Tag Archives: Charlotte

Carolinas Aviation Museum- North Carolina

My children have a fascination with ALL things plane related. I can’t say for sure if this love started from travel at a young age, or the Disney movie Planes. But one thing is for certain, they can’t get enough. They play with planes, watch movies (and documentaries) about planes, and- of course- they want to watch real planes whenever we’re outside.

For this reason, whenever we have the opportunity to visit any type of aviation museum, we jump on it! The Carolinas Aviation Museum sits Continue reading Carolinas Aviation Museum- North Carolina

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SEA LIFE Aquarium- North Carolina

In a city where speed is essential to success, the SEA LIFE Aquarium stands at stark contrast to the industry surrounding it. Concord, North Carolina calls itself the city “where racing lives” because of NASCAR.  One might argue that life in Concord revolves around racing. However, no one has bothered to tell the fish that they aren’t the stars of the town! And visitors to SEA LIFE will feel anything but rushed as they enjoy the thousands of sea creatures.

My two crazies ready to go on an underwater adventure at SEA LIFE.

Last week our family had the opportunity to visit SEA LIFE Aquarium. Despite having visited many other aquariums, we left feeling very impressed! For starters, the aquarium staff went out of their way to interact with my children. They could not have been nicer, or more knowledgable. My daughter is not only outgoing, but she actually has a pretty extensive marine life education. To say that she was in her element interacting with the staff would be an understatement! They each showed incredible patience as they painstakingly answered ALL of her questions (and she had A LOT!)

The jelly fish were one of our favorite exhibits.

In addition to the personal attention the staff gave our family, we loved the accessibility of information about each exhibit. Large display panels gave fun facts, while touch-screen computers allowed guests to read every detail about each fish located inside a tank. My son, especially, enjoyed finding the specific fish in the tank and then reading all about them.

It’s always fun when you’re allowed to touch the animals.

Another aspect of the SEA LIFE Aquarium I found refreshing was the attention to the atmosphere. From the moment we entered the building, we were transformed into an underwater oasis. There is clear glass viewing for every eye level- even very little ones. The lighting made everything feel magical. My children were even given booklets to stamp throughout our visit. The booklets encouraged guests to learn facts, or look thoroughly at information. We enjoyed filling up our book, and REALLY enjoyed the medal at the end!

Hands down, our favorite fish at SEA LIFE!

As I mentioned, SEA LIFE Aquarium calls Concord, North Carolina home. For those unfamiliar, Concord is essentially a suburb of Charlotte. The Aquarium is open 7-days a week and offers many fantastic options to save on tickets. For example, purchasing online will save guests $5 per ticket. Also on “Toddler Tuesday” guests buy one adult ticket for $15 and get one child’s ticket free. Additional children are only $5. Visit their website for more information.

The glass tunnel gives guests a true “insiders perspective” to ocean life.

Our family thoroughly enjoyed our visit to SEA LIFE and we look forward to returning soon!

We weren’t even out the door and they were asking when we could come back.

*Mom With A Map is grateful to SEA LIFE for hosting us during our visit.*

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10 Best Things To Do In NC At Christmas


Our family has had the opportunity to celebrate the Christmas season while living in 6 different states. Of course that doesn’t even count the travel we’ve done to other states during the month of December! All of them have been fun, memorable and unique.

However, North Carolina stands out as having the largest variety of activities. From the mountains to the coast, NC celebrates Christmas in style!

Here are my 10 favorite Christmas activities in North Carolina:

  1. Billy Graham Library (Charlotte): Personally, this is our favorite Christmas event ever and one that my children look forward to all year. Experiencing Christmas at the Billy Graham Library leads to an unforgettable visit. Between the gorgeous lights, the carolers, the carriage rides and the hot chocolate you will feel transported to a magical land. The Library also offers a Live Nativity most evenings in December. For more details, visit their website.

    Seeing the Live Nativity really brings the Christmas story to life.
    Seeing the Live Nativity really brings the Christmas story to life.
  2. McAdenville: Also known as “Christmas Town USA” this area celebrates Christmas right! Drive through 1.3 miles of nonstop, over the top light displays. You may also park and enjoy one of several restaurants and stops along the way. For more information, visit the official town website.

    Be sure to allow plenty of time for your visit! Over 600,000 people come each December.
    Be sure to allow plenty of time for your visit! Over 600,000 people come each December.
  3. Holiday Flotilla (Wrightsville): Dubbed the “Southern coastal version of a Christmas parade” this floating light display features a gorgeous boat parade. In  addition to the lineup of boats, a fireworks display kicks off the night. Visit the website for further details and to mark your calendar for next year.
  4. Biltmore (Asheville): No house in America decorates in such a grand style as the Biltmore. The rich history of ‘America’s largest house’ began at Christmas. Therefore, there is no better time to plan a visit. Inside the Biltmore, you’ll see 62 trees including a 35-ft one in the Banquet Hall. For more information, visit my post on Christmas At The Biltmore.

    Breathtaking Christmas decorations!
    Breathtaking Christmas decorations!
  5. Charlotte Motor Speedway: In it’s 7th year, the Speedway has quickly become a “must do” Christmas experience in the Charlotte area. Boasting over 3 million lights, a petting zoo, photos with Santa, and much more, the Speedway is a wonderful way to spend a December evening. Also, our family particularly enjoyed watching a Christmas movie on the Speedway’s 16,000 square foot TV! Features change weekly. Visit their website for more information.

    You haven't really seen The Grinch until you've seen him on the giant screen at Charlotte Motor Speedway!
    You haven’t really seen The Grinch until you’ve seen him on the giant screen at Charlotte Motor Speedway!
  6. Wilmington’s Holiday Train Expo: For anyone who loves trains (and really, who doesn’t?) this event is a must! Guests will be treated to track displays with villages, parks and landscapes. You will also enjoy photo opportunities with The Polar Express and Santa!
  7. Cut Your Own Tree (Statewide): Did you know that NC is the second largest producer of Christmas trees in the country? The NC Fraser Fur is rated as the #1 Christmas tree, and they are shipped all over the country. If you’re in North Carolina (or anywhere close by), why not visit one of the many farms and cut your own? Not only does it make a fun family activity, but you’ll guarantee freshness!

    We love finding the perfect Christmas tree and chopping it down to take home!
    We love finding the perfect Christmas tree and chopping it down to take home!
  8. Chetola’s Festival of Lights (Blowing Rock): A longstanding Christmas tradition at Chetola Resort, the Festival of Lights attracts thousands of visitors each year. In addition to typical lights, guests can look forward to seeing a display of ice skaters, a Nativity scene, and so much more.
  9. Gingerbread Display at Ballantyne Hotel (Charlotte): As one of NC’s most notable hotels, the Ballantyne resort attracts many visitors throughout the year. However, the elaborate collection on display at Christmas take Gingerbread decorating to a whole new level! You will be amazed at the creativity and craftiness!

    These incredible creations put our homemade gingerbread houses to shame!
    These incredible creations are like nothing you’ve ever seen!
  10. Christmas By The Sea (Carolina Beach): I’d argue that the beach is the best place to be, year round. However, Carolina Beach offers guests an extra special treat during the Christmas season. The lit-up boardwalk invites guests to come and enjoy the many activities offered. For more details, visit their official website.
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NASCAR Hall of Fame- Charlotte, NC


In a city known for a variety of things, there is one undeniable superstar. NASCAR, the largest spectator sport in the United States, has a presence in Charlotte, North Carolina like no other industry.

Aside from actually attending a race, visiting the NASCAR Hall of Fame is one of the best ways to enjoy everything the sport has to offer. Located “Uptown”, The Hall of Fame highlights the best of NASCAR history, drivers, equipment, races, and the fans.


Your experience at The NASCAR Hall of Fame begins the moment you walk into the beautiful 150,000 square foot building. The space is packed with memorabilia and interactive displays.


Whether you’re a NASCAR fan or not, you will quickly find that The Hall of Fame is one of the best places to spend a day. Children (and adults too!) will LOVE all the hands-on opportunities.


Watching the movie about the history of NASCAR in the “High Octane Theater” is a great place to start your visit. Our family instantly felt more knowledgable and connected to the sport after our viewing.

We all really enjoyed standing out on a replica of a NASCAR track. Having watched races on television, we would never have imagined how steep the banks really are and how it must feel to be driving top speeds at that angle.


Unquestionably, the pit experience was one of the major highlights of the museum. Our family got to race to jack a car, change the tire and add gas. My children thought this was the greatest experience and loved racing to complete the task. Time and again, we raced each other and the clock. Without a doubt, it’s harder than the real pit crew make it look!


The NASCAR Hall of Fame designed several areas just for kids to enjoy. My kids loved designing a car on the massive iPad coloring tablet, and playing all of the interactive games.


Another part of the museum we really enjoyed was the simulated driving experience. Although we all practiced ahead of time in the Qualifying Area, we weren’t quite prepared for the “real thing.” It definitely gave us a whole new respect for the drivers!


The Hall of Fame contains hundreds of displays with facts and documented history. We loved educating ourselves through hands-on exhibits and well designed showcases.


If you are planning a trip to Charlotte, The NASCAR Hall of Fame absolutely needs to be on your to-do list! There truly is something for everyone at this museum. It is open Monday through Sunday, 10AM to 6PM (10AM to 5PM during the winter months.)

To purchase tickets and plan your visit, visit their website.  We are already looking forward to our next time there!

*The NASCAR Hall of Fame hosted our family.*

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Lazy 5 Ranch- North Carolina


Have you ever been at the zoo and thought “man, I just wish I could get a little closer to the animals?” Okay, yeah…me neither. But my kids would gladly get up close and personal with the zoo animals. They love a good hands-on experience!

Lazy 5 Ranch is a “zoo meets wilderness” type of experience. Over 750 animals call Lazy 5 their home and within the gates of the ranch you can have a personal encounter with each one of them!


Lazy 5 Ranch is located about 30 miles outside of Charlotte, North Carolina and it’s absolutely a “must see” destination if you are in the area! Not only will you get to experience the beautiful country setting just minutes outside of a major city, but you will have a one of a kind day!


In my opinion there are a few Do’s and Don’ts when you visit the Ranch. Here are 5 things to know and keep in mind:

  1. Don’t Drive: There are 2 options for viewing Lazy 5 Ranch- you can take your personal vehicle, or you can ride in an open air wagon pulled by a team of horses. The driving option is a tad less expensive (driving rate: $11- adult, $8- child vs. wagon rate: $16- adult, $11- child); however, food buckets are included in the wagon rate. At $3 per bucket, you really aren’t saving that much! The wagon driver will also identify all of the animals found on the ranch, answer questions, and point out interesting facts about the animals. We found our guide to be incredibly knowledgeable and also good at spotting hidden animals. Additionally, the animals slobber, eat messily, and put their hooves up on the wagon. Personally, that’s just not a risk I’m willing to take with my own vehicle!                                                   Ranch12
  2. Book Early and Go Early: It was not my original plan to be at Lazy 5 Ranch at the crack of dawn (well…it was really like 9AM…but it still felt really early!); however, we failed to plan in advance and that was the only available wagon space. So my first piece of advice is to plan as far in advance as possible. Quite by accident though, we realized an early ride was the way to go. Most of the animals were very excited to see us and came right up to the wagon. I asked the driver if the animals ever got full or tired of coming over to the wagons and he said “absolutely.” He pointed out that they are very active and friendly early in the morning, but as the day goes on the novelty wears off. As it heats up and they fill up, the animals are less likely to rush the wagons and cars. While I would have been fine to just observe the animals in their habitat, others (especially the kids) would be very disappointed if they didn’t get to actually feed and pet them! Ranch22
  3. Buy Extra Food: When you purchase the wagon ride, you get 1 bucket of food included for every 2 people. The buckets are very large and will go a long way…unless you have an animal feeding enthusiast. If you have a child that LOVES feeding the animals and having them up close, then the food will run out quickly. Unfortunately, once you are on the wagon ride there is no way to purchase more food. Fortunately for us, my other child was an extreme food rationer and we were able to share. But for $3 a bucket, I wish I’d just purchased another bucket or two at the start. If you have food left over at the end of the ride you can feed the animals in the petting zoo area. Ranch20
  4. Sit Strategically: There wasn’t necessarily a bad spot on the wagon, but in my opinion there were a few GREAT seats!  We were able to sit right behind the wagon driver and we loved that spot because we were always able to hear him when he gave out information. Additionally, we interacted with him and asked lots of questions. He seemed happy to chat with my children and they got the benefit of hearing lots of extra facts and stories about the animals. The seats are arranged along the outside of the wagon and also with a center row. I recommend taking both outside seats and inside seats for your group, if possible. We positioned ourselves with the kids on the outside and the adults on the inside. This gave us prime picture taking angles, but also allowed for our younger child to get away from the bigger, more intimidating animals while he was getting warmed up to the concept. The center aisle is a “safe” zone, but you won’t get as good access to the animals.Ranch11
  5. Follow The Rules: For your safety and the animals’ safety, Lazy 5 Ranch has some rules in place. They ask that you do not attempt to feed the zebras because zebras have top and bottom teeth. We did not have any zebras approach our wagon so it wasn’t an issue (apparently they are smarter than horses so I assume they know they will not be fed so they don’t even bother trying!) All of the other rules are really just common sense (like don’t get out of the wagon, don’t stand on the wagon seats, etc.) We really appreciated the efforts that Lazy 5 Ranch put in to make sure that everyone has a safe, enjoyable experience!


Lazy 5 Ranch is a cash only establishment. The property is absolutely beautiful and worth the visit even without the animals! In addition to the rides through the Ranch, they have a play ground, a bathroom and a petting zoo area. There are also several peacocks roaming throughout the entrance area.

Ranch23    Ranch21

For more information on Lazy 5 Ranch, visit their website.

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