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5 Places for Family Fun in Charlotte, North Carolina

5 Places for Family Fun in Charlotte, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com


Whenever I travel, I try to find as many places that fit two requirements: they speak to my love of art, culture, or literature, and they appeal to my toddler. I know that many people don't think they can travel with kids because of a misconception that there just aren't that many attractions for the smaller members of the family. I want to dispel that as much as I can!

Charlotte, North Carolina, the second largest banking center in the U.S. (after New York City!), might seem less-than-kid friendly at first, but there's actually plenty to do with a family in the Queen City. Check out these five places for family fun in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

While we were in Charlotte, North Carolina, we made ourselves at home at the Dunhill Hotel. I hadn't been to Charlotte since I was a little kid--we used to live in upstate South Carolina when I was younger--and would visit the area occasionally back then. After a chance meeting with the hotel's (wonderful!) PR person at the Historic Hotels of America luncheon last year, I decided to head back up to the Queen City to see how it had changed in the nearly 20 years since my last visit.

It turned out that the Dunhill was a great spot from which to launch our visit, and, if you're looking for a great place to stay in Uptown Charlotte, I'd highly recommend it.

History: 
You thought you'd get by without a quick history lesson, didn't you?! I love staying in historic hotels because they come with such a rich storyline: it's an added layer of interest that you just don't get in a more recently built hotel. 

The Dunhill Hotel originally was called the Mayfair Manor and opened a month after the stock market crashed. The economic upheaval of the nation didn't seem to affect Mayfair Manor's success, which quickly found a following. During the Manor's early days, guests could stay in one of the 100 rooms: some were set aside as hotel rooms, while others were long-term rentals. 

The Manor's heyday lasted well into the 20th century; by the 1960s, it was sold and rebranded into a motor lodge. Eventually, the motor lodge shut its doors in the early 1980s, and the 10-story building was inhabited only by the homeless. After several years of neglect, the hotel was purchased and underwent a $6 million renovation in 1988. This company tried to restore the hotel to its former glory, but after only two years, the hotel was sold once again.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com
Exploring the hotel and its history!
In the early 1990s, Summit Hospitality Group, the current owners, purchased the property and began to mold it into the distinctive location that it is today. The group was also the driving force behind the application and acceptance of the Dunhill into the Historic Hotels of America property group, a distinction that it proudly displays. 

Location:
If you're in Uptown Charlotte for a play, concert, sporting event, banking seminar, or vacation, the Dunhill couldn't be more centrally located. I went on the trip with my dad and my toddler, and we only got in the car once--and that was when we headed out of Uptown to see an attraction in a completely different part of Charlotte.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

From the museums to the restaurants to green spaces, we were able to easily walk (even with a toddler!) to all of the attractions in Uptown Charlotte. The hotel is located at the corner of North Tryon and 6th Streets, which put us steps away from Discovery Place and the Carolina Theatre, and just a few blocks from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Imaginon, the Levine Museum of the New South, the Bank of America building, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Room: 
We had a corner room on the third floor, and I thought it was a great location. We were high enough that the street traffic didn't bother us, but we were still able to people watch through the three large windows throughout the room. Definitely ask for a corner room since it comes with more windows!

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

The room had two queen beds (called the "Vintage Queen Queen" room on their site) and a large bathroom with a shower/tub combo. The bed was incredibly comfortable, and I looked forward to sinking into the fluffy duvet and crisp sheets each night. Sightseeing is hard work!

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com


Even with the two beds, I still had plenty of room to set up Britton's pack and play in the corner; the room was large enough that the pack and play didn't interfere with our movement between the room and bathroom.

Our room also had a mini-refrigerator and Keurig. 

Service: 
When I went to check in, our room wasn't available, but the desk clerks were apologetic (they didn't even need to be, as I was trying to check in at 10:15 in the morning!). They took my cell phone number and promised to call me as soon as a room became available; I ended up getting a call less than an hour later. 

Housekeeping was fantastic, and made sure to keep us stocked with bottled water (which is complimentary with any stay); that sure came in handy as we explored all over town! Housekeeping came once in the morning to tidy up, and then again at night for turndown service. After a long day of sightseeing, it was a treat to see the chocolates on our pillows. 

While check out was easy--I paid with a credit card that was already on file--the desk clerk that morning wasn't very personable. Since I knew I was going to write a piece about the hotel and its history, I asked if there was another copy of the laminated history that had been in our room. I didn't want to steal the room copy, so I figured that the front desk could supply me with one--or, at least, make a photocopy of an existing one. When I inquired about the history sheet, the desk clerk just looked at me and uttered a quick, "No, I don't think we have those." She didn't offer to call housekeeping, make a copy, or print out another one. It wasn't that big of a deal since I'd made a few notes, but I would've expected a bit more effort on her part to ensure that there wasn't an extra sheet to give out to someone interested in it. 

Other than that one small (and really, in the whole scheme of things, insignificant) exchange, the staff was more than helpful throughout our stay. 

Amenities: 
The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

While the hotel doesn't have a pool or gym, it does have plenty of touches to make you feel welcome during your stay. Nibble on a few of the complimentary cookies every afternoon, or mix with the other guests during the wine social every Wednesday evening. I liked that there was a complimentary shuttle available to guests; we didn't use it since I wanted to get out and walk around Uptown, but this is a great option for guests who are in a hurry!

The Asbury, the onsite restaurant, is absolutely worth a visit during your time at the Dunhill--so much so that my experience there will get its own post later. If you'd rather eat in your room, the room service comes out of the same kitchen, so you don't have to eat another of those dry burgers that usually comes off the room service menu.

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Hotel Review | CosmosMariners.com

We didn't get to use them, but the hotel also has several meeting rooms available for corporate functions. I think the hotel would be such a pretty place to have a reception or meeting!

Final Thoughts:
I'd definitely stay here again! Not only was the location perfect, the room was incredibly nice. I also liked all of the little extras that came with my stay including the complimentary water, the turndown service, and the fluffy white robes in the bathroom.

Book a stay at the Dunhill Hotel here.
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If you're interested in my experiences in another Historic Hotel of America, check out my stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel on Jekyll Island, Georgia. 

Have you stayed in a historic hotel? What was your experience like? Have you been Charlotte lately?

Disclaimer: The Dunhill provided one complimentary night's stay; I paid for a second night in the same room. All opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links. If you use them to book a stay, I'll receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Movies Filmed in Charleston, South Carolina (and Where to Go to Relive Your Favorite Scenes)

Movies Filmed in Charleston, South Carolina (and Where to Go to Relive Your Favorite Scenes) | CosmosMariners.com

I've been fascinated with the art of movie making since I was a little kid. So, it's no wonder that I get a little thrill whenever I hear that another movie is being made in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.

While most people come to Charleston for the history and Southern charm that the city offers, you might also want to spend some time exploring the more recent history of the city. Here's where you can find the settings of some of your favorite movies that were filmed right here in the Holy City.

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.com

Hi, fellow mariners! Today, I'm happy to introduce you to a new blogger who's doing something that I always wanted to do--study abroad at Oxford University. Sara from Sara Laughed is enjoying her year in England and blogging about all of it before she returns to her home university in Massachusetts at the end of this school year. I asked her to share what it's like to live and study at the English speaking world's oldest institute of higher learning. Enjoy!

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comHi friends! My name is Sara and I blog over at Sara Laughed about college life, love, and travel. I'm a current college student studying abroad at Oxford University. Since Natalie studied abroad in London while she was in college, she reached out and asked me to share with you some details of my time at Oxford. I hope this gives you the chance to live vicariously through my experience and get a little glimpse of what makes Oxford so magical!

It was a snowy morning in Massachusetts when I found out I'd been accepted to Oxford for my year abroad. I was thrilled - I called my parents and danced around my room in my pajamas. On the one hand, I had wanted nothing more than to get into this program - to live abroad and to experience a new university and a new culture. On the other, I was completely terrified. I had no idea what Oxford would hold in store for me, and whether I could handle the pressure of a new university, in a new country, on another continent.

 It turns out I had nothing to worry about. I have loved almost everything about my time at Oxford, which has been about six months now. Being a Junior Year Abroad student means that I straddle the awkward line between resident and tourist - I still experience everything with fresh eyes, but I've lived here long enough to know the streets and shops and to have a regular routine.

Today, I'd like to share with you how Oxford looks through my, still new, eyes - here are 5 things I love about Oxford.

 5 // The colleges

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comThe Bridge of Sighs, part of Hertford College

Oxford is visually breathtaking. The university is the oldest in the English-speaking world, and because its colleges date in their origins between 1249 and 2008 (yes, really!), they features a huge variety of architectural styles. As a student, my university ID lets me into most of the colleges without trouble, meaning that I can attend Evensong services in Christ Church or go to my tutorial at Pembroke College, even though my own college is quite a walk away. I love that the college system gives students so much variety in what they can experience and explore.

4 // The libraries
Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.com
The Harris Manchester library.

The Oxford library system is absolutely incredible. The Bodleian Libraries include a total of 40 different libraries all around the city, with over 11 million books and printed items. Many of the libraries are also incredibly beautiful, internally or externally. Knowing that I have so much knowledge at my fingertips is amazing, and for a nerd like me, it's heaven!

  3 // The covered market
The Covered Market is a historic market near the center of Oxford with lots of little independent shops and cafés. The shops range from flower stores to a hat shop, and include a butcher and plenty of places to sit down for tea (or coffee, if that's your beverage of choice) or have lunch. I have a favorite café with both indoor and outdoor seating that serves warm drinks and delicious cakes!

  2 // The uniquely Oxford traditions
Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comTorpids on the Thames.

Oxford has plenty of traditions that I would be unlikely to experience anywhere else. Punting on the Thames is a popular option in spring, as is playing croquet on your college's lawn (I'm excited to try both of these next term!). Last weekend I went to see Torpids, a special boat race in which the object is to "bump" the boat in front of you to move ahead. The race developed because the part of the Thames on which the race is held is too narrow for traditional boat racing. It was a very fun and strange experience that represented, to me, the many ways in which Oxford is unique.

 1 // The opportunities
Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comThe first ball I attended.

However, if I had to choose the single thing I loved most about Oxford, it would be the incredible range of opportunities available to students. As a student, I've attended a wine tasting class, balls, college parties, formal dinners, lectures at the Oxford Union, and more. The city and university are so rich in what they have to offer that I know I'll never be able to try it all, no matter how long I stay here. All in all, I feel incredibly lucky to be spending a year in this beautiful small city. One of my parents was a fellow at Oxford, and as a result, this happens to be the city where I was born, though we moved away soon after. Maybe this year is the fates bringing me back; who knows what's in store next!
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If you liked reading about Sara's Oxford experiences, follow along with her for even more on college, her life, and her travels.

Have you ever been to Oxford? If not, what's one thing you'd like to experience?

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences

8 Quintessential New Orleans Experiences | CosmosMariners.com

I love doing off-the-beaten-path type travel. But even I will admit that there are some times that call for the tried-and-true experiences in a place. After all, you don't want to be like my husband, who went all the way to London and never saw Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, or Parliament. I was so busy focusing on the unusual stuff in London that we completely forgot to do the normal stuff. Oops.

Like London, New Orleans has some of those places and experiences that you just have to do--or risk people saying, "Wait. You went on a trip there and didn't do ________??" Lest you make the same mistakes that I do and try to skip over the most popular sites, I'm here to guide you to 8 quintessential New Orleans experiences.

How to Win at the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge at Walt Disney World

How to Win at the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge at Walt Disney World | CosmosMariners.com

Back in June 2013, my sister and I attempted something that we'd never done before: we headed to all four parks at Walt Disney World in one day. (You can see our efforts here: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.)

Yes, I know. It seems completely crazy. And I'm here to tell you that it is--but it's also a lot of fun!

When we decided to embark on our 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge, I did a little research, but didn't find too much on the best way to approach it. So, here I am now, on the other side of the challenge, to share my tips with you in the hopes that you'll try out this awesome way to experience one of the world's most famous theme parks.

Preparing

In our room at Pop Century before we head out on the challenge

Leave nothing to chance. Before you set foot in the parks, you'll want to outline where you want to go, what rides you want to experience, and where you'll eat. This may seem like overkill, but it helped us immensely when it came to budgeting time in the parks. We had a printed out schedule with arrival and departure times, transportation information, and notes on what we wanted to accomplish in each park.

If you're not familiar with the parks, outline everything on a map. (The concierge at the Disney hotels should have copies to give you.) You don't want to use your precious time searching for the next ride.

Use the Magic Hours to your advantage. Research which parks are opening early and closing late so you'll have the maximum amount of time to complete your challenge. These are only available to Disney property guests, so this is one time that staying onside might be worth it.

Lay out your clothes the night before. Since this is an intense way to tour the parks, you'll want to get as much sleep as you can. Don't waste another five or so minutes in the morning picking out your clothes when you can rest instead!

If you're super cool like I am, your comfy outfit can include a monogrammed Minnie Mouse decal. And you can match your sister. 
Wear the most comfortable clothes possible. Even though I'm a huge proponent of dressing semi-decently while you're in the parks (see that post here), this is one day that I give you a pass to put on those exercise shorts and extra soft t-shirt and just go for it. By the end of the day, you will be sweaty, exhausted, and probably crabby, and you don't want your wardrobe to cause you to feel even worse.

Getting through the Day

Start early. Very early. No sleeping in today! If you're going to conquer all four parks in one day, you're going to need every minute. Plus, crowds are much lighter in the mornings, so you'll be able to blast through a few more rides before you have to move onto the next park.

Pack a small backpack with a water bottle. It's easy to get dehydrated when you're outside all day in the Florida sun, so quick pit stops at the water fountains to refill your water bottle will keep you going. I don't care for the taste of the plain water at Disney World, so I always pack something to flavor it. These are both lightweight items and won't get in your way while you're running from park to park.

See that green backpack my sister is carrying? It was a lifesaver! (Not literally. That would be no fancy backpack.)
Go easy on the meals. I'm all for eating that yummy Disney food, but this is one day that your gastronomic exploration will have to take a backseat. My sister and I did include plenty of snack stops along the way, but we made sure to eat smaller portions than we usually would and stay away from big, carby meals. We didn't want to risk getting super sleepy post-meal time!

Be prepared to skip rides on your itinerary, if necessary. Occasionally, rides will be shut down for awhile for repairs or because of the weather. Don't try to wait around until it's back up, or you'll lose momentum. Find a replacement ride, and then check often to see if your preferred ride is back up and running. If it is, quickly go on it. If not, keep moving on. You've got a lot of park to see!
Don't lose valuable time waiting around for rides to re-open. Test Track, I'm looking at you.
Know that you will hit a wall. It will not be fun when it happens, so take a minute to sit down, drink something, and then get back up and go some more. I nearly called the entire challenge at about 4:30 PM on the day we attempted it because, all of a sudden, I was exhausted, hot, and a little dehydrated. My sister convinced me to stay, and she ushered me into a nearby restaurant. By the time I ate and cooled down, I was ready to go for a few more hours.

I look happy going into the Animal Kingdom, but my meltdown was just an hour or two away.


Pace yourself. You'll be in the parks continually for 12+ hours (our challenge took 15!), so don't run yourself ragged in the first few moments. Identify two or three rides per park, and do those first. If you've got time before you need to move on, go on another one or two.

Where we went wrong: 

  • We attempted the challenge in June. This is not recommended! Not only was it blazing by 10 AM, but there were so many people there. Fighting the heat and the crowds at the same time was a major factor to why I got so burnt out mid-afternoon. 
  • We waited around when Test Track was closed down for a summer thunderstorm. Instead of just leaving and trying something else, we waited around for over 30 minutes. Not only did we get sleepy in the cool building, but we also wasted a good chunk of time that could've been spent somewhere else. Thankfully, we learned our lesson by the time we got to our third park of the day (Animal Kingdom) and skipped waiting around when we found that Dinosaur was closed.
  • We weren't well rested. Instead of getting a full night's sleep before attempting the challenge, we'd only slept a few hours. We'd driven to Florida from South Carolina the night before, leaving Charleston at 5 when my sister got off from work. We arrived in Orlando around midnight, and then got back up for the challenge at 5:45 AM or so. We both would've felt better by the end of the challenge if we'd had a restful night's sleep!
Even though it was intense, the 4 parks/ 1 Day Challenge was a lot of fun for both my sister and I. We're huge fans of Walt Disney World, and we've been dozens of times, so it was exciting to see the property from a new perspective. 

Would you attempt the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge? How would you go about organizing your day?

Vacationing on Kiawah Island, South Carolina: A Complete Guide


Vacationing on Kiawah Island, South Carolina: A Complete Guide | CosmosMariners.com


Just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, is a long, winding two lane road flanked by centuries-old live oaks. While the drive down State Road S-10-20 (Bohicket Road and then Betsy Kerrison Parkway) is destination enough, the golf and resort community at the end of it will make the trip even sweeter.

The road ends in a roundabout. Take the first road to your right, and you'll go to Seabrook Island. The second road leads to Freshfields Village, a shopping and dining area that services the area. We're headed to Kiawah, so we're going to take the last exit off of the roundabout, skirting Freshfields Village, and continuing on Kiawah Island Parkway further into the marsh.

If you're headed to Kiawah Island as a part of your visit to Charleston, you won't be disappointed. Here's everything you need to know about vacationing on Kiawah!