One of the perks of being frum is that your kids are on a different schedule than the rest of the country. That means they typically have off from school the third week in January and you can go on vacation in the “down season” for everyone else. Some places take advantage of this. Through a little googling, this year we found Rocking Horse Ranch. Apologies for not finding the time to put up more articles about Israel from last summer, but at least you get this one.
Back in the day, as kids we went to places like the Nevele, Raleigh, and Concord hotels. These were places with onsite entertainment and activities for the entire family. They had ski slopes, ice skating, video arcades, and some of them were even kosher all year. They’ve largely gone out of business, but it turns out the Rocking Horse Ranch, outside of Poughkeepsie, NY is still in business. It’s not quite what these other hotels once were – it’s quite a bit smaller, but it still has activity and the feel of these places. The Nevele went out of business years ago through terrible mismanagement (fun fact: it was part of my password on the Prodigy service, before the internet was the Internet), the Raleigh is now a kosher hotel without many of the amenities it used to have, and condos are about to sit on what was the Concord.
The Rocking Horse Ranch was never a kosher hotel, though it was founded and run by Naftali Turk from the Lower East Side, known by a shortening of his Hebrew name, “Toolie.” According to the onsite literature, it was his love of horses that drove him there with the hotel springing up around it. It’s still run by the family, a friend of mine having been a counselor to them at the local JCC.
Once a year, on Yeshiva Week Break, the kitchen is kashered, the windows to the pool are covered, and activities for the day start after Shachris and end 45 minutes before it’s time to daven Minchah.
The parents and kids loved it … but one of the teenagers … not so much. It’s great for smaller kids and parents, but not really geared towards singles or, well, teenagers. There’s a “teenager hangout” room which is basically a ping pong table and pool table (that you have to pay extra for), but for everyone else, it was great. There’s barely an age limit on the ski slope – or … ski … hill-thing. It’s pretty shvach, but it’s a great place for kids to learn to ski. There are dedicated instructors there all day and you can leave your kids to go and learn down to about the age of 3. Using the same conveyor belt as the skiers, you can take a tube up and go snow tubing day or night. Again, kids of almost any age can do this and it was quite the favorite.
The other winter activity that Rocking Horse Ranch excels at is horseback riding with three levels of difficulty for the more experienced. It’s the typical “follow the leader” style horse back riding that I’ve encountered all over, but on the higher levels there’s more control over your horse with trotting and cantering. You can do this once a day with your stay.
The pool has separate hours and there’s a decent three (?) story water slide. The “deep” end of the pool is taken up by a short obstacle course and the middle of the pool has some other chatchkas so don’t expect to get any real swimming in. It’s basically shallow end only, but again, great for smaller kids.
Beyond that, there are various other activities – ice skating is … well, it’s ice skates but it’s on plastic
mats. Eh. There’s pony rides for little kids at certain hours. There’s a tiny game room with overly expensive games (one of my few real gripes about the place – when you’re paying this much do they really have to charge a dollar for a video game that lasts 30 seconds?), but the fake bowling is free. The kids loved the arts and crafts nightly, but for another gripe, the kids entertainment started at 9pm. This is past the bed time of the kids who it’s geared for and was pretty cheesy. One night they had David Darwin – that was a good show. Hire this guy … he’s great.
There’s a few other small things … but certainly not the highlights. You can tell they put a lot into the horse back riding and ski program, but things like the archery and BB guns were sort of lacking. As such, my wife and I concur that if we did it again we’d probably only stay two nights and three days. That’s enough to get everything in before it gets repetitious.
As for the food, it’s possible it will change from year to year but it’s brought in by caterers associated with the Young Israel in Queens who sponsor the program. The food was certainly satisfactory … not bad, but not the best. Breakfast and lunch are dairy and dinner is meat with a fish and vegetarian option. There’s no shortage of food though … pastas, pancakes, waffles, fruit, salads, ice cream, streak (at a different meal of course), etc. It got repetitive, but still quite a varied selection.
Overall, it’s an event I would recommend doing once with your family while your kids are no more than about 11 or 12 years old. Stay two nights and have a great time.