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5 Holiday Cooking Tips from a Pro

Male chef serving dinner to a large group of people around a Thanksgiving table with waterfront views overlooking Lake Norman.

As the season approaches, we could think of no one better to coach us through some holiday cooking tips than Chef Peter from Carolina Gourmet, our trusted advisor here at StayLakeNorman for all things food and celebrations. As a seasoned veteran in cooking for a crowd, we asked him to share his wisdom in hosting Thanksgiving dinner and helping it go more smoothly for the typical home chef. Here is what he told us:

1. Choose Quality Ingredients

Chef Peter’s first piece of advice was that ingredients matter. They are the stars of the dishes you are making, and choosing fresh and natural ingredients will elevate whatever you are serving. He said that buying top-quality ingredients makes the biggest difference in the presentation of the meal and will prepare you to cook like a chef.

View of a cooked Thanksgiving dinner displayed on a wooden table including turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls, and a small orange pumpkin

2. Prep in Advance

In thinking about cooking for Thanksgiving in particular, typically with many more components involved than the average dinner, Chef Peter advised that anything that is served cold can be washed, sliced, or chopped ahead of time. Dessert can also be made in advance so that you don’t have to worry about it on the day of the event.

3. Prepare a Checklist

Another important reminder from Chef Peter is to make sure that you are NOT going to the grocery store on the day of your event. “I think it’s very important to have a shopping list and everything bought a couple of days before you actually start cooking,” he said. (And don’t forget staples like your salt, pepper and olive oil!) “Sometimes we forget about all the little things we need in order to make a meal really good. But it’s the little things at the end of the day that make a great difference. This is why I always use a checklist for everything.”

4. Make a Timeline, and Get Creative!

When it comes to timing, Chef Peter advises that, along with your checklist, you prepare a timetable for when things need to be in the oven or on the stove, and for how long. It’s important not to overbook your space! The next tip he gave was really valuable: “It’s also helpful to think about what are the other things that you have around the house that you can use to make a meal as well,” he said. “What can I cook on my grill, for example, that takes away from the kitchen space? If you turn your grill on really low, you can take your roast or turkey and you can put it on the grill to free up the oven space for other things. Just keep it really low and use it more as a holding cabinet. The turkey will stay nice and warm rather than actually cooking.” He also encourages being creative with other kitchen appliances, like a slow cooker, deep fryer, or toaster oven.

People toasting wine glasses and smiling around a Thanksgiving table with a gourmet meal in the foreground

5. Enlist Helpers

Lastly, keep in mind when you are preparing to host Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or another holiday, that no one can do it by themselves, not even professionals. While you may be able to handle the cooking on your own, there are so many other details to attend to when you are hosting a group. It’s ideal to be able to designate someone else to do the additional tasks like setting the table, serving drinks, and entertaining guests. 

Chef Peter sums it up like this: “Cooking for a crowd is a big task, and that’s why it’s so important to have the checklist, create a timetable, and give it a walk through. Just like if you’re planning a wedding, you’re not going to leave it to chance. You get involved with your caterer, you get involved with the seating arrangements, you get involved with who is going to do what and so forth.”

Take it from the pro: preparation is the key to a successful and enjoyable (and maybe even stress-free?) holiday meal.

Vacation Rental Safety Tips You Need to Know

Blog banner with the title "Vacation Safety Tips You Need to Know with Short-Term Rental Safety Expert, Justin Ford" and headshot of Justin Ford.

Vacation safety tips are on everyone’s mind as they are planning a trip, or they should be. Here at StayLakeNorman, we are lucky to be connected with Justin Ford, Director of Short-Term Rental Safety at Breezeway, who is an industry expert in vacation rental safety. We sat down with him to ask a few questions about what travelers should consider when booking a vacation rental.

As a vacation rental safety expert, what do you look for in a listing or on a website when booking a vacation rental yourself?

It’s really important for me to know that the organization I’m working with has a commitment to safety. For example, if you’re going on a cruise, it’s really nice to know that they do a lifeboat drill before you get on board. If you’re flying, it’s really nice to know that they’re going to do a safety check before you take off. So I’m looking to see that a vacation rental does that same thing. I’m looking [at a listing] to see if they have checked all the boxes. I’m looking in the photos to see if they have smoke alarms. In the photos, does it look like they have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen? I think that’s probably the biggest one. If they’ve got a fire extinguisher out and visible in the kitchen, that to me immediately says, “wow – there’s someone who’s taken that extra step. They get it.”

What about when you first arrive at your vacation rental, is there anything you would look for when you first check-in?

Low angle view of a white male testing a smoke detector in a vacation rental home.

Yeah, when you first check-in, you’ve got to do a full safety check and figure out what you’re going to do in an emergency. It’s really important to embrace the worst-case scenario. We do that with so many other parts of our lives, but in our own home, we don’t do it every day. So we just assume when we go into someone else’s home that they’ve done that for us, and they may not have. Yes, we can look around and say, there’s the hot tub, there’s the pool…but also, if there’s a fire, how am I getting out of here? And is there something to tell me that there is a fire so that I can get out of here?

Are there any red flags that people should be aware of, either during the booking process or upon arrival at a vacation property?

When you’re booking a property and you speak to somebody like a reservationist and you ask them about safety features, such as, “when was the last time you checked smoke alarms in this property, or does the property have smoke alarms? Does it have fire extinguishers?” If there’s any hesitation by the person you’re booking with and they have to think about it, that to me is a red flag.

If you call a hotel and ask that question, they’re going to say “absolutely, we do monthly fire safety checks. I just saw the fire department come through here the other day.” But when you call [a vacation rental] and they say “Hmm… I don’t know. I’ll have to check. I’m not sure.” That’s a really big red flag to me that they haven’t put a safety culture in place enough such that the reservationist is instantly saying, “Oh, yeah, absolutely. We check all of our properties for safety all the time. I know that our crew was out last month.”

A red flag when I go to a property is certainly if the smoke alarms look old and yellowed. If they’re older than 10 years or if the batteries are missing in the smoke alarms, that’s a problem.

On the part of the property owner, it’s a lack of awareness of trip hazards. We know that 83% of all accidents in short-term rentals come from slips, trips, and falls. And so many property owners are so focused on aesthetics that they don’t recognize that. For example, that throw rug that’s loosely placed in a kitchen may look great, but you might as well have frozen the floor into a sheet of ice because someone’s going to slip and fall on that.

For guests, I think one of the biggest things that they overlook relates to kids and understanding that yes, you’re on vacation and you want to relax, but you can’t drop your guard. In fact, you’ve got to lift your guard because now your kids are in an unfamiliar environment. You’ve got to be more aware than you typically are to make sure that they’re going to be safe.

outdoor seating area next to in ground pool with tall safety gate surrounding it at a StayLakeNorman luxury vacation rental

Any specific vacation safety tips you would give to families with young children?

Again, you can’t drop your guard, you have to lift your guard. Here’s a story that expands on the point I’m trying to make. It was almost two years ago that it made headlines. A man went to a vacation rental and his kid found a gun in a dresser drawer. That was the big news. A sheriff’s deputy left his gun behind and people couldn’t believe a gun was left behind in a vacation rental and the kid found it. That was not big news to me. We know over 40% of guests travel with a gun. It’s not unusual, it happens. The big news there was in the last paragraph of that story. It was that the kid had found the gun within five minutes of arrival in the second dresser drawer down in the master bedroom. What the heck is a kid doing, arriving at a vacation home and searching dresser drawers in the master bedroom? That’s the story there. You’ve got to respect and understand that kids want to explore in this new environment and you’ve got to get ahead of them. You’ve got to make sure that you’ve explored it. And don’t be surprised when they suddenly show up with matches that they found in a cabinet drawer. You may never even have talked to them about matches because you don’t have matches in your own house.

Are there any ideas you could give to parents in anticipation of providing the safest environment for their kids on vacation? Should they be having conversations with them ahead of time? Should they be doing a safety sweep when they get in the house?

I haven’t heard anybody do this yet, but it’d be great if, a few hours before arrival, the property owner sent the guests a text message saying “Hey, you’re checking in soon. Now’s the time to take a pause for a minute and talk to your kids about safety before you arrive at the property. There’s a pool there, so you should remind them that they can’t go into the pool without permission, etc.”

The same thing goes for parents. You’ve got to have a talk [with your kids]. I think just getting people to pause for a moment. They’re excited- half of a vacation is the planning and the travel to get there. Encompassing that safety piece into the planning is key.

Tell us what has made you so passionate about the work you do.

I look at what I do as just common sense. Getting people to see things differently is really what drives me the most. To point out the obvious and help people get to that level where they now are looking at things differently, that’s why I get up every day. That and knowing that people recognize that, with this information, we may have just saved some lives here.

Thank you again to Justin for his valuable insights and important vacation rental safety tips! To help you prepare for your next trip, we’ve compiled a list of quick safety checks that you can do upon arrival at any vacation rental. Just a few minutes is worth your peace of mind! And to see Justin in action, check out his spot on Good Morning America!

Vacation rental safety checklist:

  • Check for working smoke alarms on every level, in every sleeping area and as required by state law
  • Check for working carbon monoxide alarms on every level and as required by state law
  • Check for a fire extinguisher within 30 feet of all cooking appliances, including grills
  • Check to ensure cleaning products that could pose a threat to young children are safely stored away from their access
  • Check all cabinets and drawers in the kitchen accessible to children for any hazards, like matches
  • Check all dresser drawers accessible to children for any hazards
  • Check underneath coffee tables and couches if traveling with a crawling infant
  • Check hot tub and/or pool area to ensure children won’t be able to access them except with an adult
  • Make sure gates close and latch as they should, pool alarms are operational, and windows are secured
  • Have a conversation with your kids about safety

Top Reasons to Visit Lake Norman in October

Everyone loves visiting Lake Norman during the summer months, but did you know October is the locals’ favorite time of year around the lake? Lower temperatures, lower humidity and significantly lower rental rates are just some of the reasons to visit Lake Norman in October!

Events & Festivals

With crisp nights and mild days with average temperatures in the mid-70s, Lake Norman weather in October is perfect for enjoying the outdoors. Some of the top festivals and activities in the area for folks of all ages include the Carolina Renaissance Festival, Carolina BalloonFest, Scarowinds, Laketoberfest Music and Brew festival, Carrigan Farms for pumpkin picking and hayrides, Rural Hill Amazing Maize Maze and Ghosts of Davidson.

For the avid sports fans, there are quite a few exciting events taking place in October ranging from NFL to NASCAR. Watch the Carolina Panthers take on Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or catch your favorite driver speed through the checkered flag at the Bank of America Roval 400.

Boating & Fishing

Another Lake Norman favorite pastime in October is boating. With fewer boats and wakeboarding, October is meant for cruising around the lake to appreciate nature’s fabulous art show as foliage colors change and reflect off the waters.  StayLakeNorman has a large selection of premium tritoons available for rent that can be delivered directly to your waterfront vacation rental for your convenience.

Traditionally when temperatures drop, feeding activity picks up for bass and crappie, just two of Lake Norman’s favorite fish to catch.  Make sure to check that your fishing license is up to date!

Take advantage of significantly lower rates now. Give StayLakeNorman a call at (704) 924-0510 to plan your visit to Lake Norman this October and get the recharge you need for those busy last 2 months of the year.  

A Family Vacation To Lake Norman

Family on Vacation

Getting the family all together in one place can be a difficult task. Make it easier by taking a Lake Norman family vacation to get away from the distractions and stresses of everyday life. Unplug and relax in luxury in one of the StayLakeNorman Luxury Vacation Rentals. Certainly, there are so many Lake Norman things to do, the entire family can get in on the fun. Have fun in the water or take part in various activities on land that the whole family can enjoy.

Fun On The Water

Lake Norman is a vast man-made lake. In other words, it is so large, it spans across four counties and has 520 miles of shoreline. You can take part in just about any water-related activity on Lake Norman. From fishing to wakeboarding to swimming, the possibilities are endless. StayLakeNorman’s sister company offers a selection of rental boats with sports packages to take out on the lake. Or step aboard some of the river boats or yachts offering cruises with a dinner. There is endless fun out on the water and plenty of lake to enjoy and explore. You can even take a sunset cruise or learn some exciting information about Normie, the fictitious Lake Norman Monster, on a relaxing tour of the lake.

Staying On Shore

Aside from kicking it back lakeside at your vacation rental, there are many fun things your entire family can do on land. Take in the views with a hike or bike around the lake on the many trails that surround it. See which member of your family has a need for speed by hitting the asphalt by racing to the checkered flag in go-karts at the GoPro Motorplex. Similarly, climb to new heights by visiting the Cliff Hangers climbing center. It comes loaded with various levels of rock walls and bouldering areas. Get a little exotic by spending the day at Lazy 5 Ranch. You can take a ride on a horse-drawn wagon to see Henry Hampton’s home of unique animals. Most importantly, enjoy seeing and petting various animals while learning about them up close and personal.

A Comfortable Lake Norman Family Vacation Perfect For Your Family

If you want a comfortable stay with your family on Lake Norman, you will be sure to find it with StayLakeNorman Luxury Vacation Rentals. There are plenty of options to choose from. From a lakeside villa that can sleep up to 18 guests or a cozy cabin that sleeps up to 8 and room for your four-legged best friend. Take a look at StayLakeNorman’s different accommodations to find the perfect fit for your family. Stay close to all the Lake Norman things to do and waterfront views. Your Lake Norman getaway is waiting for you.

Explore Lake Norman: Kids Activities

kid friendly on lake

Summer is well underway, the kids have been out of school, and the sun is shining bright. This summer, do not miss out on an incredible getaway with the family to StayLakeNorman. Find your ideal luxury lake rental and discover all of the Lake Norman kids activities left to explore. Lake Norman has something for everyone, so get out and explore with us!

Adventures Ashore

When it comes to Lake Norman kids activities on dry land, there is no shortage! There are numerous exciting things to do that the young, old, and everyone in between can take part in. For those with a craving for speed, a fantastic stop is at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC. Discover the home of racing history and then put your own foot to the floor with a thrilling adventure at the GoPro Motorplex for a competitive session of Go-Karts.

The Carowinds Theme Park is another place of fun for everyone with high rolling coasters and more. For those in the family that prefer an educational adventure with nature and new things, the Carolina Raptor Center is a great option.

Lake Norman Kids Activities: Fun Afloat

Lake Norman has over 500 feet of coastline and offers unlimited boating and water-filled adventures. One of the best ways for the entire family to get out on the water is to rent a pontoon and float the day away. You can bring some tunes and spend your time floating over the waves, strap on life jackets and jump into the waves, and lounge in the sun. You can also find a jet ski rental for a little bit of fun racing over the water. Stand up paddle boarding is becoming ever more popular and you can experience why so many love this growing trend by renting your own and discovering what all the talk is about with My Aloha Paddle Sports.

The Stay That Has It All

No matter what you choose to do while you are here, a stay with StayLakeNorman will provide you with the perfect location to enjoy it all. You can find your ideal home with just the right accommodations for the whole family to be comfortable as well as the best location for access to the water and surrounding attractions. Bring the family to our lake paradise and escape for some summertime fun with the family at StayLakeNorman. There is no shortage of things to do near Lake Norman North Carolina, so come and discover them all!

Lake Norman Nature Park: Best Attractions for Animal Lovers

Lake Norman Pet Friendly

Do you love nature and discovering the wildlife of new areas? Then there is no better place to meet our feathered and four-legged residents than at a Lake Norman nature park! When you stay with us at StayLakeNorman, you will be close to fabulous Lake Norman beach areas and other nature attractions. Discover native birds, animals and even a few friendly farm animals that can’t wait to say “Hello!”

A Fun-filled Adventure to Zootastic Park

Can’t help but get excited around various species of animals? There is one place that you could easily spend a full day visiting each exotic resident if you love animals! Only a short drive away, Zootastic Park is an incredible place to come face to face with all sorts of animal life. Explore all of the different enclosures to see an array of animals enjoying their days while learning along the way. There are also several “Animal Encounters” that you can sign up for to experience up close and personal sessions. Hang with baby animals, giraffes, and attend several other safaris that allow you to meet all of the animals that call the Zootastic Park home.

Unique Experiences at Lazy 5 Ranch

Don’t be confused by the name, because Lazy 5 Ranch is far from your ordinary ranch operation. Though you can interact with farm animals of all shapes and sizes, there are also several exotic animals that happily await the loving attention of visitors. From horses to deer to lemurs, Lazy 5 Ranch has a full breadth of animals that help educate guests about these fascinating creatures. This is a family oriented place that deeply cares for each of its unique residents.

Lake Norman Nature Park: ​​​​​Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve

For an open and natural experience with exceptional educational opportunities, ​​​​​Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve is the place to be. It contains nearly 1,500 acres of natural land and a nature center full of educational information. Anyone that has a love for nature and animals will feel right at home. Explore the nature center. Embark on a hike. Saddle up for a trail ride. Discover all of our native flora and fauna. Furthermore, the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve is home to nearly 100 different species of birds, 9 species of amphibians, 14 species of reptiles, and 17 species of mammals.

There is no end to the experiences and wildlife encounters that await when you book one of our luxury lakefront vacation rentals. Bring your camera along and a pair of binoculars to discover and capture the best sights along the way. Discover this incredible area attraction on your Lake Norman beach vacation with StayLakeNorman!

Lake Norman: Private Lake Getaways

father son fishing

Are you looking to enjoy a private getaway on the lake? StayLakeNorman offers a number of fantastic private lake getaways which are the perfect places to host a vacation escape! Our luxurious properties feature a variety of upscale amenities you won’t find anywhere else. Whether you’re outside enjoying pristine views, taking a dip in a private pool, making use of the fully equipped kitchens, or catching up on your sleep in our comfortable, quiet bedrooms, your vacation to Lake Norman will be a memorable one when you choose to stay in our private lake properties.

A Lake Norman Vacation: Your Together Awaits

Family on Vacation

Do you miss spending quality time together with those you love? The ideal Lake Norman vacation getaway with your closest friends and family awaits when you book one of our lakeside vacation homes on Lake Norman! Enjoy a quiet, idyllic setting on the water along with the highest quality property features when you book with StayLakeNorman. Wake up to scenic views over the water. Cook breakfast in our fully equipped kitchens. Then while the day away on the lake before heading back inside for a quality night’s rest in our serene bedrooms. StayLakeNorman is here to help you make unforgettable vacation memories!

A Carolina Renaissance Festival Adventure

In the age of technology, living in the left lane, and life in the office, it is always fun to take a step back and revisit our childhood fantasies. A time of fairies, mermaids, knights in shining armor, and royalty was something we all envisioned as little children. Adults and children alike can discover what it feels like to watch these images come to life with a visit to the Carolina Renaissance Festival during their StayLakeNorman getaway.

An Event For Everyone

Though many believe these fairytales are only for children, the Carolina Renaissance Festival proves to bring out the youth in all of us. Watch as mermaids swim through the water at the Circus Siren show. In addition, watch in awe as magic glimmers in the eyes of onlookers. There are feasts, pubs, and of course plenty of spots to grab a glass of delicious mead for adults. Furthermore, there is an array of performers around to create entertainment for patrons of all ages!

Take the kids to the games and rides section of the fest where they can discover the fun of non-motorized wooden rides and games like archery. The petting farm is also something that is fantastic for children. Adults too can learn about different animals, from horses to more exotic species like the lemur.

Finding The Best Entertainment

When it comes to the Renaissance Festival, there is no shortage of entertainment. Spend the day shopping around for handcrafted armor, art, accessories, and magical potions. Shop around for various brews at many of the vendors throughout the festival. In between checking out all of the unique artisan market areas, there are numerous shows that you can catch. From comedy shows and traditional dance performances to jousting and sword battles. There is undoubtedly something to peak your interests. While some performers wander the grounds singing and interacting with guests, a few stages host special acts that you can pull up a seat and enjoy as you munch on a turkey leg and other treats that you found along the way.

A Full Day Of Fun And An Evening On The Lake

The Carolina Renaissance Festival is a full day affair that you will want to leave yourself plenty of time to explore. When the day comes to a close, head back to your StayLakeNorman lakefront rental for a bit of Lake Norman fun to wrap up your adventures. Relax on the water or sit around a calming fire by the shores. There is plenty of Lake Norman fun to discover during your time with us here at StayLakeNorman, so come and explore with us during the Carolina Renaissance Festival and find a little magic with us!

Fall Time on Lake Norman

Fall time on the Lake

Fall is all about the colors. The leaves are changing from green to bright yellow, burnt orange, fiery red and even purple. Autumn is all about getting outside and exploring. The weather is cooler, and the sun is less intense, perfect for hiking and an adventure. At StayLakeNorman you will be surrounded by fall foliage in your Lake Norman vacation rentals. If you have not experienced fall in North Carolina, you haven’t experienced fall.

The Great Outdoors  

Spend a week or weekend exploring the parks, forests, and waterways throughout Lake Norman. Explore the lake and kayak, hike, fish, picnic and more. You will find plenty of scenic places for these activities at Lake Norman.

Lake Norman State Park

Lake Norman State Park is located on the largest human-made lake in North Carolina. Popular for mountain biking with 30.5 miles of single track trail. The five mile Lake shore trail will take you along the body of water and offer views of changing red maples, dogwoods, and oaks. The trees reflected in the water will give you a fantastic photo op.

Cruise Around the Lake

Hiking not your think?  Then get out on a boat! StayLakeNorman has a great selection of high performance tritoons available for rent — with over 500 miles of shoreline and many waterfront restaurants to explore, your stay is not complete without a boat.  Rent for a day or the whole week. Cruise along the shore line and feel the crisp fall air and surround yourself in the abundant, autumn hues of Lake Norman.

Football!

Another great outdoor activity is to sit back and catch a football game at Bank of America Stadium, just a 30-minute drive from Lake Norman.  Whether you are coming to watch your team versus our Carolina Panthers or crossing your figures that the Panthers win, the outdoor stadium is full of excitement during the autumn season. With the cool air, smell of stadium food, and the shooting of football fans, your fall experience will be complete. Take a look at the schedule and plan your fall football experience!

On your incredible adventures make sure you are taking pictures and use #staylakenorman on social media for your chance to win Lake Norman “swag”.  We will be on the lookout for the best photo that captures the vibrancy of Fall Time on Lake Norman to include in our Hall of Fall gallery.

This year do things a little differently and plan a fall vacation. StayLakeNorman offers luxury vacation rentals surrounded by the vibrant fall colors. Whether you are in need of Lake Norman vacation rentals with enough room for the whole family or a pet-friendly accommodation for your little travel companion, we have the property for you. Take the time to enjoy the changing seasons and Fall into Lake Norman.