Made of Gray

Visting Biltmore Estate with a Wheelchair

Traveling w/ DisabilitesHolly D Gray3 Comments

The eighth and ninth days of our North Carolina vacation were set aside for visiting the Biltmore. 

I was concerned after looking over their website and talking with them on the phone about the accessibility of the estate while using a wheelchair. We almost decided to skip the whole adventure, but I'm glad we didn't.

We bought our tickets ahead of time over the phone. For two days, for two adults with one disability discount the total was $113. Adding the second day was only $10 more. Caleigh was considered a free ticket due to her age.  I believe there was a small discount for buying the tickets at least one day in advance. 

The first day we toured the house. It's currently the largest residential home in America and has been since its doors first opened in 1895. George Vanderbilt was the owner and vision for the home. The European influences are breathe taking. 

Photography is not  allowed inside the home. It's treated much like a museum, but also much like a business operating for profit. We helped the cause and bought a nice coffee table book on the history of the estate. 

So accessibility. It's rough to say the least.

I guess that's why there is a small disability discount. 

We were able to do a front door drop off with Caleigh. Eric had to go park and walk back up to meet us. Not a big deal in our book. There is one ramp up to the main front entry area and then we walked around the front trying to figure out how to actually get inside the first floor. We finally asked and were shown a side entrance. Still ok. 

The first floor was great. The art work, furnishings and general history had me feeling like we were walking around the Americanized Downton Abbey. 

Once we made our way around the first floor area, we asked about an elevator to the second floor. This was the fanciest, and most detailed elevator I've ever been in. Trust me, I've used a lot of elevators in the last 6 and a half years. The original elevator was small, and had an amazingly smooth ride.

The second floor was filled with bedrooms and sitting rooms. All just as interesting as the first floor.

At one point we entered a hallway that led up a flight of stairs to the third floor. As visitors passed us by we waited and looked around for a sign, but there wasn't anything. Finally, a woman came up and gave us the choice of carrying Caleigh through the rest of the third floor while she took her wheelchair back to the first floor, or we could choose to enter a room with chairs and watch a video on the contents of the third floor. This was no surprise to us because we had read about the options on their website. 

We chose to carry Caleigh, which took a lot of time to pack up our valuables, carry them and get Caleigh situated outside of her chair. Up the stairs we went and Eric did the majority of the carrying. 

The elevator only goes from the first floor to the second floor and as far as I know they have no interest in changing the architecture for accessibility in that area. 

We took a break when we made it back to Caleigh's wheelchair on the first floor.

The only area left to explore in the residence itself was the basement. It had the same scenario. We left the wheelchair on the first floor and we went down to the basement. This area was my  favorite of the whole house and I'm glad that we opted to view it even though we had to carry Caleigh. There is an indoor pool area, a "state of the art" gym for the time and the first residential bowling alley of the time. The kitchen and servant's quarters were in the basement as well. I found these things more interesting than the main house.

When we were done with the main house we drove a couple of miles to the barn and winery. The drive was really beautiful. Most of the roads on the 8,000 acre estate are one way. We basically made a large circle to see everything that day.

This area was newer, more open and definitely more accessible. There were a lot of brick and rock pathways to maneuver, but Caleigh enjoys a bumpy ride. There were several restaurants in the new area along with the winery.

The barn itself is original to the main house. It's now filled with a souvenir shop, a blacksmith and woodworking area and restaurants. 

Once we walked around for awhile, we went through the winery, bought a few bottles and then headed back to our car. We decided to eat dinner in Asheville that day. So we made our way off of the property which was a nice drive as well.

The next morning we got up and drove back to the Biltmore to see the gardens and get our second day's worth of ticket use. The weather was gorgeous and the sun was warm.

We had skipped over the garden on our way down to the barn and winery the day before so we actually parked by the conservatory in the garden area. There were a few handicapped parking spots tucked away.

The main garden was really lovely. The mums were breathe taking. I'm sure there were some areas to access this  garden, but it's a large space with little paths. We didn't see any. We ended up taking the wheelchair down the stairs which wouldn't work for those in a power chair. At one point we ended up walking on the narrow road to get to a lower level. Maybe a map of the gardens with accessibility directions might be useful?

We weren't able to trek through any of the other gardens by foot. There were too many steps involved with the ever changing landscape.

The conservatory is original to the house. As plant lovers, we were really blown away by the shear number of plants and flowers in the greenhouse. There was room after room of beautiful greenery. It just looked like a lot of work. I know deep down that I would kill them all if I was left in charge of it.

We hit up the Biltmore garden center before we left that day. Eric is the proud owner of a flowering maple tree that was propagated from an original Biltmore tree. He's more into the plants than I am and he seems to keep them alive a lot longer than I do.

We had planned to rent bicycles, with a trailer for Caleigh, and ride some of the trails on the estate, but at almost $75 we decided to leave the area and find a fun new place to hike instead. So we didn't stay too terribly long on the second day. We ate lunch in Asheville and did a little downtown shopping before leaving the city that day.

I'm really glad that we were able to see the Biltmore and I'm thrilled we didn't back out of our plans. It is truly an American historical icon and the history of that time is very rich. The idea of building a house in that scale during those times is mind boggling. We were glad that we took Caleigh while we were still physically able to carry her through the inaccessible areas of the estate. At some point we won't be able to take her everywhere and anywhere we choose. It gave us the realization that traveling with Caleigh at a young age, for us, is really important to our family.


ONE DAY

An ongoing series of waste collections from medically fragile individuals over a 24 hour period. 

Last Fall I started the One Day Project. I'm asking those of you with medically fragile children or family members to collect the waste from a 24 hour period and send it to me. With this shipment I then curate a photograph and installation. I will send you a print of your One Day and postcards that can be mailed to anyone you chose including your representatives. My goal with this ongoing project is to have hundreds if not thousands of these portraits. Please visit my portfolio for more information on collection and shipping details. 

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