Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Weekend at Westgate River Ranch, Lake Wales, Florida

Travelling down 60, I couldn’t help notice the huge sign for the “World’s Largest Dude Ranch” and I was intrigued. The sign belongs to Westgate River Ranch. As fate would have it, a couple weeks after my sign encounter, a great deal came through. The weekend deal included two night’s hotel, a hayride and cookout, and the Saturday night Rodeo for the bargain price of $149. I snapped it up and promptly booked a weekend in February 2012. After buying the voucher, I started reading the reviews on Trip Advisor. These blistering reviews did not inspire confidence. My husband and I decided to go for it anyway since we both love a good story.

Friday, February 10th, we both took a half day and headed out to Lake Wales. The drive took us about 2 hours from Tampa. We pulled up to the Old West gate.

 I was so excited. We drove in – past the open pastures with horses grazing, the Chapel, and the Saloon. We checked in and headed to our room. The room was clean, smelled a little too much like a dirty sneaker and had two double beds with those bedspreads that I immediately tear off and leave on the floor. We left the door open to get rid of the smell then headed out to explore the grounds. We hit up the General Store.

This great little shop offers breakfast, sandwiches, salads and all the food stuffs of a convenience store. The little collection of buildings also offers a Western clothing store, a mini golf course, kids’ craft area, ping pong and a Post Office. We then headed over to the Smokehouse Grill for a very early dinner.

We ordered salads, pickle chips and wings.

 The pickle chips were the highlight – thin, crispy, and the corn meal batter added just enough sweetness to offset the salty pickle. Yum! We also indulged in the happy hour for two of the best frozen drinks I have had in a while.

 After dinner, we meandered over to the Saloon.

 It wasn’t open yet so we passed the time in the rocking chairs on the front porch. The view was great.

The Saloon opened and we headed in.

 I was shocked to see that a Grasshopper was one of the featured happy hour drinks. This Crème de Menthe, Crème de Cacao and milk cocktail is a family favorite. The bartender was just as shocked when I ordered it. . Glenn got the boot - $8 initially and $5 for a 32 ounce refill.

We spent the evening belly up to the bar. The people watching were fantastic. We had a great time.

Saturday, we got up and headed to the General Store for a breakfast sandwich. Then it was time for Glenn’s first airboat ride. For $25, we boarded a 45 minute air boat through the channels near the Ranch. It was fantastic. We saw at least fifteen different types of bird, one 4 foot alligator and some pretty great fishing outfits.

The afternoon was filled with lunch at the Smokehouse Grill, the Petting Zoo, more time on the porch, and a nap. The highlight of the porch time was when we spotted the carriage being towed to the Chapel for the wedding later that day. It was being towed by a golf cart with man sitting on the back pulling the chariot with a rope. Hilarious!

At 5 pm, we headed over for the hay ride. We boarded and were happily surprised to see a cowboy upfront singing some cowboy karaoke.

 This gentleman sang some classics and narrated our trip through the Ranch and into some nearby protected lands. The 45 minute ride included a great history of the area and a lot of cows.

We jumped off the hayride and hit the cookout. It was a simple menu of coleslaw, baked beans, potatoes, hot dogs, chicken, corn bread and peach cobbler. All of it was very tasty. Glenn and I had been joking all weekend that we felt like we were at Summer Camp so we laughed when fruit punch aka bug juice was one of the beverage offerings at dinner.

We headed over to the Saloon for a grasshopper and a boot refill then hit the rodeo. The Rodeo had three main events: bull riding, team calf roping, and barrel racing plus some trick riding. The junior division proved to be more competitive with the 5 year old barrel racer beating some of the older cowgirls’ times.

Bull Riding

Trick Riding

We headed back to the Saloon for the live band.

Once again, we had a great time. The staff is incredibly friendly. Even though we were only there for a weekend, we felt like we got to know a few people since they seem to have numerous jobs around the property. Sunday, we checked out early and hit the road. Overall, we had a terrific time. I think the deal was exactly the right price.

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