New Years resolutions. I’m just not a fan. Instead, I’d rather set goals. My goal for 2015? Travel as much, if not more, than I did in 2014. It’s a measurable, attainable goal but it means one thing: I’d better get started!
This is how I find myself at Woodloch Pines in Hawley, Pennsylvania the weekend after New Years. I’m traveling with my husband and son who is 12. I’m looking forward to finding out if Woodloch can keep kids in their ‘tween and teen years happy and engaged while keeping mom and dad sane and happy too.
What I find is multi-generational families enjoying the great outdoors on a brisk 34 degree day: mini golf, go carts, the rifle and archery ranges and snow tubing. The irony that seasonal activities seem to be boundless here is not lost on me. Outdoor mini golf and batting cages in January? At Woodloch, yes. Anything for fun.
Always curious about how things work, I set off to discover what secret formula Woodloch uses to bring guests back year after year, generation after generation. Fifty seven years. That’s how long the Kiesendahl family has been sharing their unique brand of hospitality with guests. You’d think they’d be tired by now, but family members display the same enthusiasm every day and at every meal when they welcome you at the entrance to the dining room with a warm touch and kind words.
My family of three is staying in a roomy Edgewater Suite in the Mountain Laurel building. Room 701, a one-bedroom suite, feature two queen beds in the bedroom and one queen pullout couch in the living room, a private terrace and a full view of the lake. Ours suite sleeps up to six. Suites in the adjacent Springbrook building feature two full baths and wet bar. Mountain Laurel, on the other hand, features one bath, a nearly full kitchen (only missing an oven), and washer and dryer. Both buildings provide indoor access to the Pool and Sports Complex. Due to an unfortunate flood that swept through the area in late August, everything in our room was gutted and is sparkling new. Work continues on the indoor pool, but should be completed quickly.
With comfortable beds and linens, ample pillows and blankets and plenty of closet and storage space, this is one of the best designed and most well-equipped suites for families I’ve seen. The memory foam mattress puts “heavenly beds” to shame. I expect the accommodations to be much more rustic than they are and I’m pleasantly surprised by the little luxuries.
Mountain Laurel feels isolated in the best way – quiet and sedate but only minutes away from the activity hubs. When the weather gets too cold and sloppy to walk across the property, we hop on a shuttle bus that appears at our door every five to ten minutes. We never had to wait more than seven minutes for the buses even when the weather turned rough. To be closer to the main lodge, where the dining room and nightclub are housed, you might want to instead book a room in the Greenbriar building where you’ll enjoy indoor access to dining and many activities. More rustic and budget-friendly accommodations are available in small detached buildings named Gateway, Timeberline and Ripplecove near the main lodge.
Homemade ice cream. Fresh baked breads at every meal. Outstanding service from the friendliest and warmest servers you’ve every met. These are the hallmarks of the dining experience at Woodloch. Meals are taken in the enormous main dining room flanked on both ends by massive stone fireplaces. Most American Plan packages include three meals a day. There is a one-hour window for seating times for meals. You won’t be hungry when the clock tells you it’s time for the next meal; go anyway.
Breakfast is many courses: fruits and juices, hot and cold cereals, something sweet from the bakery, yogurt and granola and a hot entree. You don’t have to make a choice – you can order it all if you like. A typical lunch offers soup, salads, burgers and sandwiches.
At dinner, you’ll choose from four entrees – usually beef, fish or seafood, chicken and pasta. But first, you’ll have to wade through the bread basket, soup, appetizer, and salad. Side dishes – often a potato and vegetable, are served family style. Healthy and vegetarian options are always available. By the time dessert rolls around, you’ll want to say no, but you simply can’t. Our favorite dessert was the Oreo Cookie Bash, pictured above. And then there is Woodloch’s famous mud pie. I won’t spoil it for you, but when you see it on the menu you should order it because it might not be offered again during your stay. (Hint: It wasn’t on the menu during our visit, but we were told we could ask for it anyway at any meal. Our server didn’t bat an eyelash and we were so glad we did!)
And how about the kids? While salmon with Thai noodles, bok choy, lemon grass, coconut milk and sesame seeds might please mom and dad, the kids will be thrilled with the bottomless baskets of fries and the usual kid fare served at every meal.
The entertainment and activities
On theme nights (Wednesday and Saturday), the dining room is transformed into a parade of characters. Elvis, Abe Lincoln, Paul Revere and Princess Elsa from Frozen represented the theme for 2015, “Streets of America”, creating a fever pitch among the youngest guests. But the excitement was palpable by guests of all ages and led up to the Broadway-style shows in a comfortable, modern tiered theater. The high energy show hails from the streets of Las Vegas, New Orleans, New York, Motown, Chicago and Hollywood. The singing and dancing is excellent and the costumes and sets are bright and colorful. They somehow managed to please everyone – young and young at heart – with the selection of songs and theatrics. Up next was Comedian Eric Lyden. His sarcastic and self-deprecating style of comedy was hysterical and surprisingly rated PG. I’ve never heard my 12-year old laugh so hard in his life. In his words, it was his favorite moment of our short time at Woodloch.
Other favorite activity moments:
- The smiles and excitement on the kids (and adults) faces while riding the indoor bumper cars.
- Watching the snow tubers careen down a challenging curved bank with an impressive view of Lake Teedyuskung.
- Chatting with some of the nearly 1100 employees, some of whom are part of four generations of the Kiesendahl family who own, operate and work at the resort.
- The Friday night Horseracing games tradition. Having experienced “horseracing” at a mountain resort in my youth, I couldn’t wait to go down memory lane. It’s hard to describe how fun it is, so you’ll have to see for yourself. Hint: Bring cash to bet on the horses. Even the kids can get in on the act of selecting horses and placing wagers. All the money is returned back in the form of cash prizes.
Just two miles and yet nearly a world away is the Lodge at Woodloch, part of the Woodloch Resort family. I’ve been here before, so I know that if I walk past the water features in the women’s sanctuary, past the indoor pool and aqua garden, I will reach one my favorite spa spaces. Ever. I step out onto the sun terrace and deeply breathe in the crisp 19 degree air. I quickly slip out of my thick terry robe and immerse myself shoulder deep in the frothy, steamy waters of the horizon-edge whirlpool. The filtered sunlight and breeze in the air are signaling that the weather is about to change. Tucking myself into the spa for a few hours will be heaven.
I wait beside the fire for my treatment provider, Rhonda, to pick me up from the waiting area. My only criticism of the otherwise deeply peace-inducing spa is the spa attendants who are having personal conversations as they go about their work. As I descend the staircase for my 100-minute Rosemary Awakening, the chatter is far behind. Rosemary is known to promote mental clarity. I can’t think of a better way to start the new year than with hushed tones and a clear mind. It is a blissful treatment.
What I love about this highly acclaimed destination spa is the facilities. There are 10 private shower and changing rooms with vanities. No waiting for a shower after your treatment. There are saunas and eucalyptus steam rooms and whirlpools and massaging waterfalls that plunge into more whirlpools. In better weather I have relished time on the screened-in reading porch in the women’s sanctuary. After my treatment ends I join the other guests in the whisper room and take a front row seat. In front of me are floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the lake. Gentle snow has started to fall while I sip on a cup of chocolate mint truffle tea. The only thing that is luring me away from the spa? The promise of lunch and an afternoon of fun back at Woodloch Pines. As I leave the spa and make my way back to my car, eight white tail deer cross in front of me on the snow-covered path. It is a perfect day.
First timers tips
- The daily activity schedule, issued at breakfast, is a snapshot of all the events and activities taking place that day. Carry it with you everywhere to be in-the-know on the time and location of everthing that’s happening at Woodloch.
- You will be issued a rubber wristband that you’ll wear to identify yourself as a guest. Don’t forget to put it on for access to meals, facilities and activities.
- You will be constantly moving between indoors and outdoors. You’ll be outdoors for many activities, indoors for meals and entertainment. Wear layers. Bring a backpack or other small tote bag to carry extra warm clothing in winter and sunscreen and protective clothing in the summer. We were so busy that we didn’t get back to your room from breakfast to dinner and were glad that we planned ahead to stay warm.
- Don’t miss a meal! It is a highlight of your visit to Woodloch. You’ll sit at the same table for all of your meals, possibly served by the same servers who will get to know you and your preferences. Get to know them and enjoy conversing with them.
- During our winter visit, fire pits were scattered all over the property. Leave time in between activities to enjoy warming yourself up in front of them.
- Wine, beer and cocktails are available from your dining room server, in the nightclub and at a few bars throughout the property. Beers are in the $5-$6 range. House wine is $8.50 a glass. Specialty cocktails run around $9 to $10.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer and her family were guests of Woodloch Pines Resort and The Lodge at Woodloch. The opinions of the writer are her own.