. Inside, you’ll find each room aglow with candles, roaring fireplaces, Christmas trees, and early 20th century lighting.  To add to the holiday spirit, a choir in the Winter Garden and musicians scattered throughout the house perform holiday classics for your enjoyment.

Biltmore EstateIf you’re planning on experiencing Christmas at the Biltmore Estate, I have three pieces of advice for you. First, you need to book as early as possible. Dates sell out quickly.  We visited the day after Thanksgiving, and my fiancé booked in April!  Second, I highly recommend going to a Candlelight Christmas Evening Tour. There are a great deal less people at nighttime, so you’ll get to enjoy your time and see all of the details in each Biltmore Estateroom.   Third, you may want to consider seeing the mansion both during the day at night. If you wish to do so, book the Candlelight Christmas Evening Tour, and during checkout, you can upgrade your ticket to allow you to see the house during the day as well, at significant savings. Christmas at Biltmore and the Candlelight Christmas Evenings run from the beginning of November through early January. Check their website for exact dates.

 

Tips for Seeing the Biltmore Estate All Year Long:

 

  1. It takes a while to actually get to the mansion, so arrive at the main gate with at least 45 minutes early. There’s a significant drive from the main gate to the parking lot.  From the parking lot you have to wait for, board, and take a shuttle to the house. If you miss the entry time on your ticket, they may not be able to accommodate you.

 

  1. Book your tickets for an early morning entry time. The crowds arrive in the late morning and early afternoon, so you’ll want to get there early.

 

  1. Purchase tickets and an audio guide online at their website. You’ll save time by not having to wait in line, and the audio guide will enrich your experience by providing information about the history of the house, its decoration and contents, and life on the estate.

  1. See the mansion first and then tour the gardens and the conservatory. The gardens are truly amazing, but even if you visit in winter, the huge conservatory is alive with magnificent tropical plants, it’s specially decorated for the holiday season. Don’t miss the gardener’s store located on the lower level (down the steps) behind the conservatory.

 

  1. Check out the wonderful gift shops located inside the former stables.   You’ll have an array of shops to choose from including a Christmas store, candy shop, gift shop, bookstore, and toy shop. Each have their own array of goodies, so be sure to leave time to check them all out.

 

  1. There are many options for dining on the Biltmore Estate, but I recommend eating at the Courtyard Market.  Right in the middle of the former stable compound is an outdoor (but covered and heated) café. We found the food there to the yummiest and cheapest. We enjoyed a Bavarian pretzel and German knockworst and brawtwurst. However, there are also other travel options including a full service restaurant, bakery and sandwich shop, and ice cream shop.

 

  1. If you’re so inclined, the Biltmore Estate also features a winery in Antler Village.  There’s more information about the winery and Antler Village on their website.

 

Add-Ons to Your Visit to the Biltmore Estate

 

  1. Stay in the nearby city of Asheville which is full of quirky shops to explore and a plethora of restaurants to dine in. While in Asheville, check out:
  • Loft of Asheville – a quirky gift shop where you’ll find unique and hilarious items that you never even knew existed!
  • Perfect Gifts – another gift store full of fun products and cards for all occasions
  • Old Europe Pastries – a cafe featuring coffee and gourmet European pastries that taste as good as they look!
  • Rhubarb – a farm to table restaurant featuring a variety of small plates and larger dishes; reservations recommended
  • Pack’s Tavern – a modern tavern serving a wide variety of dishes – We enjoyed an amazing Thanksgiving buffet dinner there!

 

  1. Explore the shops in Biltmore Village. Located just outside the main gate of the estate, the village was designed by the same architects as the mansion and built as a place where estate workers could live with their families. It originally included rental cottages, a post office, shops, a school, a doctor’s office, and a church. Today, Biltmore Village features shops and restaurants for both tourists and locals to peruse.

 

  1. Visit the North Carolina Arboretum, and if you’re in the area during the holidays, experience their Winter Lights outdoor holiday light display!  See my blog post: “Christmas at the North Carolina Arboretum: Winter Lights!”.

 

Locations of the Biltmore Estate and Add-Ons:

 

  • The Biltmore Estate is located at 1 Lodge St. in Asheville.  Click on the map below for specific driving directions.
  • Loft of Asheville is located at 53 Broadway Street in Asheville.
  • Perfect Gifts is located at 8 Biltmore Ave in Asheville.
  • Old Europe Pastries is located at 13 Broadway Street in Asheville.
  • Pack’s Tavern is located at 20 South Spruce St in Asheville.
  • Rhubarb is located at 7 Southwest Pack Square in Asheville.
  • The North Carolina Arboretum is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way in Asheville.

 

 

 

 

Camden: The Jewel of the Maine Coast

Camden MaineCamden Maine is known by locals as the “Jewel of the Maine Coast”, and the adorable seaside town certainly lives up to its reputation. A walk along the historic 19th century downtown area is a shopper’s delight. Dozens of local stores and boutiques carry something for everyone, from gifts and home décor to toys and nautical goods. On our last trip, we got a head start on our holiday shopping by purchasing some distinctly Maine gifts.

 

If you’re a fan of outdoor activities, Camden is definitely the place for you!   A variety of boating companies will take you out of the harbor on a sightseeing trip or a day sail. If you’re more interested in hiking, Camden Camden MaineHills State Park, located just a few miles from downtown, has over 30 miles of trails (click here for trail info and a map), including one that winds its way up to the 800 foot summit of Mount Battle. Don’t feel like making the trek by foot? There’s also an option to drive your car to the top, for a small fee. In either case, don’t forget your camera to capture the sweeping views of Camden Harbor and Penobscot Bay. For all of you outdoorsy types, Camden Hills State Park also offers over a hundred different very private camping sites.  Click here for information or to make a reservation.

 

Camden is home to a wide variety of cafes and restaurants. My favorite place for breakfast is Marriner’s Restaurant, where you Camden Maineabsolutely must try the blueberry pancakes. If the weather is nice, be sure to sit outside on the deck, which has picture perfect views of the harbor. Claws Rockland MaineFor lunch or dinner, take a 15 minute drive to Claws in Rockland for the best lobster roll in the area. Claw is only open seasonally (late spring to early October) so be sure to call ahead or check their website. Order at the window, take a seat on the patio (which is heated and enclosed during inclement weather) and dig into what many consider to be the best lobster roll in Maine.  My mouth is watering just thinking about them!

 

Now that you’ve had the required Maine fare, how about another Maine treat? Owl Head Lighthouse MaineLocated only 25 minutes outside of Camden atop a peninsula that juts way out into Penobscot Bay, the 30 foot cylindrical tower known as Owls Head Lighthouse was built in 1825 (and rebuilt in 1852) as a navigational aid to ships going in and out of Rockland Harbor. A lighthouse keeper’s cottage was added in 1854, and it now Owl Head Lighthouse Maineserves as the headquarters for the American Lighthouse Foundation. Owls Head Lighthouse is also supposedly haunted by at least two ghosts. Locals refer to one spirit as the “Little Lady”, and she is most often seen in the kitchen or looking out a window. The other ghost on the premises is believed to be one of the former lighthouse keepers. Reports of mysterious footprints in the mud and snow, slamming doors, rattling silverware, ghostly apparitions, and human-sized indentations in beds have all been reported by staff and the family of former keepers. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to do any ghost hunting for yourself because neither the lighthouse nor the keeper’s cottage are open to the public since they are still in use.   However, visitors can still climb the wooden steps up to the lighthouse for the most incredible view of the harbor.

 

Other activities in the Camden area are Owls Head Transportation Museum, which features over 150 exhibits on antique aircraft, motorcycles, bicycles, and automobiles, and Barrett’s Cove, a hidden cove of Megunticook Lake that has a lovely designated swimming area. If you’re up for a short drive drive, Fort Knox (a huge 19th century fortification and the most popular historic attraction in Maine) and the adjacent Penobscot Narrows Observatory are are a great half day trip (about an hour from downtown Camden) that the entire family will enjoy.

 

Locations

For driving directions to Camden, click on the map below.

Camden Maine

Camden Hills State Park is located at 280 Belfast Rd in Camden, ME

Marriners Restaurant is located at 35 Main St in Camden, ME

Claws is located at 743 Main St. in Rockland, ME

Owl Head Lighthouse is located on Lighthouse Rd in Owls Head, ME

Owls Head Transportation Museum is located on Museum St. in Owls Head, ME

Barrett’s Cove is located at 104 Beaucaire Ave in Camden, ME

Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Observatory are located at 740 Fort Knox Rd in Prospect, ME

 

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Clue Live Boston! A Sleuth Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt

On a Friday night, we’re racing through the streets of Boston trying to gather evidence and interrogate witnesses to find out who killed Mr. Body in what room and with that weapon. Sound familiar? If you love mysteries or the game and movie Clue, then you’ll love Clue Live Boston: the Sleuth Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt!

 

My friends and I, who composed a team, had two hours to figure out clues to locations, around Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market in downtown Boston, where we could find and interrogate characters from the board game and movie Clue. By completing their challenges, they revealed critical information to help solve the whodunit. Working together was an absolute must and time was of the essence. After all, were competing against other teams to solve the mystery! We received bonus clues for taking pictures of legendary and lesser known landmarks, monuments, and statues. We were even can able to bribe Clue characters, to reveal additional information, and other teams, to see what they had learned!

 

Will it be Miss Scarlett in the kitchen with the wrench, or Professor Plumb in the conservatory with the revolver? Clue Live Boston is a fast-paced, family friendly, and utterly enjoyable evening in which you and your friends get to play detective and immerse yourself in the game and movie. Do you have what it takes to solve the mystery?

 

The Sleuth Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt (Clue Live Boston) is a production of Head First Events. To find out more information and purchase tickets, visit their website by clicking here.

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Things to Do in Tampa: The Henry Plant Victorian Hotel Museum

Henry Plant Museum

Minaret of the Henry Plant Museum

If you’re visiting Tampa, Florida, then you’re probably enjoying a vacation of fun in the sun. Did you know that people have been visiting Tampa for its wonderful tropical weather since the late 1800’s? You can see how these rich “high rollers” of the past spent their vacation days at a former opulent Victorian hotel that’s now a museum. And it’s right in the heart of downtown Tampa!  Visit the Henry Plant Museum.

 

From 1891 to 1932, Henry B. Plant, a railroad and steamship millionaire, operated a grand hotel for the rich in the new, rustic resort known as Tampa. Today, the former hotel is the Henry Plant Museum, where you can explore what it was like to stay at this sumptuous, state-of-the-art resort.  Henry Plant spent $2.5 million dollars to build the hotel and then traveled through Europe to collect $500,000 worth of furniture, antiques, and collectables to decorate it.  His hotel was the lap of luxury and featured splendors that were almost unknown at the time, including electricity, telephones, and private bathrooms in each room!  Visit a recreated suite and learn how guests were pampered and waited on hand and foot.  Wander through room after room of fascinating artifacts and displays about how visitors were lavishly entertained (by celebrities!), wined, and dined.  If you love Downtown Abbey, you’ll be in heaven at this hotel museum!

 

Henry Plant MuseumWhen you’re finished exploring the Henry Plant Museum, you can wander through the remainder of the hotel, which is now used by the University of Tampa as an administration building.  Don’t forget to take pictures of the glistening, metallic minarets and sweeping, exquisitely carved verandas. Sit for a spell, close your eyes, and imagine yourself as a Victorian gentleman or lady enjoying your tropical vacation. Now that’s the life!

 

Getting hungry? How about some Cuban food?   La Bamba is a Cuban restaurant frequented and beloved by locals. The food is as good and plentiful as eating in your Henry Plant Museumabuela’s kitchen. Don’t be put off by the exterior, which makes the restaurant appear to be an office building.   Grab a tray, get in line at the cafeteria-style kitchen, and allow the staff to explain to you the variety of meals available that day. Your taste buds will be as happy as your wallet, because meals are only $7.00!  Just be aware that his hidden gem is only open for breakfast and lunch (closing at 3:00), so fit it into your plans accordingly. You won’t be disappointed!

 

If you’d like to make a day out of your time in Tampa, I suggest visiting the 56-acre Lowry Park Zoo. In 2009, it was voted as the #1 family zoo in America by the readers of USA Today!   The zoo is divided into “park areas” including, but not limited to, Wallaroo Station, Safari Africa, primate world, Asian gardens, and the Florida wildlife center. There are also rides for kids and animal shows. My favorite part is feeding the giraffes!

 

Locations

 

The Henry B. Plant Museum is located at 401 West Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, Florida. It’s located on the grounds of the University of Tampa. Free parking is available in the adjacent admissions lot (ask for a parking pass inside the museum).  Click on the map for directions.

La Bamba Restaurant is located at 4815 West Laurel Street in Tampa.  Click on the map for directions.

The Lowry Park Zoo is located at 1101 West Sligh Avenue in Tampa.  Click on the map for directions.

 

What to do in Tampa Florida

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