Glamping in Florida

You’ve probably heard that 2020 is the year of the “road trip”. With social distancing rules and countless businesses closed,vacationing has become seemingly impossible.Travel has certainly become more difficult and there’s certainly less choices, but as we figure out how to live in the new reality, alternative travel is starting to boom.

I spent 3 days at Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo (say that 3 times in a row) last week glamping and I loved it! Glamping, (in case you haven’t heard) is the latest travel trend which gets it’s name by combining the words camping and glamorous. If you love the idea of being with nature but you don’t want to set up a tent, sleep on the ground and make your own fire, you’re not alone. Leave the details to the professionals I always say. You’ve got marshmallows to roast!

Bison, longhorns, horses, and emus live at the resort Photo: Bill Wiatrak

Westgate is located about 90 minutes drive south of Orlando and has two signature glamping experiences, a tent and a tepee option. I got to spend a night in each one. The tent was a complete reboot of my previous camping experiences. It’s not the kind of tent I set up in boy scouts. There’s no crouching or crawling. I didn’t have to sleep on top of a protruding tree root. Instead, you enter a beautifully decorated canvas-walled room with full size beds, furniture, ceiling fan and electricity. You’ve got all the comforts of home, but instead of a door, you have a flap. When you walk out of your tented sanctuary, there’s a beautiful campsite, a blazing campfire (at night) and you find yourself in a natural setting with a few other like-minded camper neighbors nearby to share s’mores with. Each tent comes with a private restroom/shower next to the campsite with all the amenities you’d expect from a nice hotel.

A guest getting ready to ride the swamp buggy Photo: Bill Wiatrak

There’s golf carts on the property if you want to just wanna go for a spin and take photos of the bison, longhorns, emus or go fishing at the catch and release pond. Since the property is about 30 minutes from a town, most of the things you need can be found on-site. On Saturdays there’s a private rodeo for guests. Every day there’s lots of fun activities and you’ll find some amazing things to do that you may have never experienced.

Horseback Riding at the resort Photo: Bill Wiatrak

But, first I’ve got to tell you about my tepee. Each one has a name. Mine was “Flying Arrow”

The tepee bathroom Photo: Bill Wiatrak

The plains Indians never had it so good. Air conditioned, thematically decorated and incredibly interesting, I spent the first 5 minutes in my tepee just snapping photos for Instagram. The interior is huge with a stone faux fireplace as a partition between the entrance area and the bedroom. Cool southwest furnishings, a sitting room and an antler chandelier greet you when you walk in the door. The bathroom is a modern twist on old-fashioned with a claw foot bathtub and a Japanese bidet toilet . In other words, you won’t need TP for your tepee (sorry). One of the coolest touches in the tent is the sky projector light which gives the illusion that you’re sleeping under the stars. Outside you have your own private grill and a common area which is built to resemble a traditional Seminole hut. Your tepee also has a roomy deck where you can sun, stare into space or eat the goodies from your breakfast basket that is hand delivered by golf cart in the morning. Everyone needs to stay in a tepee at least one night of their life.

Sitting room of glamping tepee Photo: Bill Wiatrak

I tried to squeeze all the activities I could into two days. Even with travel restrictions (and a few things closed), there’s plenty at the resort to keep guests busy. There’s archery and skeet shooting for starters. I’ve got to say, I’m not a hunter, but there’s not a lot of things more fun than blowing up those pesky clay pigeons. You get shooting tips from a personal instructor, some earplugs, and a box full of shells. What more could you ask for? The swamp buggy tour was next on the list. Like some mutant jeep from a Mad Max movie , this vehicle whisked us over mud, dirt and water where neither boats nor trucks could go. After lunch the next adventure was on an air-boat. The ride took us out onto the Kissimmee River where we spotted alligators, egrets and other Florida wildlife that accidentally got in our way. Riding on an air-boat is exhilarating and this is the perfect place to try it.

Who doesn’t love an airboat ride? Photo: Bill Wiatrak

Since the resort is built around a rodeo theme, it was only fitting that we should go on a horse back ride. The horses were well behaved and easy to mount and ride. While on the ride we spotted the ride area where there was a mechanical bull, zipline, and of course miniature golf. There’s also a small petting zoo. The resort has a little chapel on site that I assumed has been the setting for many a romantic rodeo style wedding. They also offer a Sunday service if you need a little inspiration on the weekend.

Each tepee comes with a golf cart Photo: Bill Wiatrak

I’ve stayed at dude ranches in Bandera Texas (the cowboy capital of the world) , and I’ve got to say, I think I love the Florida twist better. Horseback riding and air-boat roads on the same day? Tepees with bidets? It doesn’t get more glampy than that!

A hammock, tepee and grill…I’m happy. Photo: Bill Wiatrak

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