A VERY Detailed Account of My Latest Trip to The Biltmore.
I had on my calendar to take my dog with me on a trip to The Biltmore (North Carolina) and possibly stay at one of the dog friendly hotels closest to it, but on Monday, as I was NEEDING an escape from the daily drudgery, I decided to leave her at home with the cats and take off MYSELF.
It took me about 4-hours just to ready the house and myself – mostly the house – for a spontaneous departure. I even swept the garage and mowed some of the back yard, not on a moon mowing day, but just for her comfort. See what I mean?
I had to clean the kitchen just to FIND the kitchen in order to get all the food prepped for what I was hoping was a 2-night getaway.
Then I have to prep the back yard for her so that she doesn’t run out into the garage just as I’m leaving, so enough food and treats and peanut butter to occupy her as I sneak away.
FINALLY got enough food for all the animals laid out, got me packed and FINALLY got on the road as doggie was digging into her peanut butter buffet.
GEEZZZUSSSS. It’s A LOT OF WORK just getting out of the fkn house! Or flippenzee, I use fuck too much, I’m smart enough to find a more clever word and save fuck for when fuck is needed – not like Tommy Lee uses it. -LOL.
Then there is the DRIVING. I was determined to take my time, not be in a rush, not care if I MADE IT to The Biltmore by a certain time – or at all. I could very well have slept somewhere close and then gone in on Tuesday. But I did make it. More on that later.
I don’t know what is wrong with people – truck driving people to be exact – but inevitably they will be in the right lane driving behind another semi and all is calm, until I begin to approach on the left, at a normal pace, and RIGHT AS I GET CLOSE TO THEIR BUMPER, they suddenly SWING over into the left lane trying to pass the big semi before I can. FUCKERS. Yep, right place for that word now.
It makes for a very trying, tedious, and dangerous drive. And this car has no auto-speed control or adaptive speed so I have to be hyper-diligent for all SIX HOURS – which is what leads to the travel exhaustion.
So I DO make it to The Inn. I have no idea what time it is, and didn’t want to look or know. It’s TIME OFF, remember. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t call ahead – I didn’t want to look at the phone and see the time. Plus I didn’t want to give a cc over the phone. Instead I wanted to wing-it and just show up and see what was available … thinking, “It’s Monday, not Saturday, I should be in luck.” And no problem if I couldn’t get a room there, I could do the Village Hotel or even stay off property, maybe at the nice one across the street. But they did have a room. The snag was getting it.
At first I asked for a ‘concierge level’ room, which they call “Chateau Tier”. I remembered one of my stays was that and they had a special room with hors d'oeuvres and champagne and drinks that I enjoyed. Well, THIS TIME it’s different. Still the room, but inside are only non-alcoholic drinks and cheap, greasy chip snacks and candy bars. A disappointment. Plus, he tells me that it’s only from 4:00-7:00 and they deliver it to your room. Well, at first I thought, sure, why not, I was still in time, it was 6:30, but then the rules changed and when I asked the concierge and she said it was from 4-5 or something like that. Why was I at the concierge before getting my room booked? Because the man at the front desk said there was no room for me at dinner tonight. “We book up MONTHS in advance.” uh-hum. Really? MONTHS??? Ok, so where does this weary traveler EAT at this “4-star” resort, then??? I had to go to the concierge to book that, and that’s when I learned that the Chateau Tier wasn’t worth the trouble. You get free valet, which I don’t want because I don’t like other people in my car. You get a free bottle of wine – which wine? I don’t want that either because I will be buying my own, the one’s I like, later. And I began to get the inclination that what they would deliver to the room would be 3 bites of something and not much else. Sadly, I passed on “Chateau Tier” today.
PS – As I am writing this, I think of how you want your spontaneous getaway from daily drudgery to be met with open welcoming arms, and how this was becoming more of an obstacle course of ‘no we can’t’ than ‘of course we can'. No doorman this evening either. PPS: Ms. "Vanities" does not want to open her own door to a 4-star destination experience.
So back to trying to get this room booked.
Chateau Tier was nixed. So, now, what do you HAVE available for two nights? His reply … “nothing”. I was perplexed. Again, I chose to escape not on a Friday for the busy weekend, but on a Monday, through what I was hoping was Wednesday. Typically, the slowest time of the week.
“You don’t have ANY rooms for two nights?” “What if I took this room tonight, and switched to a different one tomorrow?” Shouldn’t HE have presented me that option? Or even the other one that I had to think of which was “Or move to the Village Hotel tomorrow?”.
At this point, I was draining fast and needed to at the very least get SOMETHING for tonight, and get on to my dinner reservation so I could actually rest and begin my ‘vacation’ – or as close as I have come to one since 2019.
I gave up on him when he told me, in addition to NOT getting to stay for 2-nights, I was NOT getting dinner at the hotel that night. Not, the restaurant is full, but we could seat you in the lounge or bar or ANYTHING that resembled trying to work something out for his hopeful guest. Oh, yeah, I also need to mention that he had to ‘go behind the desk’ and disappear to a room behind the wall to chat with someone about this room booking. Several times.
That’s when I went to find food via the concierge. We got a reservation booked for 8:00 at The Bistro. “Phew. Well, at least THAT’S done.”
Then I went back to the front desk and tried again, this time with a new person – no make that two new people. One black girl with a foreign accent and a younger white girl with dark hair. Something tells me that between the three of them they knew about a ¼ of what they should know to run a front desk. Maybe the black girl worked at a hotel once but it seemed apparent that none of them had ever worked for a 4-star establishment before. Enter more road blocks.
I had started working with the white girl, but it seemed like she was like a deer in headlights so the black girl jumped in to assist. We FINALLY got a room booked – one that I wanted – a room with a bathtub. Another “Phew”. But when I told her about being a Passholder (and the discount) instead of being honest with me and saying “Sorry, I don’t know how to add a discount, but I will get it on your account by morning.”, or something similar, she looked at me and said with all confidence, “Because YOU didn’t book via the phone reservation line, WE can’t put the discount on your room.” WHAT??? Give me a break, kid. I know BS when I hear it. And you could of come up with a FAR better line than basically the guest is at fault for not ‘booking right’. Today, after many conversations which took up my limited vacation time, I know that YOU DON’T BOOK WITH THEIR FRONT DESK. Gee-whiz. I’ve never not known a hotel whose front desk didn’t and couldn’t book a room for a guest.
Oh, and where is my welcome glass of Biltmore champagne? The Sandpearl in Clearwater offers that – even a cheaper version – and since I lived through SIX-HOURS dodging semi-trucks that were intent on killing me, I think I deserved a welcome glass of SOMETHING.
But, finally, I have a room for the night and a relaxing dinner to look forward to --- and I don’t have to DRIVE anymore today. I am thankful that at least one thing still works, and that’s the transportation from Inn to Village. But, even that has changed.
Glad to say that BEING on the estate is still a wonderful, soul-nurturing experience. It’s still beautiful and I love that creek that glides with you as you meander your way from the front gatehouse. “Aaahhh”. I’m back!
Getting to The Village, and stepping off the new smaller bus, onto the gorgeous Village area with winery and flowers and beauty everywhere set the mood back on track. The weather was perfect (another reason I picked Tuesday to be my Biltmore day), and I was warmly greeted at The Bistro. They sat me at my preferred type of table and surprisingly I remembered my waitress, Julie, and she remembered me, too!!! Wow. That’s impressive! We had a lovely chat and I was reminded of what the right kind of service looks like and feels like. It’s Julie. Just cordial and convivial enough without being pushy or too much. You know she’s there when you need something – and she’s there with a kind smile. I asked her if guests request her table because that is what I think I will do next time. [If there is to be a next time.] :-(
Dinner was just what I expected from my many visits there … wonderful! I started off with a glass of Biltmore champagne, ordered the brie and saw something I’ve only seen in France: skate! I had to have that again since my first experience with it in France was incredible. “Let’s see how they do it here.”
My exploration has begun, and I’m getting happy again!
Julie says “Oh, skate … I think we only have one left. Let me grab it for you!”
I like keeping the menu to have something to read while I eat. I like the descriptors and seeing what wine is on offer. And I saw that the brie came with a seasonal fruit so I asked Julie which one and she said I think it’s raspberries. “Oh, goodie.” But when the brie came, there was no fruit. “Hmmm. Where’s the seasonal fruit?”, and, “This doesn’t look like what is on the menu.” It’s good, more like a brie fondue - with what I assume were other cheeses mixed in, because most of the time brie is served sliced whole and this didn’t smell much like brie. “Did they ‘water it down’ because they ran out of brie?”. This is not what you want your diners thinking.
Then the skate came. While excited to try it again, this time fried and deboned, the same thought occurred, “Hmm ….. my plate looks a bit empty.” It was the fried skate with ½ of a fennel. That’s it. No other sides. Nothing.
Obviously, I enjoyed what I ate – and drank, including the Gewürztraminer that I chose to go with the skate. Yum. It was perfect!
No dessert tonight. I looked at what the other diners ordered, and it was just too much cream. With the brie already, I need to moderate how much dairy I do if I don’t want to suffer tomorrow (and for the next few days!).
I left The Bistro mellow and happy and funnily enough the same Inn guests who rode down with me (or me with them!) walked up having finished their dinner at The Village Social! We had a lovely chat (and post-COVID you know how meaningful that is). I asked about their dinner. They liked it, but said they were disappointed that there were only 3 entrees. “What??? THREE? WHY?” was my reply. The Village Social has been one of my favorite eating spots, especially the she-crab bisque. Finger’s crossed they are not ‘going downhill’ as so many of my favorite eating spots have done.
I didn’t want to go straight to my room yet, I wanted to feel like I was still part of the party, so I went to the bar and ordered a fancy cocktail. I didn’t have a lot of time for this ‘vacation’ but it needed to feel like one, all the same. Cocktail was yum. Something Chai. Would of had more but more people came in and I’m still slightly concerned about virus spread so I took my drink outside to enjoy what was a gorgeous night. I bet this would have been a great place to see the moon eclipse!
Got to my room – which was lovely and all I expected (of course there is an exception … I don’t like the old-age décor. It’s too heavy and BEIGE. It doesn’t feel as classy as it feels OLD (am I at The French Lick Resort?). But given what I am seeing as cutbacks and slimming down the budget doesn’t look ripe for a redo anytime soon. I liked the original French Country décor. I wish I could find the pics I took of it back then. Did we even have digital cameras then???
Tried sleeping. Mattress, fine. Cool temps, fine. How do you work the thermostat? Oh, I bet it’s a super-fancy one where you wave your hand to open the screen. Got it. Now how do I keep the fan on? I left in too much of a rush to remember to pack my noise fan. Shoot. [NOTE to hotels: place a ‘how to’ card in the room.]
Fell asleep and woke up thinking it was morning. Nope. Only 2:30 in the morning. Not yet. Tossed and turned and woke up again (for a bathroom break). Went back to sleep. FINALLY resting. Dreams were so much FUN! Woke up for the last time and it was still too early for me, 7:30, but if you want to get ready and checkout by 11:00 you better get up now. I like to drink coffee and take my leisurely time. A new addition is a Nespresso maker in the room - delizioso! Don’t really like ‘getting dressed’ for breakfast, but I had enough time to have my leisurely morning and then get dressed, packed, and ready for the day … and breakfast before 11:00.
Breakfast is in the fancy dining room downstairs. I asked for a seat with a beautiful view (instead of wherever he was heading. - lol). Got it! Lovely waitress came around to see what I wanted to drink. “Do you have Bloody Mary’s?” “YES”. But they also had more good brunch drinks and I chose the Bellini – with peach schnapps. YUM!
Hit one teeny-tiny snafu when the (sorry I don’t know a better name for this position), but ‘water girl’ came by and used the – what I hear ALL THE TIME – “just one?” moniker. Uh-oh. I’ve already had about 4 espressos and didn’t keep my mellow for long. “Do I give her ‘the talk’?” Yep, it slipped out. “No, I am NOT ‘just one’. I am ‘party of one’ or ‘table for one’ (or some other way to NOT make me feel like I am the solo weirdo in a sea of (expletive) couples!). As soon as I said it I felt bad. This girl didn’t mean to insult you, and you probably made her feel awkward which wasn’t what I intended. But it is one of my biggest restaurant pet-peeves, and sadly one I have to hear faarrr too often. It perturbs me. “Oh, and let’s sit you in the CENTER of the room of diners who are in groups of TWO or more”!! (OK. That wasn’t this time, but is typical of my experiences as a ‘soloist’.) Whoopsie.
Back to brunch.
Happily, it was a BUFFET! I love buffets! And the food was delicious. No where in keeping with any dietary pickiness that I usually try to follow … cheese in abundance, plenty of breakfast meats, neither of which I eat. I did my best to stick to my dietary protocol, while still exploring all the delights. No meat. Picked through the cheese to get to the veggies in the scrambled eggs. A VERY delicious (cheese) grits – not like Mom’s(!), but delectable! A sumptuous hash brown casserole. And grabbed a croissant to dip in honey for ‘dessert’! -LOL.
The bill. Mom and I have been to many 4-star resorts and we know the deal. You know it’s going to be overpriced. She would only have coffee, toast and eggs, and pay $25.00 for it. With my drink and the buffet, of which I had one plate of because I still had lunch to look forward to – and that she-crab soup which is worth the drive – with ‘tip’ (why a tip for a buffet?) - it was $50. Yikes. But you know it going in. The ‘water girl’ and I wished each other a good day. I departed full and happy.
Now I’m off for my Biltmore vacation day! It’s Me and Monet all the way.
1:00 :: I did the Van Gogh exhibit and while ‘nice’ enough, I’m not a Van Gogh fan … frankly, I’m really only a Monet fan, and was actually looking forward to not missing this one. I had high hopes of cleaning out the gift store. I’m so much of a fan, I’ve been to Giverny twice! Sitting there I found the non-Monet stuff boring, but when his part came on I was moved to tears. I LOVE HIS WORK!!!!!
Stopped by the gift store and all I found were cheap tchotchkes. Pity. You missed an opportunity there.
I had driven from the Inn to Monet with the sole purpose of having my car so I could put those Monet items in it and not be bothered with lugging them around via trolley.
I left my car there and took the transport to the Chateau in order to visit the larger gift shop in search of Biltmore t-shirts. I like wearing them in my town to show I’m a “Biltmore Babe” (Trademark! If I find this on a T-shirt one day, you will owe me money.). But, again, here we are not being fulfilled. Didn’t find one T-shirt that looked fit to wear. Where did the gray ones I bought before go??? Now the artwork is … what’s the word? … old lady looking? Busy and confusing? And, let’s be honest, the fabric is cheaper than a Dollar store. It already looks like it’s falling apart. Why spend $30 bucks on a shirt that will unravel on the first wash?
What is going on here?
Where is my classy Biltmore???
I DID find ONE shirt – albeit flimsy and not in my favorite gray color – at the gift shop at The Inn, so I grabbed it, but again with a snafu. There were only small shirts hanging so I asked if they had one in my size. She said she would check stock in the back, but typically they only have what’s hanging in the store. Cited ‘shipping issues’. Voila! She found one for me!
It’s getting later in the afternoon and I’ve accomplished most of what I came here for … Monet, Blooms … and now I need to eat. Knowing how busy it is, I made a reservation at The Stables.
It was a 30-minute wait, so that’s when I visited the shops … drank some wine … had a fun conversation with a couple of 80-year old gents who were livelier than me … and then realized, “What if there is nothing on the menu you want to eat?” so I walked down to check the menu. Nope, nothing looked that appealing, so I asked if I could cx the res. “No problem.” with a smile!
Do I want ice cream?
Can’t see the flavors for the crowd standing in line. Too many people. I’ll pass.
I’m getting tired.
I think I’ll grab the shuttle before I have to wait 30 more mins for it. Go back to my car and get lunch at my favorite place, The Village Social … and that she-crab soup!!!!!!!
Snafu number … what … how many is it now?
In the middle of needing to eat something luxurious and relaxing, I also need to check my wine club selection … what to do first? Ok. Go get your name on the list and if you have to wait long, you can organize your wine stuff first; or eat now and wine later?
I’m noticing how vacant this area is. “Hmmm, I guess I timed it just right. Most visitors have eaten and gone on to the house or gardens now. Goodie.”
I see an older couple sitting outside.
They are the ONLY people I see.
THIS is not normal for the Biltmore.
I do see a sign that says the Social is open for lunch until 3:30, and luckily, I have arrived in the nick of time, with minutes to spare!
I open the door.
Not a soul to be seen in the entire place.
“This is strange.” What’s going on???
I went outside and spoke to the couple sitting there waiting on their daughter … waiting to go in and eat lunch. “They’re CLOSED. Sign inside says not opening again until 7:30 tomorrow morning.”
So I go inside the winery expecting to find some luxuries as a Wine Club member. NOPE. That’s gone, too.
I asked why is the restaurant closed. “Staffing issues.” “COVID”.
So why wasn’t The Bistro opened up for lunch if the Social couldn’t open because of staffing issues??? SOMETHING should have been open.
This is getting worrying.
This is not the Biltmore I have known and LOVED since the 1990’s.
I had to ask, “Is the Biltmore going to be sold like the Grove Park was?”
I ‘carried on’ at the winery and did my best to find some way to sample what was set to be in my next wine club shipment … or just get it now, if possible.
That in itself was tough.
“No. We don’t have the Wine Club Member Lounge anymore …. COVID.”
“No. Tasting is by appointment and it’s full for today.”
“No. We don’t have any way for you to sample what’s in that shipment.”
I ask, “What about the wine area across the walkway outside?”
After getting more and more “NO” options I gave up and went over there thinking I might find wine and food.
She tried to help me but could not even find a brochure.
They ship in June. It’s May 17th.
DOES NO ONE KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS NEXT WINE SHIPMENT?
Others tried to help connect me with the people who might know, but they were not on site – totally unavailable.
Yikes. I’m losing all patience and hope. And I’m more tired than ever because I still haven’t had lunch and the ONLY option is Cedric’s. I don’t really like the food there, it’s too heavy. Plus, if that’s the ONLY place to eat right now then it’s probably fully booked already.
I give up.
I leave empty handed and for the first time EVER since the 1990’s, I will leave The Biltmore SAD.
Not sad because I don’t want to leave, but sad because I feel the place shrinking.
This has always been a place of ABUNDANCE. Wealth. Prestige.
Not scrimping like a war year.
But that is how it felt today.
PS – ALL of this was just in ONE day!
Should I have just stayed at home?
Do I take a LONG pause on visiting again? Is three years long enough to see if they get back on their feet again --- or is this the beginning of the END?
THAT is what this repeat guest left with.
No welcome bevvie
Chateau tier pales in comparison to what it was
No to 2 nights
No to dining at the Inn
No passholder discount
May 18, 2022