Family Weekend in Lancaster County, Day 1

We live within an hour of Lancaster County, so we are no stranger to the sites and attractions. Over the years we have taken family day trips to see plays, tour Amish villages and visit farms and orchards. I often trek out to Lancaster to meet up with friends and shop at the infamous outlets located there. And more recently I have discovered some small farms that are great sources of locally grown and produced foods. But until last weekend, I had never before actually stayed overnight in Lancaster County.

Our family was invited to spend two nights at the Willow Valley — a family resort located between downtown Lancaster and the Amish farmlands.

lancaster county countryside

I know, right? How incredibly gorgeous is that!? It was the PERFECT fall weekend. Honestly I couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was cool but not cold, crisp and breezy, and sunny with only perfectly puffy white clouds to break up the blue skies.

Willow Valley has two parts — Willow Valley Inn & Suites and the Doubletree Resort by Hilton, which is a newer building with room for conferences and meetings. We stayed at the Doubletree. Outside it is fairly unassuming, but the inside is elegant.

When we arrived, we were greeted by friendly hotel staff and their signature chocolate chip cookies. Unfortunately my son is allergic to nuts, and I don’t eat gluten, so only three of us were able to partake. The cookies are a nice touch, but in this day and age of food allergies, I have to wonder why they don’t have any other options available — especially with kids involved. It’s really hard to see the other siblings happily nibbling on chocolate chip cookies while going without. But that was just a minor blemish upon arrival, and my son took it in stride. The staff was welcoming and accomodating, and soon we were headed down the hall to our room to get settled in.

willow valley resort

photo credit: willowvalley.com

The family room was spacious with 2 queen beds and a pull-out couch, so the room easily accommodated our family of five. (Why do more hotels not offer this!!?? It is so hard to travel as a family of five or six, and yet we are not uncommon.)

The bathroom was small, but there was an additional vanity just outside the bathroom, so two people could be getting ready at the same time — always a welcome feature in a hotel room. Again, I don’t know why they aren’t all designed that way.

The decor was nice, if a bit tired. All in all, it was comfortable and welcoming.

We arrived at dinnertime and had planned to eat at Cafe 24 Hundred, the restaurant on site. According to the website, they specialize in locally sourced seasonal menus, which as you know is right up my alley! They also advertised locally brewed beers and fine wine, so we were eager to try it out.

It wasn’t quite as posh as we were expecting. It was small and homey, though, and the waitstaff was superb. I was just bummed that it was too cool to eat on the deck. The view of the property is breathtaking.

photo credit: willowvalley.com

After reading about locally brewed beers and fine wine, we were surprised that there was only one locally brewed beer and only about 5 wine selections — all from the same brand and priced identically at $5.50 a glass. I was expecting a more extensive wine and beer list, and maybe some more premium wine brands, but I happily sipped on an ice-cold pinot grigio (lukewarm white wine is one of my many pet peeves, but this was perfectly chilled) and as far as I know my husband enjoyed his beer.

The children’s menu was pretty typical kid fare, without a single vegetable, I might add, so my kids ordered from the adult menu. My girls chose the baked potato soup and a Casear salad, and they both gobbled up every morsel.

When they brought the dinner rolls,they contained sesame — and my son is allergic. He also happens to love bread. Fortunately the server was right on top of it, and she came back within minutes with a slab of french bread for him. I was thrilled that they had another option, and that she thought to bring it to him without our asking. The service more than made up for any disappointment in the menu.

My favorite part of the dinner, by far, was The 24 Hundred Market Salad — baby spinach, shaved red onion, balsamic macerated strawberries, candied pecans, bacon nuggets (yes, NUGGETS of BACON, be still my beating heart) and creamy goat cheese dressing. It. Was. Divine. I wish I had a photo but I was too busy gobbling it down to reach for my camera phone. I would go back just for that.

As for our entrees, my son ordered pasta with meat sauce and was pleased. My husband and I both opted for the special that night — pork tenderloins. The presentation was lovely, and they appeared to be cooked to perfection, as you could see they were even a bit pink in the middle, but the flavor and texture were disappointing. We agreed that it was likely the quality of meat, not the chef, that was to blame.

In looking back at the menu today, I can see that they specialize in steaks, and I am wondering why I didn’t notice The 24 Hundred Burger — Ironstone Spring Farm, grass-fed beef and applewood smoked bacon with cheese. Now THAT sounds delicious. In fact, here’s a photo I found on their site.

photo credit: willowvalley.com

Oh well, live and learn. (And don’t order the special! lol)

After dinner, we were eager to visit their indoor pool and water playground that we had heard so much about. It’s hard to stay in a hotel with kids when there’s nothing to do after dinner. It can be a looong night, in my limited experience — limited because I choose not to stay in hotels with my entire family unless I have to.

But in this case, we had no problem occupying our time. Long story short, we could hardly get our kids out of the pool all weekend long. It certainly isn’t a water park to rival Great Wolf Lodge or the ilk, but it was big enough for all my kids to enjoy, and with our range of ages, that’s saying a lot.

Last summer, we were disappointed with the way the pools at the Hyatt Chesapeake Bay didn’t have an area shallow enough for our 5-year-old daughter to stand and play confidently. But on the other hand, we were afraid the Willow Valley pool may be too babyish for my son.

On the contrary, all three of our kids had a great time. There was plenty to do with lots of room to chase each other around, and the slide was super fast; even my 11-year-old son loved it.

And the adult pool was 3 feet in its shallowest part, so all three kids could enjoy swimming and playing over there as well, which they did.

Willow Valley Adult Pool

photo credit: willowvalley.com

Even I had a place to call my own. Waaaay back in the far corner is a hot tub, and I wasted no time making my way over there and giving it a whirl. Haha, whirl? Get it? Oh I slay me.

And no, there are no photos. Are ya crazy??

The pool sufficiently tired everyone out, so we returned to our room for night.

Stay tuned for Family Weekend in Lancaster County, Day 2!