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:
The breathtaking four diamond Crystal Springs Resort in northwestern New Jersey is THE spot for the ultimate high end luxury vacation. From golfing and spa treatments to gourmet dining and tastings in a $10 million value wine cellar, you can really go all out for a destination wedding, girls getaway, or family reunion. You may be thinking Crystal Springs is out of reach for your family, but think again. I'm going to show you how Crystal Springs can be your perfect multigenerational family vacation, even on a budget!! Watch my highlights video from our summer 2023 hosted stay below, and read on for my tips and tricks for enjoying paradise, without even leaving NY/NJ!!
If your budget has no limit, go ahead and book 1-2 weeks in a huge suite (or house) and get excited to enjoy ALL the amenities without a second thought. Massages at Elements Spa, and tons of fee-based amazing activities like rock climbing, teddy bear stuffing, mixology class, 3 or 7-course Chef's Tasting menu at the adult-only Restaurant Latour, a private goat yoga class, tee time one of their 6 golf courses... sky's the limit!
If you're like the rest of us, you may need to justify vacation expenses and feel like you got as much as possible for your hard earned money. And I'm so excited to be the one to tell you, Crystal Springs has SOOOOooooo many free activities and amenities, if you plan your trip well, you will feel like you got an incredible deal, lived like the rich and famous, and come home with incredible memories (and photos)! Let's get to it!!
1. Book a Suite
I know I know, a suite doesn't exactly scream "budget friendly" but hear me out! For less than $100 extra per night you can upgrade from a standard room to a studio suite, and get yourself a full kitchen (no microwave but it has an oven, fridge, stovetop, coffee maker, and dishwasher), with dining table and sleeper sofa! If bringing kids, I highly recommend leveling up to a one or two bedroom suite - kids can watch TV or play quietly in their room while you sleep in. Now THAT'S how to vacation... so you don't get home and need a vacation after your vacation!!
2. Breakfast Credit
All rooms and suites come with $40 breakfast credit per night, and breakfast at Crystal Tavern is delicioussss!!! From french toast and fritata to acai bowls and cereal, you'll put that breakfast credit to good use!!
3. Indoor & Outdoor Pools
With 7 beautiful indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs at Grand Cascades and Minerals, swimming is probably the favorite activity for both myself and my kids at Crystal Springs, year round, and it's included with your stay!!
The 10,000sqft Biosphere indoor pool complex at Grand Cascades is absolutely stunning. You feel like you're in the tropics, surrounded by palms. With a fun water slide, aquarium, waterfalls, and a little cafe with snacks, gelato, and more. Just outside you'll find a swim out heated pool, another pool, and a life size chess board. So fun!! Do note: the German Foiltec roofing material allows nearly 100% light transmission, so you'll still want to use sunblock** and/or UPF swimwear** (**as an Amazon Associate, I receive commission from purchases made after clicking those links).
At the far end of Grand Cascades, past Crystal Tavern, you'll find the gorgeous (unheated!!) Vista 180 pool complex featuring an infinity pool looking over the gorgeous Appalachian mountains, a fun swirling whirl pool, waterslide, and 180* Cafe for snacks and cocktails!
Just 3 miles from Grand Cascades you'll find Minerals Resort, and you are free to use their amazing indoor and outdoor pools as well, which includes a cliff jump outside, underwater aquarium inside, and an outdoor splash pad!
Some important things to keep in mind regarding pools at Crystal Springs:
4. Free Activities
There are SO many free activities to do at Crystal Springs during your stay, just check their event calendar here for things like petting zoo, glow golf, movie nights, marshmallow roasting, self-guided hiking, wine cellar tours, scavenger hunt, koi fish feeding, outdoor game deck (foosball, pool, and ping pong), splash yard games, and more!! And don't forget, guests can also utilize the Minerals Sports Complex gym and attend classes for free - see the gym schedule here!! We're talking aerial yoga, bungee floating, spin, barre, Zumba, you name it! There are also endless fee-based activities if budget allows, like stuffed animal building, archery, clay shooting, golf, mixology class, paint and sip, VR games, IWall Exergaming, rock climbing, etc.
5. BYO Snacks, Booze, & Food
While delicious and worth a splurge IMO, food and alcohol bills can really add up when utilizing restaurant dining exclusively. If you're on a budget, I've got a great tip for you here! Wine Country, Walmart, and ShopRite of Franklin are just 4 miles away, so you can load up on snacks, booze, and groceries! There are also several fast food options as well as a pizzeria in that one complex, in case you're looking for quick and cheap :)
And don't forget, you do get $40 breakfast credit per night, so definitely use that! And you can find relatively affordable (and quick) grab and go options like $10-$16 sandwiches and salads, as well as fruit, pastries, popcorn and more in the coffee shop on both Grand Cascades and Minerals Resorts.
If you have the budget, you should definitely have a meal at each of the restaurants at Minerals and Grand Cascades. Restaurant Latour is definitely my favorite, absolute decadence, for adults only, get a babysitter and have an unforgettable dining experience here!! I love Crystal Tavern, too, with a great variety of food and prices to choose from whether breakfast, lunch or dinner. Gorgeous views as well! Springs Bistro is also delicious, their pasta and pizza are *chef's kiss*!! Kite's Restaurant, over at Minerals, is more casual and never disappoints! We've been to Crystal Springs 4 times but still haven't had a chance to dine at Chef's Garden, an al-fresco garden to table experience, because it's not open daily (check the schedule and go if possible!!)
6. Come Early, Stay Late
I'll be honest, their 4pm check-in is painfully late, but you can come as early as noon and start enjoying all the fun on the property! Because both indoor pools have locker rooms and free lockers, you can even utilize the pools before check-in and after checkout giving you 2 FULL DAYS of fun with a 1 night stay, or 3 full days with a 2 night stay, which is our favorite bang-for-your-buck length of stay... or "staycation" if you're fairly local like we are! Ah-may-zing!!
7. Drive and Save!!
When traveling to a far away city or exciting location, you probably won't be spending much time at the hotel, so you can scrimp on accommodation and save your budget for other things such as tours, flights, and food! But when you come to Crystal Springs, the hotel IS the destination. It has EVERYTHING, with plenty of included activities to fill your entire day!
If you're in the TriState area you won't even have to worry about the cost of flights, the anxiety over delays and cancellations and whether or not they'll charge you for a carry-on, and you won't be spending half the day traveling!! Crystal Springs Resort is just a beautiful 1 hour drive from NYC, making it the perfect 1 or 2 night "staycation" getaway if you're short on time or budget, of course a week would be magical!! And... this is a "Condo Hotel" meaning you can actually buy a unit and they'll rent it out for you! I've been considering this for a while... sounds amazing!!!
8. Buy a Day Pass
A day pass won't make sense financially for a big family, but if you're coming up solo or with a few friends just for the day, it may be worthwhile to consider! Shop for Day Passes and other activity gift cards here!
Have any questions about Crystal Springs?? We've been FOUR TIMES (2019 & 2023 in summer with kids, 2021 in winter with kids, and 2020 on a "momcation") so I'm happy to answer any questions!!!
Here are some other posts we think you'll enjoy:
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:
Disclaimer: We were provided our stay free in exchange for sharing our experience with you. However, below are our honest experiences and unbiased opinions - we TRULY love love love Crystal Springs!!
Crystal Springs Resort in New Jersey is one of my all time favorite family-friendly vacation spots in the Tri-State area! I've been there twice before: as a family in the summer of 2019 and as a #momcation with one of my best mom friends in February 2020 (just before Covid came to town). Put simply, this place NEVER disappoints. From the tropical indoor Biosphere pool to the delicious dining options to unique activities like puppy and goat yoga!!
So, when we were invited back recently for a hosted stay in exchange for sharing with you all what it's like to vacation at Crystal Springs during the pandemic, I jumped at the chance! Well, I put on my mask and jumped from a socially safe distance, that is! Ha!
Check out our highlights videos from our 1-night mini getaway at Crystal Springs, including our outing to nearby Mountain Creek for Snow Tubing, and keep reading for more details and photos of our time at Crystal Springs and what you can expect regarding pandemic safety!!
Crystal Springs is definitely making safety a priority, while still providing top notch service, activities, and dining experiences! If you've been before, you'll notice subtle changes related to pandemic safety, which are outlined in their COVID-19 Statement, and I'll go over the ones that stood out to me below:
Watch the highlights videos from our previous two vacations at Crystal Springs, pre-pandemic:
If you're like my family, you've been pretty much locked down staying at home for a good part of the last 8 months. Cooking wayyyyyy more than I was used to, researching endlessly to find safe places to take the kids on the weekend or to dine outdoors. Worried about illness, about school, about our SANITY! When Woodloch Resort (voted the #1 Family Resort in the United States) invited us on a weekend getaway I was a little nervous to be honest. We'd been there twice before and it is one of my all time favorite family vacation spots. But during a pandemic!? Turns out I had no need to worry, and it was just what the doctor ordered!! Sanity restored. Beautiful memories made. It was Heaven on Earth. Watch our video for as close to an in-person experience as I can give you, and read on for details!!
Pandemic Protocols - Safety First!!
Woodloch is on top of the game when it comes to pandemic protocols and covid safety. You're asked to take everyone's temperatures before heading to the resort, and upon arrival your car is directed to their station where you are greeted cheerfully with a masked and gloved staff member who takes everyone's temperatures (still in the car) without contact via one of those temporal thermometers. Once everyone passes, you're provided bracelets which prove you passed the temperature scan and have free rein of the seemingly endless amenities on their 1500 acre property with beautiful forest and a lake! Signs are everywhere asking you to wear a mask, at the front desk they have baskets with clean pens and used pens, in the kid's arts & crafts room they have bins for used items to be cleaned, heck, even in our guest room the remotes were in plastic baggies!
They opened back up in June and are currently limited to half capacity, with the option to dine in or grab a to-go bag from the dining room. They are using a very handy app for menus and to schedule reservations for many activities so they can limit capacity, meaning you no longer have to deal with lines and you feel like a total VIP with private sessions of things like go carts and bumper cars!
No matter what you're into, you'll find PLENTY to do at Woodloch! My family's personal outdoor favorites are the go carts (min 58" to drive, but kids 36"+ can ride with an adult), junior go carts (48"-58" to drive), scenic boat tour, mini golf, paddle boats, bumper boats, 2 playgrounds including one that was brand new for us with simply massive slides, and just walking around the property and exploring the beautiful nature.
If you keep your eyes peeled you'll be entertained by speedy chipmunks, curious squirrels, meandering deer, robins, Koi fish, and more! There are signs to watch out for bear but we've yet to come across any... On Sundays they also have animals brought over for pony rides and petting. During our stay they had bunnies, a 3 day old lamb, 2 month old calf, and 4 week old twin goats (all with their mamas, of course)!!
Our first stop, every time, is the Woodloch Forest Indoor Playground. It's a massive jungle gym structure that my kids are just bonkers for. They also have a cute baby/toddler area for ages 5 and under. Socks and masks required, no reservations needed but the hours are limited so check the app and schedule your day accordingly! We like to give our kids 30 minutes there at least daily! My personal favorite indoor activity this year was the bumper cars, because it was the first year every person in my family was tall enough to drive their own car (min 40"), AND due to the pandemic, you have to make a reservation and get a private session!!! Screaming. Laughing. Racing. Spinning. Crashing. So so so so so much fun!!! Other indoor favorites are the arts & crafts room (no reservations needed and you could use any supplies you want or use their pre-made kits for that day's suggested craft), the indoor pool (with kiddy splash zone, baby pool, family-friendly jacuzzi, adult-only jacuzzi and sauna, and big slide and splash zone - my kids were old enough for the slide but not able to do it yet since they can't swim independently without floatation devices yet).
When staying at the all-inclusive Woodloch Resort, you have the option of the 2 or 3 meal plan. We always go for the 3-meals a day because, quite honestly, they have the best food of any of the hotels and resorts we have been to! SO GOOD!!! As mentioned above, you currently have the option of dining in the dining room (some lunches are outdoor BBQ's) or having them pack up your meal to go (if worried about indoor dining). But, they did have the dining room at half capacity with tables spread out so we decided to keep it simple and eat in the dining room. Our table was right by the windows facing the lake, so, how could we pass that up!? They always have a couple of appetizers and several main entrees to choose from, family style sides for the table, and a couple of desserts to choose from. Food comes out really fast, and portions are HUGE but if you need to order more or something else, no worries, go for it!
It wouldn't be an all-inclusive resort without offering entertainment every night, now would it!? And they have got some great stuff going on!! They do require you get tickets, so they can make sure they stay under the safe capacity max, and we went to the 7pm show both nights and it was nearly empty. Sad for the performers but pretty awesome for us!! The first night we saw a band called Nowhere Slow and they did a medley of top songs from each decade, from 60's to to today. It was SO fun, our girls danced their booties off. Heads up though, it's VERY loud at the front of the house. We realized if you move to the back it was much better for our kids' sensitive ears. The second night was a comedy act which we didn't stay the whole time for, the content was definitely G-rated and kid-friendly but was just kind of above holding our young kids' attention. They were exhausted anyway, so calling it an early night was smart. In past stays, our kids were just too young to stay up for the nightly entertainment though we did make a splurge for a magician show last time and it was awesome. They even had my son up on the stage!
We were provided with an Edgewater Suite in the Springbrook Section of the resort, which is very convenient as you don't have to go outside to reach the indoor pool! It's just a short walk to the main lodge dining area and all activities! 2 bathrooms (1 with a shower, 1 with a tub), 2 queens in the bedroom and a pull out sofa in the living room, a microwave and mini fridge, and large closet / luggage room. It was the perfect size for our family! It did seem like musical chairs the first night with the kids figuring out where they would sleep. They finally settled with the girls sharing the sofa bed in the living room, my son taking a queen to himself, and my husband and I sharing the other queen. It had a balcony with a gorgeous view of the property and lake.
It happened to be the weekend before our twins' 5th birthday so I mentioned it at check in and they said they'd do something special! And they did!! At dinner they announced their birthday (along with several other birthdays and anniversaries) and the girls lit up hearing their names!!! Then, they brought over two cupcakes the size of their heads while singing happy birthday! Such a fun way to celebrate!!
Home Away from Home!!
Once you visit Woodloch for the first time, during a pandemic or not, you'll understand why families go back again and again and again. Some decide to buy a vacation home on the property, others simply book their family vacation there annually. Because, it really does feel like a home away from home. A much more fun and relaxing home, that is! Every single staff member you run across is friendly and goes above and beyond helping you in whatever way they can. On the last morning, after checkout, my husband lost his wallet. They sent someone back to the room with me to check, and then offered to drive me to all the spots we had been to that morning. Eventually we gave up looking and continued on with our day. A couple of hours later I got a phone call that the go cart staff member had found the wallet, and they brought it to us at the indoor playground. We really lucked out that they found it before we left, and were so incredibly grateful!! Friendly and helpful staff can really make or break a resort, and at Woodloch, they are everything!! Of course the grounds are spectacularly beautiful, the food is amazing, the activities are endless. No wonder they've been voted the Best Family Resort in America. You just have to go see for yourself!!! Located in Hawley, Pennsylvania, it's just a quick drive from NYC (they also have a shuttle from the bus stop if you don't have a car)!.
Don't miss our videos from our previous stays at Woodloch!! Summer 2016 and Winter 2018 (boy oh boy have our kids grown!!!):
Moms, I think we can all agree that we love our kids more than life itself. We'd be lost without them. They're everything! But... sometimes... we need a break. Am I right?! A break from the monotony, from the pressure to be doing everything for everyone, from the whining and fighting. Basically, from being a mom. Needing a break doesn't make you a bad mom. I would argue in fact that taking a break actually can make you a better mom!
This break can come in the form of an hour at the gym, a mani pedi at the salon, or a kid-free lunch with some friends. Maybe you already do this regularly, maybe not, but if you're ready to take it to the next level, taking a full day and night away (or a full weekend, or gasp, a whole week!?), you might just find yourself fully recharged and ready to embrace those kids and your many duties at 100% again. Not just that, but getting away and out of your typical setting can give you a real chance to reconnect with yourself, to remember who you are beyond "mom", "wife", "domestic engineer". Remember when you actually had interests and hobbies, before they were taken over by your duties of meal planner, butt wiper, laundry doer, and booboo kisser. It's time to find and nurture those interests again! Let this blog post serve as your inspiration and motivation, a little nudge to treat yourself and plan your own mom getaway!!
I became a mother just over 7 years ago. It took me 5 years to take my first night away. I know... crazy! Our twins had just turned 2 years old, my husband was alwaysssss working, and I was so overwhelmed and stressed out. I had a mini breakdown (mommy tantrum??), got some amazing advice from my twin mom squad on Facebook (love them!!) and decided to heed that advice by booking a night away!! I went solo, to Atlantic City (weird destination, I know, but Tropicana hosted me and it was amazing - read about that trip and watch the video here).
Fast forward 2 more years and I was more than ready to do this again. Except this time, I didn't want to go alone. I wanted a relaxing but FUN momcation!!! So I reached out to the oh-so-amazing Crystal Springs Resort, because we had visited as a family over the summer and luuuuuurved it (see that blog review & video here), but I was itching to go back without kids! They offered to comp my stay again, in exchange for me covering my wonderful momcation! I invited one of my best mom friends, Rhianon of Brooklyn Boy Mom (together we have SEVEN CHILDREN!!! Me 3 and Rhi 4). See how much fun we had in this video and keep reading for more details!!
Why Crystal Springs for your Momcation?
LOCATION: Just a 90 minute drive from NYC, you'll find yourself in the beautiful northwestern New Jersey foothills at Crystal Springs Resort! It's not a bad drive either - I hadn't driven in over 6 years and was terrified but totally did it - easy peasy!! The hotel and grounds are simply beautiful (no wonder they host countless weddings, reunions, and conventions year round!).
Both times I've stayed at Crystal Springs Grand Cascades Lodge, we've been provided with a Suite, which I highly recommend. Having a full kitchen and living room is so nice and makes lounging around and being lazy at your home away from home a terrific option! Go out to one of their many restaurants when you want, or order pizza or make your own meals when feeling lazy. We stopped at a grocery store on the way up so that we'd have stuff for breakfast and snacks and what not. Our Suite had 1 king bed room, 1 huge bathroom (with L'Occitane toiletries - niiiiiice!!!), a pull out sofa in the living room, a fire place, a balcony, washer and dryer, and a full kitchen (well, minus a microwave - oops, we had to take our popcorn home!!)
They have many options to choose from, whether looking for quick and casual or fine dining for a special occasion. Between the visit with my family and this more recent momcation trip, I've eaten at every one of their restaurants except for their seasonal farm-to-table al fresco Chef's Garden (I'll be back next summer for that one, to be sure!!) and they're all outstanding! You can't go wrong!
Since we couldn't go to their 4-star Restaurant Latour last time (no kids under age 12 allowed), I wanted to make sure to check it out this time (reservations recommended, so plan ahead). Boy oh boy am I glad we did!! Their head Sommelier led the wine tour we took at 3pm, so we were even more excited to head over that evening and request the wine pairing menu ($55) with our 4-course meal ($115) . They also have 7-course, but despite each course being fairly small, we were stuffed by the end of our 2 hour dining experience!!
I'd never done a wine pairing before, and basically know nothing about wine. I actually hadn't a clue that wine choice can either make or break a food. Making the wrong pairing is comparable to drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth - yuck! The sommelier will choose the perfect wine for each of your courses (guests choose courses independently, the table doesn't have to agree), coming over to the table personally to explain about the wine and pour it for you. It was such an incredibly luxurious treat for me, who is more of a 2 slices of pizza and a hard seltzer once a month kinda gal. Because I'm not used to this kind of gourmet dining, I have to be honest that the menu was a wee bit intimidating, but our waitress was the sweetest thing and helped make us feel at ease while handling all of our many questions!
I'm sure the menu options change frequently, but for an idea of what to expect, here's what I ordered and the wines they paired for me (everything tasted as amazing as it looked!!!!):
Course 1: Roasted Crones (gnoccheti, fermented garlic, sunchoke) with Grgich Hills (Fume Blanc, Napa Valley California 2016).
Course 2: Venison (creamed turnip, preserved wild berries, juniper) with Cascina Fontan (Barbera d'Abla, Pieomonte Italy 2017). This was my first time having venison, and you never know what you're going to get with "gamey" meat, but it was absolutely delicious! To my unsophisticated palette it was like an extremely soft and delicious piece of steak.
Course 3: Rohan Duck (chestnut, persimmon, black seed vinaigrette) with Stokes' Ghost (Petite Sirah, Monterey County California, 2015). Talk about a piece of art, how about this plate!?
Course 4: Chocolate Ganache (coffee, buckwheat crumble, hazlenut), with l'Abricot wine and a platter of Turkish Delight! Yum. Just, omg, yum.
Oh, and we can't forget the most amazing and visually pleasing bread basket everrrrrr!!!! Hello activated charcoal bread, like, what!? So neat (and soft and yummy!!), with spreads like beet and garlic - ohmahgerrrrrd y'all!!!!!
We ended up doing 3 days and 2 nights at Crystal Springs on this most amazing Momcation. We stayed up "late" (still asleep before midnight), slept soundly without being pulled out of bed in the middle of the night to escort a little one to the bathroom, binged Netflix in bed, ate amazing food without hearing our kids whine about how disgusting it is, lounged poolside, sweat it out in the sauna and jacuzzi, cuddled with rescue puppies while kinda doing yoga but really just wanting to play with puppies, and even did our first TikTok ha!!!
Arrived home to a shockingly neat and tidy and quiet household - so impressed that my husband got laundry done and got the kids to clean up before I came home!! The kids were so cuddly and sweet, didn't throw a single tantrum for a whole hour after I arrived hahahaha!!! Seriously though, I feel so friggin' refreshed and ready to be the best mom I can be!!!! But I also can't wait to go on my next momcation...
So, are you inspired to book your own Momcation yet!?!? You really can't beat Crystal Springs for the destination - no matter what you're looking for, you'll find it there! They have really fun packages too such as "Robes & Rose Girlfriends Getaway", "Mom's Midweek Spa Day" and more! So get on it - gather some friends and get you on a mom getaway!! Be sure to check back in to let me know how it went (better yet, shoot me an email and maybe I can join)!!!
Whether you're planning a bachelorette weekend with the girls, a destination wedding, a corporate retreat, a golf getaway with your buddies, or a high-end family vacation, Crystal Springs Resort in northwest New Jersey will not disappoint! We were provided a night's accommodation in exchange for our honest review, and we loved it so much we're now looking into purchasing a unit! HA! Watch our YouTube highlights video here and keep reading for more details on their beautiful rooms, delicious dining options, amazing indoor and outdoor pools, and more!
Located on a spectacularly beautiful 4,000 acre piece of land with a mountainous backdrop, just 47 miles from Manhattan, it's no doubt Crystal Springs Resort has been named New Jersey's #1 four-season resort. Featuring 2 hotels, 2 spas, 9 dining options, 6 golf courses, a sports club, indoor and outdoor pools, horseback riding, an adventure center, and meeting & event venues, as well as ski-slopes nearby! So whether you arrive by car or book a private plane with Jettly, you are sure to have a great time here!!
Upon entering the Grand Cascades Lodge for the first time, as you can see in our video, we were completely overwhelmed with how beautiful and luxurious the Adirondack-inspired facilities were. With three young children, we were a tad intimidated, initially thinking this place must be too nice for our crazy kids, and we would spend the entire stay fretting over their noise and behavior. Thankfully it wasn't the case, and we were happily surprised to see the number of families with young children there! We quickly relaxed with the understanding that guests there for a quiet spa retreat, business meetings, or other kid-free indulgences would find themselves at one of the many places for adults only - such as Latour restaurant (kids must be 12 years or older), the pool hot tub areas, spa, bars, etc. While I would say this isn't a hotel made FOR kids, it is most certainly family-friendly, so don't let their AAA 4-diamond award and grandness of the resort scare you away! They have some family activities here and there, including a nightly fire pit marshmallow roasting, Saturday daytime shows, animal educators, pony rides, summer movies on the lawn, free putting course and evening glow golf, life-size chess, mountaintop adventure experience (approximately $50 per adult, $30 per child; with paddle boarding, archery, fishing, hiking, and a lake with white sand beach), KidSole (learn to fly trapeze & circus ninja warrier training), to name a few!!
Our room was absolutely fabulous, with a full kitchen, grandfather clock, huge balcony, Jacuzzi tub and full shower, indoor and outdoor dining, flat panel TVs, indoor and outdoor gas fireplaces, washer & dryer, it felt more like a beautifully furnished rental home than a hotel room! In fact, both Grand Cascades Lodge and Minerals Hotel are what they call "condo hotel", meaning you can buy a unit (which are shockingly affordable, especially compared to prices here in NYC) and the management company will rent it out on your behalf when you aren't there, leaving you with a full-service luxury vacation home that potentially pays for itself. I'm currently obsessed with this idea and figuring out how to make it happen for my own family!
We were provided a suite and an adjoining room in the Grand Cascades Lodge, where overnight accommodations include complimentary use of the Biosphere Pool Complex as well as facilities at the Minterals Sports Club, just 3 miles away by free shuttle at Minerals Hotel, with 7 indoor/outdoor heated pools, sauna, steam room, indoor running track / tennis / raquetball / basketball, a 6,000 sqft fitness center, and more. Alternatively you can book a (cheaper) room at the Minerals Hotel, but you won't have access to the Biosphere Pool Complex over at Grand Cascades Lodge in that case.
The pools at Grand Cascades Lodge (GCL from here on out) and Minerals Hotel (MH) are everything you could ask for and more! Each place has a large amazing indoor pool, so you'll have a splashing good time no matter what time of year. They also have outdoor pools, some were heated to wonderfully warm bath temp and others were cool but not uncomfortably so. GCL's 10,000 square foot indoor Tropical Biosphere was of course, the most impressive, with its massive palm trees, it will certainly be a standout on your Instagram feed! The ambience is magical, you feel you've been transported to the jungle, not northwestern New Jersey! It also features a 140' waterslide (min 48" to ride), grotto-like jacuzzi (age 16+), underground aquarium, and cave-themed sauna & steam room. I didn't realize at the time, but keep in mind the retractable roof is made of "advanced German Foiltec roofing material, allowing nearly 100% light transmission for year-round tanning"... so don't forget the sunblock!
If you take a left out of the Biosphere, less than a 5 minute walk away you'll find two more pools in the Vista 180 Pool Complex. One is very luxurious with infinity pool edges and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. There's a cafe next to it, offering a selection of quick eats and yummy cocktails!
The other pool out that way was my son's favorite, with a water slide and a really unique "rotational current vortex pool" (we dubbed it the washing machine), where the jets cycle swimmers around and around. I've never seen anything like it and it was really fun!! Even our 3 year olds in their puddle jumper floaties were loving it. They have life guards all around, but stay close to little ones or children who aren't strong swimmers because those jets are strong and our toddlers ended up getting dunked quickly a couple of times.
Over at Minerals Hotel Pool Complex, you'll find heated indoor and outdoor pools, a 12 foot cliff jump (don't miss my husband doing this in our video!!), underground aquarium, steam room & sauna, jacuzzis and cold dip, moonshine bar and twisted treat ice cream bar! Unfortunately, neither location had a "kiddy pool" per se, the pools were all 3-4 feet in the shallowest areas, though Minerals does have a large "splash yard" near their outdoor pools.
There were 9 dining options to choose from, so whether you wanted a pool-side burger and Frosé, a gourmet pizza and bottle of wine, or an adult-only award-winning fine dining experience, you'll find it all right on the premises! You can find menus (and kids' menus), hours, and locations all on the website, making it easy to plan ahead or research quickly just before each meal. Reservations are recommended at most, but we didn't bother and had no issue (but keep in mind we were there mid-week). We arrived super hungry at around noon on Tuesday and our room wasn't ready for us until 4pm, so we had a quick casual lunch at the Biosphere Cafe, the only thing we could find open. The food was good, a smoked salmon sandwich ($15) for myself, the Gardener sandwich for my husband ($13), and a chicken finger basket ($14) for the kids, however it was uncomfortably warm and humid in there, it's like a greenhouse basically, which is great for swimmers but not so much for hot and sweaty fully-clothed travelers trying to down some food! Still, it got the job done and we were off to the pools!
For dinner, we went to Springs Bistro, cuz the kids had a hankerin' for some pizza and I was intrigued by the authentic Italian cuisine Tuscan-inspired menu. The littles devoured a couple of baskets of complimentary warm bread and rosemary salted butter while hubby and I indulged in some delicious wine ($12/glass), before the main course arrived. We got 2 "personal pizzas" ($13 each) for the kids to share, I had a "pizzetta" topped with prosciutto, fig, red onion, and pecorino romano ($18 and possibly the best pizza I've ever had in my life, opinion only partially influenced by extreme hunger and Riesling-induced buzz), and Ryoji had the tagliatelle ($28, with littleneck clams, pancetta, and crushed tomato - as delicious as it was beautiful). The Bistro is located on the first floor, beyond the lobby and at the exit to the patio, which meant we could take turns bringing the kids outside to get out some energy, leaving the other to enjoy some quiet alone time with their wine! Bonus: they boxed up our leftover pizza which the kids chowed on the next morning while watching TV in the living room, letting us sleep in a bit!
For breakfast, we headed to the Crystal Tavern, a short walk down the corridor to the Clubhouse, where I found a list of SEVEN corporations scheduled to host events at Crystal Springs that day! WHOA! We peaked into a few ballrooms and other spaces, some were decked out for what looked like would be amazing rehearsal dinner or wedding reception venues, others great for business meetings and conferences. The view from Crystal Tavern was beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed the breakfast there. My son was begging to order Fruit Loops, and was shocked that he loved what I ordered even more! To share, we got pancakes with whipped vanilla butter and berry capote ($12), açaí bowl ($12), and pork belly lardons and aged cheddar omelet with fried potatoes ($12). Breakfast of champions, if you ask me!
We took our last meal (lunch) at Kite's American Grille, located within Minerals Hotel. It is a great spot to grab a casual meal after spending the day at the pool! My husband got their vegan Beyond Burger ($16), I got the short rib grilled cheese ($16), and the kids shared their kid's pizza ($12) and hot dog ($12). As was the case with the other restaurants - service, food, and ambiance were all on point and we had a great final meal to fill our bellies and allow the kids to sleep the entire drive home (which was 2 hours thanks to heavy rain and rush hour traffic).
Amazing easy relaxing luxurious vacation for New Yorkers, am I right!? It's hard to include the "relaxing" part when you have young kids on vacation, but husband and I both agreed this was the most relaxing hotel stay we've had since having kids, and we really can't wait to go back!!
Head to their website to book your next getaway!! Room rates start from $199/night in Minerals Hotel and $299/night in Grand Cascades Lodge (more for the suites, of course), with special packages and deals popping up from time to time!
If you have a city slicker family like mine, you like to get away every once in a while and let your kids experience different environments, am I right!? For your next family vacation, I highly recommend the uber family-friendly Pine Ridge Dude Ranch all-inclusive resort in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, named one of the top 10 family resorts in the USA, just a quick and easy 2.5 hour drive from NYC! Watch our highlights video and keep reading for more details about what you can expect, and don't forget to enter my GIVEAWAY at the bottom for your chance to win 1 night at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, named the #1 East Coast Dude Ranch!
Disclaimer: We were provided a complimentary stay in exchange for our review, but as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own and complete unbiased!
Most activities are complimentary, including indoor and outdoor pools with water slides (no kiddie pools unfortunately), bounce pillow (my husband's favorite), playground, petting zoo (my son's favorite), rock wall, archery (watch the video, I was worse than my 3.5 year olds, yikes!!), tractor rides, paddle boats, sports and board games, after-dinner activity (like meeting a new baby animal or feeding horses), marshmallow roasting at the campfire, and nightly entertainment like magicians and comedians (though it starts at 9pm which was just too late for my kiddos), and really fun activities led by the social director throughout the day (things like line dancing, inflatable horse races, and water balloon battles).
Most packages also include a trail ride (ages 8+) and daily pony ride for younger kids, and extra experiences can be purchased such as private riding lessons, "own a horse for the day", hands on barn experiences, and more. If you need some kid-free time, they do have a half day camp for kids ages 3-10, which is extra ($35 for 1 kid, $55 for 2 kids, $70 for 3 kids). Other extras include the arcade, lasertag ($10/person), paintball ($35/person), and massage.
The ranch is well themed - very rustic with Western decor to the max! All staff were outfitted in flannel shirts and cowboy hats (and all were incredibly friendly and helpful!), most guests wore cowboy boots, it was kitsch in the best way! We were provided a large room in the Dakota wing that included a king bed, XL full bed, and bunk bed (which my kids went nuts for!). It was spacious, even with luggage, a stroller, and one of their cribs you still wouldn't feel cramped. It was also nice and quiet, which I find to be hit or miss at hotels - I always bring ear plugs but was pleasantly surprised to not need them at the ranch! The grounds were large with lots of greenery, but never more than a 5 minute walk between activities.
The food at Pine Ridge was SO GOOD!!! Check-in is at 2pm so your first included meal is dinner, from 6-7PM, which always includes a salad bar and a few entrees to choose from, as well as dessert (jello, ice cream, and a pie or cake). Breakfast, from 8-9:30AM, is buffet style with delicious hot treats such as eggs, bacon, pancakes with fruit topping, selection of cereals and oatmeal, fruit and yogurt bar, and pastries. Lunch varied, from 12:30-1:30PM, sometimes buffet style in the dining room and sometimes outdoor BBQ, and is your last meal on check-out day. They also have some food and beverage options that aren't included: alcohol in the dining room or at other bars, a Starbucks kiosk, poolside bar, and Chuckwagon Grill & Snackbar (open from 2pm). That said, we found eating their 3 meals a day was plenty and we didn't need to purchase extra.
DEALS & RATES:
Pine Ridge Dude Ranch by nature, as an all-inclusive resort, is not cheap vacation, but it's also not as expensive as you might think. Rates in summer go for as low as $209 per adult per night ($69 - $99 per child), and just $149 per adult per night in September! You can find some great deals on their website here, for example 50% off your 3rd night, 10% off for military and first responders. And don't forget, pretty much everything is included (except for tips), so when you calculate that, as well as not having to pay for air fare to an all-inclusive in the Caribbean let's say, it really is a great bang for your buckaroo!! They also have day passes if you live nearby or are staying elsewhere. These are $40 per adult, $20 per child, and include lunch, a pony ride per child, indoor / outdoor pools, tractor rides, bounce pillow, petting zoo, basketball, tennis, bocce, shuffleboard, and more. An extra $25 per trail ride.
Enter for your chance to win a one-night stay for 4 people in the Rafflecopter box below! Open to US residents ages 18+. The more actions you take, the more chances to win you will accumulate. GOOD LUCK!
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:
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!