My family recently went on a short vacation to Charlotte, NC. We have taken different types of vacations over the years with the commonality of fitting it to our budget, interests, and ages. This one was certainly based on those qualifications. Hopefully you can gain some ideas by reading this travelogue. I'm sorry it is so long. Feel free to skim for the parts that grab your interest.
Our eldest child plans to spend the summer in New York so the four days that his spring break overlapped our other children's spring break turned out to be our only chance to do something as a family this year. Even with that, he was going to spend two of those days in New York and needed to fly out of Charlotte, NC, so we decided to spend the weekend there. Since our time was so short, we splurged a little to make things nice. We decided to use part of our vacation money for a shopping spree so that we all had things to show for the weekend after it was over. It would have been close to the amount we would have spent on inexpensive flights. That would have been fun but we met some clothing needs with that amount and had fun doing it.
We left home Friday morning and went straight to Concord Mills Mall in the northern part of Charlotte. The natural division turned out to be the girls (my daughter Evy and me), the boys (my two sons Colton and Capers who are different shapes but wear the same size), and Dad (aka my husband Jeff). We all had the same amount to spend and our budgeting and wardrobe skills were put to use. The three groups went our own ways and met at the food court for lunch. We all arrived at slightly different times and ended up all choosing the same restaurant. If we had known beforehand that the Japanese place had a punch card for a free meal after four punches, one of us could have eaten for free. It worked fine anyway since I have learned that it doesn't take much to fill me up and the kids usually have leftover food. I just took a little from a couple of them and was fine.
Something I have learned from being on previous vacations is that I have a hard time being hungry enough to eat when it is time to eat again. This vacation we ate just two meals per day and it worked great. By the time some sleep in, you have a later breakfast than usual and then you're not ready for lunch at lunchtime. That puts you ready for a meal mid to late afternoon which also helps you beat the crowd. You could have a snack in the afternoon and push dinner later or have the afternoon lupper and have the snack in the evening. Vacation meals are usually bigger than typical meals so you stay full longer and you aren't working off the food. The food was one of the most enjoyable parts of our trip so it was good that we set ourselves up to be hungry enough to enjoy it. We spent about one-fifth of our money on food. There are usually sweet treats you allow yourself to partake of on vacation, too, so the two-meal per day plan allows for that.
After lunch at the mall and sending our packages out to the van, we divided back up to shop for about three more hours before we met at the mall's movie theatre. It was great to sit in comfortable chairs after doing all that walking. We saw "Miracles From Heaven" and there were few if any dry eyes among us. It was a great film that left us all thankful for our health, for each other, and for our faithful God.
Throughout the shopping experience, I was thrilled to see my children make decisions based on price, quality, and usefulness. Our eldest doesn't shop often but knew what he needed, shopped the mall for the best deals, and then went back to purchase his items at the winning stores. He managed to get a lot for his money. Evy is hard core when it comes to spending money. She knows what she needs and will not spend a lot for it. Capers is learning but was allowed to buy some fads since he is nearly fifteen and still growing. I won't have to look at them long. I let him wear the hula girl socks twice before I threw them away. No.
After a few more purchases, we checked into the Ballentyne Hotel on the south side of Charlotte. It turned out to be a great choice and left me wanting to go back. It is conveniently located just off 485 so we were in and out very quickly each time we went somewhere. The whole area there is new and has plenty of nice shops, restaurants, and housing. I loved the colorful art by Thomas Vieth of Charlotte venues including the Ballentyne Hotel.
One doesn't just get a hotel room for a family of five. One must have two rooms. Ca-ching ca-ching. Fortunately they were able to give us adjoining rooms which worked beautifully for our three-night stay.
We rested and freshened up a bit and then took off for the Cheesecake Factory at SouthPark Mall. They said the wait was one and a half to two hours. I doubted that and ended up being right. It was fifty minutes. We old people waited outside on their comfy sectionals while the kids explored the mall. Walking in a mall didn't appeal to me at that moment for some reason. It was getting on to nine o'clock by the time we were seated and I was beginning to turn into a pumpkin. The food was very good but I think I filled up too much on strawberry lemonade and mashed potatoes to finish my delicious salmon. Such a shame. The combo of being full and tired made me not feel so well so I was ready to hit the hay. The rest of the family ordered cheesecake to go and we headed back to the hotel.
The next morning, we all headed to the hotel dining room for a wonderful breakfast. Capers said that his pancakes were so good that he wanted to cry. My Crab Cakes Benedict was out of this world also. The decor in the dining room was mostly modern but definitely eclectic. The moulding was spotlighted and so unusual. The floors were photo-worthy and will show up as a background on this blog one day no doubt.
We roamed around the hotel for photo-ops after breakfast.
We then headed downtown to roam around there. I'm not much for roaming so I was working hard to be a team player. We did go straight to the Levine Museum of the New South which I had researched so I was fine with that. It was very interesting with lots of hands-on exhibits. It depicted the changes that have taken place in the South since the Civil War. I take my history with a grain of salt so I was a little skeptical but I think they tried to be truthful. I hesitate to believe that all of the facts have been preserved without a slant or that things were as wide-spread as whatever was documented. I also know that the public is not privy to all the confidential information that leaders have when forced to make decisions. There were many issues represented and they prompted opportunities for discussion within our family. That is as close to political as you will ever see me get. I do not enjoy conflict, especially handled wrongly.
We ducked in for some beverages at the 7th Street Public Market which was at the north end of the line for the LYNX train. It was a large open room that housed several counters from different businesses. There were also aisles of groceries. This was a neat place. Most of us ordered hot drinks and managed to find a table big enough in the back corner. All of the drinks were very good but my hot tea press was the envy of all. I had Turmeric Ginger hot tea and it was perfect on that chilly, rainy day.
The kids wanted to ride the train so we bought tickets and rode all the way to the other end of Charlotte and back. It was a neat way to see the city.
Then the wanderlust continued but it was thankfully short-lived. "Just wandering around to see what we find" ended up being finding a bathroom and our van. After a quick refresh at the hotel, we went just five minutes down the road to Midwood Smokehouse. This turned out to be everyone's favorite meal of the trip. We walked around in the nearby shopping area while we waited for our table. It was worth the wait. The barbecue was excellent and the sides were, too. I recommend the baked beans. They were the most flavorful I have ever had. Capers ordered ribs and said that all the meat came off each rib with the first bite. Needless to say, we will be back first chance.
Back at the hotel, the two younger kids took a dip in the indoor pool while my husband and I chatted with Colton. He was headed out to NYC the next morning for a quick two-day trip to finish up his spring break. He got there just in time to practice thirty minutes and then play for the church service at New York Gospel Mission where he interned last summer. Then he was off to two Broadway plays. He spent the night with a gracious friend and then auditioned Broadway performers with his dean for his senior Theatre Arts project coming up in November.
The rest of us got up Sunday morning and went down for another beautiful breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I had the pancakes this time and Capers was right: excellence with honey butter on top. We headed off to Matthews, NC, nearby for the Easter service at Bible Baptist Church. We saw several people we knew and enjoyed the service very much.
We were so full from that big, late breakfast that we had no interest in lunch. We went to the Mint Museum only to find an empty parking lot and a sign that said they were closed on major holidays. We used the beautiful lawn for some family pictures and then went back to the hotel. We lounged in our hotel rooms for the afternoon and then headed out to a restaurant called 131 Main. Here we introduced our children to prime rib. It was served with a gentle horseradish sauce that was just perfect. Evy and I also had the clam chowder. That turned out to be one of my food favorites from the trip. We laughed a lot at that meal, partly at the kids making up lame jokes and partly at the fact that it seemed that a different person came to our table for every different thing. They must have a huge wait staff. One seated us, one got our drink order, one brought the drinks, one took our order, another brought the appetizers, and on and on. We added a brownie a la mode at the end and we paid more for that meal than any other of the weekend and there were only four of us instead of five. It was very good and I'd go back just for the clam chowder. It would also be nice to sit around the fire pit on a non-rainy day.
Jeff and Evy went out for a date after dropping Capers and me off at the hotel. I watched some HGTV while Capers enjoyed the gym (as he did each day we were there) and flirted with the spa staff. He and Evy were back in the pool before bed.
Monday morning we ordered room service for breakfast. It was nice to eat in the room and be able to sample many different things. The grits were so creamy. I must learn how. This is another benefit of vacationing in the South. After I ate, I took off to my favorite store, the Talbots Outlet. There is a new outlet mall on the west side of town. I had spent only one-third of my spree money on Friday so I was prepared to finish my task. If you want to know my style, it is Talbots. 100%. I didn't know until I got back and did some math that I managed to spend the exact amount to the dollar I had remaining without even knowing what it was. I went back to the hotel, and we packed up and headed out to enjoy our last, and only beautiful day, in Charlotte.
For the afternoon, we went to the Carolinas Aviation Museum at the airport. They have quite a few old planes. You can sit in one of them and have a conversation with a very knowledgeable tour guide. The centerpiece of the museum is the plane that landed in the Hudson River in 2009 as it left New York City headed for Charlotte, NC. The plane is sitting right there in the indoor museum with artifacts, pictures, and narrative all around it. The NYC skyline is projected onto the wall and there are waves projected onto the floor. Very nicely done. They have an area to watch the short documentary movie "Miracle on the Hudson" so we sat and watched it. Just what a mother wants to see just a few hours before her son leaves NYC for Charlotte. I found it interesting that the movie is called "Miracle on the Hudson" but one place on the narrative said that it wasn't a miracle at all but the genius of the pilots and a bit of luck. The pilots were smart and experienced but they needed more than luck for everything to happen as it did. Some people just won't give God the credit He deserves.
Before leaving town, we went to a restaurant called Mac's Speed Shop. We had been here once before and enjoyed it very much. They have barbecue and sides plus burgers and other things. It has a bike shop decor. The music was not my cup of tea and I don't think I would like the atmosphere it probably has at night, but it was good each time we have gone. The menu said that there are three NC locations and one in Greenville, SC.
We arrived safely at home at a decent hour and our son flew into Charlotte and drove safely to school that night. A four-day vacation was long enough without being too long. It wasn't a tropical island, a trip to Europe, or a week on the slopes, but we had a fun time doing things we enjoy without spending a lot of time traveling. Best of all, we showed our family that spending time together is a priority.
We never felt rushed or like we were not cramming enough in. Our goal was to be together and do things at a relaxed pace. We hate coming home from a vacation tired so we have come to accept that we will not be able to do and see all that is there. We did and saw plenty but never got worked up about it.
You can know that I have added to my must see, must eat, must stay list for Charlotte. I did not manage to take afternoon tea at the hotel this trip, nor did I visit the spa. But if the opportunity arises, I know where to go.
Now, back to reality, which isn't half bad either.