HAINES CITY, FL December 1, 2011 — Kids at Christmas — that’s exactly how we felt pulling up to a luxury dude ranch in Florida of all places. Who knew just 30 minutes from Disney was prime Florida horse country and one of the largest cattle producing areas in America?
But to call Creek Ranch a dude ranch is to say Tiffany’s is a jewelry store. Yes, the ranch has some mighty friendly horses and several hundred head of beef cattle, but this 1,400 acres is way more than a place to rope and ride.
First, it sits at the headwaters to the Everglades, so there’s a watery landscape awaiting exploration literally steps from the backyard boathouse (with mod Austin Powers-esque furnishings by the way). It’s here we board the pontoon for a champagne cruise amid moss-draped cypress trees populated by wood storks, herons and sandhill cranes. Later, the ranch airboat shoots us along Lake Hatchineha.
Still to come: Riding the ATV to the orchard to pick oranges to feed those cute cows, boarding a jacked-up swamp buggy to tour the property, skeet shooting in one of the open fields. And we can’t even squeeze in the archery, fishing, bike riding, canoeing and kayaking.
That’s what’s so cool about this place — everything’s included and individually tailored to a schedule you set, with a private chef and house manager looking out for your every need whether you occupy one bedroom or rent the entire house. Meals are likewise made-to-order whether picnic out in the pasture or dress-up in the formal dining room for gourmet, five-course menu featuring the ranch-raised beef.
And what a house. The centerpiece of Creek Ranch is lovingly called the “bunkhouse” but these accommodations rival a luxury hotel. That’s because it’s actually an elegant, personal family home built by the owners’ grandparents, who decorated it with eclectic treasures brought back from their world travels. Exploring The Bunkhouse is half the fun, from spotting an original Audubon to a McKenney & Hall portrait collection of Native Americans in the Internet/reception area.
The gathering point is The Great Room with American Indian rug and fireplace, couches, chairs, a writing desk, checkers, plus bookcases overflowing with hardbound volumes on art, world travel, nature and collectibles. Two guitars on stands await wannabe country crooners. When a noted designer saw this room’s collection of 1960s artwork, he said, “Don’t change a thing.”
Modern Touches, Refined Taste
Today’s ranch combines modern touches with refined taste, yet it’s comfortable with two TV rooms and video games at the ready, a large eat-in kitchen, a covered patio with grill area, plus a butler’s pantry for anytime access to complimentary coffee, beer, wine and soft drinks.
We stayed on the upper level of the two-story main house in one of two premiere bedrooms — Uncle Baby’s Room — decked in white-and-pink featuring king bed, glittering chandelier, bedside tables, ’60s lamps, antique dresser, large closet, chintz armchair and matching glass-topped round covered table. It opens via sliding glass door with sliding plantation shutters onto a screened porch with a pastoral view out front of pond and open pasture beyond. We sipped wine on the porch’s daybed watching wild turkeys meander by.
All of the four main bedrooms feature custom-made Léron sheets and pillowcases embroidered to match each bedroom’s color scheme. Bedrooms also have large, en-suite bathrooms featuring tasteful logo towels and U.S.-made, EO organic body care products.
The second upstairs bedroom, Jane’s Room, is equally large and lovely with the same high ceilings and crown moldings, but in a Delft blue-and-white color scheme plus a massive private deck overlooking the lush landscaping and boathouse out back.
Asian-inspired Fanny’s Room is one of two main downstairs bedrooms. The other is Emory’s Room with chocolate-colored walls bearing framed bird prints similar to those in hunting lodges. There’s also Josephine’s Room off the kitchen named for the beloved family cook. It’s handicap accessible and features a kitchenette.
If you’re looking to book as a group, there’s a three-bedroom, stand-alone, 100-year-old-cabin on property less than a mile from the main house.
Back at The Bunkhouse, the fun factor is The Bull Pen, perfect for couples with children. It’s an open den/rec room plus four single sleigh beds (each with chest at the foot for found treasures). They line one wall underneath a custom, iron chandelier with cutout critters you’ll spot on the ranch, like an armadillo.
Another cool hangout for a teen guest or au pair is located in a wing just off the heated pool. The Frog Pad has hand-holding black frogs forming a bright pattern on white wallpaper and a trundle bed.
But most of the fun is to be had outside hanging out and riding with a couple of real cowboys. The ranch’s long-time foreman took us on an easy ride atop gentle horses, but if you want to drive the cattle or practice some roping, that can be arranged. There’s wildlife everywhere from birds, deer and wild turkeys to the ranch horses, beef cattle and gators, plus palmettos, orange trees and a new peach orchard.
Creek Ranch is an undiscovered jewel that lets you get outdoorsy whether on family vacation, romantic getaway or small-group retreat (as Cartier execs did here) all the while in luxury. For instance, book the ultra-light seaplane that lands on the lake to sweep you up for a bird’s-eye view of the sprawling ranch or take a helicopter ride right from the pasture. They’ll also arrange a hot-air balloon ride if you’re in the mood, or a private massage in the screened-in boathouse.
So pack your cowboy boots, but bring a change of clothes for dinner.
If You’re Going: Creek Ranch is about 40 minutes from Orlando International Airport. Visit www.creekranch.net. For reservations and info, call Sanctuare (the ranch’s reservations office) at 800.225.4255 or 802.457.5280.
Rates: Individual bookings such as one bedroom for a romantic weekend are available the first week of each month and anytime July and August. Rates are $1,000 per bedroom per night all-inclusive with a recommended three-night minimum. For exclusive rental of the entire ranch for up to eight guests, the daily rate is $5,000, which includes 24-hour personal gourmet chef, all food and drinks, and all activities on property. The Bunkhouse can accommodate up to 14 (more if some are young children), and the cabin up to four people. Above eight guests, add $500 per person per day for each. Staff gratuities are 5% and local taxes are 12%.
Kathy M. Newbern and her husband, J.S. Fletcher, have been producing travel stories on assignment since 1994. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and operate YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business based in Raleigh, N.C., where they let you can star in your own romance. They also operate the award-winning travel site, YourSpaReport.com.
Follow Kathy & Fletcher on Twitter @FletcherNewbern
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