Mention “North Carolina vacation” to Richmonders, and we automatically think beaches of the Outer Banks or mountains of Ashville. But Charlotte? Um, not so much – right?
Yet, here’s the takeaway: If you haven’t seen the Queen City lately, you’re in for something special. Charlotte, North Carolina – once clearly the low-key little sister of the South – is transforming into a full-on vibrant beauty in her own right. But first, why is she called the Queen City? Interestingly, the city’s nickname, the name of the city itself, and the name of the county it’s located in (Mecklenburg) all go back to the same source – Queen Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in Germany. (Fun fact: The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, can also be traced back to this queen.)
But let’s say you’re heading toward Charlotte anyway – maybe your spouse has business in the city (it is the second largest banking hub after New York City), your sister lives on the outskirts, or you’re passing near Charlotte on your way to a final destination – grab the chance to explore this family-friendly city for a day or (easily) a week. You’ll quickly discover why Charlotte has blossomed from kind of snoozy to super-sensational – and there are plenty of places to hang your hat.
Five-star swagger: The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte is owned by Marriott. If you’ve racked up enough Marriott points for this pricy stay – or are having what I call a life-is-short moment – don’t miss this opulent experience. Located in the heart of Uptown, the Ritz provides glam guestrooms with wowza views of Charlotte, a spa and wellness center, a gleaming fitness room, a steak restaurant serving all meals, and a dessert venue called Bar Cocoa. Think kids aren’t welcome in a five-star? Think again. The Ritz-Carlton rolls out the red carpet for the cutest among us.
Uptown value gem: Residence Inn Charlotte Uptown lets you sleep in your own little apartment with all the bells and whistles. Guestrooms come in studio size, and 1- or 2-bedroom units with full kitchens and pullout sofas. The suites have separate living spaces and whirlpool tubs. The property features a free hot breakfast, outdoor grills and coin-operated washer/dryers. One thing missing? A pool, but the Residence Inn is only a 6-minute walk to the splash park at The Green.
Inside the Perimeter
Value gem: The Hampton Inn & Suites: SouthPark Hotel – connected to Phillips Place – features standard rooms and suites. This Hampton had me at “mirror TV” and complimentary breakfast buffet.
Four-star swagger: The Ballantyne, a Luxury Collection Hotel – about eight miles from the SouthPark Mall, seventeen miles from Uptown, and smack on the perimeter – is a 4-star resort loaded with amenities like an 18-hole golf course, a full-service spa, several gorgeous pools, a restaurant, and much more. Guest rooms are beautiful, and some suites have full kitchens. I loved our 4-star experience, but missed having an in-room mini-fridge. Also, a housekeeper knocked loudly on our door long before our check-out time in the morning (and on a Sunday!). The Ballantyne Village is a 4-minute drive away and has dining, a movie theatre, and shopping.
Outside the Perimeter
Budget-hotel alert: The Hampton Inn & Suites Concord-Charlotte is just down the road from Great Wolf Lodge, one mile from the Concord Mills Mall, and three miles from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. I love a guest room with a mini-fridge and a microwave. Throw in a free breakfast, pool, and coin-laundry, and I’m sold.