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!