Family Travel in Lancaster County, PA

Last week I wrote about the first day of our weekend getaway to Lancaster County with the family, but our trip didn’t end there!

We started off Day 2 with breakfast at Cafe 24 Hundred. We had tickets for a bus tour that was scheduled to leave at 9 AM, so we figured it would be easiest to eat in the hotel. We bypassed the breakfast buffet and opted instead to order off the menu because I’m prissy and prefer not to jump up and down at 2-minute intervals throughout my meal every time one of the kids wants to try something new. Plus with our gluten, nut and sesame restrictions, it’s just safer this way. (We’re a barrel of fun, aren’t we?)

My son enjoyed French toast, while I feasted on fried eggs and bacon and hash browns (which they kindly substituted for toast when I explained I can’t have wheat.) My husband had eggs benedict, and the girls had eggs and pancakes. I would say the food was adequate, but the service, again, was excellent. They definitely train their hotel and wait staff well at Willow Valley.

lancaster county farmland

Amish Country Bus Tour

We hopped aboard a small bus for the complimentary Amish Country Bus Tour — a three-hour tour of Lancaster and the Amish Country. I don’t know how they offer this for free, but they do. Our guide was hilarious. His name is Bob. He’s at least seventy, and he had a dry sense of humor that was enjoyable, as well as an impressive memory and ability to keep his train of thought as he drove the bus and periodically interrupted himself to share about something we were passing on the road.

We made three stops:

Living in the area for 16 years, I had been to Kitchen Kettle Village a number of times, but I had never visited any of the Lancaster Co. farmers’ markets (there are many, but this one is huge) or Hayloft Candles.

We only had about 30 minutes to spend in each location. It was long enough to get a taste for each one (literally, ha!) but most people probably choose one or two to go back to later in their trip. We watched fudge being made, we ate freshly made ice cream, and we snacked on freshly baked pretzels and fresh-squeezed lemonade (they made the lemonade while we watched – the kids thought that was a blast.) You might rightly say we ate our way through Lancaster County, finishing up with fresh homemade ice cream at the candle shop.

It was the drive in between each stop that I found most fascinating. Bob kept us entertained with informative and interesting commentary on the area and the Amish in particular. And the scenery, of course, was spectacular.

He took us on some back roads and explained some of the farming practices and described the sites.

lancaster county farm

amish farm

Towards the end of the trip, we stopped at this scenic spot to take pictures of the countryside.

Did I mention it was breezy? Just a bit.

A Lazy Afternoon

Finally we made our way back to Willow Valley. It was after noon, but we agreed we were too full for lunch. Unfortunately we hadn’t planned well, and we discovered that there’s one problem with vacationing in Lancaster when you live within easy driving distance — you’ve done most of the touristy things there are to do.

Don’t get me wrong, there are PLENTY of things to do — Cherry Crest Adventure Farm, The Amish Village, Dutch Wonderland, Strasburg Railroad and Museum, and the list goes on. But we have pretty much done it all. At least once. And while I love Kitchen Kettle Village and gladly would have spent all afternoon poking in shops, the kids had had their fill.


We ended up back at the pool. Which is just fine, because as I told my husband, the point of our trip was to enjoy the Willow Valley experience. There are even planned activities at Willow Valley for the kids, but the timing didn’t work out for us. They sounded like fun, though — a movie night, bonfire, bracelet making class among other things.

We might have had time to enjoy some of those activities, but while the kids played in the pool, I did some googling and found a restaurant I was dying to try. The only catch was, we had to be there at 5:30 or they couldn’t fit us in. And I didn’t hear back from them with this crucial bit of information until approximately 5:15. You do the math.

No joke, we literally ran from the pool up to our room, threw off swimsuits, threw on clothes, and dashed to the car. We pulled out of the lot at 5:25 and arrived at John Jeffries at 5:35. It was seriously impressive. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t lived it.

Dinner at John Jeffries is a post in and of itself, so stay tuned. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was too late to return to the pool, so we retired to our room and read for a while before falling asleep.

Heading Home

The next morning, we packed up and stopped for breakfast on the way home. Thanks to yelp.com, we ended up at the Gap Diner, which is a “hole in the wall” by most standards, but it was actually pretty good! No one can cook fried eggs like a diner, and this was no exception. My eggs were cooked perfectly “over medium” — on diner chefs know what that truly means — the bacon was fabulous, and my home fries were some of the best I’ve ever had.

On the other hand, the coffee was underwhelming. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all, right? The girls enjoyed their Micky Mouse pancakes, and my son ordered his typical French Toast breakfast. My husband wasn’t so impressed with his eggs, but I think he was still full from dinner the night before and just wasn’t in the mood to eat.

For some reason, the morning after I have a big meal, I wake up ravenous, and Sunday was no exception. In fact, earlier that morning, I slipped down to Cafe 24 Hundred while everyone was still asleep and got a yogurt parfait (it was delicious, by the way, and the service was perfect once again) and read my Kindle for an hour before returning to our room to pack up.

My Advice for Traveling to Lancaster with Kids

If you’re in the area and looking for a family weekend getaway, I would definitely recommend Willow Valley, and we would stay there again. If you have a family of 5 or more, look into the Family Rooms. They are larger and have a pull-out couch for more sleeping accommodations.

If food is your thing, stay away from the special (lol) and try the steaks or a burger at Cafe 24 Hundred (and don’t miss The Cafe 24 Hundred Market Salad!!!)

Leave plenty of time to spend in the pool area, and check into the scheduled activities if you have kids that are the right age for that. The complimentary Lancaster County Bus Tour is a must-do, and then make sure to have some plans for the rest of your time there. There are lots of resources for fun things to do in the area, and the staff at the hotel is super helpful with that.

They have some upcoming events they wanted me to share with you.

In Summary

Taking weekend family trips are not a regular occurrence for us. It’s a lot of work, and let’s face it, it ain’t cheap either. But I’ve found that making the effort to get away with our family is really important for building relationships and making memories.

Our lengthy vacations are often spent with extended family (which is great for other reasons) and at home we are usually running in two or three different directions. My husband and I make time for date nights, but we sometimes forget to make time for our family unit, but I’m always glad when we do.

I treasure these memories, and I hope our kids will too.

Disclosure: We were provided with a 2-night stay at the Willow Valley Doubletree Resort in exchange for a candid review of our experience. All opinions and commentary are my own.

Join The Conversation

9 Responses

  1. What a small world when you read a blog and realize…you son served the folks you are reading about! He works in the Fudge, Lemonade stand at Bird-In-Hand. Glad you got to visit our beautiful Lancaster County! Luck you to be invited by Willow Valley – we sure LOVE our little corner of the world!

  2. John J. Jefferies is THE BEST place to dine here in Lancaster. Local and organic produce, pasture-raised meats, and even fermented foods. It’s a real food foodie’s delight! We love it.

  3. What fun you guys had. I’ve only ever heard good things about Willow Valley. I think the only time I’ve ever been there was for a wedding reception. I hope someday we get to do the “Lancaster thing” with my kids, and husband for that matter, he’s never been there either. It will definitely have to wait till they are older though. We just returned from a rather spur of the moment overnight trip. I say it was like paying to be tortured all night long. The bed was really comfy but I only got to sleep for intervals of around 45 minutes before someone would cry. Strangely though I’d like to try the overnight thing again now that we’ve learned from our first disaster. (Well, it wasn’t all disaster we did have fun too!)

  4. As a kid we went out to Brewbaker’s Farm every year out in Lancaster and I LOVED it! I just love it down there; so relaxing and fun….such a great learning experience for the kids, too.
    Glad to see you had fun!

  5. Being from Lancaster County myself, I just adore this place. I like reading other peoples’ experiences of Lancaster because it gives me ideas of places to go and visit with my family. I will definately have to try John Jeffries. I’ve heard about it but never ate there. And I would just like to add that the Gap Diner is a GREAT place for breakfast. My entire family takes a trip to Bethany Beach, DE every August and we’ve made a tradition of stopping at the Gap Diner on our way there. My recommendation is the grilled sticky bun if you ever make it back there!

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