Whether you're looking for exciting outdoor adventures, historical tours, foodie activities, Amish encounters, or just want to relax and swim at a beautiful hotel in the quiet farm-filled rolling countryside of Pennsylvania, Lancaster County is the perfect destination for your next multigenerational family vacation. Seriously, from babies to grandparents, there are endless options here for everyone!
We've been going to Lancaster PA annually for 6 years, driving just 3 hours from NYC and now from NJ (our old getaway guides are listed at the bottom of this one). We just love the area and all if has to offer! So kick back and enjoy our highlights video from this summer's trip below (we brought my parents along for the ride this year for the first time) and read on for more details and links, which we hope will be very helpful in planning your own family's visit!!
DISCLAIMER: We were not paid but were provided free tickets, accommodation and meals in exchange for inclusion in our roundup. All thoughts and opinions are my own and completely unbiased :) HUGE thank you to our partners on this trip, including Cartoon Network Hotel, Dutch Wonderland, Turkey Hill Experience, Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, The Amish Village, Smokehouse BBQ & Brews, and Discover Lancaster - the latter which is a GREAT resource when planning your visit, definitely check out their website, request a visitor's guide, and/or stop by their visitor's center!!
WHERE TO STAY!
Cartoon Network Hotel is the ultimate in kitsch meets cool accommoddations, and you can't beat the location if planning to go to Dutch Wonderland. You can literally walk from the hotel to the theme park and save the DW $22 parking fee (not to mention they have discounted DW tickets for hotel guests and you could even go back to the hotel for a couple hours to rest or let your toddler nap in the room). They have modern and fun cartoon-themed rooms, VR / arcade / and other great activities for kids down in the lobby, indoor and (seasonal) outdoor pools & splash zone, on-site restaurant and coffee shop (the latter turns into a bar at night), gift shop, and more!
This was our 2nd time being hosted by Cartoon Network and we just love it there! Last time we stayed in the Steven Universe Dream Suite and this time we got the Ben 10 Suite (watch the room tours below). SO SO SO thoughtfully designed with great art work, fun wall paper and bedding, and they give you tremendous space with suites featuring a primary bedroom and bathroom, living room and dining area with kitchenette, and a kids' area with 2 bunk beds (each bed has its own TV which is 1,000% my kids' favorite feature in the hotel). Cartoon Network Hotel is hands down my #1 hotel recommendation for families visiting Lancaster. It's such a fun spot, both kids and adults will love it!
BOOK YOUR STAY:
You can book a 384sqft King, Double, or Family room for 2-4 people (from about $147/night) on any site including Kayak, Booking.com, Priceline, Expedia, Hotels.com, etc. But if you have more than 4 people (like my family) you'll want to book a Dream Suite (max 6 or 8 people depending on the suite, from $399/night) directly on CartoonNetwork.com.
WHAT TO DO!
We've been visiting Dutch Wonderland annually since our twins were just 2 years old (when I was first invited to join their Influencer Ambassador Program) and we always have THE BEST TIME!!! It's so fun to back year after year and see them grow taller (see the photos above!) and enjoy different rides and activities each time. Last summer, my oldest kiddo (at 9 years old) was finally tall enough to ride every big ride in the park, which was a really exciting day for him because he finally got to go on their thrilling wooden Kingdom Coaster! This year? He rode it FOUR TIMES (and we all rode my favorite coaster, Merlin's Mayhem) THREE TIMES!
Awarded the Golden Ticket for Best Family Park by Amusement Magazine in 2019, 2021, and 2022, Dutch Wonderland celebrated its 60th Birthday this year! We brought my parents along for the first time this year and they thoroughly enjoyed many of the rides, and while we were off getting soaking wet in Duke's Lagoon and water slides, they explored the gentler rides such as Sky Ride, Monorail, and Turnpike.
While they have top notch big kid/adult coasters, little kid rides, animatronic Dinosaur "island", really exciting (and hilarious) diving shows, and all that fun, they're never crazy crowded like Disney. Most rides have no wait at all. I think the Double Splash Flume was the only time we waited more than 10 minutes in a line this trip! And there were a few that we rode 2-3 times in a row because there were no lines! Can't beat that at a theme park!
Summer hours are generally 11am-7pm daily from beginning of June through August with weekend hours here and there throughout the year including special Halloween Haunting and Winter Wonderland events. General admission $69.99 but they seem to always have some discounts available (currently an "end of summer" 35% off online), and kiddos under 3 years old are always FREE! Check their calendar and current discounts before booking your trip!
This was our second time attending one of the children's theatre lunches at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre and it was just as wonderful as last year's experience!! We got there around 11:30 to get our tickets, the buffet lunch opened at about 11:45. I can't speak of the dinner shows, but the lunch shows for kids has very KID FRIENDLY food i.e. things like chicken nuggets and corn dogs, cup cakes etc. There is a good salad bar, and coffee :) Staff is very quick to keep food available, clear your plates, refill drinks. Overall we enjoyed the food and it's a fun part of the experience - I definitely recommend getting the lunch + show ticket rather than just the show.
You continue sitting at your table during the show which started at around 12:45. They chairs are padded and comfortable, we simply turned them to face the stage so our necks wouldn't give us trouble. There was an intermission, which was appreciated since my kids had been drinking their pink lemonade non-stop!
The sound, the singing, the dancing, the set, the acting - was all top notch! Just terrific performances by all!! This was a summer show and I believe involved the children's theatre camp program, so had some younger actors included, as young as 11!! They all did so great, we just loved it!!
After the show, and I'm not sure if this is for every show or not, but they had a Q&A on the stage so kids (and adults) could ask questions to the cast, and after that the cast came out to the lobby and outside so you could take photos and talk to them. SO COOL! My kids, myself, my husband, and my parents all just absolutely loved this entire experience.
Can't recommend this place highly enough, whether you live in the area or just come for vacation like we do every year!! You can find their main theater 2023 schedule here (including Guys & Dolls, Escape to Margaritaville, and A Christmas Carol), 2024 schedule here (including Mousetrap, The Addams Family, Ragtime the Musical, The Full Monty, The Sound of Music, Jersey Boys, Hairspray, and White Christmas), and their children's theater schedule here (including Santa Claus the Musical, The Rainbow Fish Musical, The Sponge Bob Musical (Youth Edition), and Frozen Jr.)
You can't come to Lancaster and not do at least one Amish-centric activity or tour, but there are SO many to choose from! So, let me make it easy for you in saying The Amish Village is a GREAT one!! We're grateful to Discover Lancaster for coordinating tickets for us to showcase their Amish Village and Farmhouse Tour.
Our guide was so informative, teaching us about Amish life, culture, and religion as she guided us through an old Amish home. One thing that really stuck with me was the meaning I never realized about their women's clothing! At 16 years old, girls are given a white apron to wear to show they are of age to start dating (they encourage dating for a full 2 years before marriage since divorce is verboten). Once married, they're given a black apron to show they're married, since they don't wear any jewelry, including wedding rings or flashy buttons. So interesting!!
It was also fascinating to learn they do use some electricity, just nothing that ties them to a grid. So, utilizing propane gas and hooking up modern appliances to lawn mower motors for example, are quite popular. As are using peacocks as alarm systems, ha! Who knew, they're REALLY LOUD (watch the video!!) After the tour of the house we wandered around the property where they have some lots of animals, an Amish school house, wagons to climb into, and some yummy treats - I highly recommend getting some homemade whoopie pies!!
If you have time, you may want to get a more extensive tour such as their Premium Package Tour that includes a 90 minute narrated bus ride! See ticket and tour options here!
If you love ice cream, Turkey Hill Experience is a MUST DO. When they say that unlimited ice cream samples are included with admission, it's no joke. But they're not samples, they're FULL CUPS, and you can go back for as many as you want, of whatever flavor(s) omgggggg so good!!! Also, unlimited samples of a wide selection of teas and lemonades. Crazy thing is, the ice cream wasn't even the favorite part for my kids!!! It was all of the interactive activities like decorating their own ice cream containers, and filming their own Turkey Hill commercial using a teleprompter, microphone and green screen!!
For me?? It was the Taste Lab where we were schooled about all things ice cream and Turkey Hill and made our own ice cream with a bazillion flavorings, sauces, and mix ins!!! This place was such a fun stop, I can't believe we've been to Lancaster so many times and had never been here before!! General admission is $13.50 but you should definitely get the combo ticket with Taste Lab ($22.50). And be sure to give yourself at least 2 hours to enjoy it all (and make space to get down enough ice cream LOL).
WHERE TO EAT!
Smokehouse BBQ & Brews
Located in a serene area of Lancaster County on the 10 acre Plain & Fancy Farm, Smokehouse BBQ & Brews is a must for BBQ lovers, and really convenient if taking Aaron & Jessica's Amish Buggy Rides or visiting The Amish Experience - they're all on the same property! If their menu doesn't have you drooling, I don't know what will. We were treated to the "create your own platter" and it did not disappoint. I can honestly say, the BEST BBQ OF MY LIFE. So so good! My kids are extremely picky and they were eating off my plate after devouring their kids meals. I couldn't believe it! Don't forget to save space for Shoofly Pie, a Lancaster County favorite!
Whether or not you're staying at Cartoon Network Hotel, if your kids love cartoons or Cartoon Network, this is worth a stop for dinner. Call ahead and see if you can request one of the "Dream Cube" pods, they're super fun for kids!! The dinner menu is not super extensive, but you've got the kid-friendly staples and for adults things like tangy chicken wrap and burger, and some great deserts too! Everyone leaves happy! And if you're lucky, you may get a meet & greet with Gumball or another character while you're there!
OTHER GREAT RESTAURANTS:
MORE FUN ACTIVITIES:
INDOOR ACTIVITIES (Rainy Day Backups):
See and read more in our past Lancaster family vacation guides:
We usually do our annual Family Vacation Guide to Lancaster in the summer and hit up Dutch Wonderland and Cherry Crest Adventure Farm, but when Cartoon Network Hotel invited us down for a winter visit, we were excited to discover what kid-friendly fun was to be had in Amish Country in winter and year round... and to share with you all, of course!!
Watch our highlights video and read on for more details about each of the attractions, restaurants, and hotels!
Cartoon Network Hotel
Whether you have a lover of cartoons in your home or not, adults and kids of all ages will LOVE Cartoon Network Hotel!!
We were provided 2 nights in the Steven Universe Dream Suite in exchange for our review, but don't worry, all thoughts and opinions are my own and completely unbiased. In full honesty... IT IS AMAZING!!!!!
They have 4 dream suites that can sleep 6: Steven Universe, Ben 10, Power Puff, and Adventure Time. Ours had a private primary bedroom for the parents, a huge bathroom with 2 sinks and a shower, a 6-chair dining table, small kitchen with mini fridge / Keurig / microwave, large living room with 75" TV, and kids room with 2 double bunk beds and a TV in each bed (this didn't have a door, unfortunately, but was off to the side so you could have lights and TV on in the living room and it wouldn't bother kids if deep sleepers like ours, or simply head to your own bedroom and close the door ;)
The dream suite costs quite a bit more than the regular rooms that sleep 2 or 4 people, but are the only rooms inside the main building and are totally worth the splurge IMO! The only negative I have is that because it is right over the lobby, we heard the music pumping down there (they were doing karaoke I think?) on Saturday night til 10pm. It didn't bother me and my kids didn't notice and passed right out, but just a heads up. Nothing some ear plugs or white noise app on your cell phone can't take care of!
Inside the main building, you have the Cartoon Kitchen, regular character meet & greets, a cafe, the gift shop (a dream for Cartoon Network fans!!!), Omnicade (arcade), and the favorite of me and my kids: the Toon Room. Here you can play VR (even 2 can play together in the same game/cube), scavenger hunt, arts and crafts, and more!
They have an outdoor pool and splash area open in summer, and they have a lovely heated indoor pool open year round but you have to go outside to get there and ooooooof it can be cold in winter! It didn't have any locker rooms but we changed in the bathroom, not a big deal. Be sure to BYO puddle jumpers / floaties.
Book your room on cartoonnetworkhotel.com or Hotels.com (affiliate link).
There are a ton of companies out there with "Amish tours" and museums and what not. Some are authentic, others not at all. I ran across LoKal Experiences on Discover Lancaster's website and am SO glad I reached out to work together on a review. The "Unique Amish Immersion Experience" tour we were taken on went above and beyond my expectations in teaching us all about Amish / Mennonite history, culture, and such great tidbits. I never realized how misinformed we are about them! Here are some things I found most fascinating:
Mike, the co-founder of LoKal, is passionate about working with local Amish businesses and families, and giving his clients an authentic, memorable, and fun experience. He took us in his beautiful 14 passenger van to several homes (including one that was featured in the 1985 Harrison Ford movie Witness) and farms and even Down on the Farm Creamery that had the BEST ice cream I've EVER had. (Yes, at 9:45am. Don't judge.) He also had these great ear pieces so you could hear him and ask questions no matter how far back in the van you sat, which was really helpful!
They offer tons of experiences and tours, so you can find the best one for your family - from lunch with an Amish family to a Sweet & Savory tour of Lancaster City, even some craft beer & dive bar options for adults!
Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre
Founded 35 years ago and serving 15,000 guests annually, this 328 seat theatre is a great stop on any family-friendly Lancaster vacation!! Check their calendar to see which performances will be held during your stay! Their main theatre lineup includes Singin' in the Rain (~April 16), Rock of Ages, The Little Mermaid, Chicago, Saturday Night Fever, and Elf the Musical. They also have workshops and performances geared more toward children, which is what we were invited to join! I had no idea what to expect but we went for the matinee lunch and show of Pinkalicious the Musical and honestly, I LOVED IT! The buffet for the kids show wasn't spectacular, to be honest, it was "kid-friendly" foods (think hot dogs and fish nuggets) but it did have a salad bar and yummy cupcakes and cookies! The show itself was one hour and pure fun. The acting, set, and music were top notch, and it was, frankly, HILARIOUS. All 5 of us had a fabulous time!! After the show the cast stayed on stage to take questions from the audience, which was a really nice touch!! It's running through April 15, I really recommend it!!
Choo Choo Barn
If you love model trains, the Choo Choo Barn is a MUST!! It's basically 1 HUGE Lancaster County themed train set in a 1700 square foot room! With over 150 hand-built animated figures and vehicles and 22 operating trains. There are buttons to press to activate different parts. Every 10 minutes the room darkens and the ceiling has starts that light up to simulate nighttime. It's just utterly fascinating to examine every single inch of this place! I wasn't sure if our kids would be bored but they couldn't get enough of it either! There's a zoo, ski slopes, airplane, Dutch Wonderland, a house on fire, a circus, so so so so much to see! SO FUN!! For older kids who need some help focusing, they have 2 great scavenger hunt lists - one for first timers and one for repeat visitors.
Aaron & Jessica's Buggy Rides
We had terrible luck with the weather, in the middle of a winter storm when it was time for our reserved time at Aaron & Jessica's Buggy Rides. Despite the wind and snow, they were more than happy to take us out and tell us all about the Amish history and culture. The owner, or "Grandpa," as he said everyone calls him, was our driver and was so great with our kids. He let all 3 pile up front and help him steer the horse. Answering their millions of questions and taking photos with us afterward. I can't wait to go back for a longer ride during nicer weather! They have several tours to choose from such as the 20 minute "Cookie Run" with a stop at a farm stand to the 90 minute "Amish Journey" and private rides as well. Check out their website for hours and more details!
Fulton Steamboat Inn
We already had our accommodation settled for this trip but in all our years visiting Lancaster, we had yet to stop by the Fulton Steamboat Inn! So, I reached out and was delighted to be invited for a hotel tour and dinner! From the moment you see the "steamboat" from the road, til you step foot inside and get immediate "Titanic vibes", it's just one OOOOH after another! It's a truly unique experience and stunning property!
They have an assortment of beautiful rooms, and if going on a couples getaway or momcation, I highly recommend their spectacular rooms on the adult-only sun deck!! They have an indoor pool and jacuzzi, a small game room, a cute playground and pond outside (the Koi fish were wintering but we had fun feeding the ducks)! Dinner was delicious, they had a great kids' menu and coloring activities for them, and we were pleasantly surprised to have pianist Bill Horn playing during our meal! Whether you stay at Fulton Steamboat Inn or just drop in for a meal at Huckleberry's Restaurant, you won't be disappointed! Book your room at fultonsteamboatinn.com or Hotels.com (affiliate link).
Did we manage to squeeze in a TON in just 3 days or what!?!?! We loooooove Lancaster and can't recommend it highly enough for your next family vacation! Are there some must-sees and must-dos we missed? Leave us a comment below!! And if looking for more Lancaster ideas, see our past years' guides below!
Our previous Lancaster Family Vacation Guides:
Disclaimer: We were provided complimentary tickets to Dutch Wonderland and Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in exchange for our promotion, but all thoughts and opinions are our own - we LOVE them, have been going for years, and know you'll love them, too! This post also contains affiliate links, you won't pay more but we receive commission from purchases made after clicking.
We missed our annual trip to Lancaster last summer, we all missed ALOT of things last year, am I right?! But it made our trip this year that much more special! And to top it off, we also met my best friend (and her family) who I hadn't seen in 3 years!! See the WHOLE vacation in this super fun video here, and read on for more details!!
Lancaster is one of our favorite family vacation destinations, for 3 reasons:
1. The landscape
It's absolutely beautiful, so peaceful, with rolling hills and endless farmland! Also, I may be a tad fascinated with Amish culture and lifestyle...
2. Dutch Wonderland
Possibly the best amusement park out there for toddlers and younger kids, with everything from chill rides to exciting diving shows, and even a small water park. There are many rides where you can hold babies and little ones in your lap. By around 2-3 years old, they're tall enough for most rides, at least going together with an adult. My oldest is 8 and finally tall enough to ride the wooden roller coaster with the highest height requirement. My 5 year olds are tall enough for the 2nd highest cutoff ride, Merlin's Mayhem, a super exciting SMOOTH metal roller coaster. Look at the below photo of our first trip in 2017 and our latest trip in 2021 - the kids have grown SO much!!
We're still not out of the pandemic, but I should note that most people at the park were NOT masked, and it did get crowded. The waterpark was too crowded for our comfort (you can see in our video) so didn't venture in there, but other than that we didn't feel uneasy, especially being outdoors. We got there right when they opened at 10am and were able to ride Merlin's Mayhem (our favorite roller coaster) twice in a row without any line and didn't have to wait more than 5 minutes until afternoon, when it got a bit more crowded but still not crazy, for a super nice Sunday in August I was pleasantly surprised!
We just love going back year after year! We haven't noticed any change in rides since we've been going, but it's fun seeing how the kids change each time - what they're excited to ride or see again, and what they're suddenly tall enough to do.
3. Cherry Crest Adventure Farm
We've been going to Cherry Crest for years now and every time they have added new things and expanded and my mind is blown in the best way all over again!! It's basically 25 acres of outdoor adventuring "agri-entertainment" fun on the farm - we're talking HUGE fast potato sack slides (a 6-lane slide is new this year and amazing!!!), jump pillows for kids AND adults, petting zoo, tractor rides, shooting apples and paint balls, Sproutsville kids' town (expanded this year with many new buildings - see the video), and so so so much more!!
Their epic corn maze was voted #1 in the country last year!! Be sure to click here and vote so they win again this year. Above center is an aerial view, this year's 5-acre corn maze with 2.5 miles of trails has a theme of "Hometown Heroes", and throughout the maze you can learn about how local and national emergency services keep our communities safe!
Cherry Crest is open daily through the summer (closed Sundays/Mondays) in July & August, and open Thurs-Sat from September 11 - November 6. Check out their calendar here!
We've stayed at several different Lancaster hotels over the years, you can see them mentioned in our previous annual guides (our 2019 guide, our 2018 guide, our 2017 guide - you can see TONS of other activities and restaurants in those as well).
This year we chose the Wyndham Lancaster Resort and it's our new favorite!! Here's why we loved it:
1. Huge and newly renovated - modern, clean, super nice! We got a pool-view balcony room with 2 queen beds and I was surprised how big it was! Could fit an extra bed but we decided to keep it roomier and just had our 3 kids sleep sideways in one of the queen beds, easy peasy!
2. Great heated zero-entry outdoor pool with lounge chairs IN THE POOL. It was in the 90's when we arrived and the pool was actually a bit too warm, felt good but not refreshing. I've never said that about a pool in my life LOL, it was like a warm bath, would have felt really nice on a normal day in the 70s-80's but in a heat wave, I wanted icey water!
3. Nice indoor pool with 9' deep end, nice for jumping and diving!
**note: NO LIFEGUARDS! You have to sign a ton of waivers at check in.
4. TODDLER ROOM!! See photo below and in our video. My kids are 5, 5, 8 and loved it here. And it was amazing for our friend's 2 year old because he could just roam free with no worries. It's a great space to take your kids when they wake early, to let your partner enjoy a sleep in!
5. Super cute outdoor playground. Note: it's not gated in, so you'll have to stay close to your little ones if they're runners!
6. On-site restaurant, bar, and Starbucks. Pro Tip: the Starbucks has a microwave (our room didn't), it also has a little food pantry where you can buy cereal, snacks, etc.
7. Located across the street from Cartoon Network Hotel and Dutch Wonderland, walkable to many restaurants including Applebees. Very close to the outlets and TONS of stuff! That said, it's in a busy commercial area, not the quiet peaceful areas of Lancaster where we've stayed before.
We also dropped by Cartoon Network Hotel because I've been curious about it since it opened recently! It looks like it was an old motel that got bought up and gut renovated in a really fun and kitsch way. We peaked into an open room and it was small, no wonder they have a max 4 guests policy. The outdoor pool and splash area look great, and we ate dinner at the Cartoon Kitchen, which looks more like a cafeteria than a restaurant, but we got a private BenTen themed "pod" (3 walled room with a TV at the end of the table) and had fun. The food was good, drinks were strong and yummy, they have a FAB gift shop if you have CN loving people in your life, and they had meet and greet with a couple of characters, however there was a no-touch policy, covid related probably. I definitely recommend either a stay or a meal there!
MORE FAMILY VACATION INSPIRATION:
We just got back from our 4th Lancaster Family Vacation in 3 years and I simply can't recommend it highly enough as possibly THE BEST quick, easy, fun, and cultural getaway for New York City families! After just a 3 hour drive, you'll find yourself in serene Pennsylvania countryside, surrounded by farmland, Amish horse-drawn buggies, and countless family-friendly activities to choose from. It might feel overwhelming to plan your Lancaster Family Vacation, but we're here to help!! Below are the places we visited this summer and highly recommend for you to add to your agenda! Be sure to scroll through each photo gallery and watch each highlights video to get a better feel of what each place has to offer for both kids and adults! Additional activities and our past years' Lancaster family vacation guides are linked at the bottom of this post, as well.
Disclaimer: We were provided complimentary tickets in exchange for including most of these places in our guide, but we reached out to them with interest, and all thoughts and opinion are our own and completely unbiased!
Whether you have a train-obsessed child in your family or you just enjoy unique hands-on museums, the Railroad Museum of PA is sure to please! Once you enter, go straight to the elevator, upstairs, and across the bridge for an "OHHHHHH MY GOSH!!!!!" reaction from your entire party as you overlook the massive museum, with 100+ locomotives and cars from the 18th and 19th centuries!
After meandering your way through row after row of trains, some which you can board, and many hands-on-activities and learning stations, be sure to stop by the Stewart Junction, a special place for kids to build and play with motorized LEGOS, see huge model train displays, and more. We spent a good portion of our museum visit in that section, the kids couldn't get enough!
Located at 300 Gap Road, Strasburg PA, the museum is open Mondays - Saturdays from 9AM - 5PM and Sundays from noon - 5PM, but closed on Mondays in November - March. Admission is $10 per adult, $9 for seniors, $8 for youth, and free for ages 2 and under. They also have great membership options if you plan to go more than once a year!
The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is right across the street from the Strasburg Rail Road, and whether or not you plan to actually take a ride on that (which we covered in our 2017 Lancaster Vacation Guide), it is really fun to just go over and watch the huge train depart, screaming whistles and all. There's also a great free playground over there, as you can see in our video below, and Strasburg Rail Road hosts A Day Out with Thomas, if you can time your getaway right!
If you end up getting rained out during your trip, or simply need a nice place to let the kids have some fun indoors, then Tiny Town Indoor Playplace is going to rock your world!! It is huge, brand new, so clean and organized and full of ways for your children to explore and imagine! It features a "Tiny Town" of 11 luxury play houses - we're talking an animal & human hospital, fire station, library, market, theater, Grandma's house, salon, and more! There were dress up clothes, books, toys - more than my kids could ask for in their wildest dreams. Not only did they have a blast, so did us parents!! Just watch my hubby trying to juggle in the video below LOL!!
I love how parent-friendly this place is as well, with a full coffee bar and snack bar (and you can BYO but keep in mind they're a nut-free facility), and lots of tables to spread out and relax (or work?) while the kiddos play. Shoes are kept on so no need to worry about whether or not you brought socks (a common mistake and added expense in summer)! They also have a little baby and toddler area gated off in the middle of the massive playplace.
Located at 533 Janet Ave in Lancaster PA, Tiny Town is open Mondays - Saturdays from 9AM - 4PM, and closed Sundays for parties. Admission is $10 for children (free for 12 months and under) and $8 for adults, and it's good for the whole day! So you can go and come back as you like!
This was our 4th visit to the best agri-tainment in the area, Cherry Crest Adventure Farm. Set on 25 beautiful acres with over 60 farm fun activities, games, and rides, it's always a highlight of our Lancaster vacations! But, this year was the hottest it's been during our visit - sunny and about 90 degrees! YIKES! They have a bit of shade here and there, and a huge mist fan which is nice, but it is outdoors with lots of walking and moving around, so take note. Thankfully our kids weren't bothered by the heat and I am incredibly glad we didn't cut it from our schedule - 100% worth the sweat haha!!
This year we were most excited to try their brand new Cherry Crest Feed Mill which is a giant kid and adult friendly obstacle course type thing with rock climbing, cargo nets, ropes and tires to balance and navigate across. Very fun!! We also were sure not to miss our tried and true favorites - the Hay Chute Slides, the Corn Crib (like a HUGE sand box filled with dried corn kernels instead of sand!!), the giant bounce pillow, and the Little Sprouts kids' village of outdoor luxury play houses.
We did nix a visit to their 24th Annual Amazing Maize Maze due to the heat (you can watch our trip through the corn maze last year here), but this year's "Man on the Moon 1969-2019 Corn Maze" design is in honor of their collaboration with NASA this year in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. Behold their "5-acre corny version of outer space":
From 1-3PM on Friday, July 19, NASA will broadcast LIVE from Cherry Crest on NASA TV, NASA's website, and the Discovery Science Channel, with NASA Astronaut Colonel Alvin Drew and NASA Chief Technologist Douglas Terrier introducing a special exhibit and programs on NASA Spin-off Technologies used by farmers today. There will also be a series of informal talks and photo ops with NASA astronauts on July 19 & 20! Learn more about that here! The NASA Apollo 50 Celebration is free and open to the public, but regular entrance fees apply for Cherry Crest Adventure Farm activities and fees.
Located at 150 Cherry Hill Rd in Ronks PA, their hours vary by time of year so check here, but during summer season they're closed Sundays and Mondays. Children ages 3 and under are free, and adults are $16 online or $19 at the gate in summer. It's pretty all-inclusive and you can easily spend half a day with just the basic pass, but there are certain add-on activities you can pay for individually or purchase a more expensive pass that includes them. For example, their priciest pass is $31 online or $35 at the gate and includes the Apple Blasters, Battle Zone, Paintball Range, hand-make rope or gem-mining, and a souvenir cup drink or kettle corn.
Looking to get hands-on with some adorable farm animals, then you gotta schedule a tour at Verdant View Farm, a pasture-raised grass-fed beef farm and bed & breakfast, family-run currently by its 4th generation of farmers! They have a selection of tours to choose from, including the Farmer's Apprentice Tour which we did (watch below for a good laugh and to learn a good bit, too!) as well as homemade ice cream tasting and demo, artisan cheesemaking and tasting, goat's milk soap making, and farming 101.
I wasn't really sure what to expect, and it was a HOT day, but we just had the most interesting and fun time, and learned a lot about raising cows on a dairy vs. beef farm, that most of the corn in Lancaster is actually for the animals (what!?!?!), and general life on the farm. We got to milk a cow, bottle feed baby cows, hold chickens, and play with baby goats (who climbed on our backs - ouch)!! For such city slickers as ourselves, this was just such a unique experience we will never forget!! You can even book a room there for a more immersive experience - you can help collect the eggs they'll serve you for breakfast, and have milk fresh from the cow, can you imagine!? Talk about Farm to Table! I'm definitely going to consider this for our next trip to Lancaster!
Located at 429 Strasburg Road in Paradise PA, tours are held Mondays - Saturdays in June - August and Saturdays in Spring and Fall, and go for about $10 - $25 per person.
Last year we stayed at Bird-in-Hand Family Inn (read our review and see our tour here), and this year we were thrilled to go back for their amazing authentic Pennsylvania Dutch cooking Smorgasbord dinner followed by their "Magic & Wonder: IMAGINE" show! You can buy tickets for the show only, but I highly recommend the package including the Smorgasbord (packaged prices for $21 - 27 for children, $39 - $49 for adults). I recommend giving yourself 90 minutes or so to eat before the show starts. We sat down for dinner at 4PM, finished around 6PM, killed some time at their huge free on-site playground, and our show started at 7PM. Timing was perfect!
The Bird-in-Hand Smorgasbord is huge with a great variety of foods, a little kids' section with staples that'll suit picky kids' tastebuds, and a to-die-for dessert bar! The whoopie pie cake, omg guys, a must! If you're not up for a buffet, you can always order a la carte, check out their menu here!
The Bird-in-Hand Stage's website touts "broadway-style music theater and magic shows" and it's no joke. The entertainment was top notch - illusionist Brett Myers was spectacular! The fun starts off in the lobby where one of the magicians is doing small tricks for the kids (and selling cool magic tricks to take home as well). The main show itself was exciting, breath-taking, hilarious, and all-around highly entertaining!!! Unfortunately we were not allowed to film or take pictures, so you'll just have to take my word for it, or better yet, go see it for yourself! Do consider your schedule and kids' naps and bedtime though. Our 3 year old twins hadn't napped that day and we went to the 7PM show so you can imagine, it didn't go completely smoothly and we did have to escort ourselves not-so-quietly out of the show before it ended. But, this is life with 3 littles!! The night was fun while it lasted!
This is our 3rd year in a row participating in Dutch Wonderland's summer blogger campaign - it's always exciting to receive their e-mail inviting us back, I'm not sure who's more excited, me or the kids! They call this 43-acre family amusement park a Kingdom for Kids and it really is! My kids absolutely adore it there! I think it's ideal for kids ages 3 - 8, but there is still plenty to do there for littler ones (many rides allow babies in lap) as well as older kids and even adults! Their thrill ride Merlin's Mayhem, for example, is my personal favorite, and you must be at least 42" to ride. We hit the park when they open at 10AM on Sundays and have never dealt with a line for the first hour or two. This allows my son 2-3 rides on Merlin's Mayhem in a row, and then we cram in as many rides as we can before lunch time!
If you get to the cafeteria by noon, it's still pretty empty and you can have a relaxed break eating pizza, grilled cheese, gourmet sandwiches, you name it. Then back to the pavement for more rides, and don't forget to catch some of their live shows, which are another chance to rest your feet a bit. I'm a huge fan of their diving shows, especially "A Dragon's Tale" which had great music and I found it, actually, kind of hilarious!! Be sure to sit in one of the front rows if you enjoy a refreshing splash or two!
With fabulous live shows, over 35 rides, Duke's Lagoon water park, and animatronic dinosaurs in Exploration Island, you really do need to plan a full day at Dutch Wonderland to get as much in as possible. For families coming from NYC, this is even feasible as a day trip (bonus - the kids will sleep the entire ride home!!). If you plan to spend a good amount of time in the water park, I recommend a day and a half or 2 full days at Dutch Wonderland. Or you could go for a season's pass!
Regular pricing is $44.99 for visitors ages 3+, but you can get a special $5 discount with my code here!!
Lancaster's original buffet and restaurant, Miller's started 90 years ago with a simple dish of chicken and waffles, which is still available in their massive smorgasbord and on their a la carte menu today!! It's a must-try, for sure, and you will not be disappointed with their large selection of items cooked from scratch and sourced from local farms! The dinner smorgasbord is $25.49 for adults (they have a $3 off coupon on their website), $9.99 for ages 10-12, $6.99 for ages 4-9, and free for ages 3 and under. You'll find a carving station, grilled veggies, soups, salads, appetizer station, and my favorite, the dessert bar where you can grab a pre-cut piece of cake or pie, or have them slice a warm pie for you (my personal recommendation is the Chocolate Pecan Pie!!!!!), and don't forget to have them add a scoop of ice cream!! We find Miller's the perfect place to visit after a long day at Dutch Wonderland. Then, we pile in the car with pleasantly filled bellies and let the kids sleep the whole drive home! Amazing end to an amazing family getaway!!
So, what do you think of our Lancaster Family Vacation Guide!? Have you been before, or are you planning a trip? Don't miss our past Lancaster vacation roundups here:
A list of activities, restaurants and accommodations you may want to consider in Lancaster (not a complete list, by all means, check out to Discover Lancaster for help researching & personalizing your itinerary):
Amish / Pennsylvania Dutch Experiences & Activities:
Family Friendly Accommodations:
We enjoyed our weekend in Lancaster last summer so much (see here) we decided to pretty much copy cat our own trip again this year! As far as budget-friendly family vacation destinations within a few hours drive of NYC go, this is one of the best. A MUST for any NY / NJ / PA family with kids in the range of about 2-10 years old.
In exchange for our honest reviews, we were provided free admission to Cherry Crest Adventure Farm & Dutch Wonderland, and complimentary accommodation at Bird in Hand Family Inn, but don't worry, all opinions are unbiased - we don't sell out guys! Read on for details on each place, and don't miss our 2 great videos below!!
Cherry Crest Adventure Farm is one of the most unique places we've ever been. It's outdoors, set on 15 acres of peaceful beautiful Lancaster farmland, chock full of 50 kinds of activities, games and rides that encourage movement, creativity, and teamwork! Children 2 and under are free, and others can get a day pass for $17 ($30 ticket allows you to come back an unlimited amount of times in the year - open from end of May til start of November!), and there are a few other passes that include extras such as apple launcher and shooting range, which are great but not necessary for families with young kids in my opinion.
Here are my families' personal favorite things to do at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm:
Starting July 3 you can visit their 23rd Annual Amazing Maize Maze, "a gigantic, 5-acre Board Game Madness design created from 2.5 miles of paths and tricky turns!! This sounds SO COOL and we hope to go back later this summer to finally check it out (the past 2 times we've been was technically "spring" seasons, before the maze opens).
**Edited: We finally went during Labor Day Weekend!! Check out our video highlights from the Amazing Maize Maze and more!
CLICK BELOW TO WATCH
highlights from Cherry Crest Adventure Farm!
Whether seeking thrill rides, toddler & baby friendly calmer rides, animatronic dinosaurs, water park, or shows - Dutch Wonderland has got them all!!
We found our 36" 2.5 year old twins could ride a ton of things this year, compared to last year. And our son, now 46" could ride all but 1 ride that he wanted to, except for wooden Kingdom Coaster (minimum 48"). You can see the height requirements for all rides here, and at each ride they'll have a sign up so you can quickly see if your kids can ride.
I was shocked that my son was tall enough for the new hanging Merlin's Mayhem rollercoaster, but the way the seat is built and with the backup old-school lap belt, it felt super secure and i wasn't the least bit nervous of him flying out. If you have a kid tall enough (minimum 39", under 48" must ride with a "responsible rider") definitely prioritize it, that ride is super smooth and crazy fast. SO much fun!!
I'm totally bummed both times we've been, late May last year and early June this year, it wasn't quite warm enough to use their water park, which looks amazing. So, we're hoping to go back later this summer! Also very unlucky was the massive rain storm that met us at the park - it started pouring after just 3 hours. After checking the radar, we called it a day at 1pm and heard later they ended up shutting down the park at 2:30pm.
We did squeeze in a show and were very impressed with the level of entertainment. The story was the "Adventures of the Frog Prince", and included lots of silly but skilled divers. My son enjoyed sitting in the front row (by himself) and getting soaked! Don't worry, they paint the benches by color code so you can sit in a dry or wet section, as per your heart's desire! You can check out showtimes before visiting here.
Kids 2 and under are free, but don't worry, there's still plenty they can do as many rides allow children of any height as long as they can walk (but keep in mind, not many allow lap babies). For ages 3+ you can get a day pass for $45 or a season pass from $97~, and you can even get a season pass that combines Dutch Wonderland and Hershey Park!! Also, keep your eyes peeled in the spring for early bird discounts!
CLICK BELOW TO WATCH
highlights from Dutch Wonderland
& Bird in Hand Family Inn!
Last year we stayed at the Doubletree, which was wonderful - we especially loved their indoor splash zone at the pool. But this year we wanted a bit more of a local experience and we were HIGHLY impressed with Bird in Hand Family Inn, our new recommendation for the best family-friendly hotel in Lancaster!!
Featuring 2 indoor pools & a jacuzzi, a zero-entry outdoor pool, one of the most impressive playgrounds I've ever run across, a delicious breakfast buffet and dinner smorgasbord (with ala cart menus as well), live evening entertainment (not included), free tours of Amish farms, set in an incredibly quiet and beautiful backdrop, you really can't go wrong with the Bird in Hand Family Inn. All this and rooms go for under $200 a night!! Total win!!
We got a double queen room with a view of the pool - it was clean, modern, and comfortable. We did have a bit of hallway noise at one point, but nothing too bothersome (we're New Yorkers, don't forget haha). The buildings are a bit spread out but we enjoyed walking around to explore, there's farm land all around, you'll hear Amish riding by in their buggies, and Waters Edge Mini Golf is right on site as well! They also sell different packages and experiences, such as hot air balloon rides, wine tastings, and talks on Amish History and Beliefs.
Live close by or are considering a longer Lancaster vacation than just a weekend? Here are some other great places to check out:
Amish / Pennsylvania Dutch Experiences & Activities:
Pennsylvania Dutch Smorgasbords:
Other Local Dining Experiences:
Have you been to Lancaster or any of these places? Planning to go soon? Have another place to recommend? Be sure to leave a comment below!! And if you live in New York City or the Tri-State area, don't miss my massive list of the best family-friendly destinations with 3 hours drive of NYC!!
We recently took a family vacation to Lancaster for a long weekend getaway and had the most amazing time!! It's a quick and easy 3 hour drive from New York City, so even if you can only spend one night there it could still be worth it. That said, we spent three nights and found it to be the perfect length of time - we left with tons of great memories but have plenty more to see and do if we come back again (and we definitely plan to)! Click below to watch our video montage, and keep reading for my "Family Vacation Guide to Lancaster" - I'll give you an overview of all we did, and mention additional places to consider as well (that sound great but we just didn't have time to get to)! Alrighty, let's go!!
Hotel: Lancaster DoubleTree Resort
Having heard great things about this hotel, the thing that really pulled us toward it was their indoor water playground, and it did not disappoint!! All 3 of our kids had a blast splashing around - the pool area and water itself were both pleasantly warm (no shivering babies, yay!!), and they even had an extra pool float for us to borrow!
The hotel and grounds are huge and exquisitely cared for, and staff was very friendly and helpful. Our room was large, easily fitting 2 Queen beds and 2 cribs, and the bathroom had a shower AND a jacuzzi!! The breakfast buffet was great and plentiful, though it's pretty much the same stuff every day so it got a bit boring by the third morning. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant (Cafe 24 Hundred) two of our three nights because we were just too exhausted and worried about dragging the kids to a restaurant and having them melt down and get them back in the car to get home. The dinner menu had a lot of options, our meals were superb, and prices weren't too bad.
They have a golf course and fitness center and daily kids programming - things like arts and crafts and movie time - some activities were free and some had an extra charge. And the cookies. Ohhhh the cookies - you'll get warm delicious chocolate chip and walnut cookies when you check in (and can get more when you check out if you ask nicely!).
The DoubleTree is one of the pricier Lancaster hotels, but for me, because of the great indoor pool, service, and lovely rooms, I felt it was totally worth the splurge and can't recommend it highly enough!!
Other Family-Friendly Lancaster Hotels to Consider (with pools/playgrounds):
If you have kids ages 1-10 and will be traveling to or live within a couple hours of the Lancaster area, Dutch Wonderland is definitely a must-visit! With rides accommodating even the smallest visitors and "thrill" rides for the bigger ones, a water park for the summer months, and live entertainment, it really is fun for the whole family!!
We brought our double wide stroller and found the park to be extremely accommodating - it is designed for families, after all! Bathrooms had changing tables (but bring your own changing pad!) Most rides had stroller parking areas. We ate lunch at the large Mill Stream Eatery and while most parked their strollers outside we didn't have a problem squeezing ours in and finding a spot at a table (it was PACKED at lunchtime though, consider eating off-peak hours!). No outside beverages or food are allowed, and they check bags and strollers before entering the park, but we didn't have a problem bringing all of our reusable water bottles and some snacks for the toddlers. There was a wide enough selection of food and snacks that we didn't really have a problem. Hot dogs, chicken fingers, pizza, the usual suspects. I found Bean Sprouts (view menu here) had the healthiest options, the Chicken Pesto Chango was delish!! Their website says to consult a manager on the day of your visit regarding food allergies, I imagine you would get the green light to bring your own food in that case.
They have a really cool color-coded system based on height, so you can know exactly who can ride on what before getting in line. In fact, you can see right on their website, so you don't have a disappointed kiddo on your hands... Our 40" tall 4 year old could ride on most rides, but not all. He saw the swings off in the distance and we went racing toward them. He was so excited and rightfully so was really bummed when we got up to the "Flying Trapeze" and realized he was too short to ride, since he's ridden on those at other amusement parks. Oops!! There are plenty of rides that even babies can ride in a parent's lap, which is fun for families such as mine so we don't have to split up every time!
They are currently building Merlin's Mayhem, which looks like it is going to be one amazing rollercoaster!! However, it means a few other rides and attractions are currently closed due to construction. They are noted on their list of attractions, so you can plan ahead!
We went over Memorial Day Weekend and the longest line we had to wait was 30 minutes, most were more like 10 minutes and some we simply walked onto! My son's favorite ride was the Double Splash Flume, and he was really fascinated with the animatronic dinosaurs on Exploration Island, as well! My personal favorite was the Joust Family Coaster, which my son rode once with me and once with my husband. Our most memorable ride was definitely the Turtle Whirl since all 5 of us rode together and took a selfie video with all 3 kids screaming - it's HILARIOUS!!! You gotta check it out in our Lancaster Montage Video at the top of this post!!
You'll definitely want to schedule the whole day for Dutch Wonderland, and if you want to do Duke's Lagoon water park as well, I really recommend going for two days - one dry day and one wet day! There really is plenty to do, and you don't want to feel rushed. Bring a stroller or baby carriers and try to get naps in if you can. Our kids were too excited to nap, and crashed out hard in the car at 5pm, slept through dinner, transferred seamlessly to beds and slept through the night til 6AM! Nothing like a full day at Dutch Wonderland to wear the pants off your kids!! YES!!!!!
We are thrilled to be working with Dutch Wonderland on this review and to provide my readers with discounted tickets - just click here (code "Usjapanfamsblog17"!
I have never experienced anything quite like Cherry Crest Adventure Farm before - I wasn't sure what to expect and it totally blew us away. It was ah-may-zing, a definite MUST for any families headed to Lancaster area!!!!!
Set on a 300-acre working farm, they operate an "adventure farm" during the summer and fall months with "agri-tainment" for the whole family. From a little tractor-pulled little wagon train to huge air filled bounce pillows to mommy-and-me swings, it's one crazy fun activity after another! My personal favorite was the Hay Chute Slide which we enjoyed riding tandem with the kids (hiking up the huge hill has an added bonus of being a great glute workout LOL!!). There were lots of hands-on things the kids could do, like building houses with huge lincoln log-like planks, pumping water to race boats, and petting some small farm animals! And their 5-acre corn maze opens July 1!
It's not the best place for strollers since it's mostly grass covered with some hills. We left our stroller in the car, but you can manage with one, especially if it's all-terrain or if you stick to the main path. The bathrooms were nice, with changing tables, and there were plenty of food options and picnic table dining out in the sun or under cover. It was pleasant temperature when we went, but a rep mentioned they have huge fans with misters going on hot days to help cool guests off.
I highly recommend setting aside a good 4 hours or so to spend here, and know that you and the kids will be exhausted after a good half or full day of running around outside!
Strasburg Rail Road is America's oldest railroad, dating back to 1831!! Riding it along the Pennsylvania countryside and passing working Amish farms really gives you an authentically old-time steam rail experience! The train and its cars are not replicas - they are the originals, restored and in pristine condition (so, please respect their no food or drink policy, unless you get dining car tickets)!
The Strasburg Station is just a mile down the road from Cherry Crest Adventure Farm, so I can't recommend pairing these two together highly enough!! From Cherry Crest you can actually watch the train barrel down in front of you (I've got a great clip of this in my Lancaster Montage Video), it's quite exciting and a great way to get the kids psyched for a ride later in the day!
I saw some people fold strollers and bring them aboard, but I would recommend leaving yours in the car and carrying or wearing babies. It's a fairly short ride, 45 minutes round trip with a few stops but if doing the roundtrip from Strasburg you just stay on for the entire journey, which makes it nice and easy! The audio commentary is interesting and informative, and the sound system was great - we had no problem understanding them (unlike the subway in NYC haha!!).
We had coach tickets and found the coach cars to be plenty nice. Upgrades are just a few dollars to experience First Class, Open Car, Dining Car, etc. They also offer some cool packages such as a combo with Cherry Crest Adventure Farm and unlimited rides on the Strasburg Rail Road! They also have A Day Out with Thomas, check their schedule for when he'll be around!
There are cute children's rides and activities at Strasburg Station, as well as a cafe and other places to explore if you have time before or after your ride on the train. There's also free parking.
There are a lot of Amish tours and experiences to choose from. We decided to go with The Amish Experience and it was great, however not easy with the little ones... They have a 3D theater where they show a movie about a young Amish man's dilemma over choosing to join the Amish church or leave family behind for the modern world. It's set in a barn-like room with the film taking place on different walls, with sound effects and smoke and other special effects popping up in the room. It was neat, unfortunately our 1.5 year old twins didn't let us enjoy it and we didn't even last for 5 minutes of the 40 minute long film. Whomp whomp.
We then took the tour of the one-room one room school house and homestead. Its been a visitor landmark in Lancaster for over 50 years. It's been authentically created and filled with items you would see in a real working Amish school and house these days. I found the tour absolutely fascinating, hearing about their lifestyle, touching on everything from schooling (only 1st through 8th grade!!), to marriage (no white wedding dress!), to clothing, and of course church (they take turns hosting service in their homes). Again, the tour was tough with the little ones - not stroller friendly so if you have wild ones you may not find this the best family activity for you. We had to cut the tour short and do the walk of shame out of the building since our kids wouldn't stop screaming and running around trying to jump on beds and destroy the place. I hope to come back in a few years when our kids are old enough to appreciate it!
Other Amish / Pennsylvania Dutch Experiences & Activities to Consider:
When in Lancaster, hitting up an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch smorgasbord or two is a must!! We had dinner at the Bird-in-Hand Smorgasbord as it's one of the top rated ones, and it was conveniently located close to The Amish Experience and on the way back to our hotel! It had a great selection of food, and even had a cute Noah's Ark buffet (built by a local Amish craftsman) with special food for kids. For me, the jaw dropper was their dessert bar. Seriously, like 20 kinds of pie!!! OMG!!!!!!! So, just a heads up, if you go here - save plenty of room for dessert LOL!!
Everything is made from scratch, their Angus beef is raised on John Smucker's farm, milk is from Oasis (a local farmers co-op), and in season produce is sourced from local Amish and Mennonite farms. Many of their most popular dishes date back to Grandma SMucker, and all recipes are approved by the Smucker family!
It was stroller friendly with ramps and two huge dining areas with tables and booths and of course, high chairs and boosters. You can go with the buffet or order from a regular menu.
Other Pennsylvania Dutch Smorgasbords to Consider:
Kitchen Kettle Village is a cute little shopping area with over 40 shops, restaurants, and even lodging options. We enjoyed just meandering through at a leisurely pace. If you prefer, check out their list of things to do with kids. We found the casual Kettle Cafe to be quick, affordable, and delicious!
Other Activities to Consider:
Other Local Dining Experiences:
Have you been to Lancaster before - if so, I'd love to hear what your favorite family-friendly spots are!! Are you planning a vacation soon? Let us know if you found our guide helpful!!
Disclaimer: Although we received complimentary admission to some of the above mentioned activities in exchange for our honest review, all thoughts and opinions are our own and completely unbiased.
I'm a NYC metro area mom blogger living in NJ with my Japanese husband & our 3 kids (twins plus 1), focusing on fun and honest product and travel reviews, saving moms time finding the best for their families! Find what you need in the menu bar or search section above!