With summer upon us and COVID positivity rates well below CMS thresholds, I put together a mystery vacation for our extended family (whose images appear with their permission herein) as a 70th birthday present for my wife. In this post, I’ll cover where we stayed, what we did, and where we ate in the hopes that Wild Bum Blog readers will benefit from our experiences.
Where we stayed:
Massanutten is a 4-season resort in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, transected by Interstate 81, 120 miles WSW of Washington, DC, and 106 miles NW of Richmond, VA. There are 3 things one simply must understand about Massanutten Resort in Shenandoah Valley:
- It is HUGE…6,000 acres (although it felt even bigger!). You must drive everywhere, even inside the resort. For example, it was 4.6 miles from our vacation rental to the onsite waterpark! When driving offsite, it took us 15 minutes just to exit the resort.
- There is a LOT to do here; during our 4 days, we cherry-picked just those activities that most interested our family. We simply didn’t have time to partake in numerous other activities like zip-lining, go-kart racing, miniature golf, mountain biking, street curling, mountain tubing, FlinGolf (a sort of cross between golf and lacrosse, if you can imagine that!), and much, much more.
- There are MANY lodging options. You can book everything from hotel rooms to 4-bedroom condos on the Resort’s website. You can collect “stamps” toward free hotel nights by booking through Hotels.com. Or you can, as we did (because we were looking for specific property configuration that would give each couple their own bedroom and a room with 4 beds for the grandchildren), book through VRBO or Airbnb. Caution: If you don’t book directly with Massanutten, be sure to ask whether your lodging includes access to Massanutten’s Recreation Centers. (This certainly shouldn’t be a deal-breaker; we never had time to even think about using these facilities but it’s something to know.)
What we did:
- Shenandoah Valley Day 1 (arrival, evening), escape room: Massanutten Resort has 3 different escape rooms which can be booked for $29/person. The “Lost Jewel of Zanzibar” (think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) is in the “Real Escapes” building located at the entrance to the resort. The other 2 escape rooms, “Rescue from Voodoo Island” and “Mayday” are in the Woodstone Recreation Building at the intersection of Resort Drive and Massanutten Drive. We chose “Mayday” because, as the most recently added, we hoped it would involve some challenges we hadn’t seen before. We weren’t disappointed! There is normally a limit of 8 people/room but, because we were a single extended family unit, our group of 10 was allowed entry together. The objective in “Mayday” is to keep your submarine’s crew from drowning as it takes on water. We survived…with a little help from our game master.
- Shenandoah Valley Day 2: Luray, VA: Luray is about 30 miles or 45 minutes from Massanutten Resort, mostly on scenic 2-lane roads through Shenandoah Valley farmland. After brunch in our vacation rental, we spent a full day here as follows:
- Luray Caverns is best described as an entertainment complex. The centerpiece, of course, is the largest caverns in the eastern U.S., but included in the price of admission ($32/adult, $29 for 62+, $16 for children ages 6-12, children 5 and under are free with an adult) is the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, Shenandoah Heritage Village and Toy Town Junction. For an additional fee, you can get lost in (and, eventually, out of) a well-manicured garden maze ($10/adult, $7 for children ages 6-12) or negotiate high wire challenges in the Rope Adventure Park ($11 for children 48” tall or above, $7 for children under 48” tall). While the main complex resembles a strip mall, the “touristy” nature of which is unmistakable (gift shops, fudge stands, etc.), it didn’t feel over-commercialized, and I was impressed with the attention paid to quality throughout.
- You see the calcite caverns themselves on a step-free, 1¼ mile, self-guided tour that takes about an hour. The names given to unique formations in the enormous chambers are explained in the guide you receive before entering. A highlight is the Cathedral, home to the Great Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument, which is played every 10 minutes. Rubber-tipped mallets are programmed to gently tap differently-shaped and -sized stalactites spread out through 3.5 acres of the caverns, producing musical tones. Dream Lake (pictured here) was mesmerizing; the perfectly still surface of the largest body of water in Luray Caverns reflecting the stalactites above creates the mind-bending illusion of an underwater forest of stalagmites rising to meet them.
- After an early dinner (see below), we booked the “Discovery Tour” at Luray Zoo ($25/adult, $15 for children ages 3-12), a private, after-hours guided tour with one of the owners. Kids will love petting Snuggles, an African porcupine (pictured here), tossing peanuts to a mother-son pair of Capuchin monkeys, giving a lemur banana slices on a toothpick, and feeding eager goats and emus. The entrance (through an alligator’s open jaws) screams “tacky” and what you see from the road begs for a curb appeal upgrade from HGTV. But what’s important is what happens inside. As a privately owned and operated rescue zoo, Luray Zoo provides a home to reptiles and exotics abandoned by or confiscated from their owners, “retired” zoo ambassadors, and, sadly, animals that have been abused.
- Shenandoah Valley Day 3:
- AM Trail ride: Massanutten Resort has its own stables but requires riders to be at least 10 years old (our youngest grandchild just turned 9) and that all riders be at least 4’8” tall (this would have eliminated another grandchild); trail rides are $50/person for 1 hour. Instead, we drove 35 minutes to Jordan Hollow Stables in Stanly, VA where rides are 50% longer and everyone who wanted to ride could choose either a walking pace ($50) or a walk/trot ride ($60). Many of the horses here are rescues from kill shelters or slaughterhouses; Jordan Hollow Stables gives them a second chance at a good life. The trail crosses a small creek, meanders past vacation cabin rentals, and a recently discovered family cemetery dating from at least 1848 with peek-a-boo views of the Skyline Mountains.
- PM: Massanutten River Adventures, located on campus near the Woodstone Recreation Building, is a “partner” of Massanutten Resort. They offer 3 “adventures” on the south fork of the Shenandoah River: canoeing ($29.99/person), kayaking ($39.99/person), and tubing ($27.99/person). The cost for the “adventure” chosen includes equipment (safety vest, tube, kayak, canoe, etc.), transportation to and from the river, safety orientation, etc. We chose to tube so even the youngest could control her own experience. For most of the 2.5-mile float, the river is less than 4’ deep. Getting stuck on a barely submerged rock or log sticking out of the river is a far greater danger than any water-related emergency. But it’s a great way to cool off on a hot summer day.
- Shenandoah Valley Day 4: Massanutten Resort has both indoor and outdoor waterparks; if both are open, your price of admission includes both. We’ve taken our grandkids to other water parks (Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, NC and Carolina Harbor Waterpark at Carowinds in Charlotte, NC) on previous family vacations; they liked Massanutten’s WaterPark more.
- The indoor WaterPark features 2 body slides (one completely in the dark), 2 tube slides for single or double tubes (again, one completely in the dark), a tube slide that can accommodate up to 3 riders, a 48,645 gallons/minute FlowRider for bodyboarding, a lazy river ride with multiple opportunities to be sprayed or doused by water as you float along, hot tubs and a giant, water-powered playhouse with an additional 5 water slides. Diamond Jim’s Arcade, with more than 60 games, is a video gamer’s paradise accessible from either waterpark.
- The outdoor WaterPark (not open the day we visited) features “Mass Mayhem,” a double tube ride ending in a 47’ half-pipe drop into a nearly vertical wall; “Peak Plunge,” an open flume ride for single or double tubes; “Valley Vortex.” a closed tube ride through sections of colored lights with steep-banking turns; “Rockingham Racer,” a head-first, downhill slide almost a football field long, and a wave pool dubbed “White Caps.”
Where we ate:
- Day 2: Cooter’s Place, Luray. Die-hard fans of The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-85) will probably remember “Cooter” Davenport, the sidekick mechanic of cousins Bo and Luke Duke. What they probably won’t remember (or never knew) is that the actor who played “Cooter” also opened a themed store and museum (free admission) in Sperryville, VA, which subsequently moved to its current location on U.S. 211 in Luray. Free concerts are offered every weekend; 1-3pm on Saturdays (featuring “Cooter” himself on vocals with his garage band) and bluegrass from 2-4pm on Sundays (featuring a guest band of the week). There’s also has a barbecue restaurant (Rudy’s Roadside) and Daisy’s Dairy Bar (serving Hershey’s ice cream) where we ate between our Luray Caverns’ visit and the “Discovery Tour” at Luray Zoo.
- Day 3: Rudy’s Diner, Shenandoah. Time constraints required we find lunch somewhere between our trail ride and river tubing. On our way to Stanly, we noticed Rudy’s Diner – what a serendipitous find! It just doesn’t get much more “local” than this! Service was fantastic, food was delicious, the portions were generous and prices were reasonable!
- Day 4: Vito’s Italian Kitchen, Harrisonburg. We picked Vito’s, a family-owned restaurant because we knew everyone in our party could find something they would enjoy and it had a private room where we could celebrate 3 birthdays without disturbing other diners. What we didn’t know but appreciated is that beer and wine prices are $2 off and appetizers are half price before 6pm! Vito’s menu is extensive and the daily specials offer especially good value. On Tuesdays, from 5-9pm, 2 glasses of wine or beer, 2 side salads, a 16” one-topping pizza, and a dessert to share are just $25. All-day Wednesday with the purchase of an adult entrée, spaghetti is free for kids 12 and under and a lunch portion of any pasta on the menu is free for seniors.