A great truly all-inclusive vacation that’s really close to NYC. Our kids had a blast and we’ve already booked for next year. A good variety of fun (if modestly scaled) attractions. Wonderful, friendly, and attentive staff. Highly recommend to anyone interested in horseback riding or with at least one kid aged 7-12.
LONG, RAMBLING VERSION:
We decided on Rocking Horse Ranch based on the excellent reviews here on Trip Advisor and we weren’t disappointed. It was one of our kid’s favorite vacations (up there with Disney World, maybe better and definitely easier); we liked it so much we’ve already reserved another trip for next year.
How does an old dude ranch become one of the top rated family resorts in the world? A good variety of attractions certainly helps. In addition to horseback riding there’s an indoor water pack, a small ski-hill with timber chutes, a “fun barn”, and a private lake. We went for Easter weekend (late March/early April) and the ski hill was still open and they had at least one day of paddle boat rides on the lake.
However, with the exception of the horseback riding program, which is impressive if only because of its scale (there are over 100 horses on the property), there’s nothing in the attractions here that would make this place stand out as “world class”. The ski hill: a small, maybe 500ft, “green circle” run that won’t impress anyone but beginners. The indoor “water park”: one nice 250ft slide, but beyond that it’s a toddler’s splash pool with some kiddy slides and another pool with some splash buckets on one side and a pontoon bridge on the other.
Accommodations and dining are also nothing to write home about. Rooms have a nice, if somewhat dated, western theme. The newly renovated bathrooms are actually pretty nice, however. Still, it’s a bit short of luxurious, about equal to a 3.5 star hotel (but a nice, well-staffed and clean 3.5 star hotel). We stayed in the main lodge. Rooms in the Oklahoma building are similar in condition but are motel style- they open up to the outside with no hallways (ok in summer not as fun in winter I’d guess). Food is served family style at large tables that seat 8 or more. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style, while waiters bring out your entrees for dinner. The food is hearty but not really gourmet. It’s a ranch, so there’s steak on the menu every night. No one would expect Peter Luger’s (a high-end NYC steakhouse) quality here, but it’s not even up to Outback standards. It’s more along the lines of Sizzler’s or Ponderosa.
So, with all that, why the 5 star review? Because this is a place that truly understands what it takes for kids to have fun and has an army of well managed employees that make it possible. Our kids (ages 5 and 9) had a blast from the moment we arrived and didn’t want to leave.
We left NYC a little after 10am and, even after getting lunch, arrived at the ranch before 1pm. We were on the timber chutes by 1:15. The chutes were running a little slow, but there were no lines and we had fun (they got better later during our stay as it got colder). Although no one in the family has ever been on skis my son decided to try skiing pretty much on a whim. He got some skis and boots and within 15 minutes he was learning how to ski with the help of a friendly instructor. No reservations, no lift tickets, no equipment rentals, no lines – just “that looks interesting” and poof! – he’s skiing. On most other vacations we’d still be in the car (or on a plane) at this point.
Our entire trip was like that – the kids could pretty much go from one activity to another with very little work. Everything is very close – you can walk out of your room and be pretty much anywhere in less than 5 minutes. This makes for a very easy, and very fun, vacation.
There are only a couple of things you’ll need to plan in advance. On the first day you’ll need to pick a time for dinner (either 5:30 or 7:30) and you’ll need to pick a time to go on a trail ride. The reservations carry over from day to day, so if you pick the morning trail ride, you’ll be able to ride every day at that time. Rides are also available on a stand by basis, and they generally seemed to have enough capacity for everyone who wanted to go (on one morning we saw a girl who was trying to go on all six rides in one day). Some of these rides get pretty big – seeing fifty horses in a row on a ride in an impressive sight.
On the first day you’ll get a schedule of attraction hours – most of which are pretty generous. You’ll also get a list of events – there’s always something to do. Archery contests, bingo and trivia games, reptile shows, etc. There are also stage shows at night (generally one-man shows like jugglers, magicians, etc).
A lot of what you’ll make of this place depends on whether you view it as an adult or a kid. Adults will see dated rooms, so-so food, somewhat cheesy shows, and fun, if not necessarily thrilling, attractions.
Kids see things differently. The rooms – two words: Bunk Beds! They loved it. The “water park” – my daughter didn’t want to leave. She would have stayed there all day and she switched from one side to the other. Big slide, little slides, swimming, bridge, and then back again. The big slide might not have been as impressive as some of the water rides at Hershey Park (we went there last summer) – but there was almost never had a wait so our kids went on it over and over again. I already mentioned how easy it was for my son to get started skiing – and while he never really got into it he really liked the chance to try it out. (The size of the hill didn’t matter – he never made it off the even beginner section).
My son also really enjoyed the trail ride. At first he was a bit hesitant – he’s never been on a horse – and we didn’t make reservations until nearly the end of our visit. There are more scenic places to ride if you’re into it, but this is probably the best place in the world to ride for the first time.
We attended the morning riding demonstration – ours was run by Kath and she did a really excellent job. It’s one of those things that most would find kind of boring but she did a good job at explaining how to get on the horse, how to use the reins, and a proper appreciation for the inherent dangers of riding (the horses here are very well trained but are still 1000lb+ animals with their own personalities). The trail ride itself wasn’t that exciting (for me, at least) – about an hour long loop in the woods – but since it was my son’s first time he had fun (enough fun that he decided to go again the next morning). My daughter was jealous – trail rides are limited to kids seven an up (they have pony and wagon rides too, but my daughter wanted to go on the “real” rides).
The excellent staff is what makes this place so easy to enjoy. Even my son noted “this is a fun place to visit but I’m not sure I’d want to work here. They have to do a LOT of stuff”. Everyone here went out there way to make sure we were enjoying ourselves. Everyone said “hi” and many asked how we were enjoying our stay – and seemed generally interested in our response.
Little touches were everywhere. The campfire at the bottom of the ski hill –with marshmallows and hot chocolate at night. The free, freshly-popped popcorn at the bar in the afternoon. The beach balls in the pool. The bins of baseball gloves, bats, balls next to the ball field in case someone wanted to play. The helmet liners for the horseback rides. The staff at the timber chutes yelling “woohoo” in response to the kids riding down yelling the same. The chocolate bunnies given out on easter.
One particular, if minor, event stood out as an example of the service here. On Easter Sunday we visited the fun barn (a smaller attraction with a bouncy-house, a nerf-ball shooting arena, some ping pong tables and a rock-climbing tread-wall). I sat next to one of the staff (I forget his name) who was on duty while the kids played. He said hello and mentioned that he was in the middle of a 13 hour shift (yes, on Easter Sunday). He had already spent the morning in the nursery. Like everything at the ranch the ping pong tables had plenty of supplies out – but my son noticed that some of the balls had rolled under the tread-climbing machine. My son can be a bit precocious and I thought he was actually a bit annoying mentioning it since he wasn’t even playing ping-pong – but what impressed me is that instead of sitting there the attendant almost immediately got up and fished out the balls from under the machine. No complaints, no grumbles, and while visibly a bit tired still very friendly. I was impressed.
Like many resorts the staff here were mostly younger, college-aged kids, but unlike many other places (especially in NYC) the staff here were friendly and professional – and almost always working.
The shows and meals most highlight the different ways that kids and adults will view the ranch. As an adult, I thought the shows were somewhat cheesy. Compared to the elaborate production numbers at Disney World (or even the smaller shows at Hershey) these shows were small, generally one-man acts that tended to be a bit silly.
My kids loved them. The shows are very approachable and often interactive. The first night had a game show that allowed members of the audience to go up on stage. Probably close to half the kids were able to be contestants, including my daughter (and myself too later in an adult round). The host was great at adapting to the audience, especially the younger kids – so “a moo” was perfectly acceptable alternative answer for “a cow”. The magician didn’t do much more than some basic slight-of-hand tricks – but he was funny and did a great job of keeping the kid’s attention; he even passed out pamphlets with instructions on doing basic tricks to the kids at the end of the show. My kids both loved it.
The only real issue here was the food. My son in particular really liked it – so it’s not all bad. He loved the selection and being able to order his own adult meals (usually steak) off the menu at dinner. My daughter was in love from the minute she saw the chocolate fountain. Most kids should do fine here, even picky eaters.
Adults will be less impressed. I’m sure some of the management will probably read this so I’ll try to specific. Selection and variety are good, but more stuff needs to be made fresh and with more care. My kids like the variety of cakes every night (especially since there was also ice cream and cookies too) but I couldn’t help but notice they were coming out of a Sara Lee box. Lunch was particularly disappointing… the hamburgers and hot dogs looked like high-school cafeteria grade stuff. Fresh hamburger patties and better quality buns would go a long way. The “chef tasting” was particularly disappointing. Crackers out of a box, meatballs (tasted like they come out of a Costco bag), and simple rum punch – I hope this is not the best display of your chef’s talents. (My kids loved it anyways – more free food).
I’m not really expecting a radical change here – the improved food would probably be wasted on the kids – and all-inclusive gourmet dining would probably make this place even pricier – but making at least a few more things fresh in the kitchen would go a long way. An adult dining room – at least as an option – would be nice, especially for those staying longer than a few days.
Since I’m pretty sure someone from management will read this I’ll throw in some random suggestions/comments as well. Bathrooms are nice and the plans for the new hallways look good. Next get rid of the popcorn ceilings and get better linens. Lose the exotic animals exhibit. The kids weren’t impressed and the animals look sad. This type of zoo is a bit dated. A simpler petting zoo/farm animal type of attraction would be nicer – especially if it allowed more interaction. The shooting range is fun (my son got to try archery for the first time) but it’s really too small. If not a bigger facility, maybe a new design that alternates between archery and bb guns? Longer hours for the euro-bungee/rock wall – this was the only place where there was much of a wait. My wide says the mattresses are too soft but I thought they were comfy.
My son’s suggestions: add a go cart track and put pizza on the menu. The first one might not be realistic.
Overall we had a great time and many of the comments here are nit-picking, but that’s somewhat of what trip-advisor is for, isn’t it. This place is very highly recommend to anyone with at least one kid aged 7-12 or for anyone interested in horseback riding. It’s close to NYC, there’s plenty to do, and the staff is really amazing. It’s not cheap, but it’s really all inclusive (you don’t need to spend a dime more than quoted price) and when you compare it’s actually a pretty good deal.
Reservation are by phone only (as far as I can tell). Trail rides are for kids 7 and up. The big water slide is for kids 36" and taller (and adults). Euro bungee is 30lbs to 220lbs. Rooms are ready by 4pm at the latest, but you can use all the facilities if you arrive earlier. Dinner is included on your first day; breakfast and lunch on the last. Price is all inclusive, but add 15% resort fee and tax. (Extra costs are rare: quarters for the arcade, drinks at the bar, small fees for crafts, gift shop items; if you prepaid and forgot your wallet you'd be OK). Child rates listed are for age 3-6; older kids are a bit more.
- Also Known As:
- Rocking Horse Ranch Hotel Highland
- Rocking Horse Hotel
- Rocking Horse Resort