We are a family of dog lovers. We have (gasp!) three dogs at home, two of whom were rescued from unsavory circumstances. My husband and I met walking our dogs in the park. We don't buy new furniture, or cream-colored duvets, or cars with cloth seats.
At our house, it's all about the canine.
But this weekend, we're experiencing dogs on a whole new level, as we ride along behind a team of sled dogs at Skytop Lodge in northeastern Pennsylvania.
It's bitterly cold; that's hard to ignore. Our eyes are tearing, our cheeks are red and our hands are frozen inside our Lands End thermal mittens. But even through the tears, my daughter's eyes are shining, and she's calling out, "Look, Mom!" as the team of twelve huskies pulls us through the woods and up the trail. It's kind of impossibly romantic -- I feel like I'm standing on the edge of the Titanic, holding out my arms to fly, but without the tragic ending.
However persuasively my daughter begs, I have to say "no" to taking a husky home (the dog team trainer, Jarrod, explains that they need to run at least five miles a day, and we're more of a five block type of family), but the great thing about Skytop is that I can say "yes" to just about everything else. Like ice skating three times a day. And skiing on the resort's very own slope. And bird feeder making and cookie decorating and campfire s'more roasting. And hitting the buffet for three different desserts, because we can't choose just one. And hiking to Indian Ladder Falls, where three tiers of water freeze into perfect, suspended icicles.
This resort redefines all-inclusive in a way that makes families return year after year, for 40 years even, if the couple by the Lodge's giant stone fireplace can be believed. It's like a cruise ship on land, with all you can eat, all day long, but with 5,500 acres to explore. It's got tennis and golf and pond swimming in the summer and tobogganing across the lake in the winter. It's got cozy cottages, fireplaces galore and chefs who will cook up the fish you catch in the stream.
It's got "family getaway" written all over it.
But what sets this place apart is the service. By the end of our first day, our server, Denise, knows that my kids would slay each other for some hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles. The general manager circulates through the dining room, greeting guests he recognizes from past visits and laughing with my older daughter over her cupcake-frosted grin. Staff members set out votive candles in the evening for a candlelight skate, turning an ordinary indoor rink into a fairyland that turns my younger daughter into a true believer. A guy named Harry tours families around the vast property in a utility terrain vehicle built for six, accessing views it's hard to forget.
And then there are the sled dogs. There's a new litter of husky puppies at Skytop. Somehow, I think we'll be back to see them grow up.