I usually write about Triangle destinations and parks on Fridays, but we're going further afield today with a post about Biltmore in Asheville.
I was lucky enough to spend a week in Asheville with my kids and dad over spring break. We ate a lot of food, walked downtown Asheville, went on a train ride and explored an earth science museum. I'll have more on all of that next week.
But tops on my list of things to do was a visit to Biltmore. I'd been there ages ago with my dad, long before I had my own children. And my older daughter, a fan of mystery books, had read "The Mystery of Biltmore House," by Carole Marsh.
I had no worries that she'd thoroughly enjoy a visit here. She's still clamoring to return to Tryon Palace in New Bern, which we went to a couple of years ago. But I wondered whether my three-year-old would last more than a few hours there. Destination: Biltmore in Asheville
It turns out I had nothing to worry about. We arrived at 9:30 a.m. and nearly shut the complex's Antler Hill Village farmyard down when we left just before 6 p.m. Other than a quick tantrum from the preschooler during our self-guided house tour, it was all smiles from our group.
Luckily, I'd checked in with LeeAnn Donnelly, Biltmore's senior public relations manager, who gave me some tips before I went. And, also, luckily, Go Ask Mom readers chimed in with tips as well when I mentioned something on Go Ask Mom's Facebook page about Biltmore a few months ago.
Here's what I'll do again when we return:
1. Tour the house and get the audio tour: You'll get a guide of the house and grounds when you get there with information about what you'll see inside. But it's worth spending another $10 for the audio tour, which offers more detailed information about the rooms and what you're seeing. My eight-year-old thoroughly enjoyed the audio tour. And so did my three-year-old, but not for the obvious reasons. After a bit, I noticed she was talking into the tour device. Apparently, she believed it was a walkie talkie. So after it talked to her, she talked to it. It definitely was a life saver in the house!
2. Do the scavenger hunt with your kids: On the back of your guide, you'll find a scavenger hunt for children. In a few of the rooms, the hunt will ask you to search for certain items - an animal in a painting or trinket. Both of my kids, but especially my three-year-old, enjoyed hunting and finding the pieces.
2. Eat at the Stable Cafe: I'm sure other restaurants here are good, but we had a great lunch at the Stable Cafe, which sits in former stables right next to the house. My roasted veggie salad was delicious. And the kids' menu for kids 9 and under offers some huge portions for $5.95. My girls loved that the fruit came on a skewer. One caveat: It was very busy when we got there and we had to wait nearly an hour for a table. But my preschooler and I left the house tour a little early so she could go to the bathroom (because there are no public restrooms in the house). So we were able to put our name on the waiting list while my dad and older daughter were still in the house. And once they met us, there was plenty to occupy our time in the shops, including a sweet little toy shop, in the same complex.
3. Leave plenty of time for running around the grounds and gardens: We spent an hour doing this, but next time, we could spend an entire day. In fact, Donnelly recommends visitors bring their own picnic lunches so they can spread out on the grounds and enjoy the view. The estate includes 8,000 acres and some of that includes the lawns and gardens around the house. After a couple of hours touring the house and sitting for lunch at the restaurant, my kids were more than ready to burn off some energy. They especially loved the large lawn in front of the house and the pools with fish in the Italian Garden.
4. After the house and gardens, go straight to Antler Hill Village and Winery: Also included in your ticket is a visit to Antler Hill Village and Winery, a collection of shops, restaurants, Biltmore's winery, and exhibits. We all got ice cream cones at the Creamery as we listened to a guitar player perform. My kids ran through a small children's maze a few times. And then there's the farm, which brings me to my next two tips.
5. Leave plenty of time for the Antler Hill Village farm: If it hadn't been closing down as we left, I would have really struggled to get my kids in the car to leave. On the day we visited in April, we saw a blacksmith and basket weaver demonstrate their crafts. Outside on the lawn, my kids played old-fashioned games such as rolling a hoop with a stick. There was some farm equipment they could climb on. And inside the barn, there were other activities for kids including a play farm, a children's table set for tea and some coloring sheets.
6. Go see the animals: The farm area includes a small farmyard where we saw goats, chickens, rabbits and horses. My kids got to hold baby chicks and pet the goats and rabbits. The staff there was phenomenal as they guided the kids around the farmyard and gave them opportunities to get up close with the animals. And, also, thank you, Biltmore, for the handwashing stations at the exit.
I'm sure I missed other high points at Biltmore. And if you have any favorites, please feel free to chime in in the comments below.
A visit here isn't cheap, especially if you don't buy your tickets in advance. Regular admission varies depending on the time of year that you go. Right now, it's $59 for adults and $29.50 for ages 10 to 16. Kids 9 and under are admitted free. But if you buy your tickets in advance, you can save as much as $15 per ticket. So it's worth it to plan ahead.
And there often are deals to be had, so be sure to check Biltmore's website for the latest specials. Right now, on Mother's Day, May 12, all moms get in free with the purchase of an adult or youth ticket. And this summer, families can purchase a Summer Family Value Package that includes admission for two adults, two children and a family dining voucher for $140.
And as I write this glowing review, I will mention that the day was not necessarily all sunshine and rainbows. As we moved through the house, there were lines to get into some of the rooms (which is when my three-year-old started to lose her patience). Also, inside the house, there is a spot where a photographer takes your picture, which you can buy before you leave. It seemed to be the reason for at least one of the lines we had to wait in. (Note to all tourist destinations: I really don't like those staged photos).
But overall, our day at Biltmore was packed with lots of unexpected fun. And Donnelly said there are plans for more changes that will make the destination even more family friendly. There's talk of a playground and creating an audio tour for children (which I heartily encourage).
I guess that just means we'll have to go back!