Road Trip: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands
Maybe it's just me, but every time I think about an East Coast vacation resort, I am immediately transported to the year 1987 and the movie, (a-hem) I mean, classic Dirty Dancing. Now, that I have returned from my weekend, I can report that I did not participate in an epic dance routine, but we still managed to have fun. Just barely.
Just kidding, we had a blast!
I am not a resort-person. I've never been on a cruise or had an all-inclusive vacation and I rarely visit amusement parks. I don't like themed restaurants, waiting in lines, or decorations made from fiberglass. Regardless, in April, I must have lost my goddamn mind, because I plunked down my credit card and paid a deposit for a stay at the massive, 3000 acres, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Western Pennsylvania.
The date finally arrived the first week of December 2017, and the skeptical husband and I threw a bag in the car after work on a Friday and motored directly to Nemacolin hoping to make our 8:30 dinner reservations.
Itinerary: We spent 2 nights at the Nemacolin Resort. Day 1: Arrived in the evening. Day 2: Enjoyed the resort activities for the day. Day 3: After checking out, explored the Laurel Highlands area, including Fallingwater.
Something to do: Perhaps the better question - is there an activity you can't experience at Nemacolin? The list of available diversions is overwhelming. The standard spa facilities, pools, and restaurants are here, of course. But also clay pigeon shooting, 4x4 off-road Jeep driving, art classes, a casino, zip lining, golf, skiing, an on-premises wildlife park...the list goes on!
We spent the first full day enjoying the resort, which included exploring the ground surrounding the Chateau and Lodge hotels. Interesting artwork and impressive artifact displays were tucked into every corner. As I inspected a large outside sculpture, I realized I was looking at an authentic piece of the Berlin Wall.
Across the entrance from the pub, we popped into a natural history display, to find fossils dating over 4 million years old. And while I was killing time waiting for my shuttle at the Field Club, I read a plaque near me and discovered I was standing next to Johnny Cash's gun! What is this crazy place?
When I originally booked the trip, dreams of lounging by the pool, followed by a spa treatment danced through my head. Since it was December when we actually arrived, the pool options were limited, a facial at a spa Alexandria could be had for half the cost, I would instead take the opportunity to do try something new- clay pigeon shooting! I'm not a gun or shooting enthusiast by any extent, but this seemed like it would be amusing.
This was the understatement of the weekend because it was thrilling. We signed up for the lesson package, which included the equipment rental, 50 rounds each, and an instructor. I have some limited experience shooting long guns but was able to hit quite a few targets right off the bat, which was hugely satisfying.
After dinner, we took took the free shuttle down the road to the casino. Now, this was a trip down memory lane, and that memory, specifically, is of a Sizzler restaurant in 1992. Back when they had smoking sections, in California.
After I lost my $20 on the slots in mere moments, I realized that since I don't drink, smoke, or like to gamble, perhaps I should have spent my evening elsewhere. The husband, meanwhile, was making that $20 last a good hour on his retro one-armed-bandit, so I roamed around people-watching, of which there was plenty. And I scored several free tonic waters with lime.
Somewhere to stay: The Nemacolin Resort has a multitude of accommodation options. I had originally booked a (more) budget-friendly Lodge room, but upon check-in discovered we had been upgraded to the Chateau because I had signed up hotel's (free) reward program online.
Some accommodation options are also pet-friendly.
Somewhere to eat: Part of my excitement preparing for the weekend, was to eat at Lautrec, award-winning, the very upscale restaurant inside the Chateau hotel. The menu consists of several tasting menus, of which you and your dining companion choose one option, to be prepared for both of you.
The husband and I chose the surprise option - in which, we simply circle ingredients we like, and the chef then prepares a tasting menu based around these choices. How fun! We obviously chose this option. Sadly, I did not enjoy the food very much. While I appreciated the creativity, the odd flavor combinations were distracting. The presentation, service, and the seasonal mocktail I ordered were all, however, excellent.
We also ate at Autumn, which is the farm-to-table, less-formal dining option, located between the Lodge and Chateau hotels. Honestly, the breakfast buffet was pretty ordinary and quite expensive, however the dinner selections were not rave-worthy, but definitely adequate.
Reservations for dinner at either restaurant are required, at least several days before you arrive at Nemacolin, to be safe.
Side trips: Sunday, we checked out early, so we had enough time to tour Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater, located in nearby Mill Run, PA. Upon the first gaze, the house is breathtaking. But considering it was built in the 1930s, it is an astonishing vision and feat of engineering of the time. Fallingwater is about a 20-minute drive from Nemacolin Resort.
The best discovery of the weekend was exploring the natural beautry of Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands. On the way to Fallingwater, we drove through the charming town of Ohiopyle, perched on the edge of the Youghiogheny river. Since we were pressed for time, we ended up returning for lunch after finishing the Fallingwater tour.
Next time: On the whole, the weekend at Nemacolin Resort was a success - relaxing with a bit of fun and decadence thrown in. The only downside is the hefty price. When we visit again, we'll stay at a small hotel or B&B in the vicinity visiting the resort to enjoy several of the amazing activities offered a la carte.
Final Notes: Bring ample small bills to show appreciation for the considerable (and considerate) staff. The reception was able to break larger bills for me when I ran out.
Make reservations in advance for the restaurants, and even activities, such as the Jeep 4x4 off-road driving.
Accommodation prices seem to fluctuate significantly between seasons. When I originally booked for April the prices were approximately half what the eventually became when I stayed in December.
DC-airports serving Nemacolin: Technically, the resort has its own private airfield, but most of us mortals will drive from the DC-area, which will take about 3 hours.
Airlines: Just drive.
Length of Drive: 3 hours
Price: Varies on availability and which accommodation you select. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $200-400/night, including the resort fee.
Highlights: The unlimited options for activities. Fantastic service.
When to Go: Anytime! Some activities are seasonal (swimming, skiing) so keep that in mind when planning your trip.