Nemacolin Woodlands Resort With Kids
Hotel: *Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
Where: Farmington, PA
The sprawling *Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, which sits 90 minutes south of Pittsburgh, doesn’t have a single vibe. The type of vacation you have depends on where you stay—one of three hotels or on-property vacation homes—and what activities you’ve come for. On the resort shuttle we spotted groups of men who’d come to golf, women who were there for the spa and restaurants, and families with kids ranging from tots to teens. While there was some overlap—the Tavern was popular with both golfers and families— those groups largely had their own activities, restaurants and even pools and were most likely only peripherally aware of each other.
This is by no means a bad thing. We heard one golfer who was there on a guy weekend say he used to come with his wife for golf and the spa and, having seen how much they’ve added since his last visit, would probably now return with his kids. If families can be themselves without worrying that they’re bothering the kid-free adults, and adults don’t have a cannonballing teen disrupting their post-spa poolside zen, that’s a win for everyone.
We stayed at that the Chateau, Nemacolin’s main hotel that Looks like the Ritz in Paris from the outside, but is no doubt built on a larger scale inside. Our queen room was enormous, with a bathroom that had a deep Jacuzzi tub, separate shower and two sinks. The refrigerator was stocked but also had an empty shelf for us to use. Two puffy armchairs were comfy places to sit while checking email or reading. Tiny Traveler was impressed by having a chandelier in our room and sleeping in a bed that was so high she had to run and jump to get into it.
The communications director told me that families favor the Chateau for its big rooms, or the townhouses if they have a larger group. But if crystal chandeliers and French-court-inspired furniture are not your style, try the Lodge, which is meant to conjure up understated 1920s luxury with jazz-inspired art and animal heads hanging about.
There is also Falling Rock, a boutique hotel with butler service. It’s near the golf courses and is probably more suited to a kid-free romantic weekend than your family vacation.
Nemacolin has more than enough to keep families busy, no matter your interests or your kids ages. We spent a lot of time at the large paradise pool, an outdoor heated pool with a small slide and a separate heated whirlpool. It’s open from about late May to late September and has a bar for cocktails, smoothies and lunch. This was by far Tiny Traveler’s favorite feature.
Other complimentary activities include a great mini-golf course with waterfalls and several cleverly designed holes (top), a croquet court, a good size playground, exercise classes and the outdoor Nemacolin zoo (if you visit around 9:00 in the morning you can watch the bears eat their breakfast). There are plenty of trails on and off-property for hiking and biking. The resort’s owner is an avid art collector and there are paintings, sketches and statues everywhere you look. We particularly appreciated the outdoor sculptures because you never knew what would pop up where.
The wifi and valet parking are free.
For additional fees there are animal encounter programs, golf, tennis, bike rentals, horseback riding, a gymnastics center, a shooting sports and fly fishing clubhouse, art classes for kids and adults, the spa, and an adventure center with rope courses, zip lines, a climbing wall, paintball, off-road driving and winter activities like tubing.
A summer midway neat the mini-golf features a free bouncy house and carnival games. You pay $10 for four games, which is plenty for each kid. And rest assured, every kid walks away with a prize (or three).
We wanted to sample the adventure center together but the only thing all three of us could agree on was target paintball. We shared two guns with 400 paintballs apiece. To our surprise, Tiny Traveler big kick out of splatting the paint against the wall and in making targets swing and spin when she hit them. With so much ammunition we could try as many times as needed to hit a tricky target.
We also did the safari tour, where you visit the zoo with a staff naturalist who tells you about the animals’ personalities, habits, provenance and so on. The highlight is getting to feed goats, a cow, lions, hyena and mountain lion. We also watched the zookeepers give tiny marshmallows to very large bears to ensure they would have enough fat while they hibernated. We fed the wilder animals by putting meat on a stick and poking it through a hole. It was interesting to see how they reacted, with the mountain lion pouncing and the lion holding on to lick off every last bit.
Rich and I debated whether the experience was worth the $90 per-person fee. But we saw every one of these animals up close (which rarely happens at our local zoo). And both Rich and Tiny Traveler agreed that feeding a lion was a unique experience and the highlight of the vacation.
The off-road driving looked fun. They have an obstacle course where you learn off-road skills, and then they take you into the woods to test them out. That would have been something to try sans child, though.
The Kids Club
Nemacolin’s kids club was open during our mid-week visit but wasn’t very busy. They have great onsite spaces for small kids (say up to about 6) with a playroom full of toys, a small ball pit and indoor play structure. Kids 7 and up meet at the clubhouse but then typically do activities around the resort. If I wanted to be certain of having other kids for my child I’d choose a weekend or holiday week to visit. There is a small 3-foot-deep indoor kids pool adjacent to the kids club that families can use; this is the only cold-weather swimming option for people under 18.
There are things to do nearby, in particular, the Frank Lloyd Wright homes Falling Water (read our review) and Kentucky Knob. You can explore Fort Necessity, which saw the opening salvo of the French and Indian War and extensive Laurel Caverns. Had we stayed a whole week we probably would have done a daily morning excursion and then enjoyed the resort in the afternoon. But for a three-day stay there was plenty to keep us busy onsite.
The three upscale Nemacolin restaurants include a steakhouse at Falling Rock and a beautiful prixe fixe French spot at the Chateau, which requires the most formal dressing up.
We had a nice dinner at Autumn (in the Lodge), which features local and seasonal ingredients and has an upscale but still relaxed and kid-friendly vibe and a nice terrace. We sampled appetizers including good tuna sashimi and a signature salad. Our desserts included a deconstructed s’more and very good house-made raspberry sorbet (right). Autumn also has great egg dishes and pancakes at breakfast time.
For other meals we stuck to the Tavern, where we were pleased with the sandwiches, tacos, and sides, and the Caddyshack, which has a great deck and surprisingly good barbecue (the smoker is right out front so you can’t miss it). A lunch sampler was more than enough for three.
The Bottom Line:
When we think of resort vacations our minds usually travel quickly to the Caribbean. Real full-service, total getaway resorts are not as common as we would like stateside and they are never budget destinations (Room rates at Nemacolin start just below $400/night off-season and above $500 in
summer.) I wondered if we would feel like we were missing out if we didn’t fill our schedule with the paid activities, but if we had done nothing but the pool and mini-golf during our stay Tiny Traveler would
have still come away raving about her vacation. The midway, bike rentals, bowling, tennis and rock climbing are the most accessible activities with kids and also the least expensive. The animal and art activities are the most unique and worth the splurge.
The quality of the rooms and food, the high level of service and the ample amenities make Nemacolin feel like a good value. It’s easy to relax and have fun with even very little kids and you can let teens do their own thing while you do yours. We saw families with kids of all ages looking very happy. We were certainly one of them,
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*We were guests at the Nemacolin Woodlands and received our room and certain activities for free. We paid for our meals. We did not agree to review the hotel or to write any particular content in exchange for the stay. Our opinions are always our own.