A Vacation Worthy of a Second Trip
WALL STREET JOURNAL BY GORDON DEAL—OCTOBER 14, 2011
See the full article on the Wall Street Journal website.
Before the insanity of the school, soccer, dancing and CCD schedule resumed this fall, my family and I shoehorned in a quick trip to Rocking Horse Ranch, in Highland, New York, a tiny hamlet located halfway between New York City and Albany, NY along the Hudson River. It's about a one-hour drive north of New York City.
I don't like to return to vacation destinations. Generally speaking, if I've snorkeled or scuba-dived your turquoise waters and sipped your umbrella drinks once, that's usually enough. I like variety.
However, for the second time this year (the first being the Atlantis in the Bahamas), we have discovered a place worthy of a second visit.
For the outdoor enthusiast with kids, this is a place for you. If you prefer some quiet time indoors to finally finish that book, there are plenty of places to retreat.
Let's start with the accommodations. It doesn't get much better for the kids. You know how it is in a standard hotel room: two queen-size beds. My wife and I used to play rock-scissor-paper to see which of us got to share a bed with the child least likely to kick us in the ribs.
At the family-owned Rocking Horse Ranch, our room featured not only two queens, but also bunk beds. The kids were thrilled. My wife and I slept through the night. (Already worthy of a return.) The rooms have a dude-ranch styling to them with wooden bunk bed frames and bed spreads with horse prints.
One of the least-recognized features of the property is that everything is reachable with a quick walk. What a relief! No car for three nights. Left the swim goggles in the room? No sweat. Back in five minutes.
As you might decipher from its name, horseback riding is a major focus of the Rocking Horse Ranch during the summer. A whopping 120 horses are there, all with names the kids love: Scout, Kemosabe, Chico, Whiskey. Each one kinder and gentler than the next, and fully familiar with the course they walk a few times each day, carrying nervous novices, thrill seekers and criers. There are also trails for the advanced riders.
After a quick change following the morning ride, it was off to the pool. We'd start at the outdoor pool, which features shaded cabanas and a pool-side bar selling drinks and snacks. After a few runs down the 125-foot twisting slide, we'd bang a beach ball over the in-pool volleyball net. There were poolside contests and games all afternoon.
Then the kids would want a change of scenery, so we'd take the 45-second walk to the indoor pool (technically known as the Big Splash Water Park), which features a 250-foot slide, dumping buckets, a water walk challenge, and even a small area for toddlers with spray fountains and two mini slides. There's also a heated outdoor pool for those toddlers.
If you can't get enough of water activities, you'd better be a decent time manager. Book your slots when you arrive for the exciting banana boat ride on the lake or water skiing (with instruction). You do not, however, need to book times for fishing, kayaking or paddle boating.
There are no separate fees for any of these activities. They even provide the fishing tackle. (If catching little sunfish doesn't thrill you, note that I did witness one guy pull a 3-4 lb. largemouth bass from the chilly lake.)
If the water eventually wears you out, there's ping pong, a rifle range, rockwall and bungee, arts and crafts, a Nintendo Wii in the arcade room, shuffleboard, tennis, basketball courts, baseball field, sand volleyball court and a handball wall.
After dinner (seatings at 5:30 and 7:30), roasting marshmallows on the bonfire is a must, and even my awful voice was welcome at the sing-a-longs with the cowboy guitar player.
The cozy main lounge features a small indoor bar, gift shop, teen lounge (9pm to midnight) and an area for nightly entertainment. We were impressed all three nights with the bubble guy (his home-made solution allowed for incredible bubble tricks), the juggler, and the ranch version of Jeopardy!
Another customer-friendly aspect of RHR: even after you've checked out on your final day, you're welcome to continue using the facilities until it's time to go home.
By the way, if you need more pampering than go-go-go and trail dust on your vacation, Rocking Horse Ranch even has a spa, with Swedish, deep tissue and aromatherapy massages ($100 for an hour; $135 for 90 minutes). There are also his and her facials, and even eye and lip treatments. And nothing says "cowboy" quite like a one-hour Gentleman's Facial for $90. Outdoor sports can do a number on your pores, apparently.
Finally, thank goodness we consistently chose the 5:30 dinner seatings, because by 8:15 or so, our eyes were drooping with exhaustion. Grownups talk a good game about wishing there were more elaborate late night opportunities, but for those of us taking full advantage of all the activities, the Rocking Horse Ranch was noticeably quiet by around 9:30 each night.