Southern Hospitality Rules At Washington Duke Inn, a Resort in Durham, N.C.

Durham, N.C., the epicenter of the Research Triangle Park, is not known as a resort destination. But, nestled on the campus of Duke University, is a tranquil peace of resort heaven, known as the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club. It transports guests away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and opens its door for you to enjoy a slower-pace oozed with Southern hospitality.

The stately inn, nestled on 300 acres on the edge of Duke Forest, is owned by Duke University. Some weekends, you will be hard-pressed to find a room available at the  Washington Duke Inn, which could easily be mistaken for a country English estate in Durham, England, not North Carolina.

But, the good news for you is that sometimes the hotel is less busy such as when Duke University students are not on campus or when the Duke BlueDevils are not playing a home game. Summer is one of the less busy times for the hotel and as a result, you will find incredible rates and packages that every local or seasoned traveler should experience.

Under the culinary leadership of Jason Cunningham, I've been a fan of the Washington Duke Inn tea service for several decades now. They have the best scones in the state and an elegant tea service. It is also a perfect experience for kids. My son had his first tea in the Fairview Dining Room when he was seven.

Every time I have dined at the Washington Duke Inn restaurant in the past, I have had an exceptional dining experience.  I am a huge fan of the Fairview Dining Room, which is the official name of the AAA four-diamond ranked restaurant.

One of the best local secrets is that the Washington Duke Inn menu features the special Dinner at Dusk Menu, offered from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at a special price of $35 for three courses. The value alone in that meal is crazy good.  The Washington Duke Inn is also known for its weekend brunch so it's a popular spot for Duke students, alumni, and their families.

As you know from my past travels, I do not shy away from dining in fine restaurants in hotels with my kids. In non-hotel restaurants, I'm a little more cautious. The reason why I am comfortable choosing hotel dining with kids in tow is that hotels are used to dealing with children

Chef Cunningham has younger children than my two so he understands the struggles parents have when traveling. Parents, like myself, want great food, but here is Liza, who lives off of buttered noodles, a cheeseburger, and an occasional nugget. Meanwhile, my soon to-be-13-year-old is a self-exclaimed foodie, and we have to limit him or else, we will have to get a bank loan on his choices.

The Washington Duke Inn also operates the Bull Durham Bar for more casual salads, burger and sandwich options which is a perfect choice for families who need a less quiet atmosphere. I've dined here for lunch with the kids when we visited the nearby Duke Lemur Center.  Despite the numerous times I've dined at the Washington Duke Inn through the years, I had never stayed overnight and experienced what it would be like as a resort guest until this year.

Staying as an Overnight Guest in the Family Suite at the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club

Even though Durham is only 45-minutes away from Raleigh, just getting out of the house for one night with the kids felt like a vacation this summer. As you know, I'm fine with just enjoying resort amenities and never leaving a property if it is for a short amount of time.  One-night away was the perfect subscription for genuine family bonding.  Even though the Washington Duke Inn is pet-friendly, Andy and my husband stayed home. Will had to work the next day and I thought I would be brave enough to take the kids to a hotel alone.

Washington Duke Inn chose the family suite for us and it was a special treat for the kids. It was a king bed with an alcove area with two bunk beds plus an awesome child-sized chess table. You book this suite for the fun and not the view. It is more expensive, but larger in size than a regular double room. Don't fret though, you will have the same ambiance in a regular room if the cost per night is more than your travel budget allows. This type of suite runs about $50 more than a regular double. Room rates start at $200 at the Washington Duke Inn during non-peak times. 

Best Scallop Dish Ever Tasted in Washington Duke Inn Restaurant 

I've already mentioned how much I like the food at the Washington Duke Inn in the Fairview Dining and the Bull Durham Bar, but I cannot write this piece without mentioning the scallop dish that is currently on the seasonal summer menu. It was pan-seared diver scallops with grilled silver queen corn, piperade, Spanish bacon, local basil aioli, and organic carrot puree. Thank goodness for google because I did have to look up the definition of piperade.  Simply put, it's French Basque dish, a saute of peppers, onions, and tomatoes. This particular dish is not on the special, lower-cost Dinner at Dusk menu though.  My husband is so tired of hearing how good the scallop entree was at the Washington Duke Inn that's for sure.

Swimming at Night and Drinks on the Green 

The Washington Duke Inn has a gorgeous indoor pool which is fun for kids year-round. I personally love the grounds of the hotel because it overlooks the Washington Duke Golf Course. Guests at the hotel get a special discount for golfing and there is a great golf store on site. The club also offers lessons and week-long courses. Every time, I go to a golf course, I say I want to take up lessons. 

But, for now, I 'll settle for a sparkling rose overlooking the green. This terrace is a wonderful spot for a casual dinner or just drinks before a performance at DPAC in downtown Durham.

Luxury Hotel Perks You Will Enjoy at Washington Duke Inn in Durham, N.C. 

*Complimentary coffee is served in the Bull Durham Bar every morning, but there is a Keurig  Coffee Maker in each room
*Room Service from 6 a.m. to Midnight
*Bull Durham Bar open until Midnight
*Fitness Center and walking trail 
*Indoor Pool
*Luxury soaps and lotions (Gilchrist and Soames of London)
*Luxury bathrooms ( I wore mine down for early coffee, but I was the only one)
*Make-Up Mirror
*Good TV (Always a plus with children)
*Valet parking, but good old free parking, too
*Bellman to help with all those stuffed animals that your kids bring with them
*Chocolates on the nightstand, and turn-down service for those who request it. I was special. I got it without asking and I have to admit that I do think turn-down service is one of my favorite things about luxury properties
*Comfy high-end bedding. Mattresses are somewhat firm.
*Great water pressure and shower heads
*Pet-friendly, but pets are not allowed in all parts of the hotels and they have certain entrances. You will need to go over that with the front desk at check-in
*Drools in Southern hospitality, and if you ask me, that's a good thing!!!!

#NorthCarolina #FamilyTravel #Travel #LuxuryHotels

The Sister Hotel: The JB DUKE Hotel 

And just when you thought this story could not get any better, the Washington Duke Inn has a sister hotel less than a mile from the Inn called the JB Duke Hotel.

This contemporary property near Duke's Fuqua School of Business and Duke's baseball stadium is also a four-diamond rated, but has a completely different tone and feel that Washington Duke Inn.  Due to the hotel's relationship with the business school, guests typically stay longer (think meetings and conferences) at this property, but it does attract the leisure guest, too. I had breakfast at the JB Duke Hotel and toured the property with staff.  There is no pool, but it has an awesome fitness center and amazing suites. Package rates typically start below $200 at this property. This fall, I'll tell you more.

Disclosure: I was a hosted media guest of the Washington Duke Inn, but this is an editorial piece and opinions are my own. Only a few people knew I was media so my experience resembled any other family. 


Keeping the Tradition of Customized Paper Invitations for Baby and Wedding Showers Is a Must in this Digital Age

This opinion piece was curated and sparked by Basic Invite, home of the truly custom invite.

Twenty years ago, I had a reputation for being the fastest thank you note writer, possibly in the entire state of North Carolina. Some guests at my wedding had their thank you notes arrive at their home the Monday after my Saturday wedding. Fast forward to my life today and I'm now the worse thank you, writer, on the planet. 

What happened? Kids happened and the quick ease of sending an email happened. I am to blame, but I also blame the digital age. I feel as if my Southern manners have gone to pot, which is not a good thing. I still love customized stationary though and I like to have a stash in my antique secretary desk for when the need arises. I buy personalized stationery for myself and even for my children, who would rather get their fingernails peeled off than write a thank you note these days.

Despite the complaining, it's my job to teach them to do the right thing expected of a recipient of a gift. I want them to grow up and know that handwritten thank you noteson proper stationery are a part of life. I'm also instilling in their little brains that if they are to ever host a wedding or baby shower then they better order paper invitations for the event. 

I certainly get why online invites for kid's birthdays or quick potlucks or neighborhood parties are popular. It's easy, and sometimes, things are done impromptu. Trust me, I live an impromptu life now. It keeps the cost down for an event and it works for those occasions. But, I beg you to please keep the tradition of paper invitations alive for wedding and baby showers.  These are such wonderful milestone events in someone's life and embracing some of the past in this technology-ran world is nice. 

You can order customized printed invitations online instead of making the trip to a local store these days, but whatever route you decide to do it's so considerate to celebrate milestone events with paper invitations. 

I went through a dry spell where I was not invited to a wedding shower or a baby shower in many years. But, I have moved into a neighborhood with friends younger than me and I have a baby shower to attend for my neighbor next weekend. I received a paper invitation in the mail and I loved it. I love paper invitations because I can hold it and put it on a bulletin board as a reminder. This invite didn't get buried in my email where it typically takes me a long time to find it again. I also promptly RSVP'd for the event. I've been known to forget to RSVP online invites because I don't do it right away then I forget about the invite in an email. 

The hosts for this baby shower chose an animals baby shower invitation design and apparently that is the biggest trend right now for baby shower invitations. Of course, I spent an hour or so looking at the designs and one of my favorite designs is in the baby showers for girls templates. It's for twins and it's two smiling peas. It's adorable. I also like this template below for craft brew loving parents-to-be. 

When I was pregnant with Jack, some friends of ours hosted a couple's shower. I think in today's world, it's nice to keep the tradition of paper, but think outside the box when hosting an event. The invitation pictured would be perfect to host at a local brewery, just make sure you have some sparking punch on hand for the mom-to-be. 

I'm entering a new stage of life, and some of my college friends now have children getting married or are having babies. Will's aunt, who is at never at a lost for words, said this past weekend that fifty plus is truly the golden years. I believe it. It's fun to have milestone events on the calendar again instead of birthday parties at the local jump place. Of course, when she turned 50, her children were out of the house and grown. We've got a ways to go on that empty nest front. 

I'm not hosting an event anytime soon, but I did order some new business cards from Basic Invite and I love them. Ordering and customizing them was a breeze. They are two-sided cards. The ordering process would be the same for online invitations or stationery.  I recommend the company for your needs. Here are a few things that set this company apart from other online stores. 

Almost Unlimited Colors - Basic Invite is one of the few websites that allows customers almost unlimited color options with instant previews online. Once you select a design you can change the color of each element on the card to over 180 different color options so you can make sure the card is exactly how you want it down to the littlest detail. 

Custom Samples - Basic Invite is one of the few websites that allows customers the ability to order a printed sample of their actual invitation so you can see exactly how it will print as well as the paper quality before you have to place your final order.

Over 40 Different Colors of Envelopes - Basic Invite is just as colorful with envelopes as it is with its invitations. Customers can choose from over 40 different colors when it comes to their envelopes so that you can make your invitation stand out even before it is opened. All of Basic Invites envelopes are peel and seal so the envelopes can be quickly and securely closed.

Address Capturing Service - Basic Invite offers an address capturing service that allows customers to simply share a link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other form of social media to request their friends and family’s addresses which will be stored in the customer’s account and can then be selected during the design process. Basic Invite offers recipient address printing at no cost on all Christmas card orders.

Foil - Foil cards are available in gold, silver, and rose gold. Customers can choose flat or raised foil on all of Basic Invite’s foil designs.

I will definitely use Basic Invite again for stationery or any future events I may host.  If you re hosting an event in the future, this coupon code of 15FF51 is valid for 15% off for a limited time. 

How do you feel about printed invitations and customized stationery? Are you a fan like me? 

FTC Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Basic Invite. The conversation was sparked by their sponsorship of my writing, but opinions of this company are my own. 


8 Great Lunch Spots Near NC State University

This conversation about lunch spots near NC State was sparked and sponsored by HireScene, an app that will change the way you work. 

If you're a food lover and you are coming to Raleigh, North Carolina, you will be glad to hear that you are in luck. Raleigh has its share of good places to eat almost on every street corner.

For this post though, we are going to concentrate on lunch spots near NC State University. For those of you who may be visiting North Carolina State University or Raleigh for the first time, the good news is that you can get to a lot of local great restaurants (think downtown, North Hills and even Cary, NC) quickly, but I wanted to pinpoint a certain area. We are concentrating on places near Hillsborough Street, Western Boulevard, and NC State's Centennial Campus for great lunch breaks. We could add more to this list, but I had to stop somewhere. Here are eight local favorites.

When visiting Raleigh, the State Farmer's Market is a must-experience when in town. It's adjacent to Centennial Campus and the wide-open area houses a hot dog stand, a seafood restaurant, and the biggest draw of all, the State Farmer's Market Restaurant.  It's only open for breakfast and lunch, serving until 3 pm. It's one of the few places in Raleigh where you can get breakfast all day.  No matter when you go, it's always packed so be prepared for a short wait. It's first-come, first-serve. 

This Japanese fusion restaurant with top-notch sushi is located in Cameron Village Shopping Center. It offers indoor and outdoor patio seating and attracts visitors with its specially-priced lunch menu for under $10. You can get two sushi-rolls, miso soup and a green salad for $8.95. For sushi fans, you know that is incredibly reasonable, but the best part of all, the sushi is delicious.  HireScene employees gave me this lunch recommendation and I tried it for the first time this month. I'll certainly be back. I adored the crunchy salmon roll. Lunch is served from 11 am to 4 pm.

sushi in Raleigh

This family-owned Mediterranean-Lebanese restaurant, located on Beryl Road (Near the NC State Fairgrounds) has been a Raleigh staple since 1989. Using family recipes, the deli offers daily lunch specials along with fresh sides, vegetables, kabobs, and shawarma.

When the Saleh family immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, they brought with them their passion for bread along with their mother's recipes. The brothers opened Neomonde Baking Company in 1977, a wholesale bakery and later moved that operation to the Beryl Road location. Neomonde has another restaurant location in Morrisville. My favorite is the stuffed grape leaves.

lebanese food in Raleigh, NC

The Player's Retreat, known as PRs, to the locals has been a popular spot since 1951. With lots of gourmet burgers on the menu, it's a hotspot from daytime to late-night. Burgers are a $1 off at lunch, ground from Angus beef on site, and its home to the Wolfpack Burger, either 4-ounces or 6-ounces, served with mustard, chili, and slaw. The menu has a variety of cuisine and all lunch specials are under $10.

This quick-service restaurant off of Western Boulevard that sources local offers free chips and queso with a meal every Tuesday. With a cool salsa bar with condiments and tacos in two sizes, it's easy on the wallet for a lunch-time break. My favorite taco is "Fish Called Wanda" Taco. It's crunchy breaded Alaskan pollock, Mexican slaw, ancho-honey, pico-de-gallo, and jack cheese. Wicked Taco will open a second location at Morgan Street Food Hall in downtown Raleigh later this year.

Nothing screams NC State like Amedeo's Italian Restaurant on Western Boulevard. It's a shrine to NC State athletics. This college staple serves a daily lunch special from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. My favorite entree is spaghetti and meatballs, but they have solid pizza, too.


Cloo's Coney Island is so retro, it doesn't even have a website. What it does have though is food from a hot grill that will make you drool. Known for its hot dogs and chili-cheese fries, this little restaurant tucked away in Mission Valley Shopping Center off of Avent Ferry Road has been around for 30 years. You can also get cheesesteaks, burgers, gyros and fresh salads. It's open from 11 am to 8:30 pm.

The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area has an awesome food truck scene. You can find food trucks parked at breweries, businesses and on NC State's Centennial Campus. NC State Dining has two food trucks parked on weekdays on Main Campus Drive from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm. HireScene employees tell me that they mark their calendars for the days when American Meltdown arrives on campus. That's a day not to miss, apparently.

Hunt Library_Centennial Campus_NC State

These NC State lunch break ideas were recommendations from my OutaboutNC community and employees of HireScene, which is a Raleigh-based company.  While at their office on Centennial Campus, we did some live interviews about their favorite places in Raleigh and I received a demonstration on how this new employment app for the hospitality industry works. Developed by NC State Alumni, it's available for download on iTunes and the Google PlayStore. I was impressed with it and the best way for me to describe it is to compare it to Uber. Hire Scene is a mobile app, headquartered on North Carolina State's Centennial Campus, that has changed the way people work. Hire Scene has partnered with multiple hospitality venues in the Triangle that post to the app when they have a gig available. App Members are notified and get to pick where, when, and how often they work.

It's the perfect situation for students who need to work around their school schedule, retirees and people who want to earn some extra money, but need that flexibility.

FTC Disclosure: This post was sponsored by HireScene. Hire Scene is a mobile app, headquartered on North Carolina State's Centennial Campus, that has changed the way people work. Hire Scene has partnered with multiple hospitality venues in the Triangle that post to the app when they have a gig available. App Members are notified and get to pick where, when, and how often they work.


Savor Summer with a Southern Tomato Pie

I love tomatoes. I get most excited in the summer because that is when tomatoes are in abundance. They are fresh, tasty and less costly in the summer. They are even better in a grocery store, but nothing beats tomatoes at a Farmer's Market.

This is also the best time to make a tomato pie, which makes a great side dish or even a main meal with a salad.

Southern Tomato Pie with Parm Cheese.
Southern Tomato Pie. Photo by Mandi McClure

There are several ways to do a tomato pie and a lot of times, the variation is in the cheese that you use.

Savory Southern Tomato Pie
(adapted from Southern Living, August 2011)

Puff Pastry (you can also use regular pie crust instead)
4 medium tomatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices (about 1 1/2 lbs)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise 
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 cup (4 oz) shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

  • 1. Preheat oven to 350º. 
  • 2. Meanwhile, place tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels; sprinkle with salt. Let stand 45 minutes to an hour. Pat dry with paper towels. Stir together next 3 ingredients and 3/4 cup of cheese. 
  • 3. Cut the puff pastry into a 13-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate; fold edges under, and crimp. Prick the bottom and part way up the sides with a fork.
  • 4. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly brown. Remove from oven, and sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese over bottom of crust. Arrange tomato slices over cheese in crust; spread mayonnaise mixture over tomatoes.
  • 5. Bake at 350º for 34 to 37 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with whole basil leaves if desired.
Instructions for Summer Tomato Pie

**Leigh's Alternate version of Southern Tomato Pie with onions, pepper, and different cheeses. 

Add 1/4 tsp of pepper and 1/2 cup of diced onions to the above list of ingredients. Use one cup of Cheddar Cheese and 1 cup of Mozzarella cheese rather than Parmesan cheese.

This recipe,, adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks from Edenton, North Carolina, uses a pie shell. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and bake crust for five minutes; reduce heat to 400 degrees. Remove from oven and arrange thick tomato slices in the shell. Mix salt, pepper, basil, and onion.  Sprinkle over tomatoes. Mix mayonnaise and cheese; spread on top. Bake for 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before slicing. 

You could even be adventurous, and use all three kinds of cheese. Enjoy!

Southern Tomato Pie recipes. Great for when Tomatoes are in abundance in the summer. #sidedishes #mainmeals #tomatoes


Since Becoming a Parent, I have More Respect for our Educators

I am going to do something on this blog that I rarely do. I'm going to write very hastily about a political subject in North Carolina and I'm going to do it in 15 minutes because that is all the time I have right now.  But, I have a voice and I cannot keep quiet. Not any longer.

Yesterday was a historic day in North Carolina. Schools closed so that teachers could rally in our state capital to encourage better public education funding in our state. This rally has made national news. It has created debates about teacher salaries in our state. Frankly, it's created controversy.

I'm a parent of two children in North Carolina's public schools and I support our teachers 100 percent. I've read some of the public comments in the New York Times and I became angry. Comments such as:

"They don't work eight hours a day and they have summers off."
"A lot of other people make less money."

You know what? That is true. There are a lot of people who do make less money. This rally was not just about salaries, but public education funding in general. But, I am going to talk money for a minute and the salaries for a teaching profession. 

I, too, was ignorant when I was 23-years-of age working full-time in television and made eight thousand dollars a year less than a starting teaching salary of $24k at the time in North Carolina.  I even thought about leaving TV and perhaps trying to teach drama and journalism in high school.  I said to myself, "They are not on call, they don't even work in the summer and they can get holidays off and I would make almost 10K more a year." 

 I didn't do it. I did not leave my job for teaching. I guess I got cold feet or didn't want to go back to school to get that lateral education degree. I'm not sure what happened, but I decided to take a different path professionally. 

It is a true statement that most teachers do not go into their profession for money. They typically do it because they like to help people. Same thing with those in the social work field.  A job also can't be just about the money, especially when you talk about education. It takes the right person to do that job. Good teachers inspire and mentor. Good teachers make learning seem like the easiest thing to do on this planet. 

I would have failed as a teacher. I would have received an F grade because after becoming a parent, I now know that I do not have the personality to deal with students. In fact, on many days I do not even like children. That includes my own two children so I pretty much know I would fail miserably with someone's child. 

Notice I said like. Not love. I love my children and because I love my children I became heavily involved in my elementary school's PTA. I even took on the role as President. I have served on committees that help give PTA grants for innovative teaching and programs. Through my years of spending a lot of time in school, I have have had the privilege of seeing a very realistic behind the scenes look at our public schools.

Is my perception different than my life before having a family of my own?  Absolutely. I have so much respect for our educators. 

"Respect. Amazement and Awe" 

That sums up how I feel about the educators. My children go to really good public schools. The staff and leadership at these schools are amazing. These individuals work a lot more than eight hours a day. They work nights, early mornings and weekends. The work does not stop when the school dismisses. 

I could go on and on to convince others to feel like I do, but that is just wasted words on so many. Many people would not last one day as an educator. As parents, we trust these people to mold and shape our children into educated adults. A lot rides on this profession.  I've seen great educators who have a gift with children, especially male, leave this profession because they can make more money doing sales or something else. 

I've seen other people have successful careers in the private sector then leave it because their first love is education. 

I've seen the school receptionist hold a kid's hair back in the sick room who was vomiting. I've seen the attitudes that educators see daily in their classrooms. Some educators provide a stable role model when a child's home life sucks. To me, our educators are right up there after GOD.  I'll go ahead and put God first then educators second. That's how important they are to me. 

I have so much respect for all education staff. I thank all teachers for their service. I'm glad you did what you did yesterday. 

Our education system deserves the best.

My fifteen minutes are up and I'm now going to be late for an appointment.  Thanks for letting me get on a soapbox today.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does, you can feel sure I believe in the cause. 

And one more note....if you are local and can vote for Julie Von Haefen for State House. Take the time to learn more about her. She's a friend of mine. Unfortunately,  I do not live her district, but she is the voice for change that our public education system needs. 


Hotels in England have Royal Wedding Fever, Too

I love a wedding. Make it a royal wedding and I can't contain myself. I will set an alarm clock and watch the events unfold live on TV this month. No one better disturb me.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry  Before Wedding
Photo: Kensington Palace 

I will not be making a child a bowl of cereal on this morning. My children are now 12 and 8. They know how to make their own bowl of cereal as does my husband. Someone else must let out the dog. Well, I may do that during a commercial break. I'm sure he will be snuggled up with me watching the wedding, too.

I also vow not to wake my husband or children that early in the morning. I've already been told that I should sleep upstairs and use the big TV in our bonus room.  It's new. We bought it when we moved in our house. It's big and away from everyone. The only thing I need to learn to do before May 19 is how to turn that TV on. I always sit down and someone else does it for me, that is when I take the time to watch TV in that room.

But, I'm not the only person with royal wedding fever. This wedding is huge for Britain's tourism market and many of the hotels are marketing the fun, too.

Are you also named Named Harry and Meghan?...

Wonder what the chances are for an actual couple to also be called Harry and Meghan or even spelled as Megan?  I'm sure it's possible and those lucky people can apply to stay complimentary at either Mercure London Kensington or Mercure London Hyde Park on May 19.

Which one would you choose?

Royal Tea Adjacent Buckingham Palace

If you love to partake in afternoon tea then London is a wonderful place, but the Rubens at the Palace offers guests the Royal Tea with an overnight stay. As the Queen's neighbor adjacent to Buckingham Palace, the hotel has a package that wants you to live like a royal, too. From July 23 to September 30th, Rubens at the Palace will offer this special package that includes two nights accommodations, royal afternoon tea, a royal cocktail or your choice.  royal turndown service, full English Breakfast, and tickets to the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace.  How cool is that? I want to do that.

The hotel is also offering  Royal Wedding Celebration Tea on May 18 and 19, the weekend of the wedding.  To mark the occasion, the hotel's Executive Head Chef has created “The Royal Wedding Celebration Afternoon Tea”, consisting of four specially created pastries inspired by Royal wedding cakes of the past.  The ceremony will be screened live. 

Royal Tea at Rubens at the Palace

Feel like a Princess with a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride Around London 

Leading Hotels of the World hotels are known for luxury and extravagance.  The 5-Star Boutique Hotel The Milestone Hotel and Residences will have you swooning with envy with its Royal Engagement Package. 

Shoot. I'm turning 50 this year and I just want to do it for my birthday.   Wonder if I can convince Will to pretend we just got engaged. The package is valid until the end of the year. This great opportunity comes with a photography session, your own Bently ride, your own horse and carriage, royal tea service, a private tour of Kensington Palace and a lot of wonderful memories.

Who will be watching the wedding of Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle?

As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle get ready to Wed. London is excited and has Wedding Packages that will make you also feel Royal.


Discover America's First Beach: The North Carolina Outer Banks #OutaboutNC Travel Guide

North Carolina's Outer Banks can be claimed as America's first beach and it's one of the most popular and well-known beach communities in North Carolina. It's the area that was first in flight and home to the lost colony. It's one of North Carolina's most historic places and it's probably what most people think of when they think of visiting the North Carolina coast. 

We have a gorgeous coastline, but for those wanting to dig deeper into the first beach discovered in America, writer Karen Dawkins, covered the area for me and my site because my schedule has always conflicted with the media trips.  It is the only part of the North Carolina that I do not have a lot of first-hand experience. I have, however, stayed in Manteo many years ago now and have ridden on the coast from Kitty Hawk to Duck. 

The Outer Banks is North Carolina's most known community of beaches. This guide will give your more insight on  America's First Beach. #OutaboutNC

Discover the OuterBanks
By Karen Dawkins, an #outaboutnc contributor

I moved to North Carolina in 2001, and somehow never made it to the Outer Banks. So, when Leigh asked if I could go there in her place on a sponsored media trip, I hesitated about 3 seconds before saying yes! (You know, I didn’t want to seem too eager.)

To be honest, my image of the Outer Banks was rather “Nights in Rodanthe” lots of sand dunes and remoteness, without much more. I know it’s a popular vacation destination, but I never considered it for my active family. I was so wrong!

If you’re like me, unaware of all that the Outer Banks has to offer, this article is for you. If you’re an Outer Banks expert, I think I might still surprise you with some things to do. 

Attractions on the Outer Banks

#outaboutnc Family Adventure Guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks, a series of barrier islands on the northeastern edge of North Carolina, truly has it all. The area has seen 500 years of history, from early colonial settlers to pirates and WWII. Atlantic waves make for great surfing, and the quieter waters of the sound side offer other water sports options.

1.    Artistic pursuits. Bring out your inner artist with a class at Studio 12, or shop one of the many independent art shops along the Outer Banks. Studio 12 offers to paint your own ceramics and glass making classes, as well as art for sale. Sun and sea inspire works in soothing blues and greens and bright designs reminiscent of the sun’s rays dancing on the waves. Pick up a piece of jewelry, wood pieces, painting or ceramics to remember your vacation.
2.    Active adventures. Try your hand at kiteboarding, SUP (stand up paddleboarding), surfing and kayaking. REAL Watersports, near Rodanthe, offers classes for beginners and rental equipment packages for those who need it. Other active adventures along the Outer Banks include fishing charters, off-roading in 4X4 vehicles (with permit), and hiking and biking the many trails here. Families traveling with younger kids might appreciate the offerings in Nags Head — especially with all the indoor opportunities to escape a rainy day!
3.    Historic tours. Before the Coast Guard, Life-Saving Stations along the Outer Banks rescued sailors who wrecked. The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, in Rodanthe — an easy drive from north or south — tells the story of these heroes. Chicamocomico has a well-deserved 5-star TripAdvisor rating — it was a highlight of my trip.
4.    Nature tours. The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Rodanthe, gives visitors an up-close look at birds, turtles and other animals indigenous to the area. During turtle nesting season, guests can cross the dunes to see where the nests are and learn about their plight for survival. The beach here is great for shelling, too, especially after storms.
5.    Lighthouse tours. Four active lighthouses still warn boaters of the dangers along the shores of the Outer Banks. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla is the northernmost lighthouse on the Outer Banks. Bodie Island Lighthouse is located at the north end of the Oregon Inlet. Visitors can climb it, weather permitting, between April and October. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton is the most well-known of the Outer Banks lighthouses. It is open to the public, weather permitting, from April to Columbus Day. Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse in Manteo is easily accessible and has a maritime history museum onsite.

Lodging to Consider for North Carolina's Outer Banks

#outaboutnc Family Adventure Guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks offers a variety of lodging choices, not just beach houses. Luxury inns, such as the Inn on Pamlico Sound in Buxton and the Sanderling Resort in Duck, cater to guests who want a high-end experience. More traditional hotel options can be found at the Breakwater Inn in Hatteras or at chain hotels closer to Nags Head. Throughout the Outer Banks, Bed and Breakfast lodging is available. Of course, beach houses — whether high-end mega-houses with all the bells and whistles or small cottages providing the necessary basics — are available from Corolla to Ocracoke.

To select the perfect lodging for your getaway, consider:

1.    The type of “home” you want — standalone vacation home or hotel with daily maid service.
2.    The length of travel — most beach houses expect a full week rental. Other lodging is available for shorter stays.
3.    The activities you want to do — stay nearby! Highway 12 is the main thoroughfare from north to south. If you choose lodging far from the activities you want, you’ll spend a lot of time in traffic! 

Dining on the Outer Banks

Local seafood places are plentiful at the Outer Banks, but the region offers a variety of restaurants to suit any palate and budget. Some places worth considering are:

#outaboutnc Family Adventure Guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Karen learns how the "apple uglie" is made. 

1.    Orange Blossom Bakery in Buxton, open mornings, is home to the world famous “apple uglie,” an enormous apple fritter easily shared by 3 or 4, is a great place to get breakfast and cup of coffee.
2.    Diamond Shoals, also in Buxton, is a local restaurant with a great reputation. The servers are knowledgeable about each dish and make recommendations you can trust. Expect a wait, especially for breakfast and dinner.
3.    The chef at Breakwater Restaurant on the sound side of Hatteras, with great sunset views, will cook your fresh-caught seafood if you bring it in. Dessert here is incredible — we debated the whole trip whether the peanut butter-chocolate pie or the key lime pie was best. You can’t go wrong!
4.    All along the Outer Banks, specialty restaurants offer guests a memorable dining experience. Two standouts are the Cafe Pamlico in Buxton and Kimball’s Kitchen in Duck. Cafe Pamlico grows much of its produce on site and creates a menu to feature it. With indoor and outdoor dining, the restaurant creates an intimate, cozy atmosphere. Kimball’s Kitchen has a great menu. Insider tip: Get the Kimballs Kitchen brussels sprouts, even if you don’t normally like them. This is the most popular dish on the menu. You know they’re good when you tell your husband about them two days later!

Tips for traveling to the Outer Banks

#outaboutnc Family Adventure Guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Peak season at the Outer Banks runs from June through September. April, May, and October are also popular months, but slightly less expensive. Visitors to the Outer Banks between November and March will find the greatest bargains — but many restaurants and activities are closed during this time.

Choose lodging where you want to be. Since Highway 12 is a two-lane road through much of the Outer Banks, traffic can get heavy.

Consider Manteo if you’re not a “beach bum.” While Roanoke Island and Manteo do not have the beaches, they are an easy drive away. Manteo is a larger town, so dining and shopping options are more plentiful and convenient. The area is also home to many museums, theatrical performances, and festivals.

No matter where you decide to stay in the Outer Banks, wake up early one day to catch a sunrise. Get dinner at restaurant overlooking the sound to enjoy the sunset. Walk the beach and gather seashells. “Nights in Rodanthe” captured it well, but seeing the nature in real life is so much better.

Family Adventure #outaboutnc guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks

Want to  Go:
Visit The Outer Banks Visitor's Website to get started.

About the author: Karen Dawkins is the creator and editor of Family Travels on a Budget, a site she started in 2012 to show families that careful planning and budgeting can make any vacation dream come true. She has also been featured in print and writes for a number of websites. She and her family reside in Clayton, a suburb of Raleigh, “close to everywhere on the east coast!” You can connect with her on Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Facebook.

Also check out the post on Family Travels on a Budget that highlights the different beach communities on North Carolina's Outer Banks. 

#outaboutnc Family Adventure Guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks.

FTC Disclosure: This trip was hosted for the media. All expenses to see the island was covered for press. Be sure to check the #OutaboutNC community on Instagram to see places that locals also recommend.

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Five Fantastic Foods You Cannot Miss at the Ham and Yam Festival in Smithfield, NC

Foodies rejoice yearly when Smithfield, North Carolina hosts its Ham and Yam Festival. This is one of the southern towns biggest spring traditions. It's a day filled with food, bands, and games for the kids. You need to wear your fat pants and go hungry.

This festival started 34 years ago between the town of Smithfield and Smithfield, Virginia over the bragging rights of who had the best ham. Smithfield, NC got the top honor for two years in a row, and on the third that Virginia town with the same name decided not to head south for another ham-whooping.

Smithfield, North Carolina kept on with the tradition of hosting a festival the first Saturday in May.  .

Most of the food sold at the festival is made regionally in North Carolina or in Johnston County.

1. Kiwanis' Ham Biscuits

Country Ham  Biscuits is a staple in Johnston County

The Kiwanis start making ham biscuits early that morning and the booth typically has a line most of the day. It's a great combination of salty-savory country ham on a fluffy biscuit. It's one of the most popular foods at the event.

2. Sweet Potato Lemonade

I've never heard of such a drink before, but sweet potatoes are quite versatile. Sweet Potatoes are commonly found in beer and liquor so why not lemonade. The sweet potato lemonade is made by Wrights Sisters Concessions in Mt. Olive, N.C. It's an item created just for the ham and yam festival.

3. Sweet Potato Souffle Ice Cream

This delicious ice cream is made by Smitty's Homemade Ice Cream. They have storefronts in Burlington,  Graham, and Elon. They make the journey to Smithfield for the festival. Getting their ice cream is well worth any wait in line.

4. Sweet Potato Cheesecake Pie

Sweet Potato Cheesecake Pie is a hybrid between a sweet potato pie and a cheesecake.

This decadent pie is a favorite dessert item in the Ham and Yam Festival. In fact, it's the star attraction for the pie-eating contest. It's made locally in Smithfield and it's a hybrid between cheesecake and sweet potato pie. Watch as I tasted this heavenly pie live this year.

5. Sweet Potato Smoothies 

Long-time vendor Sam Sawaya created the sweet potato smoothie just for the festival. It may sound a little unusual, but people are loving it over his delicious strawberry, banana and pina coladas. Well, the health benefits of drinking a yam a day are certainly no scam. Sweet Potatoes are filled with Vitamins A and C. This dish, the baked sweet potatoes, and the sweet potato chips are probably the healthiest items served at the festival, but no one counts calories at Southern food festivals.

Other Finds

Funnel Cake Served at the Smithfield Ham and Yam Festival

Make sure you go hungry and try the following: Funnel Cakes with Ham and Yam Toppings, Baked Ham Sandwiches, Yam Cotton Candy, Sweet Potato Cupcakes and Sweet Potato French Fries. All food vendors at the festival have to showcase an item with either ham or sweet potatoes.

Study this map so you will know where to park.  Also, the Simple Twist Taproom and Bottle Shop will be open to serve craft beer and alcoholic beverages.

Smithfield, North Carolina hosts the Ham and Yam Festival the First Saturday in May. Foods containing #sweetpotatoes and #Ham are the stars. The highlight is the Sweet Potato Cheesecake Pie.

FTC Disclosure: This post is sponsored by VisitJoCo Tourism as part of an OutaboutNC tourism campaign. This curated post was written by Leigh Powell Hines as a tourism marketing partner. 

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