(UPDATED JULY 2022) A Westgate River Ranch, a glamping experience in Central Florida, is not only a visit to Florida’s only dude ranch but also the largest one East of the Mississippi. Here, you can have an authentic cowboy experience that includes horseback riding, airboat rides, luxe teepees, a thrilling, live rodeo, and much more.
Located ninety minutes south of Orlando or 45 minutes west of Vero Beach, Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo is a family trip you won’t soon forget. The resort sits on 1,700 acres of pristine countryside and offers a luxury or rustic vacation—or a combination of both. Here’s what my husband and I loved on our visit.
Thanks to Westgate for hosting our amazing stay. As always, reviews and opinions are 100% ours and unbiased.
The Glamping Experience
Glamorous camping in Florida and all over the country is so popular. It is the perfect way to enjoy luxury amenities while still having the flavor of classic camping. Westgate River Ranch’s glamping tents are spacious and can easily sleep up to four people.
The tents have a mini-fridge, microwave, air-conditioning, and even a space heater. A screened-in porch, where breakfast is delivered each morning, runs the length of the tent and offers rocking chairs and a private table and chairs set.
The glamping tents do not have private bathrooms; instead, you can access private quarters in a large bathhouse facility. You are given a key to your bathroom at check-in, where you’ll find a space for showering, using the toilet and sink, and a spacious area for changing. We enjoyed this way of doing things.
In the center of the two glamping areas is a giant fire pit, lit nightly for s’mores and campfire fun. Chairs sit around the fire pit, and there is plenty for everyone. Lights are strung through the trees, making the intimate setting very picturesque.
Each tent also has its own picnic table and charcoal grill. A water source is available for your outdoor use.
Other River Ranch Accommodations
Another big draw at Westgate River Ranch, besides glamping, are the Luxe Teepees. They sound incredible, with upscale features and a real VIP experience, but I was determined to say I had been glamping. The Westgate River Ranch also has lodge suites close to the swimming pool.
Another option is staying in a cabin with one or two bedrooms, or you can park your RV in the campground or tent camp.
Activities at River Ranch
Westgate River Ranch has many activities to keep the family busy during your vacation. Some are included with the price of your stay, while others require an additional fee. I suggest booking your optional activities as soon as possible as they do fill up, such as the airboat rides and boat rentals.
Here are some of the things you can enjoy at the resort:
- Mini Golf
- Trap & Skeet Range
- Petting Farm
- Boating (pontoon or fishing boats)
- Airboat Rides
- Horseback Riding
- Video Arcade
- 9-Hole golf course
- Rock Climbing
A Fun Airboat Ride
The airboat ride at Westgate River Ranch is something to be remembered. The excursion is on the Kissimmee River, and yes, alligators were easy to spot and chillin’ in the sun. Cattle and deer were grazing on the shores and birds abound, including Red Tail Hawks and turkeys.
Our guide was a native Floridian and had an in-depth knowledge of the local ecosystem and issues Florida is facing today. We appreciated hearing his thoughts on them and his expertise in the area’s ecotourism.
River Ranch Stores and Shopping
Westgate’s Village Shops is comparable to a town’s main square in times past. Shaded under huge trees sits the post office, Western store, General Store, and from our generation, the addition of a Kids Club and gym.
Anyone needing a pair of cowboy boots for Saturday night’s rodeo will want to visit the Western Store. The General Store has an impressive selection of foods, snacks, souvenirs, and other fun stuff. In addition to general groceries and beverages, there is a Starbucks counter. Beyond there is the Deli, which has breakfast, lunch, sandwiches, pizza by the slice, and delicious Hershey ice cream. Don’t forget to grab s’mores ingredients for the campfire.
The marina’s shop has exactly what you need for those who would like a Guy Harvey shirt, new pair of shades, or a hat. It is also the place to purchase tickets for airboat tours, swamp buggy rides, and boat rentals.
Westgate River Ranch Restaurants
Westgate River Ranch’s Westgate Smokehouse Grill restaurant serves three meals a day. Eddie and I ate there for each and had impeccable service and tasty food.
For breakfast, we were able to have the weekend breakfast buffet. Choices ranged from scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, pancakes, French toast, grits, yogurt, fruits, and several other side items.
At lunch, we feasted on heavy appetizers; Wings and Things, Coconut Shrimp, and Mozzarella Sticks. It had been years since I had eaten mozzarella sticks, and these were delicious! We loved every bite of all three baskets.
Dinner at Westgate Smokehouse Grill was our favorite. Eddie had a Chicken Tender Basket with sidewinder fries. I had a honkin’ big plate of Smoked Baby Back Ribs with coleslaw and kettle baked beans. Eddie also occasionally enjoyed a cold draft beer and margarita during our stay.
Exotic and Farm Animals
A fantastic bunch of animals lives around the Westgate property. My favorites were the Texas longhorns, which made my sunset pictures even more beautiful. Other fields had cows, horses, and buffalo, and we came upon the bulls (getting ready for the rodeo) on our hayride.
There is a petting farm to check out a host of furry critters, including goats, cows, chickens, pigs, and ponies. There are some great photo-ops in the petting farm area with the water tower in the background and farm equipment scattered here and there.
Fun for Kids
Besides the petting farm, which I would say is a child’s favorite spot on the property, is a zip line adventure. Inflatables were also a popular kid hangout, while archery and pony rides were close runner-ups.
When was the last time you and your family went on a sing-along and hayride? If the opportunity never presented itself, here it is—Westgate’s Dinner Hayride. On Saturday afternoon at 4:30, board one of the two wagons pulled by a large farm tractor.
The tractor wagons roam through part of the ranch, past the Luxe Teepees, then venture out into the countryside pastures and unpaved roads. Chances are you’ll see some cattle on the ride.
Along the ride, The Singing Cowboy strums the guitar, and everyone sings songs by John Denver, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and of course, old favorites such as “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
Following the Dinner Hayride, the tractor returns to the Mustang Center, where a family-style cookout dinner is waiting for you. Served buffet style, feast on salad, mac & cheese, corn-on-the-cob, cowboy beans, cole slaw, hot dogs, bbq chicken, ribs, and cornbread. Help yourself to the second round of ribs, as they are plentiful. Indulge in the peach cobbler for dessert.
Saturday Evening Rodeo
Talk about a family-friendly and fun way to spend a Saturday night. Westgate pulls out all the punches with their fantastic evening rodeo. People began flocking to the property a few hours before to participate in the outdoor activities; kid’s blow-up attractions, zip-lining, the petting farm, a rock climbing wall, live music, and the mechanical bull.
Being an animal lover, I’m always worried about the animals getting hurt, which isn’t the case at Westgate. These bulls live on the property and are well maintained. The audience is treated to an hour and a half of bull riding, trick riding, barrel racing, and calf scramble for the kids. The night is filled with fun and excitement and includes a patriot salute to our armed forces.
A Family Vacation to Remember
Eddie and I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend at Westgate River Ranch Resort. I could not have asked for anything to be better than it was during our stay. We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to take our family back someday.
Pro Tip: It is worth the money to rent a golf cart. You’ll want to zip around the property and see more of it.
Helpful Hint: For those who want to arrive in style, Westgate does have a 4,950-foot paved and lighted Air Strip for pilots to safely land.
This is the first article written by both Eddie and Melody Pittman, husband and wife of 30 years.
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