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You Can See Dolphins and Explore a Vanishing Island in Hilton Head

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If you love dolphins and nature and are planning a trip to Hilton Head Island, exploring the salt marshes and trying to find dolphins with Island Explorer is the way to go. This story reviews three of Island Explorer’s dolphin cruises out of Hilton Head. Some of those trips were granted as media tickets so we could tell our readers all about these neat experiences. All opinions here are our own.

Find a place to stay in Hilton Head. This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

The other passengers in our boat all gasped when we caught sight of the first dolphin off of Hilton Head Island on the gorgeous South Carolina coast. Growing up with a love of dolphins, I was right with them, grabbing my camera to capture the beautiful creatures in their natural environment.

My two young kids and I were guests of Island Explorer, led by Captain Jim, who was the very first person to open a water sports company on the island 20 years ago. He started Island Explorer with just a raft and a love of showing visitors the vast diversity of ocean life right off the dock in the salt marshes.

The boat we were on was custom made – Island Explorer has three of them – that was designed for comfort and maximum viewing capabilities of dolphins. It also conforms to US Coast certifications and fits up to 12 passengers. The summer is the company’s busiest time of year for obvious reasons, although they operate from March through Thanksgiving.

Island Explorer dolphin cruise boats Hilton Head Island

Let’s See Some Dolphins

The first time we did a tour with Island Explorer, we enjoyed the one-hour tour of the salt marsh, which Jim describes as a “nursery for ocean life.” I immediately understood this as I had taken my young daughters the evening before to a boardwalk overlooking another salt marsh where fishermen were only catching baby black tip sharks (and throwing them back). Captain Jim described this fertile environment as perfect for the smaller sea life just trying to make their way.

The cool thing is that the tours often take guests during low tide because it’s the best chance to see dolphins – for the reason that the fish have less places to hide from the dolphins and it’s prime feeding time. I love nerdy information like that. 

As we watched the dolphins swim close to the boat, I wondered if Island Explorer has ever taken guests out and not seen dolphins. Nope. They always see them, to the delight of everyone on board.

Another cool thing I loved was that the boat allows guests to bring snacks and drinks. If you have young kids, snacks are essential. They are probably more important than water. My kids were loving an extended snack time plus dolphin watching. Big win.

Dolphin in the water at Hilton Head

Vanishing Island Tour

I had my eye on this tour for over a year so when I had the chance the go, there was no hesitation. The Vanishing Island tour with Island Explorer is a three-hour expedition that takes guests to an island that is only visible during low tide where they can hunt for sand dollars and cool shells.

Vanishing Island is just past Hilton Head Island and Daufuskie Island, the last island in South Carolina, and is a wide expanse of sand. You can only get there by boat but when it’s high tide, it disappears. It feels like you’re out in the ocean walking on water! Because of the currents and tides, sand dollars are aplenty here, much more so than you’ll ever find on the beach. Island Explorer gives you a bag when you board the boat so you can grab as many interesting items from the island as you like.

We found tons of beautiful sand dollars and pretty shells. My kids were in heaven.  We were able to spend over an hour on the island and wandering to other parts of the island through shallow waters. It was a unique experience.

Child walking on the beach at Hilton Head Island

Since the tour goes through the same salt marshes as the other dolphin tours, you get to see dolphins! We got really lucky and saw them doing a unique feeding behavior where they splash their tails really hard in the water to stun the fish and then gobble them up. I only heard about this but had never seen it. I really love dolphins and seeing them in the wild doing their cool things was amazing.

Bring plenty of sunscreen and water since it’s really hot and the summer sun is relentless.

Sunset Dolphin Cruise

The last trip I did with Island Explorer was actually with co-workers – so no kids aboard this time. We had a lot of fun! The trip goes out in the early evening on Broad Creek with plenty of time for dolphin sightseeing and viewing the sunset over the sound.

Guests are welcome to bring aboard snacks and adult beverages if they like. For our sunset cruise, the sky was overcast and far away near the horizon we could see clouds start to gather as we started out of the creek area and past the oyster beds. But our captain was in control and happy to slow the boat down when we spotted our first dolphin near one of the oyster beds, which he told us plenty of information about. He fielded all our questions with ease as he guided the boat out to the waters surrounding Daufuskie Island.

Dolphin in water near a boat

I really want to go to that island, like badly. I was trying to convince him to drop me off for a bit. I wasn’t successful (maybe next time!). Our captain spotted a pod of dolphins near the island and we headed in that direction, which also happened to be in the direction of storm clouds that looked like the alien spaceships of the movie Independence Day. It was pretty cool I have to say. Scary, but neat.

No worries though as our captain was watching the radar – and the dolphins – and checking in with the other boats out in the same area. We decided to turn back at this point for safety and I figured our chances of actually seeing the sunset were pretty slim. I was wrong.

Somehow the dark clouds never reached us. In fact, they parted just enough so we could see the brilliant reds and oranges of the setting sun. It was spectacular. The beauty of the sunset over Broad Creek was stunning. We spotted a few more dolphins on our way back to the dock and really didn’t want to leave.

Sunset over water at Broad Creek.

This cruise was fantastic. One of the better parts of it was that the sun wasn’t beating down on you since it’s much later in the day. It’s a relaxed, but very enjoyable adventure. Kids are welcome on this cruise but if you’d like a date night while on the island, this is the way to go. Sunset cruises are $45/person.

COVID Policies

Due to COVID, Island Explorer is only taking out private charters on their boats. There is a minimum of six guests and a maximum of 12 guests per boat.

Trips

Island Explorer has several trips you can choose from to watch dolphins and explore nature.

The one-hour dolphin tour is a great introduction to the dolphins and the salt marsh environment, especially if you’ve never done this before. The boat stays nearby in Broad Creek and is perfect for smaller kids with short attention spans. They do love the dolphins, though, but an hour is the perfect time for them to enjoy the boat and see the cool animals. These tours are $25/person and run May through September.

The two-hour tour takes guests through Broad Creek and to Calibogue Sound, where there are more opportunities see even more dolphins and explore the Lowcountry’s natural beauty. For the two-hour tour, it is $45/person.

The Vanishing Island three-hour tour is $65/person.

Ready to See Dolphins?

Book a tour now for your Lowcountry trip because summer is the busy season for Island Explorer. The company has won multiple travel awards for their exceptional experiences for guests, and ours was no different. They are top-notch operation and I would choose them again in a heartbeat!

Island Explorer
101 Marshland Road
Hilton Head Island, SC 29926
843.785.2100
book@dolphintourshiltonhead.com
https://www.dolphintourshiltonhead.com

Would your kids love to see some dolphins on your next beach trip?

Adventure Awaits at Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, NC

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Are you looking for a magical, holiday weekend trip just under two hours from Greenville? Great Wolf Lodge in Concord should be at the top of your list. It’s an easy drive from Greenville, it’s a great destination for families with all ages from toddlers to teenagers, and your stay includes an indoor waterpark that’s nice and warm even in the winter. The lodge is packed full of activities for making family memories.

Thank you to Great Wolf Lodge for hosting Kidding Around. Note: Prices and information are included for your convenience but may change. Please check the Great Wolf Lodge website or call before making plans. 

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Mom Review: Dance Without Limits | A Unique Dance Studio in Greer

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One of the best parts of my week is walking into Dance Without Limits for my five year-old daughter’s Twinkle Stars dance class. It is such a joy to see her genuinely happy face and bright eyes, ready to learn. She loves her teacher, Beth Bradley (also known as Miss Beth) who owns Dance Without Limits, and she loves her friends in the class. In fact, each child in my daughter’s class walks in with a grin on her face and a happy shout of greeting. It’s a delight for this mama’s heart.

Thank you to Dance Without Limits for sponsoring Kidding Around.

What Makes Dance Without Limits Unique?

My daughter has always loved to dance and told us pretty much since she could talk that’s she’s going to be a “dancer or a singer on a stage.” Two years ago I signed her up for a dance class at a different studio, and I was pretty surprised after about 6 weeks of class when she put her foot down and adamantly refused to go again. For several weeks we went and she refused to enter the classroom. She told me it wasn’t fun. I couldn’t see the class at that studio, I didn’t know what the problem was, and we stopped going. But she didn’t stop wanting to dance. When she started asking to take dance again this past summer I knew we’d have to find a different studio, somewhere she’d be comfortable, with high quality instruction, but that would still be a lot of fun. I can confidently tell you after one year of classes at Dance Without Limits, that we have found all those things.

Owner Beth Bradley started her own studio because she saw a need for a dance studio with a unique culture. Dance Without Limits operates with several key values including: Dance is for everyone, Every child has worth, Hard work is worth it, Winning isn’t everything, Family first and Let kids be kids.

Every Child Has Worth

Beth grew up in a large family, one that adopted many children with unique and special needs. So when she says “dance is for everyone” and “every child has worth” those words are seeded deeply, coming from a lifetime of experience. Beth says, “I firmly believe that every child is worth our time, talent, attention and our best, whether they will be professional dancers one day, or will quit after their first season.” You can read more about Beth and the Dance Without Limits culture of “Dance is for Everyone” in her blog post.

Let Kids be Kids

Another Dance Without Limits value that sets them apart is “Let Kids be Kids.” They are committed to age appropriate music, costumes and choreography. Dance Without Limits has also chosen not to participate in competitions. Beth notes that while there are benefits to competitions, such an environment can promote “unhealthy expectations and undue pressure to be the best.” She says, “I would rather have a studio that welcomes ALL dancers, provides them with excellent training and other performance opportunities, and allows them to just be kids.”

More Than Words

The studio culture at Dance Without Limits is everything they claim it to be. You’ll be greeted with a smile and a cheerful hello into a bright and welcoming waiting area. This is not a boring waiting area, families are served here. There are many toys, a train table and soft carpet for accompanying siblings to be entertained, making a weekly trip to the dance studio so much easier for parents with younger children in tow. Parents can watch their child’s class through a window in the waiting room so they can see the class without disrupting it. There’s also coffee and tea for the grown-ups. They really have thought of everything.

Classes and More

Dance Without Limits offers classes for children as young as 18 months. Their preschool programs include a Mommy and Me class for kids 18 to 24 months, as well as ballet and tap combination classes for kids up to 5 years-old, divided by age. These classes are Twinkle Babies for kids 2-3 years-old and another for kids 3-4 years old and then a Twinkle Stars class for kids 4-5 years old. Their preschool acro program is called Tumble Bugs and there is one for children ages 2 -3 and another for ages 4 -5. The school age program includes various ballet, tap, lyrical, acrobatics and hip hop classes. Dance Without Limits offers a specific Limitless Friends class for children with special needs, but also encourages students with disabilities to take their typical classes as well. Classes culminate in a recital at the end of each semester.

Summer Camps

Over the summer, Dance Without Limits offers some fun half-day summer camp opportunities for kids ranging from ages 3 to 10. Stay tuned for the summer camp themes for 2020!

Out of the mouths of babes

I asked my daughter what she thought other people should know about her dance class. She said, “Miss Beth is a very good teacher for me. She is always happy to see us and fun. I know she would be a good teacher for everybody, too.”

The details

Dance Without Limits 
115 Pelham Road Ste. 24
Greenville
864.412.7788

What is your child’s favorite style of dance?

Do Your Kids Want an Adventure this Summer? Check Out the Summer Adventure Club at Primrose!

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Thank you to Primrose School of Simpsonville in Five Forks for sponsoring this content.

Summer learning loss is a real thing, not just something we threaten our kids with if they sit around all summer and play video games. That downtime between school years should definitely be fun and relaxing, but making an effort to continue the learning cycle is key to a child’s success.

The summer camps at the Primrose School of Simpsonville in Five Forks have plenty of options to fit any child’s interest, keep their attention, create wonderful memories, and even sneak in a little STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics).

Geared specifically towards children ages 5-12, the summer camps at Primrose School of Simpsonville at Five Forks, children become engineers, artists, explorers and more as they discover the joys of design thinking, a fun and innovative way to learn. Engineering design challenges, experiments and themed activities await as children unlock new ways of thinking—all while having a blast! Ready for the best summer yet?

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5 Destinations that make a Perfect Day Trip for Couples

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In this busy world in it is important for couples to spend quality time together, without the kids. And when a date night just won’t cut it, a day trip may be exactly what the doctor ordered. Local mom Anna put together this list of places perfect for any couple to escape to when they need to reconnect. Whether you want to head north to the mountains or south to the water this list has something for you!

Want to venture a little further from home? Visit our travel page – it is loaded with inspiration!

Now that school’s in session, how about some parent time for mom and dad? In this list, we attempted to put together some destinations outside of Greenville but only about a 2 hour drive or so. Consider this a start of a new tradition in your household and a chance to spend some quality time with your significant other. Although this requires some advanced planning such as booking a babysitter ahead or coordinating afterschool pick-ups, once you have it all lined up, it will truly be worth it. We believe parents deserve some kind of pampering and fun on their own. We’re pretty sure once you get started, you can come up with your own. Do share with us, if you find some good ones!

Romantic Asheville

A mountain city, Asheville is teeming with activities for day-trippers filled with glorious views of the Blue Ridge Mountain. Our favorite of course is the Biltmore Estate which has restaurants and cafes on site as you take a break from viewing the vast property. We recommend dining at the stables, moderately priced and everything they serve is sourced from the farms within the property. Try to arrive by 10 am so you have enough time for lunch and start heading back by 4 pm in time for dinner with the kiddies.

Our second choice for Asheville is the The Omni Grove Park Inn. A historic resort built in 1913, the hotel was designed in the Arts and Crafts tradition by Edwin Wiley Grove, a pharmaceutical manufacturer and his son-in-law Fred Seely. The hotel was resold in 1955, but most of the original design has been retained. It boasts one of the grandest lobbies we’ve seen next to the Biltmore mansion flanked by the biggest 12-foot fireplaces. Scattered all around the lobby is a sampling of authentic and inspired mission furniture.  Stunning views can be soaked in at the in the beautiful views without having to pay the steep room prices. For a fancy lunch, book a date at the Sunset Terrace or admire the same views from the more casual, dine at the Great Hall Bar. For something to do, in addition to exploring the resort property, we highly recommend either an afternoon at their luxurious top-rated spa or visiting the Grovewood Village. Here you will find probably the one of the best Antique Car Museums in our part of the country, see the Biltmore Homespun Museum, walk thru the sculpture garden and shop for special souvenirs at the Gallery of the Mountains.

Biltmore Estate Asheville NC daytrip

Biltmore Estate
One Lodge Street, Asheville, NC
Click on this link for hours and directions.
800.411.3812

The Omni Grove Park Inn
290 Macon Ave, Asheville, NC
800.438.5000

Lake Murray in Chapin

If you love being close to the water but can’t do the long drive to the coast,  Lake Murray, a water reservoir with about 500 miles of shoreline, is a great easy escape. Walk across Lake Murray Dam, rent a motorboat to explore the waterways, go fishing or hit the beach on the Lexington side. Feeling romantic, visit the Love Lock Bridge, clip a padlock to the fence and proclaim your undying love by throwing away the key. Paris may have lost their love lock bridge in Pont des Arts due to tough love by local police, but for now, Lake Murray remains a haven for romantics. Suggested places for lake side dining: Rusty Anchor Restaurant for some great seafood and surf and turf combinations, Frayed Knot Bar & Grill for more dining options and finally Liberty Tap Room on the lake for some pizzas and light brews. Before you go, or for more information on Lake Murray Public Park, please call 888.383.5032.

Lake Murray, Lexington side
1797 North Lake Drive Lexington
Monday – Friday, 11 am – 7 pm
Saturday, Sunday & Holidays, 10 am – 8 pm
Click here for more info.

Vineyards tour in Yadkin Valley

A trip to Raffaldini Vineyards will transport you to the Italian countryside and a great early foray into the Yadkin Valley wine trail. One could easily design a weekend escape around this destination with the numerous vineyards around the valley. Tour their estate grounds and learn about how they use Appasimento, an Italian method for incorporating dehydrated grapes into wine. As for dining, we highly recommend packing a lunch that pairs well with wine or grab some light sandwiches and nibbles from their commissary. Guided walking tours of the vineyard are held Wednesdays through Sundays at 1pm and 4pm. Price for tours is $5 a person so plan accordingly. Wine tastings are $12 per person (plus tax) and include a taste of each of their wines along with a commemorative Riedel wine glass. Note that they are closed on Tuesdays. For more information on the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail, click here.

Raffaldini Vineyards
450 Groce Road, Ronda, NC
Monday, Wednesday – Saturday, 11 am – 5 pm
Sunday 12 pm – 5 pm
Closed Tuesdays
336.835.9463

Nature Day Trip: Congaree National Park

The perfect day trip for more adventure driven couples, Congaree National Forest, is a perfect Fall hike since it will be less buggy and the weather will be cooler. South Carolina’s very own National Park, the Congaree National Park is filled with such unique natural wonders that we are so glad it received its official designation in 2003. The park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States! Allot a half-day or full day to explore the forest. Make sure to bring your camera, lots of water, bug spray and wander through dramatic marshland with a self-guided boardwalk tour. Be on the lookout for the unique Bald Cypress trees and their knobby “knees” scattered throughout the forest. If you are an avid kayaker, this would be the place, just make sure call ahead to check water conditions and mosquito meter! Bring your own or rent canoes and kayaks in the Columbia area. Picnics are the order of the day for this trip, but there are also lots of local BBQ places around the park if you get hungry.

Congaree National Forest daytrip for couples

Congaree National Park
100 National Park Road, Hopkins
Congaree National Park is open 24 hours a day year round. The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is open 7 days a week, 9 am – 5 pm.
803.776.4396
Click on this link for more details on how to visit the park.

For Foodie and History Buffs: Athens, Georgia

Athens is a college town steeped in history with a vibrant contemporary music and restaurant scene. Our favorite restaurants to try are the high-end National, hearty brunch at Mama’s Boy or a eat by the tracks and have some good ol’ BBQ at Pulaski Heights BBQ. Athens has a great vegetarian restaurant called The Grit. For things to do, Athens is the gateway to Georgia’s Antebellum Trail and you will have lots of options to view house museums, heritage sites and historical districts. Your first stop should be to get a map at the Athens Georgia Welcome Center located in the Church-Waddel-Brumby House Museum. If you can get away for a weekend, enjoy some live music at Georgia Theater, 40 Watt or at the Furnace. Athens is also known as the place that launched the careers of R.E.M. and the B-52’s, but we’re pretty sure you already knew that!

Athens Georgia Welcome Center
280 E Dougherty Street, Athens, GA
Monday – Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm
706.353.1820

Do you have a day trip idea to add to our list?

Shannon Forest Christian School Provides an Exceptional Education and Much More

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Choosing how to educate your child involves making important decisions, often early on in their life when parenting is still pretty new. The Greenville area has many wonderful schools, which is great – but it can also be overwhelming. I’ve talked to tons of parents in the area about their recommendations for schools and one always, always tops the list: Shannon Forest Christian School (SFCS).

Thank you to Shannon Forest Christian School for supporting Kidding Around Greenville by sponsoring this website post.

The parents I’ve spoken with about Shannon Forest get fairly animated when they discuss the school. They love it. Like really love it. SFCS has wonderful academics, athletics, and the encouraging atmosphere of a Christian education experience. Parents specifically mention the teachers and the Transitional Kindergarten program has two of the highlights.

So here is why Shannon Forest may be a great fit for your family.

Shannon Forest Christian School

Academic Environment

SFCS offers Shannon Beginnings for K3 and K4, in both full and half day options for the smaller ones. The program helps to prepare young children for an easy transition to Kindergarten which includes lots of guided play and nurturing care from loving teachers.

If some children are not ready for Kindergarten, Shannon Forest offers a unique Transitional Kindergarten Program. The Lower School includes Kindergarten 5 through 5th Grade.  Students also enjoy time in the Innovations STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Lab.

Middle school is tough and can be a hard transition for some students. SFCS conducts a specially designed Crusader Crossroads program to ease students through this big step, plus classes, study sessions and one-on-one tutoring options are targeted at student success.

The Upper School at SFCS encompasses students in 7th-12th Grade and focuses on Math, Science, History and English. Several Advanced Placement (AP) courses like English, Calculus, U.S. History, European Biology, Music Theory and Biology are available for qualified students. The SFCS Director of College Counseling assists students and their families as they apply for college and explore career options.

Athletics and The Arts

On the athletic field, students in 6th through 12th Grade are able to participate in a variety of sports teams including soccer, volleyball, cross country, basketball, cheerleading, soccer, golf, baseball, and track & field.

The school has no shortage of creative outlets for the students. SFCS offers Foreign Language, Drama, Choir, Yearbook and Visual Arts. They also perform concerts and theatrical productions for the school and community.

Christ-Centered Values

Shannon Forest is unapologetic about its worldview; it is distinctly Christian and rooted in discipleship. Every member of the faculty and staff understands that their vocation as teachers is to teach in a way that is Christ-centered, academically excellent, and designed to move students into higher categorical thinking. They also understand that teaching is discipleship by its very nature. Family, love, and truth are at the heart of what every student and family experiences on the Shannon Forest campus.

SFCS develops these role models by requiring a certain number of service hours from each student where they are able to demonstrate their Christian faith and values in the real world.

The Vision of the school is “Educating and equipping students to pursue excellence and impact the world for Jesus Christ.” The mission is similar: “We are a Christian community providing a comprehensive college-preparatory education rooted in the truth of a Biblical worldview and marked by wisdom, excellence, and purpose.”

Shannon Forest 50th anniversary

Fall Fest

Shannon Forest is celebrating their 50th year and are inviting anyone and everyone to their big Fall Fest on Thursday, October 25th from 5 pm – 8:50 pm. A BBQ dinner will be available for purchase but lots of free activities are happening as well, like Children’s Activities, swing dancing, music including a performance by Brandon and The Books, and special guest, Pastor Clayton King.

To purchase the dinner, visit the Shannon Forest website. To schedule a tour of the school, email or call the Director of Admissions, Candace Kurtz at ckurtz@shannonforest.com or call 864.678.5113.

Plan a visit to Shannon Forest

Shannon Forest Christian School
829 Garlington Road, Greenville
864.678.5107

Would Shannon Forest Christian School be a good fit for your child?

Plan the Ultimate Greenville Staycation this Summer

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This summer seems to have flown by faster than any other, and with only a few weeks left before school, you might want to plan a vacation. Stumped on where to go? Look no further than your own city. We’ll give you lots of ideas on what to do and where to stay so you can create your very own perfect staycation!

Right here in Greenville are some exciting places to stay in town, and complete a day trip that will make this summer stand out from all the others. The hotels and suites around town and the surrounding areas with all of the lakes, parks, and amusement activities will make you feel like a tourist in your own town. So why travel when you can vacation in Greenville?

staycation in Greenville

Start with the perfect hotel

While there are tons of hotels to pick from in Greenville, we’re highlighting a few in different parts of town.

Embassy Suites on Verdae or Downtown on the Reedy both offer free hot buffet breakfast, happy hour, and indoor pools. Book Verdae or Downtown.

Off of Pelham Road, hotels on The Parkway and Beacon Drive are close to restaurants and the Interstate! Choose from The Marriott on the ParkwayHome2U Suites or Fairfield Inn and Suites.

In the middle of all the action, along Woodruff Road, options include Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn.

And to book the Westin Poinsett in smack dab Downtown Greenville, click here.

Plan your day

Whether you stay in town or drive for about an hour, here are some ways to make your stay-cation the best.

Carowinds in Charlotte, NC

Carowinds

In Charlotte, only about an hour and a half away, Carowinds is an amusement park with tons of roller coasters, attractions, and rides for all ages! Purchase tickets here. Find out why KAG Contributor Jennifer’s family loves Carowinds so much!

Discovery Island Water Park

In Greenville, this awesome water park is barely a drive away! For all ages, tickets can be purchased at the gate, and season passes are available here. Also, be sure to read our review of Discovery Island.

Bike the Swamp Rabbit Trail

If you don’t have your own bike, Reedy Rides bike rentals is affordable and reliable for renting bikes by the half day, day, weekend, or full week! Right off Main Street Downtown, Reedy Rides is close to the trail and hotels and restaurants! We have a handy Swamp Rabbit Trail itinerary and a Family Guide to the Trail that you’ll want to check out before you go.

Dollar Movies

On Tuesdays during the summer, Regal Theaters host dollar movies! You may even be able to find a free movie this summer. After all, doesn’t everyone love going to the movies?

US National Whitewater Center

It may be a bit of a drive as it’s in Charlotte, but for a day’s worth of fun and exercise, it is well worth it! No reservations need to be made, but you can check out prices here.

Greenville Zoo staycation ideas

The Greenville Zoo

Check out the fish, reptiles, and elephants right downtown Greenville at the Greenville Zoo! Tickets can be purchased at the time of arrival, but here’s the calendar of events planned this summer.

Greenville stay-cations are the route to take when you’re in a bind for time but still want to get one last vacation in before school starts back up in August. In the blink of an eye, we’ll all be back into the full swing of things, so before gearing up and getting back in routines, look no further than your own wonderful city to squeeze in one last vacation. After all, Greenville is the best place to be, so why go anywhere else?

What’s your favorite thing to do on a staycation?

10 Things You Must Do On Your Next Trip to the Biltmore Estate

Up for a road trip that includes something extraordinary, loads of natural beauty and maybe a touch of history too? We’ll tell you why we think the Biltmore Estate in Asheville is a great option for a journey this summer! You’ll find history, wonderful dining, family friendly activities and more at this beautiful estate.

Want more ideas for a road trip or two? Check out our travel page for information on all kinds of places you might just love!

Find a place to stay near the Biltmore. This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

About the Biltmore Estate

Of all the family escapes that we’ve taken, a day trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina rates as one of the most enchanting, unique and definitely out of the ordinary (unless you’re a Vanderbilt yourself).

The Biltmore estate is only 90 minutes from Greenville. Known to be the largest private residence in all of America, it was built in the late 1880’s by George W. Vanderbilt, grandson of famed industrialist and philanthropist, Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was George’s first visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains with his mother that inspired him to build his country house. With his love for all things French and passion for nature, he built a chateau style mansion featuring 250 rooms on 125,000 acres of land. Later, the house would become a home with his marriage to Edith Stuyvesant Dresser and the birth of their daughter, Cornelia.

Summer is a great time to see the estate as the mansion has many outdoor events and exhibitions. But before anything else, do buy a week ahead to avail of ticket discounts and decide whether to visit peak (weekends and requires calling ahead to reserve a time slot for seeing the house) or off peak.

Biltmore Estate in Asheville North Carolina

Tour du Jour

The house designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, took six years to build featuring 250 rooms, 35 guest rooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. It’s of course recommended that you start your tour here. The sprawling estate requires a car to navigate, and takes about three miles to the parking lot from the ticketing office. (Tip: Print your tickets ahead of time to skip the registration process. With tickets in hand, you can go straight to your parking lot of choice. We usually park at the gardens and walk to the house to avoid having to wait for the parking lot shuttle).

Allot about an hour and a half of your day to see the mansion. If you are interested in anecdotes and stories behind the rooms, you may rent an audio guide. Tip: Since we usually visit with kids 9 and below, we usually skip the audio tour and rely on the free printed brochure of Cedric’s Treasure Hunt guide of the mansion at the house. Just ask for it when you go inside. Also, be sure to go to the bathroom before you go inside the mansion since there are none inside.

While some kids thoroughly enjoy the mansion with its maze-like architecture and magnificent rooms, it may be boring for smaller children. Our favorite highlights of the house: George’s 22,000 volume library; the cavernous dining hall; in some of the rooms, the unmarked secret doors and passageways; the indoor pool, bowling alley and Halloween room.

While you can take a self-guided tour of the house, the Biltmore offers lots of really cool guided tours.

Roam the amazing Biltmore Gardens

Designed by no other than Frederick Olmsted of New York’s Central Park, the Gardens of Biltmore Estate are one to behold. From the mansion, we love walking through the formal walled garden and stroll thru heritage roses in full bloom. If you’re lucky, you may spot a hummingbird or two hovering about patches of Bee Balm and Zinnias. At the end of the rose garden is the conservatory filled with exotic plants. During the Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s time, the conservatory provided fresh flowers and plants for the mansion.

While visiting the gardens is a thrilling experience any time of the year, the spring and fall are especially stunning.

spring at Biltmore Estate gardens

Kid-friendly Antler Hill Village

A more casual affair, the Antler Hill Village is a great way to cap a Biltmore visit with kids. A short drive from the main house includes a Winery, more dining options, a creamery (hooray!), changing exhibitions and specialty estate shops. To the edge of the Antler Hill Village is the Farmyard where kids can play at the playground, pet the barn animals or tour the stables. The Antler Hill barn features turn of the century games and displays of old farming equipment to make Biltmore a self-sustainable community. Blacksmith, woodworkers and craft demonstrations are held daily to introduce old artisan traditions to young curious onlookers.

Biltmore event

This Biltmore has brought back the Vanderbilt Travels Railway, a 250-foot model train display which showcases George Vanderbilt’s travels by using handcrafted architectural models made from leaves, twigs and other natural materials. Includes five model trains that run along track loops, passing by miniature versions of the Biltmore Rail Depot, the USS Vanderbilt Steamship, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe, London Bridge and other landmarks. This display is shown several months out of the year.

More on the Biltmore Winery

Begin by taking a stroll underground through the historic cellars of the former Biltmore Dairy. The kids enjoyed the cool temperature of the cellar and wandering thru the exhibit. Your stroll will lead  to an impressive tasting room where gracious wine hosts guide you through a complimentary wine tasting. For a nominal fee, you can sample their finest reserve. Kids had grape juice and complimentary snacks while adults enjoyed their wine. The tasting room opens up to some wine shopping, cooking ware and gourmet tastings of spreads and honeys produced in the estate.

Tip: Combine your visit with a private Wine Tasting tour such as the Red Wine and Chocolate tasting tour. There are several other tours at The Biltmore Winery as well. Book your free tasting when you first arrive at the Biltmore at the Visitors Center. Slots fill up fast.

Biltmore Winery

If you are looking to extend your visit, the Biltmore has a whole list of private tours to capture every imagination. Last year, we took the Upstairs-Downstairs tour and were able to see how the 438 employees kept the mansion in tip-top shape including the use of synchronized clocks and a state of the art in-house communication system and combined with other technological marvels of the time. Staff unlike those at the Downtown Abbey mostly lived upstairs in the upper floors with hidden passageways to the Master Bedroom and guest floor.

Seasonal events happening at Biltmore

Biltmore is a home for all seasons. The estate plans seasonal celebrations and many families have made this part of their tradition. They have an annual Easter Egg Hunt, summer concert series, art exhibitions, Christmas displays, and so much more.

Book an overnight at Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Estate is certainly a romantic destination perfect for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions. Book your stay at Village Hotel, The Inn or the Cottage.

Dining Options at the Biltmore

Dining at the Biltmore estate can range from quick but delectable Courtyard Market fare such as sausages and pretzels in the House and Garden to a more formal sit-down affair complete with white linen and finery at The Dining Room located in the The Inn. There are over 16 places to choose from. And yes, they have a two ice cream shops, a bakery and BBQ! Most of the restaurants near the House and Garden are open daily but the Smokehouse at the Farmhouse at Antler Hill Village is only open on weekends. During our visits with kids in tow, we pack a light lunch and treat them to ice cream at the Creamery

If you’d like to sample afternoon tea Vanderbilt style, The Inn serves a selection of Newby Tea’s along with some artfully prepared sweet and savory bites. Offered daily 1 pm to 2:30 pm at $40 a person.

Have a picnic by the lake, go for a hike

If you’d rather take a picnic basket, Guest Services can recommend picnic spots in their many beautiful lawns and gardens. (picnics are allowed just not around the mansion or near any of their dining establishments). Use of tents, grills, multiple camping chairs/tables, and large coolers, is not permitted in Biltmore parking lots or on the grounds. The Azalea garden path, Bass Pond and Boat house are wonderful choices for your a walk and a packed lunch.

We love to go biking on the trails at the Estate as well. The paths run along the French Broad River and up to the Gardens.

Early Christmas Shopping at the Biltmore Estate

For those folks who have everything, the estate has some beautiful shops to choose from. Our favorites would be the Toy Maker’s which carries vintage toys and exquisite dolls for the quintessential doll collector; A Gardener’s Place by the conservatory sells rare plants and flowers such as the Chinese Lantern vine and heritage tomato seeds; and The Barn Door, located at the Antler Village Barn and features beautiful locally made arts and crafts.

Visit Biltmore

Tickets are priced by season but most start at $86 for adults and include the House and Gardens plus Antler Hill Village and the Winery. Reservations are required for visits inside the House.

If you plan to make more than two visits a year, buying an annual pass makes it worthwhile. Annual passes go on sale at different times throughout the year. To make it friendlier to families, during the summer months, Biltmore offers free entrance for kids 16 and under with the purchase of one adult admission.

One Lodge Street, Asheville, NC
The Biltmore is open daily but hours vary

Have you visited the Biltmore house? What were your favorite parts?

Enjoy a Perfect Day in Beautiful Flat Rock, NC

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Ready for a day trip? local mom Lacey Keigley and her family visited Flat Rock, North Carolina. In this review, she is sharing insight on what not to miss if you visit Flat Rock with your family! It’s smaller than an amusement park, but it’s loads more fun. Just over the mountain, a short drive north of Travelers Rest, it’s an easy, beautiful drive. It’s a perfect place to spend a day.

Looking for even more travel ideas? Check out our day trips page or our travel page

A morning in Flat Rock

Flat Rock Village Bakery

Opens at 7 am

Buy a scone, a muffin, or a danish and coffee or tea and dine on the back deck under the branches of a fabulous tree that grows up and around and right through the deck.

Carl Sandburg home in Flat Rock, NC

Carl Sandburg National Historic Site

Park your car and breathe in the fresh air. Wander up the lovely trail that takes you up to the Nobel Prize-winning author’s last home. Take a tour of his home – it’s only $5 for adults and free for kids and it’s absolutely worth it to see a snapshot of his life, left as if he might be entering his old study at any moment.

If you’ve got energy and time on your side, take a hike that begins behind the home, near the adorable barn teeming with goats who are direct descendants of Sandburg’s wife’s prized goat herd. Little Glassy has a view completely worth the manageable trek. Very family-friendly. When you reach the giant rock and take a break, you can pull out one of your new books and read for a little bit on the mountain top.

Open 9 am – 5 pm daily.

Head right back to where you started for lunch. (And after your hike, you’ve earned your lunch.)

The Park at Flat Rock

Or, check out the super amazing playground at The Park at Flat Rock.

The Park at Flat Rock

The Park at Flat Rock is free to visit and open dawn to dusk daily.

The Park at Flat Rock
55 Highland Golf Drive, Flat Rock, NC
828.435.0397

Afternoon in Flat Rock

Hubba Hubba BBQ

For lunch, we chose a local BBQ hot spot. Friends, you just won’t find tastier BBQ in North Carolina. Sure, they have great fish tacos and delicious sides (try their deviled eggs and potato salad) but it’s their classic BBQ that draws the crowds. You pick pork or chicken and then you add your own sauce choice. (I lean to the vinegar variety, but you’ve got options and none of them are bad.)

Open at 11 am daily. Closed on Sundays.

(If your kids just aren’t into BBQ, you can order a pizza from Flat Rock Village Bakery and let them have that. The seating is all outdoors and is combined in a convenient way with the bakery so it’s no problem to grab options from both restaurants.)

The Wrinkled Egg

After eating and drinking and feeling satisfied, step upstairs to The Wrinkled Egg – an endearing shop filled with quirky souvenirs, home decor, eclectic design, local art, and even a pet rabbit who loves to be petted, along with a few beautiful songbirds. Kids and grown-ups will quickly call this store their favorite.

Open 10 am – 5:30 pm most days.

apple picking in North Carolina

SkyTop Orchard

If you happen to be visiting Flat Rock in late summer or fall you will want to drive back in the direction you came for a millisecond and turn right and head up to SkyTop Orchard.

You can’t beat the views and the apple picking is convenient and feels perfectly autumnal. If you have room remaining, you can dessert on fresh apple cider donuts and cold apple slushes – or warm apple cider, depending upon the weather and your mood. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. The kids can have a hayride, visit the animals, wander through the bamboo forest, or romp on the playsets. And you get to take him the best reminder of your day out – fresh North Carolina hand-picked apples! Before you go, be sure to read our tips for apple picking with kids!

Open 9 am – 6 pm daily.

Evening in Flat Rock

Flat Rock Wood Room

If you still have time, money, and inclination, stay for dinner and eat at the Flat Rock Wood Room.

Open until 8 or 9 pm most nights, closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Enjoy a movie or live theatre

You can catch a movie at the neatest local theatre – Flat Rock Cinema – with shows every day at 4 pm and 7 pm. (Closed Mondays.) You can order popcorn, but they also serve BBQ and full menu options.

You can even take in a live theatre show at North Carolina’s State Theatre – Flat Rock Playhouse.

That’s a full day packed and overloaded with all the good things the fabulous little town of Flat Rock has to offer you.

It may be small in size, but it is full and wide in charm and activity.

What is your favorite thing to do when visiting Flat Rock, NC?

Travelers Rest Makes A Perfect Summer Staycation

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Looking for some staycation ideas? How about a day in Travelers Rest? Kidding Around Greenville contributor Lindy Wilson ventured out and about on her own personal Staycation to Travelers Rest.  This quaint town offers shopping, parks, restaurants and more!

So maybe your budget (or perhaps even just your sanity) doesn’t permit for a full out family vacation this year. The trend of “staycationing” is still one many families enjoy. We are fortunate because there are tons of great spots within a short drive of the Upstate! Today I’ll focus on one area just a little north of Greenville, but be sure to dig around our archives for even more staycation ideas.  The website is loaded with pieces such as weekend itinerary ideas or western NC day trips or SC day trip ideas.

About Travelers Rest

A few months ago, we headed to Travelers Rest, which we had driven through before but never really checked out. It’s very hip and you can make a day of it just exploring Main Street. So get out those strollers or tie on those baby carriers! (We choose the carrier for our baby while the four year old had to bear heavily enforced hand holding.)

staycation in Travelers Rest near Greenville

We started TR with the Whistle Stop Cafe and of course fried green tomatoes. The cafe is charming- lots of memorabilia and decor along with a staff that was eager to greet us. The fried tomatoes, which I believe were my first ever, were amazing. The kids tried a little but preferred the kids menu, which wait for it – was written on a Dinosaur TRAIN coloring sheet! After many train pictures, we ventured out to find other spots.

 

This particular outing was for the Greenville Crawl so we were eating just a course or two per stop. That meant we still had room to try the nearby Sidewall Pizza! You could try your own version of a crawl or just take a different path to space out lunch, snack and dinner breaks. There were a few stores across the road we would have checked out if we had more time. The Whistle Stop Cafe also is right along the Swamp Rabbit Trail! There is also Gateway, Poinsett and Trailblazer park so consider adding those in to get out some wiggles! You could also check out the TR Farmer’s Market too. There is also a baby store specializing in natural products – Modern Cloth!

As I was saying, we immediately came upon Sidewall Pizza. Now originally we weren’t going to go but as we had time, we decided to check it out. Oh my gosh – pizza loaded with local meat! Thin flaky but not crackery crust! YUM! The kicker was homemade mint cookie and cream ice cream, my husband’s two favorite flavors in one! I was delighted that it was a light spearmint taste, and you can guess how the kids felt about pizza and ice cream! We’re also very excited about their birthday club for free pizza.

Next we wandered further down “the other Main street” here in downtown Travelers Rest to the Tandem Creperie. Not wanting to get too full, we got their Orange Rosemary Spritzer and a cafe americano. Daddy, my photographer extraordinaire, didn’t share his coffee but the spritzer was great. Very different but good! The baby and the big girl nearly drank it all! The shop itself was the epitome of hipster cool. It took a second for me to figure out why they had a tandem bicycle:) There was also patio seating which you might find better for kids.

In addition to some great restaurants in Travelers Rest, there were tons of local boutiques. This included Carolina Bee Company‘s store front AND Copperhead Mountain Moonshine, both of which we stopped in and were offered free samples. The honey was fun with various creamed flavors- chocolate, blackberry and cinnamon. The owner was busy but kind and made sure my baby was old enough for honey. Watch little hands as they do have some gorgeous but breakable pottery items. In case you didn’t know, raw local honey has many health benefits, including helping with seasonal allergies which is great for when it “pollens” here and all of Greenville is coated in yellow!

As a nice stop for us parents, the Copperhead distillery was awesome. We only had two samples each as the kids were with us and all, but they were more than willing to let us sample more. Moonshine is something new to us. Out west where we’re from, we didn’t see much of it though we aren’t much of drinkers anyways, especially not hard liquor. It seems sweeter than rum and I love its history. This particular business, like many in TR, is family owned and we met both the owner and his grown daughter. It’s also situated fairly center in the Main Street stretch making it a convenient stop.

Last but not least was Shortfield’s. It’s a quaint little place with an impressive menu. We got there right as they were filling up for dinner so we ordered quickly as not to be ”campers”- humus, brownie stack, and tartlets in addition to a generous bread basket (a life saver for impatient little ones!). They also had a nice patio set up for those interested. Even the kids liked their humus, which was smoky and not your common everyday chickpea puree. The brownie stack was baked just right, fudgy but yet crumbly. Our oldest didn’t like the tartlets but we enjoyed them. All in all it was a great way to spend a long afternoon.

What’s your favorite thing about Travelers Rest?