Dude ranches are about more than cowboy hats and horseback riding. Today they offer a host of activities — from fishing, archery and golf to teen-friendly fun like laser tag and zip-lining to petting zoos, e-biking and spas for everyone.
While many ranches are located out West in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, you’ll also find options in Arizona, Arkansas and Texas. They cater to groups, and many specialize in family reunions. Adult all-inclusive rates range from less than $1,000 to $4,100 for a one-week stay per adult; children cost less.
“Dude ranches have something for anyone at any age — whether it’s toddlers getting to run around the lawn, kids who ride a horse or grandparents who can … bird-watch,” says Bryce Albright, executive director of the Dude Ranchers Association. “There’s no real planning once you get there, and that’s a big draw.”
The Dude Ranchers Association lets you search for ranches nationwide by using criteria like type of accommodation, activities and even special events such as a family reunion or wellness week. At Elkhorn Ranch near Tucson, Arizona, children 5 and younger can’t ride horses, but they stay for free. To completely disconnect, Lost Valley Ranch in Sedalia, Colorado, has fresh mountain air, line dancing and fly-fishing, but it doesn’t have cellphone coverage or televisions in the cabins. (The lodge keeps two free phones on hand for making outside calls.)
Tip: Many ranches are a one- to two-hour drive from a major airport.
2. Set sail on a cruise
Think of a cruise as an all-inclusive floating resort that offers good value for a hassle-free vacation — with activities for all ages, various cabin options to fit different budgets, a cornucopia of food choices, and entertainment ranging from nightclubs to magic shows. And if you can’t swoosh down a waterslide, play laser tag or scale a rock wall, you can sign up for a cooking class, visit the library or get a massage.
Popular cruise destinations include the Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii and Europe. Some trips cost less than $1,000 a person, and on certain Norwegian Cruise Line ships, kids travel for free.Depending on what you’re looking for, some cruise lines, such as Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean, offer family-friendly ships. Others, like Princess Cruises, Viking Cruises and Virgin Voyages, have adults-only trips.
Wooten, who specializes in group travel, likes Carnival because its “ships are geared toward fun … for all ages,” she says. “There’s entertainment on the cruise, so you don’t have to get off the ship for excursions. A lot of the cruise ships have the teenage club; some have a Dr. Seuss breakfast.”
Tip: Before booking, make sure everyone agrees on the cruise type and length, the port where passengers will board the ship, and the cost.