Andi’s Smoky Mountain/Mid-Atlantic Whirlwind Tour

October 7-12, 2012 

For this trip it was very true what they say: “So much to do, so little time”. Here are a few thoughts on these beautiful, historic and fun places our clients can visit right here in the good ole U.S.A!

Asheville, NC:

After departing Indy at 5:30AM I arrived into Asheville around 2:30PM, and checked into the Quality Inn Biltmore East (Exit 55 off of US 70 E). A modest hotel located about ½ mile from the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. I did not visit The Cove on this trip. Perhaps next time J

After unloading the car and getting everything settled, I was off to tour The Biltmore Estate located at Exit 50. It was about a 10 minute drive to the estate where I picked up my entrance ticket, and was happily ensconced in the lifestyle of the “Gilded Age” by 3:30 PM . Make note it is an 8 minute walk from the parking area to the estate. No I did not time it, there are posted signs saying as much.  There are complimentary shuttles but I did not wait around for one because the house closed at 4:30 and I was a bit pressed for time (a theme soon to be realized for the entire trip!). So, as I walked up a slight incline and the estate finally came into view my first, and I realized my only, thought was WOW!!!!!!!! There really are no words for the grandeur of Biltmore Estate. A short stop for those “Kodak moments” and I reverently approached the entrance for my first glimpse into a world I was briefly privileged to be a part of.

The ticket prices range from $44.00 to $64.00 per adult and $22.00 to $32.00 per child (age 10-16 years). Children 9 years and younger may enter for free. The costs vary depending on advance purchase and day of the week (Saturday is more expensive). Admittedly, a hefty price tag to tour the estate and grounds, but your admission includes the following:

         Your estate admission includes:
• Self-guided visit of Biltmore House
• Access to our gardens and Antler Hill Village
• Access to our new Legacy exhibition,
  The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad
• Free wine tasting and guided tour at the Winery
• Plenty of dining and shopping opportunities
• Free parking    

Something I found of interest as I was touring the house: in a particular video presentation by the current owner of the estate (the grandson of Cornelia Vanderbilt) he does mention the cost to tour the estate. He advises they do not keep the house open in order to make money; they make money in order to keep the house open. It just made me realize the family is aware of the hefty price tag, but also recognizes it is what is required in order to maintain and preserve the house as a part of history. Good for them!

If you do have the time, and welcoming weather conditions (neither of which I had….) it is very easy to spend the entire day enjoying the house, gardens, Antler Village, the winery and the surrounding grounds, making the most of your entrance fee. Pets are allowed on the grounds, but not in the house. I did see many people hiking with their dogs, as well as strolling through the gardens. Of special note, I also saw 3 world famous Smoky Mountain black bears (a mama and two babies…..awwwww) as I was driving off of the estate grounds, so if you are going to be doing some hiking on the grounds I would make note of that! 

Back to the hotel, a quick walk with Snicks, dinner for us both, and it was time to hit the sack. I had an early wake up call for our drive to Charleston, SC the next morning.

Charleston, SC:

Up before the sun, I enjoyed the included breakfast buffet at the Quality Inn Biltmore East. It was surprisingly good. The buffet offered Hot and Cold selections including, biscuits and gravy, which I opted for. It was tasty and got my day off to a great start for the long drive to Charleston.

After a long, but beautiful and relaxing drive (until about 1 hour outside of Charleston…don’t ask!) I finally arrived at my hotel du jour: A Sleep Inn. Sleep Inns are on the extreme budget end of Choice Hotels. The hotel was fine for 1 night, the staff was very nice and helpful, but it’s a Sleep Inn. The room was okay, but did have the industrial smell of an overpowering room deodorizer, that made you wonder if the smell it was trying to mask would be better or worse than the deodorizer itself! But, as I said it was only for 1 night. Hey, if I can spend the night with a 3 inch spider in Nepal a little overpowering room deodorizer is NOT going to put me off!

As usual I was burning daylight, so once I got the car unpacked and Snicks all settled in, it was off to tour Fort Sumter and do an unscheduled site inspection of the Charleston Place Hotel, an Orient Express Hotel.

I finally found my way to the waterfront (with a huge sense of relief!) where I boarded the boat out to Fort Sumter. I chose to tour Fort Sumter with Spirit Cruises. I thought the tour was GREAT! I would highly recommend it. You board the boat at Aquarium Wharf in Charleston, and it takes 30 minutes to travel out to the Fort. It is a fully narrated trip, and highlights several aspects of Charleston’s History, as well as bringing you up to speed on the timeline of the war and Ft. Sumter’s importance. For a history buff, I appreciated this very much. Ticket Prices for the tour are as follows:

Adults: $18.00; Seniors: $16.00; Children (4-11): $11.00; Infants (3 and Under): Free

Once at the fort, I was surprised by how small it is. I’m always surprised by how small American Forts are. For what they defended against, it always seems to me they should be so much bigger! We were so fortunate to have (in my humble opinion) the worlds greatest Park Ranger to explain the history of Fort Sumter. He was AWESOME…Funny, knowledgeable, and able to hold the interest of a large group of people! We all know how a great tour escort can make or break a trip, right? Well the same thing goes for the local tour guides, park rangers and others who bring history and cities alive for us. He certainly made Fort Sumter come alive for me.

 Andi’s trip continues:

Charleston, SC and Kiawah Island, SC:

Well, I’m pleased to report Scarlett was right, tomorrow was another day, and (as it turned out) it was also the day I fell in love with Charleston. The day could not have started out any better. First of all the weather was MUCH more cooperative today, more sun and warmer temperatures. I had a breakfast invitation from a local Bed and Breakfast owner. She regaled us with stories of her family, growing up in Charleston and the history of the city and surrounding areas. She is the consummate hostess, with the skill to include all of her guests at the table in the conversation. A most enjoyable couple of hours.

I would say Randi is the most valuable asset of Cabell House. Although not inexpensive, on average rooms run about $275.00 per night, I consider Cabell House a moderate B and B. It is well located about 1 block from Battery Park with its’ sweeping views of the harbor, but there are other B and B’s I would recommend. 

After my delicious breakfast at Cabell House, it was time for my carriage ride around the city, another delightful experience. Of interesting note here, all of the carriage tour vendors must stop at the park rangers booth for their route through the city for each tour they provide (they are heavily fined if they deviate from their given route!) Therefore, neither the carriage driver nor you can choose the route your tour will take. At first the control freak in me wasn’t too sure I liked that way of doing things, but truth be told there really isn’t a bad route through the city. No matter which way you go you’ll learn interesting history and see pretty gardens and beautiful architechure. So, tell your inner control freak to relax, it’s all good.

I choose Old South Carriage Tours. They have a very professional website: www.oldsouthcarriagetours.com AND (important to an animal lover) they have exceptional treatment for their horses.

No reservations necessary. Tours leave approximately every 15–20 minutes (20–30 minutes EST) throughout the day on a first-come, first-served basis.

Rates for One-Hour Residential Tour: 
Adultovs – $22; Children (ages 3–11) – $15; Infants (2 and under) – Free

I LOVED them! Again, I had a great carriage driver/guide who really made the history and city come alive for me. This tour was a great way for me to end my stay in Charleston.

With a new appreciation for Charleston firmly implanted in my mind, it’s now off to Kiawah Island, a short drive from the city. I was very curious about Kiawah, because I’ve known about it for years, but I’ve never fully understood what all the fuss was about. Well….I learned what all of the fuss is about: It’s gorgeous, exclusive without being stuffy, and the beach and ocean are an absolute balm for the frazzled 21st century soul. I love, Love, LOVE Kiawah. I didn’t want to leave, and I can’t wait to go back!

I stayed in the Villas which are managed by the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island. I couldn’t stay at The Sanctuary because they are not pet friendly, but some of the Villas are, so it worked out well. I stayed in the Villas, and scheduled a wonderful site inspection of The Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island:

Let me just say, The Sanctuary is gorgeous! It is a Virtuoso property, and beyond lovely. The key here (for me) is to put the extra expense into a beachfront accommodation. The view is so beautiful, it’s worth the added expense! For a luxury resort, it is very family friendly as well. I would highly recommend it for couples, golfers, families and business. It handles all of those business types quite well.

Our Villa:

Note: The Villas are all privately owned. The Sanctuary merely manages and reps them for the owners. Therefore, all décor varies according to owner.

After my site inspection of The Sanctuary at Kiawah, this was my night to relax and enjoy the “island life”. Snicks and I got all settled into our lovely Villa, and keeping a constant vigil for alligators, as I had been warned they are “all over” the island, we headed off to the beach for Snickies first experience with sand and the ocean. He LOVED the beach and reveled in all the new sights and smells. He had to investigate every stranded starfish, and avoid every wave to the best of his ability. For as much as he loved the beach, he disliked the ocean waves. What can I say Jules, he’ll never be a “waterbaby” like Harley.

The Beach:

One of the coolest things about Kiawah is the relaxed, friendly nature of the resort staff and all of the guests I encountered. I guess once you slow yourself down from life’s crazy pace you remember your civility and everyone would greet each other with smiles and an actual sincere “hello, how are you doing”. People would actually stop and speak with you on the beach. Perfect strangers! It was out of this world lovely! I wish people would be like that everyday!

Kiawah Island, SC to OceanIsle, NC:

Well, I confess, I lingered over breakfast AND lunch, in order to stay in the Villa as long as possible. I really, REALLY did not want to leave! Snicks and I did another 2 mile + walk on the beach and then unfortunately had to say goodbye to Kiawah. But, the great news is we’re finally on our way to visit “Aunt” Shirley in Oceanisle, NC!

The sun was out, so it was another beautiful day in the Low Country. On the way to Shirley’s, I stopped off at Boone Hall Plantation. It’s the longest continually running plantation in the U.S. It was a very nice visit. I would recommend it to ANYONE.

 ADMISSION RATES

Adults …………………………$20.00

Children (6-12) ………………$10.00
Children 5 and under are Free

Senior Citizens 65+/Military/AAA Members – $18.00

Continuing on the way, I passed through Myrtle Beach. From what I saw they have a lot of hotels and a lot of touristy things to keep people busy. I was fine just driving through it J

Snicks and I finally arrived to Shirley’s around 7PM. It was much later than I had hoped, but I was very happy to be there to see Shirley and tour Oceanisle, the place she now calls home. It’s an absolutely beautiful little community. It’s much less touristy than Myrtle Beach (a plus in my book!), with great vacation homes for rent. It would be great for families not wanting to spend the money to stay somewhere like Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head.  Again, it’s a very quiet community without all of the bells and whistles of Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, but the quietness of it appealed to me very much.

Oceanisle Beach, NC:

Oceanisle, NC to Gatlinburg, TN: 

A long, Long, LONG day. Snicks and I lingered over leaving Shirley. Again, we didn’t want to go, but we finally had to get on the road to Gatlinburg, TN. This was a power driving day! No time for dilly-dallying.

Gatlinburg, TN to Indianapolis, IN:

After visiting all of my favorite haunts in Gatlinburg, and purchasing some delicious fudge and salt water taffy it was on the road again to home sweet home. It was another long day, and Snicks and I were happy to get home, but all in all it was great trip. I learned a lot and now have 4 new places to recommend to clients: Asheville, NC, Charleston, SC, Kiawah Island, SC and Oceanisle, NC. Any of them are great vacation destinations!

Thanks for the memories J