It takes a village to raise a child, but busy families today are often far-flung and unable to vacation together. I hosted my own summertime mini-family reunion in Vail, Colorado. At this luxury resort, my college teen daughter and my younger, grown up cousin, and I explored the outdoor adventures of the mountains and the indoor pleasures of fine dining and high thread counts.
Our No-Fail Vail Family Vacation
Vail, Colorado, is one of the West’s best-known ski Meccas. As a non-skier, I had resisted its cold weather charms. But just because I don’t love snow doesn’t mean I don’t love ski resorts. In my book, summertime is the perfect time to visit, especially with our extended family whose interests and ages vary. On a recent trip to Vail, I brought my 18-year-old daughter who was leaving for college the following month, and my cousin, David, who is more like a brother to me.
We grew up in Kentucky. When I turned 16 (before graduated licenses), the first thing I did was drive over to my aunt’s house, pick up David and his four brothers, cram them into my Opel GT and head to the lake.
As adults, we moved to various parts of the country, started families, and got together once a year. It’s always like old times: me bossing them around and they picking on me, but our visit is never long enough. A long weekend in Vail, Colorado, offered a chance for them to really get to know each other, even if it was one cousin at a time.
At Home on Vacation
Staying in separate hotel rooms would defeat the purpose of the together time I planned for this trip. We only had four days and I wanted to make the most of it. There is something to be said about just being in the same space. The spontaneous conversations on the balcony over tea or a beer, resting by the fire, making David try my green smoothies every morning…would not have happened if we were not staying together.
The Sebastian, a luxury boutique hotel, had the right layout for us. Our two story suite offered us privacy. David had his own floor with a bedroom and bathroom – and space to spread out. We had a full kitchen, living room with fireplace, and a balcony upstairs where we could hang out together. The lobby has a game room, bar, and cozy areas to sit and chat by the fire. The property features 100 rooms, seven residential suites hotel, 36 villas, a pool, and spa.
With so many excellent restaurants in Vail, we ate out, but we did eat breakfast at Lenora, The Sebastian’s on-site restaurant. If you like to cook, opt for groceries delivered to your suite. You can also have meals sent up from the hotel’s restaurants. Or invite a chef to prepare a meal for you in the suite. If you are visiting during the holidays, be sure to ask about their famous over-the-top hot chocolate.
Hiking and Fishing in Vail
We didn’t have time to sit and dawdle over breakfast because there was so much to do. We took a guided backcountry hike with Paragon Guides. You can hike on your own (I also hiked Vail Mountain by myself), but a guide is well worth it for his knowledge of landscape and information about plants and animals. Our fun guide, Paul Wilson, sprinkled in interesting tidbits and brought his water filter pump that made the hike a learning experience as well. He also packs a mean picnic.
Fly fishing is a quintessential western experience that we had to try. Our Gore Creek Fly Fisherman guide taught us how to strip the line and when to move upstream and downstream. He watched where the fish were jumping and pointed out good spots. I knew David would enjoy this, and Sophia liked it for about 45 minutes. We were there for four hours. While David and I cast and reeled, she caught up on social media. He said she would have liked it better if we had gone fly fishing for two hours, not four, but she was glad she did it.
Getting to Vail
We flew in and out of Denver, and had a mini two-hour road trip each way to Vail. Several shuttles transport between the airport and Vail, but we wanted the flexibility to stop, or in our case, sing. Those four hours in the car still make me smile.
As a devout Lynard Skynard fan, David made it his mission to introduce Sophia to all of their great songs. By the time our roadtrip was over, we all knew the words to Gimme 3 Steps and even a Johnny Cash tune or two. David sang Rocky Mountain High to us and tried to claim it as his own, but my daughter caught on. We stopped for delicious BBQ at Smokin Yards, sat outside on the patio overlooking the stream, and enjoyed seeing a different landscape than we have back home.
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We also enjoyed a different kind of tour. Marijuana is legal in Colorado, so David and I did a dispensary tour where they explained all of the different strains, edibles, and hardware. You have to be 21 to enter a dispensary, and they do ask for ID. It is important to note that dispensaries are not allowed in Vail, and we did not see people walking around lighting up.
What to Eat – Across Another Generational Divide
Mountain Standard, a Vail restaurant where hearty steaks and pork chops are cooked over an open wood fire, had a rustic old-Western feel. The meat literally fell off the bone.
The best way to describe dinner at Matsuhisa is a Japanese fusion feast. We tried so many different foods the meal was educational. I fell in love with the Wagyu beef that melts in your mouth and the rock shrimp with a butter ponzu sauce. Matsuhisa also has an incredible view and the food presentation takes the meal to another plane.
Even the bar at the Sebastian, Frost, had great food. I am a fish taco aficionado, and these were the bomb. There were also yummy flatbreads, and the bartender made me a special bourbon drink, as a nod to my Kentucky roots.
With all that fabulous food, I was happy to have even more outdoor adventure on my plate.
Mountain Adventures: Vail Epic Discovery
We rode the Eagle Bahn Gondola to Epic Discovery, where there is a ropes course, a zip line, and a bobsled ride, the Forest Flyer. The bobsled is great for families; we rode a couple of times, in different configurations since only one adult can fit at a time (my daughter is still small enough to fit with me). The ride is like a roller coaster – fast but smooth, with no huge drops.
Lightning prevented us from trying the toboggan, a huge slide, where you sit on rug and slide down the mountain. We ran out of time so couldn’t do the ropes course.
We wound up eating BBQ and burgers and exploring the nature center.
Summer 2017 Offerings
Vail just announced that all kids can ride the gondola free with an adult ticket purchase (child must be under 12 years of age). Once at the the top, there’s zip lining, a 36-feet tall rock climbing wall, and even a mountain coaster. The resort is also offering an a-la-carte option for mountain activities and the ability to purchase tickets online.
Making the Most of your Vail Family Vacation
The moral to this part of this Vail family vacation: don’t waste any sunshine! Mountain weather changes quickly so if the sun is out, get out. Be prepared for rain, just in case, and you will not be disappointed if you don’t get to do everything. The first day we tried to do Epic Discovery, everything shut down 10 minutes after we arrived because of an impending storm. It was no problem to change the date of the tickets. If you used the ticket for one or two rides, they pro-rate the value.
I love our new twist on our family vacations. Vail is an epic place for an extended family trip and I can’t wait to do another. And add more cousins.