North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro, North Carolina

The 1st question you should ask yourself when you go to the Asheboro Zoo is: Africa or North America? If you choose Africa, then you will be delighted by elephants, rhinos, gorillas and soon to be lemurs, but if you prefer North America, get ready to be dazzled by black bears, polar bears and the great American bison.

What strikes you first about the Asheboro attraction is its shear size. One of the best attractions in North Carolina, you can walk over 5 miles and spend 5 hours on the zoo grounds (wear smart shoes, not high heeled boots like I saw on my recent visit). There is even a shuttle between the North America and Africa sections of the park to ferry hungry, tired souls from one expanse to the other.  No matter where you choose to start, one thing is for certain, you will see animals and plenty of them from tiny fuzzy ones, to large scaly ones to blue poisonous ones, to pink winged ones, to all the ones in between and for only $10. That’s right, $10. For the price of a day at the movies, you can walk around this expansive compound and see mother natures greatest beasts at one of North Carolina’s best attractions. Who knew the zoo was such a bargain!

Perhaps the Asheboro Zoo’s greatest attraction are its polar bears. The zoo currently has two, the spunky Wilhelm (or Willy) and the recluse Masha. Both bears were circus rescues and owing to that are little performers in their own right.

WARNING: Get to their padlocks early, because polar bears sleep 97% of the day away and all you may see is a polar bear mid-nap!!

Park positives: no pay for parking, only $10 for adults, shuttle for tired feet, wide variety of animals, new lemur exhibit this summer, cool honey bee exhibit

Park negatives: lots of walking, more popular exhibits are teeming with crowds, park food is either fried or fried

Asheboro Zoo is located about 1.5 hrs from Charlotte and 60 minutes South of Greensboro in Asheboro, NC.

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Megan Riley is a full fledged travel junkie with a day job in technology. When she gets to leave the cubicle, she writes a travel blog called www.thebigfatworld.com. Come join her on her around the world trip this Summer.


10 Things in the Carolinas I’m not Likely to Find in NYC

This time next week I’ll be in New York City at the 2010 Travel Blog Exchange Conference (TBEX). In it’s second year, this will be my first year attending. TBEX brings together the best travel publications, blogs, writers and editors for a weekend of networking and sessions. As a precursor to the event, I’ve come up with a list of 10 things from North and South Carolina that I’m not likely to find in New York City. Although this lists consists of 10, I’m sure the list could go much longer. The first list of 5 I got from some of my friends on Twitter, while the second 5 is my own list. Are there some more you could add to the list?

1. Rocking Chairs (From @CailinONeil who writes and produces video over at Travel Yourself). You just don’t walk by restaurants in Time Square and see people rocking back and forth in handcrafted rocking chairs.

2. Grits (From @ChasRunner who blogs at ChasRunner). Grits are certainly uniquely southern, as you may even find northerners who’ve never even heard of it. Here in South Carolina it’s the sixth food group.

3. B’ald Peanuts (From @karynmurph who blogs at Happy That You Don’t Have Kids). For you northerners, that’s boiled peanuts and we take ‘em anyway we can get ‘em down here. The best usually come from an old farmer whose selling them out of the back of his pickup truck on a country highway.

4. Cheerwine (From @d_travelbug) Manufactured in North Carolina, you won’t find many convenience and grocery stores in the Carolinas that don’t have Cheerwine on their shelf. A handful of convenience stores even have Cheerwine Slushies.

5. Gem Mines (From @MSquishy from Emerald Hollow Mine). Yeah you’re not likely to find any gems or gold while perusing through New York City, unless that is you go to Tiffany’s, where the mining has already been done for you, but at a price.

6. BBQ. Sure they have some BBQ spots in New York City, but I’m talking about that moist, hickory smoke barbecue you’ll only find in the Carolinas.

7. Seersuckers. I confess, I have a seersucker suit, plus two pairs of seersucker shorts and it’s not likely that I’ll find someone wearing seersuckers in NYC. If I do, I’m going up to them and asking: “You ain’t from around here are ya”?

8. Sweet Tea. My first trip when I was a kid was to several northern states and I remember throwing a hissy fit because the McDonald’s didn’t have sweet tea. I just thought it was common occurrence that if you were a restaurant, than you served sweet tea. That’s not the case and I’ll be hard pressed to find good sweet tea in New York City.

9. Mullets and Jorts. Mullets and jorts are one thing in and of themselves, but when you put these two things together, it’s a completely different beast.

10. Pimento Burger. It took a while, but this has grown on me as one of my favorite delicacies, although I have a hard time finding a place that serves it outside of South Carolina.

Photo from Stephen Blake on Flickr.


5 Things You Shouldn’t Pack

Depending on who you talk to, 2010 is being tagged as the year of travel. There are tons of travel deals and giveaways and it looks like these trends will continue for at least the first half of 2010. If you don’t have any plans for traveling, then it maybe it’s time to start making plans for the first half of the year.

As you plan your trips, you’ve probably heard about all the items you absolutely can’t forget to pack, but you probably haven’t heard about all the items you shouldn’t pack. Below, I’ve listed the 5 things you absolutely shouldn’t pack. Whether you’re taking a second honeymoon to Paris or taking a tropical vacation on the sandy beaches of the Carolinas, leave these things at home.

  1. Fanny Pack. Do I really have to tell you that you should leave that faded fanny pack at home that hasn’t missed a trip since you bought it for your first trip to Woodstock? Fanny packs just scream “american tourist” and they really don’t do anything but weigh you down, plus they just aren’t fashionable. Instead, invest in a backpack or small travel back you can throw over your shoulders. It needs to be something that isn’t cumbersome and will hold you up while traveling.
  2. Neck Wallet. I remember the first and last time I wore one of these was when I was 12 years old and was taking a family trip. I was told that this was the best things that I could have as a traveler, but instead quickly discovered that it was the worst. I might as well have been wearing a license plate around my neck as a pendant. The neck wallet is very cumbersome and can be downright uncomfortable, especially in warm climate.
  3. Zip-off pants (Recommended by @travelerlauren http://lonelygirltravels.com). As quickly as these became a fad, they even quicker became a fashion no-no. The zip-off items are praised because of their versatility, yet what do you do when you unzip them in the middle of the warm afternoon? Do you just casually stuff them in your fanny pack?
  4. Zinc Nosecoat. Maybe you’re not familiar with the name, but it’s the sunblock you only rub on your nose and upper cheeks, except it doesn’t rub into your skin, but instead makes you look like an offensive lineman with green or pink face paint on. Although this may be good for you, it’s imperative that you find something that doesn’t show like Zinc Nosecoat. One advertisement actually said that it makes you look cool. Go figure.
  5. Hawaiian shirt. Who doesn’t own a hawaiian shirt? And just because you own a hawaiian shirt doesn’t mean you should pack it on your vacation. That’s the one thing that belongs at a thrift store, but the one thing nobody wants to give up.

Day 3-Gulf Coast Road Trip

I quickly jumped out of my car with my camera thrown over my shoulder, HD camcorder in hand and collapsible tripod jutting out of my back pocket. I ran up the boardwalk, scooted up the two sets of stairs to the top of the sand dunes into the covered shelter for what awaited me. I’m not sure what I expected, but I wasn’t ready for this. Like those climatic, slow motion scenes from the movies, I slowly did a 360-degree, when the words came out: “What in the HELL is going on?”. Overhead coast guard helicopters flew over, groups of oil spill cleanup workers were coming back on shore in boats and dropping off their rubber gloves and masks, military hummers were coming and going on the road, large sand dunes lined the beach so that high tides and over wash wouldn’t make its way to the island’s national habitat and in the distance, oil rigs lined the horizon.

After day two at the Gulf Coast, I had reported that outer appearances suggested that life was going on as usual at the Gulf, but that you had to get beyond the surface to see that life actually wasn’t the same. Well this certainly wasn’t the case at Dauphin Island. This scene I described pretty well sums up my last day at the Gulf. I didn’t even mention the federal basecamp that was on the elementary school grounds on the other side of the public park. I came across several groups of locals and vacationers on the pier who wanted to see things for themselves. Many of them taking photos of the situation itself. One local couple I came across was in a heated argument about who was to blame for the oil spill and how they wanted their beach back.

There were some recreational boaters out on the water at Dauphin Island, but most of the boats were volunteer and work crews. Coming across the bridge onto the island, I saw the most instances of “boom” that I had seen. Boom is a long flotation device that helps contain and prevent oil from reaching the shore. Weeks ago it was highly celebrated as a leading alternative to stopping the oil from reaching the shore. However, it’s come under criticism and many claim that it has missed the mark and not reached expectations. With high winds and ocean currents it can sometimes be difficult to maintain and keep up with.

The best part of this day was probably what I didn’t see: oil residue and tar balls. I went to several different beaches and didn’t see any oil on the beach, although there continues to be reports of oil reaching some of the Gulf Coast shores. It gave hope to see fish jumping in the water, crabs scurrying along the sand and birds flying closely along the water. But will this last?

This concludes the summaries of my trip to the Gulf. You can see a full summary of my live tweets from the weekend here. I’ll be following up this post with a general post that sums up the weekend, as well as a separate post about how people can get involved.

10 Things in the Carolinas I’m not Likely to Find in NYC

This time next week I’ll be in New York City at the 2010 Travel Blog Exchange Conference (TBEX). In it’s second year, this will be my first year attending. TBEX brings together the best travel publications, blogs, writers and editors for a weekend of networking and sessions. As a precursor to the event, I’ve come up with a list of 10 things from North and South Carolina that I’m not likely to find in New York City. Although this lists consists of 10, I’m sure the list could go much longer. The first list of 5 I got from some of my friends on Twitter, while the second 5 is my own list. Are there some more you could add to the list?

1. Rocking Chairs (From @CailinONeil who writes and produces video over at Travel Yourself). You just don’t walk by restaurants in Time Square and see people rocking back and forth in handcrafted rocking chairs.

2. Grits (From @ChasRunner who blogs at ChasRunner). Grits are certainly uniquely southern, as you may even find northerners who’ve never even heard of it. Here in South Carolina it’s the sixth food group.

3. B’ald Peanuts (From @karynmurph who blogs at Happy That You Don’t Have Kids). For you northerners, that’s boiled peanuts and we take ‘em anyway we can get ‘em down here. The best usually come from an old farmer whose selling them out of the back of his pickup truck on a country highway.

4. Cheerwine (From @d_travelbug) Manufactured in North Carolina, you won’t find many convenience and grocery stores in the Carolinas that don’t have Cheerwine on their shelf. A handful of convenience stores even have Cheerwine Slushies.

5. Gem Mines (From @MSquishy from Emerald Hollow Mine). Yeah you’re not likely to find any gems or gold while perusing through New York City, unless that is you go to Tiffany’s, where the mining has already been done for you, but at a price.

6. BBQ. Sure they have some BBQ spots in New York City, but I’m talking about that moist, hickory smoke barbecue you’ll only find in the Carolinas.

7. Seersuckers. I confess, I have a seersucker suit, plus two pairs of seersucker shorts and it’s not likely that I’ll find someone wearing seersuckers in NYC. If I do, I’m going up to them and asking: “You ain’t from around here are ya”?

8. Sweet Tea. My first trip when I was a kid was to several northern states and I remember throwing a hissy fit because the McDonald’s didn’t have sweet tea. I just thought it was common occurrence that if you were a restaurant, than you served sweet tea. That’s not the case and I’ll be hard pressed to find good sweet tea in New York City.

9. Mullets and Jorts. Mullets and jorts are one thing in and of themselves, but when you put these two things together, it’s a completely different beast.

10. Pimento Burger. It took a while, but this has grown on me as one of my favorite delicacies, although I have a hard time finding a place that serves it outside of South Carolina.

Photo from Stephen Blake on Flickr.


Charleston, South Carolina Spoleto Festival

This Memorial Day Weekend I spent down in Charleston, South Carolina at the Spoleto Festival. The festival, which mirrors the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto Italy, is one of the largest arts festivals in the U.S. I was lucky enough to spend the long weekend covering some of the various events for the Charleston Digitel and a few other publications. The Digitel was extremely accommodating and is a great publication for getting up-to-the-second information on Charleston.

Though just in my twenties, I’ve certainly had my share of holiday festivals. Many of these featured large bands and grand performances with thousands of spectators. Spoleto is much different, because it’s a string of performances that include dance, art, music and theater over a two-week period. The city of Charleston hosts a Spoleto spin-off during the 17-day festival, called Piccolo Spoleto, which features the same type of entertainment, except with local and regional performers. With that said, this was probably one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to, and have all likelihood of returning, and probably even before it ends on June 13th.

The first show was a jazz show with the Norma Winstone Trio. Winstone, an internationally acclaimed Jazz artist, isn’t your typical jazz performer. It’s certainly no motown and not what you’ll hear at any jazz club in the U.S. Though it wasn’t really my style, Norma is extremely talented. Her voice has such range and I loved the various scats she did throughout each song.

The real meat and potatoes of the weekend for me were two shows. The play, Present Laughter, was a little long, but absolutely hilarious. The farce begins with an egotistical actor in the early 1900s who makes an innocent decision, which snowballs into consequences that affect everyone around him. The other show was actually a dance performance, and was absolutely one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. It takes a lot, especially with dance, to provoke emotion from me and the Gallim Dance Company’s I See Myself in Your Pupil sent chills through my body; which is a first. The performance features a string of 4 to 6 minute dances, set to funky music and even funkier dances. Yet each dance tells a different story, expressing strong emotion through each dancer’s moves. I can’t imagine there being a better performance at the Charleston Spoleto Festival then this performance.

What makes Spoleto USA such a great festival is the city of Charleston itself. The cobblestone streets, antebellum homes, horse-drawn carriages and waterfront location; it just can’t be beat. In between shows, there’s the Charleston Farmers Market at Marion Square, which is one of the best farmers markets in the U.S. The market features fresh local-grown food, including fruit, vegetables, seafood and pickles, but also includes artwork, crafts and merchants selling a variety of items. My favorite is the food vendors, which include everything from Nutella Crepes to grilled bratwursts to lamb gyros.

Don’t start making plans for next year, because there’s still plenty of time to buy tickets and make this year’s festival. If nothing else, be there for the finale on Sunday, June 13th, which will include a special performance from one of the most talented and unique musicians, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and fireworks on the waterfront.

5 Best Kid-Friendly Activities in Columbia

This Friday we’re back in South Carolina, exploring the best kid-friendly activities in Columbia. Finding kid-friendly attractions can often be the most challenging part of planning a trip. Just as challenging is finding attractions that aren’t only entertaining for your children, but for yourself as well. Below I’ve listed the five best Columbia kid-friendly activities.

  1. Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Should I really have to tell you that the zoo in Columbia should be at the top of your kid-friendly activity list? The Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia is one of the most popular attractions, not only in Columbia, but in all of South Carolina. Your kids will be amazed by over 2,000 animals and many hands-on activities.
  2. Edventure Children’s Museum. Columbia joins a slew of other cities, including Greenville, which now have a children’s museum.  If it’s not the best children’s attraction in Columbia, then it’s definitely a close second. Children can play instruments, explore the great outdoors and even play in the snow at the Columbia Edventure Children’s Museum.
  3. Frankie’s Fun Park. Although this Columbia amusement park can be found in many other cities, this is a good back-up plan, especially on a rainy day. When it’s pleasant, visitors can hit the batting cage or take a spin on one of their go-kart racing tracks. During the winter and on rainy days, there are still plenty of activities for children inside, including a laser tag, arcade games and Frankie’s Fun House.
  4. Columbia Marionette Theatre. If you’re planning a visit well in advance, put the Columbia Marionette Theatre on your list of best kid-friendly attractions in Columbia. The theater plays a variety of different shows and even hosts birthday parties for children. Best of all, it’s very cheap.
  5. Sesquicentennial State Park. The four Columbia children’s activities above are hands down the best kid-friendly attractions in Columbia. Choosing the Sesquicentennial State Park was a little bit more of a stretch since parks can often be a bore for children. If your child does like parks, this Columbia park includes boating, fishing, many hiking and biking trails and various programs that are held throughout the year.

Family Travel Tips
Columbia

Wet ‘N Wild Water Park in Greensboro, North Carolina

I’ve gotten a little spoiled when it comes to water parks. While many kids may go their entire childhood, I was very early in life introduced to one of the better waterparks I’ve been to. Wet ‘N Wild Emerald Pointe Water Park has long been a staple among attractions in Greensboro, North Carolina. My first visit was almost 20 years ago, and so at that time, it was a mini Disney World to me and my friends. It’s been a couple years since I’ve been so I would be curious to hear other’s take on how the water park now stacks up to others.

Living near Greensboro, North Carolina, going to Emerald Pointe Water Park was the climax of our summer each year. Yeah there was the Greensboro Bats minor league baseball team, museums and other attractions in Greensboro for children, yet the water park was king. It’s always been great for parents because they can drop their kids off for hours, unlike a children’s museum, where these days, you’re doing good if it holds their attention for an hour.

Greensboro’s Emerald Pointe Water Park really is your full-service water park. Like I said, I’m spoiled, because I hear people refer to water parks that only have a couple slides and a lazy river. I’m sorry, but that’s just not a water park. At Emerald Pointe you get the full gamut. The Greensoboro park’s list of rides and slides include a lazy river, huge tidal wave pool, double barrel slide, three enclosed water slides, half-pipe slide, several pools, runaway raft ride and a pipeline that can get you to 40 mph in your raft. These are just a few of the Greensboro water park’s highlights, although there are many more rides.

If you’re a local, you may consider getting one of their season passes. Currently, the Super Saver pass is 54.99 and gives you unlimited admission Sunday through Friday and after 4 pm on Saturday. You may want to call or check Emerald Pointe’s website closer to the summer to get information on rates for single tickets.

 

EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia, South Carolina

Today I’m following up on a post I did a few weeks ago on the best children activities in Columbia, SC. Kid-friendly activities can often be a challenge to find, but Columbia offers many different options for locals and travelers to the area. Similar to many cities around the nation, the South Carolina city follows many others in featuring a hands-on interactive children’s museum. Columbia’s EdVenture, is a new attraction to Columbia, with activities that kids of all age groups are certain to love.

Like I said, there are many kid-friendly activities in the South Carolina metropolis, but the Edventure Children’s Museum may just rank number one among the best children activities in Columbia, South Caroilna. The modern-day museum is highlighted by its hands-on activities that cater to kids of all ages. The Columbia children’s museum accommodates children as young as two years old, with exhibits such as the backyard exhibit, which lets children act like they’re camping. Children who are a little older may enjoy more advanced activities at the Columbia attraction, such as the world’s tallest kid, Eddie, or the imagination station, which gives children the opportunity to be a rock star, news anchor and many other things that children dream of being.

There are many other interactive and seasonal exhibits that highlight this kid-friendly Columbia attraction. If you’re a local, then you may consider one of the Columbia children museum’s programs, such as the after-school or scout program. You can also throw a birthday bash at the children’s museum in Columbia, with special children activities and catered food. Members get a discount on many of these services.

Although this is one of the best children’s attractions in Columbia, you’ll actually have to fork out some money for your family to enjoy the museum. Admission is $9.50 for adults, while members of the Columbia Edventure Children’s Museum get in for free. I recommend going late on a weekday afternoon or early on the weekend, when you stand the best chance of missing the peak crowds and school trips.

5 NYC Style Pizza Restaurants in the Carolinas

In case you missed my last post on things from the Carolinas I’m not likely to find in New York City, I’m traveling to the big city very early Friday morning. I’m attending the Travel Blogger’s Exchange, which will bring together travel writers, bloggers and PR agencies from around the world for a weekend of networking and learning from others. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I like to eat and talk about it; and one of my favorite things about New York City is the food. From the huge bagels to street vendors to international flair in Little Italy and China Town, I love it all. However, what’s New York City without NYC style pizza? If you’ve ever been to New York, then you know that it’s not difficult to find one of the big slices, especially with what seems to be a Ray’s on every street corner. Well in honor of my trip to New York, I’ve listed below five New York Style Pizza restaurants around North and South Carolina.

  1. Peppino’s. Peppino’s Pizza is a small regional franchise with four locations in South Carolina. The pizza here is not for the faint of heart. I’m always skeptical when I order a NYC style pizza in the south because they rarely live up in size and quality. Peppino’s features huge, greasy slices like you’ll find in New York City itself. I had two slices and was done.
  2. Sal’s. There are a couple of places in Burlington, North Carolina called Sal’s, but the one on Huffman Mil Road is where it’s at. Growing up here, this was probably my most frequented restaurant as a kid. It’s actually known most for its authentic Italian dishes, but it also features huge NYC style pizza that can be ordered by the slice or whole.
  3. Pizza City New York Style. Located in Greenville, South Carolina, Pizza City captures the essence of a New York City pizza restaurant. It doesn’t have a ton of dining space, so its popular for grabbing a pie to go or just getting a couple slices on your lunch hour. Steak actually is a popular topping choice and they have very cheap beer.
  4. Hawthorne’s Pizza. Hawthorne’s is more along the lines of your typical southern pizza joint as it offers a big dining and bar area and is hopping most nights of the week. However, this NYC style pizza restaurant is renowned among locals for its large slices.
  5. Frank’s Roman Pizza. It helps if the founder is actually a New Yorker themselves, which is what you’ll find at Frank’s Roman Pizza in Asheville. Perfect for lunch, as it offers NYC style slices starting at $2.25. This is a mainstay in Asheville as it has been around for a couple decades.