1) Eat a Good Breakfast
In our case, this meant starting the fun early by stopping for donuts on the way out of town. We pretend that this gets us down the road faster, but really it just satisfies our sweet tooth. Knowing my tendency to get grumpy when the sugary high wears off, I ordered the sausage, egg and cheese croissant which at least gave me some longer lasting protein energy. To keep the kids from getting too sour, we fed them a snack in the Biltmore Estate parking lot after our 2-hour drive from Knoxville, TN, to Asheville, NC.
2) Joint and Individual Car Activities
Gone are the days of just looking out the window. We travel by interstate so much that the kids have already seen what there is to see and if something is particularly amazing – like the heavy clouds over the mountains, then it’s our job as the front seat riders with the best view to tell them when to look up. I am a heavy packer, even on a daytrip. I like to have choices, so I make sure the kids have lots of choices too. If one thing runs out of battery or infringes on someone else’s space, then at least we have back up entertainment. Finally now that the kids are 8 and 10, everyone packed their own activity bags, but there were some “suggested” items (mandatory), such as colored pencils or crayons, a small pocket size notebook, digital cameras, electronic devices and headphones. Scott downloaded a book on tape, Jeeves and Wooster, for the whole family to listen to during the car ride. The kids played on their iPad and Kindle, but they also listened to the story which got us in the mindset for the scenery we were about to tour.
3) Water Bottles and Picnic Meals
Reusable water bottles have been a life saver more than once. We fill them at our house and they are great for sipping in the car and drinking at our picnic lunches or dinners. They have also come in handy for the I’m-dying-of-thirst “request” when walking through the Walled Garden on a sunny day, and to wash down an afternoon ice cream treat. It’s easy to go to the restaurants at Biltmore Estate – so many good choices, but that can start to add up. We try to pack a picnic and lots of snacky foods. On travel days like this, my goal is to get people to eat something…anything. I am not paying close attention to the food pyramid, instead trying to focus on fun and not fighting over nutrition. However, I am not totally irresponsible. If we
have had donuts for breakfast and are planning ice cream in the afternoon, then people have to eat enough at lunch to justify the sweet treat later. It’s amazing how a few snacks and a good lunch can turn a grouchy kiddo (or mom or dad) into pleasant company. Most of the time, our picnic doesn’t eliminate meals expenses, but it does help us keep them under control. A little planning ahead makes getting out the door earlier easier. So, rather than wing it the morning of, try to swing by the grocery store or at least make a list of what to pack. More than once our picnics have been ruined because we forgot to pack a knife. Once on the Estate, we will do part of our tour (either the house or the garden) and head back to the car for lunch. If we choose to take in the house and the garden and eat lunch on-site, then we will save our picnic for the car ride home. We have this romantic idealistic notion that we will take a blanket to the hillside overlooking the house and sit and enjoy a relaxing picnic, but so far we have just eaten in the parking lot. It’s shaded and you don’t have to haul stuff very far. There are convenient trash cans and nobody complains about putting everything away. One day, we will skip the house and gardens and just go find a grassy spot. That will probably be the day we get the gumption to take the bicycles and ride the trails.
4) Do the Extras
There’s an audio tour for kids hosted by Cedric, the family dog. Everyone gets their own headset and the grown ups do the grown up tour (not hosted by the dog) and the kids do the kids tour. The tours are in pace with each other and everyone has something interesting to share. Particularly the first visit, this is a great splurge
item and helps engage the kids in the history of the home. Biltmore Estate is the kind of place we want our children to be enthralled with, but let’s be honest, they have been raised on iPods, IPads and multiple non-stop channels dedicated to cartoons. The idea of the height of “fun” being learning to cross stitch, play an instrument or go for a walk to the pond is hard to push when everywhere they look they are not allowed to touch anything…not even the chess set, the ping pong table or the bowling alley. Like it even needs to be said…stop for ice cream or a sweet treat from the deli – delicious! Somehow it always magically resets everyone’s mood.
5) Give the Kids Their Own Cameras
Either hold onto your hand-me-downs when you upgrade or buy cheap or used pocket-sized digital cameras. Give them something that you are not going to have a heart attack about if it does get lost, then your comments will be about how much fun they are having and not about the location of the camera. While you can’t take pictures in the Biltmore house itself, taking pictures gives the kids an activity the whole day and they capture images from a different height than a grown up. Some of our best on-location pictures come from the kids. We use their images as screensavers on their computers and print out our favorites for their bulletin boards. Plus, there are plenty of free apps that can alter the images by making them look like a watercolor painting or sketched in ink or add silly quote bubbles to them. They can also make a slideshow movie out of the images and a follow up to your trip or create a memory book using a service like Shutterfly or Snapfish. The outdoor sculptures, gardens and petting zoo at Antler Hill Village Farm make terrific photo opps even the kids can’t ignore.
6) Quit When You Are Tired
Either stop and rest or pack up the car and head home, but don’t soldier through a tour at Biltmore Estate. It’s so expansive, you will never be able to see it all in one visit. So, when the kids are in tow, it is better to go at their pace and plan a return trip than to end the day with meltdown memories.