We love to travel, and try to take (long) weekend trips as often as we can. We usually head toward the beach, because it’s close, and there are many options with a coast being an hour in each direction. We knew we wanted to go away for Colby’s birthday, but wanted somewhere other than the beach for my
pale Irishman. He found Westgate River Ranch, and we immediately loved the look of it. It’s showcased as an “Old Florida Dude Ranch”, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s about 70 minutes south of St. Cloud (between St. Cloud and Okeechobee), and in the middle of no where. The closest grocery store or gas station is about 25 minutes away, so you most definitely get the feel of the “country” – for still being in Florida.
We arrived, and were immediately taken with the “cowboy” theme – even the security guard letting us through the gate wore a cowboy hat and a badge. We went straight to the welcome center and checked in. Everyone was so nice. Since we travel quite a bit, my expectations of customer service is typically high, and sometimes disappointing. Every single employee we came across as River Ranch was so friendly and helpful. We were meeting some friends there for the weekend, so the ladies at the front desk ensured our rooms were close, and easily accessible. The rooms were very cute, and also followed the western theme. There was so much attention to detail, it was impressive. The rooms are spacious, and even though the resort is older, the obvious recent remodel made the rooms comfortable and modern.
The property is huge, and to fully enjoy all it has to offer, we would recommend renting a golf cart. My ONE complaint of this property, is the price of the golf cart rental. $60 for 24 hours it pretty steep as far as I’m concerned, but we had a toddler and a very pregnant lady in our group, so we decided it was worth it.
The restaurant on property, Smokehouse Grill, has many options, a great view, and a very friendly staff. Because we were there 4 days, they started to recognize us, and we had the same servers almost every day. They were wonderful and took great care of us. The food was delicious. We were hesitant since there aren’t many options out there, but the burger and the chili were some favorites from our group. The prices are reasonable (especially for having a monopoly within 25 miles), and we never left disappointed.
Behind the restaurant is a marina, where they have a boat ramp, as well as the option to rent boats directly from River Ranch. They also offer Airboat rides for purchase, but we decided against that, as it’s a pretty common activity in our area.
The property offers a small “town” type area, with a General Store, a Western Wear store, a post office, a gym, and laundry center. The General Store offers many options, from snack foods, to meal options (mac and cheese, etc.), to bug spray and personal necessities. Prices are a little steep, but it’s definitely convenient for an ice cream (especially when it’s HOT!), or a late night snack. The general store also offers a little deli with sandwich and pizza options.
There are so many activities, it’s hard to list them all! The kid’s pony rides (only $5!) and the petting farm were two of our favorites. Our friend’s little girl loved this part! We were fortunate to go on a weekend where the property was practically empty, so many times it felt like we were the only ones there.
The rodeo was awesome! It’s only held on Saturday nights, and is a legitimate rodeo, with cash prizes for competitors. People come from all over the state to compete, and the show doesn’t disappoint. The rodeo has an “American Pride” focus with bull rides, barrel racing and novelty horseback riding – definitely worth the $15 admission fee (it’s only $1 to rent a seat cushion – do it!). After the rodeo, there is a block party outside the arena, with a live DJ, dancing, mechanical bull rides, saloon specials and a campfire.
There are a few options to pick from when deciding where to stay at River Ranch. We chose the resort area, but they also have glamping and Cabins. Glamping is “glamorous camping” in enclosed tents with real beds and a portable AC unit. We chatted with some guests who were glamping and they really enjoyed it, but recommended waiting until it was a little cooler to experience it fully. The cabins looked beautiful, and looked to be perfect for those needing multiple rooms, etc.
Overall, we really enjoyed our time at River Ranch, and would like to try some of their different lodging options in cooler weather. They should be proud of their staff for providing excellent customer service. The property and the staff truly provided the “Dude Ranch” experience we were looking for. Great job, River Ranch!