By Kim Taylor
The Rocking Horse Ranch, located in Highland, NY an hour and a half north of New York City since 1958, has been dubbed “Paradise for Children” for good reason. This upscale dude ranch with numerous amenities offers a mind-boggling number of things for children to do, including trail horseback riding through the mountains, a pony ride circle, an indoor bucket pool and an outdoor pool with water slides, a lake with canoeing and paddle boating, a baseball field, a toddler playhouse/crafts room, a teepee tent area, horse-drawn wagon trail rides at night after bonfire marshmallow roasts with singing around the campfire, disco dancing, live entertainment for kids, an outdoor jungle gym, board games, an arcade game room, an archery room, and an enormous barn filled with sponge-ball cannons, a rock climbing wall, and an inflatable trampoline house. Sledding and skiing are ideal here during the winter months due to the ranch’s mountainous terrain.
Meals and all of the activities listed above are included in the room rate, which renders the Rocking Horse Ranch one of the best deals in the northeast for families. Parents take note: free hot coffee and pastries are always available in the television den just off the great room, and meals are tailored for both adults and children.
Horseback riding is divided into three groups: beginner, some experience and advanced, and there are opportunities to learn more about horseback riding when staff wranglers give pre-trail demonstrations and answer questions. Teenagers love the archery, night bonfires, acoustic guitar playing, and moonlit wagon rides — and toddlers love the jungle gym, teepees, wading pool and pony rides. Children spend hours in the fun barn, with exasperated parents eventually pleading, “But there’s so much else to do!” Don’t fight it: bring your favorite books or magazines and savor your down time. The Rocking Horse Ranch’s motto is “The Most Fun Your Family Ever Had,” which could very well be true. www.rhranch.com or 1-800-647-2624.
If the Rocking Horse Ranch is a child’s version of paradise, then the Great Wolf Lodge is a kiddy version of Las Vegas. Located an hour and a half from New York City in Scotrun, PA in the bucolic Poconos, this new $92 million family resort is a great year-round destination. Everything is oversized, eye-popping and whimsical: gigantic buckets overturn water from the ceiling, slides spiral from great heights of 90 feet down to pools with fountains, buckets, wave machines and enormous beaver and snake floats. This four-story, log-sided resort sits on 95 acres and boasts a 6,600 square-foot “living room” as a lobby. If Willie Wonka had a hotel for children, this would be it. At the entranceway, animated trees, animals and cartoon children speak to each other, and children are read a bedtime story, en masse in their pajamas, in front of a cozy massive fireplace in the grand lobby. Elk antler chandeliers complete this cozy northwoods picture.
However, the real draw at the Great Wolf Lodge is the spectacular maze of five enormous water tubes in the 78,000 square-foot indoor waterpark. There are also two smaller water slides, a wave machine area, and four kiddy slides for younger children, totaling eleven in all. Parents and children alike grab see-through floats built for one or two, and tunnel down into a wet, twisting version of a roller coaster. The big slides range from fun to wild, with a striped slide (called Coyote Cannon) that sends tubers twirling round in a gigantic bowl before depositing them, sometimes backwards, down into the final plunge. You can spend an entire day tubing at the Great Wolf Lodge and never tire of “tunnel thrill.” The waterpark recirculates water every hour to maintain a strict level of sanitation, and whirlpool water recirculates every fifteen minutes. Eye-irritating chlorine and chemicals are scaled back in favor of UV light that kills bacteria. There are three restaurants for hungry tubers to take a meal or drink break, and a restaurant in the lobby as well.
Adults can drink anywhere on the premises, and there are banquet rooms, both of which are a draw for weddings, family reunions, and birthday parties. Float down The Lazy River while your children tunnel through massive slides on tubes, and then check out the adult hot tub. There’s a hot tub for kids too, as this is definitely a “fun for all ages” destination. Parents appreciate that there’s a Starbucks in the lobby, and moms love the Aveda Elements Spa on the lower level. The spa offers a full range of relaxing treatments, including facials, massages, pedicures and beauty parties for girls. There is also a Cub Club playroom with arts and crafts for the under-eight set, and a fitness room for all ages. Parallels to Las Vegas are most apt in the arcade room, which has a massive collection of more than 100 games suitable for toddlers through teenagers; this room clamors with excitement and noise – just what children crave.
Rooms include admission to the water park, and come in eleven configurations, depending on the type of sleeping arrangements you prefer (and whether or not you would like a Jacuzzi). All rooms come equipped with coffee makers, deck, hair dryers and refrigerators, and many have a private sleeping area for children with bunk beds in a faux “log cabin” of their own. A water slide has your name on it. Visit www.greatwolflodge.com or call 1-800-768-WOLF
For parents who want to escape within Manhattan or to Manhattan, there’s no better place to do so than in the audience at Drumstruck. Each seat in the house comes with a drum, and everyone is expected to play along with the magical cast of West and South African singers, drummers and dancers. Every minute of this show is captivating, and your children won’t soon forget it. Starring Nicholas Africa Djane, the man with the million dollar smile, as well as Vuyelwa Booi, Sebone Dzwanyudzwanyu Rangata, Enock Bafana Mahlangu and Tiny, this is the story of how drums are used in the lives of people in South Africa. Zulu rhythms are presented along with ancient songs and dances of the Bushmen, the traditional South African song Mamaliye (“Mother, we thank you”), A Tswana prayer, Zambian drums, Isigubu drums, and the Ghanian “talking drum.” The Zulu dance of the Gauteng gold mines is invigorating, and the interactive song that unites instruments from around the world is a fitting climax.
This musical show attracts people of all ages and from all walks of life, underscoring the show’s theme: we’re all bound together here on earth, and music can strengthen our bonds. Suitable for children ages four and up. Tuesday night is family night with tickets at $36 each. This is 90 minutes of pure, unadulturated joy!