air boat rides at the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo; Courtesy of at the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo
All Ages

The Florida Vacation You Never Thought to Take—But Should

See recent posts by Courtney Elko

When most families think of a vacation in Florida, they immediately conjure up images of Cinderella’s Castle, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and maybe the new Star Wars Land.

But did you know Florida is home to a dude ranch?

Ideal for families of all sizes (and couples, too!), Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo features unique activities and accommodations you won’t find at an Orlando theme park.

If you’re looking for something different than a traditional theme park vacation in Florida, read on.

air boat rides at the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo; Courtesy of at the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo

Instead of roller coaster rides, go on swamp buggy or airboat rides.

The swamp buggy vehicle at Westgate River Ranch is more unique than any roller coaster you’ll ride in Orlando! These massive monster-truck-esque vehicles have wheels the size of tweens! Once you climb aboard the open-air (and very safe) vehicle, it’s time for a drive around the marshier areas of the resort. The swampy buggy ride gives you just the right amount of thrills and bumps without getting you wet and dirty. The airboat ride offers just as much excitement, but for that, you’re on the Kissimmee River and going at faster speeds.

petting zoo at the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo; Courtesy of the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo

Instead of a safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, get up close with animals at the petting zoo.  

The baby and mama goats at the petting zoo are too cute for words! You can also get up close with mini horses, cows and emu. The petting zoo is complimentary to all guests.

Instead of waving a magic wand, shoot arrows.

No spells are cast when you shoot arrows at the archery field at Westgate. Full instructions are given before you perfect your shot to become the new Katniss Everdeen. Skeet shooting is also available at the ranch for those who may want to upgrade their bow and arrow and test their shooting skills. Children must be 13 years old to participate in skeet shooting, which is a supervised activity. There is no age limit for archery.

Luxe Teepee at the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo; Courtesy of the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo

Instead of a treehouse villa at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort, stay in a luxury teepee.

Yes, a teepee! The resort’s luxury teepees feature a double-sided fireplace, king bed, sleeper sofa in a separate living room, mini-fridge, microwave, full bathroom with claw-foot tube and air conditioning. Guests staying in the teepees also receive continental breakfast each morning, among other perks.

Bonus: Staying inside the luxury teepee accommodations at Westgate Ranch allows families to have an all-inclusive experience! Most activities at the resort require additional fees. However, if you book a stay in a Luxe Teepee, all of your activities, plus a golf cart, are included in your stay. You also receive VIP seating at the resort’s rodeo.

Families also have the option to stay in standard guestrooms, multi-bedroom cabins, railcars, or glamping tents; RV camping sites are also available. Find even more details about all that Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo as to offer here.

gold cart at the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveler/Theresa W

Instead of riding the monorail, ride around in a golf cart.

Riding the Monorail at Disney World is a classic, but with the wind in your hair and control of the speed, driving a golf cart around a dude ranch is a must! Westgate River Ranch is an expansive 1,700-acre property and walking to all of the activities would take quite some time. You can of course drive your car around the resort, but where’s the fun in that! Most families rent a golf cart with their stay and motor all around the resort with ease. You must have a valid driver’s license to rent and drive a golf cart here.

zip line at the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo; Courtesy of the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo

Instead of virtual reality thrills, go zip-lining. 

The outdoor Adventure Park at the resort is IRL not 3D simulation. Kids can climb a rock-climbing wall, ride a mechanical bull, play a round of mini-golf, jump in the bungee jumper or zoom down a zipline at this small, but mighty Adventure Park.

rodeo at the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo; Courtesy of the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo

Instead of the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue, watch a live rodeo.

While there won’t likely be singing and dancing at the weekly rodeo, there will be plenty of reasons to clap and cheer. Trick riding, barrel races, bull riding and more all take place at the Saturday night rodeo. Your kids (and you!) will be amazed by what these cowboys and cowgirls can do! And if you still want some singing and dancing, the adults can wander over to the Saloon after the rodeo for some line dancing and adult beverages.

aerial view at the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Expert Photo

Instead of flying commercial to a large airport, land at your own private airport.

While Disney World doesn’t have its own airport, Westgate River Ranch does! The tiny airport, located right on the property, can only accommodate small, private planes, but is available to any guests who may want to make a grand entrance.

Other Highlights at Westgate River Ranch  

  • Horseback Riding
    Sure, you can go horseback riding at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Tri-Circle-D Ranch, but for a more authentic, laidback experience, saddle up at Westgate River Ranch. No experience is necessary for the slow-paced rides, and expert horse handlers can easily pair your expertise (or lack thereof) with the right horse for you. The group rides meander through tree-lined groves, fields and all across the 1,700-acre resort property. The guided rides run about an hour, perfect for kids. Children must be 51 inches tall and at least 8 years old to ride. If younger kids are interested in the horses, there are guided pony rides around the corral.
  • Pontoon Boat Fishing
    You can drop a line at Disney, or you can go fishing on the Kissimmeee River at Westgate River Ranch. There’s an onsite bait and tackle shop for those who are interested in fishing off of the dock. Guided fishing tours and pontoon boat rentals are also offered.
  • Golf
    Disney offers beautifully manicured golf courses at several of its resorts. But for those who may be new to the sport or intimidated by Disney’s golf grandeur, try a round at the dude ranch instead. Westgate offers a driving range and a 9-hole course.
  • Swimming and Sports Courts
    The outdoor swimming pool and sports court are almost an afterthought at Westgate because there are so many other things to see and do. But basketball, tennis, soccer and volleyball can all be played on various courts, and the outdoor pool is open seasonally.

What to Pack for Your Next Trip

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Our team of parents and travel experts chooses each product and service we recommend. Anything you purchase through links on our site may earn us a commission.

×