HJDS Travel Group

How I Learned To Stop Fearing Family Getaways and Love Smugglers Notch

by on May.12, 2013, under Vacations

  • Sumo

There isn’t any event that most families look forward to more than their yearly summer escapes together. Maybe it’s downtime at a fantastic beach paradise. Or maybe a trip to a big city, taking in the exciting sites. Even some adventure travel, with lots of wonderful activities in the great outdoors to savor.

But for my wife Sue and I, summer vacations were not experiences that brought about warm Kodachrome memories. Our offspring may have had a blast , but for the two grown ups on the team, the vibe that summed it all up was more Bananarama (“Cruel Summer”) than Sly Stone (“Hot Fun In The Summertime”).

Perhaps it’s due to the fact our 2 young’ns were such awful sleepers when they were young that Sue and I were too obliterated to enjoy any journeys aside from brief visits to slumberland. It may also be the destinations that we chose: jaunts to the shore were grueling; theme park expeditions turned out to be ruthless attacks on our senses; and all the other expeditions were just yecchh. With that sort of an inauspicious track record, it’s understandable that we regarded summer getaways with the same level of gusto that one would have for a colonoscopy prep.

As summer 2012 neared, Sue and I felt confident, rested, and possibly loony enough to take another shot at the family vacation thing – except we had a new challenge: the age difference of our youngsters. With a 14 year old boy (Eddie) and a 10 year old daughter (Lee), it was impossible for us to work out a getaway choice that offered an experience which both youngsters would really like.

In addition to finding a destination that appealed to them, we held fast that it also had to appeal to us grown-ups: we totally refused to put the time and effort into arranging a summer escape that we were unable to enjoy also. While in the past we endured going on trips that were just for the children’ benefit, that degree of masochism had run its course: it was either going to be fun for all or fun for none!

The Brochures – Sue had saved pamphlets that were mailed to her from Smugglers Notch in Vermont. She was familiar with “Smuggs”: she had skied there while she was a student at the University of Vermont in the mid-80’s, and she had a warm spot in her heart for the Green Mountain state. Now that we were on a hunt for a summer spot that would meet all our needs, she opened them up and took a look.

Sue didn’t realize that Smuggs offered such all-encompassing summer options. She performed a little research online and found many positive reviews from satisfied warm weather travelers with similar family structures to ours. There were a number of other all-inclusive family resorts and summer vacation ideas that Sue discovered – including Jay Peak Resort in Jay, VT; Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, VA; Orange Lake Resort in Kissimmee, FL; and Mohonk Mountain House and Rocking Horse Ranch (both in New York state) – but none had offerings that came close to the variety and uniqueness of what Smuggs had available.

The reconnaissance was done. The decision was made. And with a little luck, Smuggs would be the summer vacation answer that our family was desperately seeking.

The Car Ride – The excursion from New Jersey to Smuggs was a little long, but the route was direct and there was no traffic. Eddie was first to notice the very different landscape as we entered Vermont. The long open views revealed a wide panorama of emerald trees, fields, and mountains. The sky was full of curiously formed, sharply detailed snow white clouds, almost vertical tubular formations that were unlike the horizontal fuzz puffs we were used to. “OK already, enough with all of the beauty!”, he complained facetiously.

First Impressions – Pulling into the Smuggs parking lot, we spotted swarms of movement in all directions: families checking in/out, kids shooting hoops on multiple basketball courts, young bros whizzing by on skateboards, stroller-pushing and toddler-carrying moms/dads, campers and counselors about to embark on adventurous treks, children in swim-suits, and Frisbee dudes.

We arrived at the registration area in The Village Center, which is the conveniently positioned center of all Smuggs commerce (restaurants, stores, ATM, etc.). The line to check-in was long but it moved quickly, and within a couple of minutes, we were unloading our gear at our roomy condo in the Slopeside neighborhood.

The well equipped kitchen was big and clean, the view from our deck of the surrounding mountains was impressive, and there was lots of organized living space to keep us from crashing into one another. The interior was rustic and comfy, and the construction was solid.

To round out our first day, Lee and I checked out the three pool complexes on the Smuggs campus. Bonus features at the pools included elaborate waterslides; an in-pool obstacle course, basketball hoop, and water cannons; pool volleyball; and a climbing wall. Eddie and Sue hit a bucket of balls at the driving range, rallied a bit on the tennis court, and went for a short hike up one of the ski slopes. After all this activity, we met at the Morse Mountain Grille and had a laid back dinner, which was tasty, inexpensive, and located about 100 yards from our apartment.

We made it to Smuggs in one piece (okay, make that 4 pieces). We all were stoked. All of the facts suggested that this excursion would be the 1st one that maybe/hopefully/possibly/finally could be embraced and enjoyed by each one of us.

Lee’s Camps – Lee is super social. She can’t get enough of physical activity, making new pals, and is open for exciting challenges and explorations. Of the many summer selections that Smuggs offered for her age grouping, Lee selected a water activity camp. For 3 days, from 9AM to 4PM, Lee was kayaking, swimming in rivers with gentle falls, canoeing, “ex-streaming” (walking through a moving stream and mini-waterfall), catching crawfish, and chasing waterbugs. She liked her counselors, met new friends, and by the end of each day, she was totally and cheerily exhausted.

Lee was thrilled by the gorgeous settings of nearby lakes, rivers, and streams and the opportunity to do something new each day. Among her favorite experiences (aside from the daily fun at her camp) were tasting fresh kettlecorn for the first time at a Smuggs country fair, winning a three-legged race with a pal who she met in camp, watching a giant-size screening of “The Lorax” with a bunch of other youngsters on a wide lawn behind our apartment, and discovering a new fave dessert: a Mountain Cupcake at the Morse Mountain Grill.

She was disappointed when we told her that we wouldn’t be able to move to Smuggs, but we guaranteed that we would figure out a way to get her back again so she could do the activities and camps that she didn’t have a chance to try in this visit. Lee’s rating of her week at Smuggs: “AWESOME!”

Eddie’s Explorations – In new environments, Eddie is quiet and guarded. He’s not into crowds, unless they’re at concerts of his top indie bands (like Animal Collective, Wild Flag, Grizzly Bear, and The Black Keys). A perfect day for Eddie would be scouring through the bins of hole-in-the-wall CD stores in Greenwich Village, eating at a vegetarian falafel restaurant, shopping at a vintage clothing shop, and standing in the front row at a Celebrate Brooklyn show in Prospect Park.

Apart from catching 1 or 2 concerts in Manhattan, Eddie’s summer had been uneventful: 2 members of his band were away, so there was not much to fill his days till our Smuggs trip. Sue and I were surprised that he was looking forward to testing out some of Smuggs’ many activities, and we hoped that he’d find something that he enjoyed doing.

He did. And not just something, a lot of stuff – including tennis, golfing, ziplining (which he called a “badass rush”), a Segway tour, kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing. All were completely new experiences for him that were easy and convenient to try.

Eddie tried hanging out in the Smuggs Teen Center at night, but it wasn’t really his scene. Most of the kids knew each other from doing activities together during the day, and Eddie’s not one to roll up and hop into an unfamiliar mix. Their lifestyle tastes also didn’t quite mesh with his: they were into Nicki Minaj and Abercrombie & Fitch – while Eddie is more Kurt Vile and Ben Sherman. Overall though, Eddie gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to his Smuggs getaway. Sue and I were ecstatic (and relieved) he had such a superb time.

Sue’s Nirvana – This was Sue’s first trip back to Vermont in 20 years. After we were unpacked and unwound, she immediately realized that she needed to make the pilgrimage back on a more frequent basis. The colors of the countryside, the views of the mountains, the easy pace, and the fresh air were all things that she desperately missed.

An aspect of the Smuggs culture that Sue very much appreciated was the attire, which for most female guests involved cargo shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers or hiking sandals. Make-up was rarely worn during the day when the potential for sweat-inducing out of doors activity was high. This relaxed, friendly, and unpretentious vibe was a big plus for her. Sue also had the rare opportunity to bond with Eddie in activities that they both enjoyed. Along with teaching him some tennis basics (she had played on UVM’s women’s tennis team) and driving golf balls together, they also went on an early morning lake adventure that included canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding.

Other things that Sue enjoyed doing at Smuggs were long, uninterrupted sessions of Qigong (she only has little pockets of time to do it at home), naps, playing basketball, and going on long walks around the Smuggs campus. One of her most enjoyable times of the day was waking up before the rest of us, drinking her coffee while looking out our balcony window, and gazing at the grassy green mountains. Sue’s summation of her Smuggs trip: “I got exactly what I wanted!”

My Chilltime and Me-time – The only to-do that I had locked in stone at Smuggs was a zipline tour with Eddie at the nearby Arbortrek Canopy Tour facility. Neither one of us had ziplined before, and it was a fun and beautiful experience.

The adrenalin rush came from being 80 feet off the ground on a thrilling course that had been designed by Arbortrek’s co-founder Michael Smith, an avid outdoorsman and entrepreneur. Traveling up to 40 MPH in tree-to-tree course segments from 200 feet to 1,000 feet long, the zipline was as fast as a rollercoaster and actually felt much safer (though the snugness of the harness took a little bit of getting used to).

The beauty was all around and well below us: we brushed along the tops of trees and even saw a hawk’s nest. It would be impossible to gain such a staggering P.O.V. of a forest habitat via hiking alone. The way-up-there perspective of ziplining truly offered a new way of looking at nature.

Along with my taste of zipline “badass”-ness, I also enjoyed going on a long run up the Smuggs’ slopes and around the whole property; getting quiet time to myself in our condo to read and relax; and seeing the satisfied smiles on my family’s faces at the end of the day.

The Big Takeaway – Aside from the endless activities that are offered, the lush locale, and the superb accommodations, the number one benefit of being at Smuggs is that it’s a solution.

It’s a solution for families that have children of different ages and interests; are looking for a large selection of well-run on-premises activity options that offer high levels of action as well as quiet relaxation; need personal space from each other; want a creative and exciting break from their at-home routine; demand vacation facilities with excellent customer service that eliminates stress; wish to save money by preparing meals in their condo’s well equipped kitchen; want to pack light and do their own laundry using their condo’s washer/dryer; have a wealth of local sight-seeing, tourist destinations, and restaurant options to choose from if they’d like to venture off the Smuggs campus; and want to take advantage of the natural beauty and vast outdoor activities that the green mountains have to offer

We were not sure if we would ever find such a comprehensive solution to address our family’s difficult summer escape challenges, but Smuggs completely exceeded our expectations. While each of our previous attempts at warm weather fun ended up being a unpleasant “Wipe Out”, we were overjoyed to discover that Smuggs is a superb way to prevent a case of the “Summertime Blues”.

Barry Zeger is a travel writer who, along with his family, spent a week at Smugglers Notch.

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