Ross digs diligently in the sand, swift strokes that probe deeper and deeper. “I found something,” he shouts gleefully.
My husband, Peter, and I lean over and peer into the hole while Ross’ teen-aged brothers, Scott and Jasper, saunter over, trying not to act too interested.
There in the sand is a large triangular tooth. As Ross continues to brush sand away, we see more teeth, sharp points still intact. Then a huge jaw appears and—now we’re all helping Ross dig—next a massive head. It’s a tyrannosaurus rex—well, a cast model of his head anyway.
“He’s huge,” Ross exclaims with lovely eight-year-old enthusiasm, his eyebrows arching behind his glasses. We pause for a moment and imagine this majestic beast when he ruled the earth millions of years ago.
My family and I are sitting in a shady grove of trees at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Southwest Pennsylvania, where Dino Discoveries is offered as part of the resort’s Kidz Club program. Families can also visit the dig site and see what they can uncover. Ross, my budding paleontologist, just wants to keep digging, searching for relics of the past: a rib bone here, a jaw bone there.
In fact, the 12’ x 12’ square sand pit is the “resting place” for five different dinosaur specimens, explains Greg Lee, Nemacolin’s director of recreation. And the dig site is only part of the dinosaur adventure. Back in the Activities Center, Kidz Club participants touch real fossils, millions of years old; build a life-sized model of a Velociraptor; and polish a genuine piece of Colombian amber, which is theirs to keep.
“We try to be everything school is not,” Greg explains. “Kids should be able to be kids in Kidz Club.”
That’s what we like about Nemacolin: it’s a resort where everyone can find activities suited to their interests. During our two-day visit, my family and I find lots to keep us busy—sometimes together and other times on our own.
Tucked away in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, this world-class resort is about a six-hour drive from Virginia Beach. Known for its signature golf courses and the acclaimed Woodlands Spa, Nemacolin, we discover, is a family-friendly destination as well. Accommodations include cozy townhomes with fully equipped kitchens, a Tudor-styled Lodge, and the Chateau La Fayette, a European-inspired grand hotel with crystal chandeliers, marble bathrooms, and exceptional service.
After checking into the Chateau, we decide to rent bikes and explore the resort, which encompasses 2,500 acres of rolling hills, mountain peaks, and lush valleys. At the resort’s Adventure Center, Chris, a smiling activities leader, outfits the five of us with helmets and bikes, and we take off downhill—“Whee!”—through the cool woods, whizzing by luxury homes, some of which are available to rent. Soon the “Whee!” turns into “Whoa!” as the road turns uphill. Luckily, our mountain bikes are made for this kind of terrain, and we almost make it to the top without having to walk.
After our exhilarating bike tour, the boys try the Climbing Wall back at the Adventure Center. The beginner level is closed, but Ross decides the intermediate wall is “No problem.” Like a spider scooting across a web, Ross climbs to the top almost as easily as his big brothers. The three boys look longingly at the Ropes Course nearby, and we decide to try to fit that in the next day. In the meantime Paradise Pool beckons, and we are definitely ready to relax!
Our busy day ends with dinner at The Tavern, a casual restaurant featuring a round, two-story aquarium surrounded by bar stools, where Ross, Jasper, and Scott decide to sit. Peter and I find a table by the window, where we can enjoy some alone time yet keep an eye on our rambunctious boys. Fortunately, the fish prove to be so entertaining, the boys forget to fidget. Ross names one of the fish “Grumpy” because his mouth turns down at the corners, and he delights in pointing out the different species of fish to other children who happen by. Our dinner is perfect: from the melt-in-your-mouth crab cake Peter and I share as an appetizer to the luscious chocolate cake we dig into for dessert.
Day Two at Nemacolin dawns bright, and after a hearty breakfast in The Golden Trout, the five of us head back to the Adventure Center, where the Ropes Course awaits. Ross is disappointed to find that he has to be ten years old to try the course, but settles down and watches Scott and Ross, along with another teen named Tillman, make their ascent. They’re aiming for the top level, where tires hang and skinny tightropes stretch from one pole to another.
Jordan, one of the young men who assists with the Ropes Course, invites me to go up and give it a try. “All the cool parents go on it,” he teases. But I’m not a thrill seeker and prefer to keep my feet on solid ground. Besides it’s thrilling enough to watch my two teens dangle precariously about three stories high, performing acrobatic feats minus the grace and aplomb of circus performers. I’m happy when it’s over, and they zip down a cable back to ground level.
After lunch, we all take off in different directions. Ross heads over to the Kidz Club for an afternoon of fun. Jasper joins Tillman for The Krew, a “cool” teen program. Peter and Scott scurry off to The Links for a 1 p.m. tee time, and as for me, I’m bound for Woodlands Spa, a haven that offers every imaginable treatment in a state-of-the-art, Feng-Shui inspired facility. Yes, I’m ready for some pampering!
An hour later, I emerge from the Spa profoundly relaxed after a soothing Swedish massage. I climb aboard a shuttle bus for a short drive to the Equestrian Center, where I’m scheduled for a guided trail ride. “You should have done it the other way around,” the driver of the bus says with a smile as he deposits me at the stables.
Actually, the peaceful ride along wooded trails is a nice follow up to my massage. When it’s over, I feel a little sore, but I think the massage beforehand has helped loosen up my limbs. I feel great. I only wish my family could have joined me for the ride, but they’re off enjoying other pursuits.
We meet at Paradise Pool later in the afternoon and share stories of our various activities. With shining eyes, Jasper tells us about his adventures: paint ball, clay shooting, and an exciting ride in a Hummer on a seven-acre, mile-long course that’s part of Nemacolin’s OffRoad Driving Academy. Ross tells us about the friends he made in Kidz Club and the fun he had playing volleyball in the children’s pool. Scott and Peter discuss their golf games. “We did double par,” says Peter, which is actually a good thing!
The day ends with a relaxing dinner at The Caddy Shack, a clubhouse style restaurant next to the Links, the same golf course Scott and Peter played earlier. Next door is The Fallingbrook mini-golf course, where we play 18 holes—this time Peter manages to play on par! At the Adventure Center, we sit by a bonfire and visit with a family from New York, who tell us they try to make it to Nemacolin every year. “It’s a great place for families,” they say. Peter, our boys, and I all look at each other, smile, and nod our heads in agreement.
For more information about Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa, visit www.nemacolin.com or call 800-422-2736. Rates range from $150 per night for a one-bedroom townhome in low season to $3000 a night for the Presidential Suite in the Chateau LaFayette. Golf and spa packages are also available.