For some people, the perfect vacation is all about pure relaxation and indulgence. But many of us weirdo fitness types want more than that.
We dream of a vacation that includes healthy food options, new or challenging physical activities to try, a casual, tranquil atmosphere, and perhaps most importantly, scenic outdoor spaces to explore.
Yet perhaps some of us are old or spoiled or cranky and maybe we don't freakin' want to go camping any longer in order to explore the great outdoors?
At least not the kind of camping where you sleep on the hard ground (which inevitably slopes unevenly so you end up in a heap at one end of the tent). I'm middle aged. If I need to pee in the middle of the night, I do not want to have to find my way in the freezing cold by flashlight to some creepy smelly campground restroom that is probably infested with spiders and covered in flesh-eating bacteria and surrounded by hungry bears.
Nah, some of us prefer to have our scenic beauty accompanied by massages and maid service and meals prepared by someone other than ourselves.
So, if you're looking for an active healthy vacation, is Red Mountain Resort in Ivins, Utah, the place to find it? We vacationed there for four days as 2014 brought to a close. Red Mountain is often cited as one of the more budget-friendly resort options. (Not that it fits into every budget of course). Being self-indulgent enough to be captivated by the "resort" idea, but also being cheapskates, we were curious what we'd find there.
Note: I was not comped in any way for this review, damn it, so I have absolutely no incentive whatsoever to be diplomatic about what was wonderful and what was not.
We TOTALLY LOVED this place!!
Seriously, I have started plotting and scheming and daydreaming (well, mostly the latter), conjuring up a wild plan in which I organize some sort of group coaching workshop or event and bring a group of companionable souls here someday. What an awesome setting to take a step back and do some brainstorming, exploring, experimenting, partying, planning, etc? So, adventurous Cranketeers, mark your calendars for "someday" and we're all gonna have a blast! Anyway...
However, we eventually bailed on one of the hikes because we just got tired of heading out into the cold first thing in the morning and wanted more time to check out some of their other fitness options. And it was too chilly to spend a lot of time simply relaxing outdoors.
Absolutely no competition for the hammock.
There is an awesome variety of things to do, and if you go for a package deal, most of them are free! You can spend all day attending events and classes if you are the active and curious type. The only downside is that if you want to chill for a few hours, you are inevitably missing something interesting and have to try not to feel guilty about it.
The only chillin' I got was the temperature kind;
there was just too damn much to do all day.
Classes range from familiar fitness classes and cooking demonstrations to the seriously woo-woo. Tea-leaf readings or mandela magic or intuitive energy readings anyone?
Hiking is of course a highlight; they have daily guided hikes, with three levels of challenge, from easy-peasey to fast and furious.
The resort is located in Ivins Utah, right next to Snow Canyon State Park, so there are plenty of great hikes nearby.
You pay extra to be taken to Zion, a spectacular nearby National Park; it's a must-see if you haven't been. (But we had, and just went for the freebie hikes instead).
The morning hikes are scheduled to deliver you back in a timely fashion to yoga or stretching classes, then after lunch there are a multitude of other classes, demonstrations, lectures etc. There are several options to choose from at any hour of the day.
In addition to a standard (but great) yoga class, I tried some weirdo-sounding options that I'd never heard of: Chi-ball stretch, MELT, and Drums Alive. All were interesting and worthwhile. The last one, I kid you not, involves pummeling stability balls with drumsticks while executing dancey type steps. A little kooky, perhaps, but oddly invigorating.
Fortunately, since everyone is a traveler, there are few "regulars" who know what they are doing yet, and it is a very comfortable environment for a spazz like me who doesn't know right from left and struggles with following even the simplest directions.
There are also free bikes available (if you have a package) and a number of dedicated bike paths adjacent to the property.
There are even more intriguing activity options like rock climbing and mountain biking and kayaking and hanging out with wild mustangs, but these were extra on our package so, um... cheapskates, remember?
We loved the food! Breakfast and lunch were buffet style, though you could also have cooked to order breakfast dishes without forgoing the buffet, so there was plenty to eat.
Dinner was off a menu and was accompanied by an amply-stocked soup and salad bar. There were always several dishes that sounded great so choosing was hard. The dinner entrees were artfully prepared and very tasty, and the desserts were excellent as well.
And unless the chefs were lying through their teeth about the calorie counts (which seemed unlikely), it was amazing what awesome meals you could eat pretty much guilt free. As I recall, most entrees were less than 400 calories, and there was an orange creme brulee for dessert for well under 200 calories--and it was totally delicious.
Calorie counts were listed for dinner entrees, but you had to do some guessing at the buffets. Note: due to the buffet availability, it would still be totally possible to pork out and over-eat here. I vastly prefer the freedom to scarf irresponsibly if I choose, to the notion of a calorie controlled environment. This is not a "fat farm." But others might appreciate fewer over-consumption triggers like all you can eat buffet tables full of tasty options.
The dining rooms could be bustling or empty depending on the time of day, and you need to make dinner reservations, but we never had to wait more than a minute or two for a table.
The one downside? While it was very possible to eat low-carb or primal, there were probably fewer buffet options for that style of eating. There were rarely any vegetables available at the buffet for breakfast, for example. And sometimes the lunchtime food bar protein options were limited (but always present).
Additionally, if you are trying to subsist mainly on protein and veggies, there are a ton of tempting healthy carb options to curse at. There were all kinds of whole grain concoctions and fruits and spuds and tortillas and breads and bean dishes. I have started to add more healthy carbs to my diet, thank god, but it was still rather challenging to avoid massive temptations on the carb front.
In keeping with the "YOU decide what's healthy" philosophy, wine and beer are available, yay! However, these do not come with the packages and prices were not cheap. Since we drove there, we did some BYOB strategizing ahead of time and enjoyed a cheap cocktail hour in our room. It wasn't clear to me if we could have brought our own booze to dinner? But no one else seemed to be doing it so we thought perhaps not.
Alas, I didn't think to bring a helicopter to shoot from,
so this image is swiped from Red Mountain's site
No outdoor pool this time, sorry!
But even though we hit unusually wintry conditions, there was still plenty that was open and available.
In addition to the fitness studios where the classes are held, there is a well-equipped gym which we both took advantage of. It was uncrowded and had pretty much everything I needed when I went--tons of strength training and cardio options. Except, sadly, the elliptical was not my favorite kind (no incline adjustment, or at least not one I could figure out, but that may have been user error).
The labyrinth and Inspiration Trail are right on the property and were peaceful and lovely.
Another highlight was the indoor pool, which is a nice large sized pool which I had entirely to myself on our last morning, which was New Years day. This meant I could minimize lap swimming (which I loathe) and do a bunch of dancing, splashing, jumping, and other ridiculous frolicking. I had a relatively new playlist on my mp3 player, and a ton of caffeine, so it was delicious.
I emerged from my cocoon of warm water and steamy air into the cold day, wet-haired and raccoon-eyed and somewhat delirious, but a very happy sort of delirious.
You can also enjoy an outdoor hot tub, but it is not the private naked kind; rather it's the communal kind where other people might already be there. For a big resort property, it would be nice if there were a few more of these sprinkled around, because I find even Very Nice People are unwelcome additions to my hot-tubbing experience.
However, it was strangely empty at 8am on a snowy morning.
I thought our room was perfectly fine; great even. But it was not one of those super-high end resort rooms with acres of empty space, and we did not fork over extra for a view. So the more upscale among you might not feel sufficiently spoiled with a low-end room. But it was plenty big, and I never really got the point of paying for vast expanses of carpeting and monster-sized bathrooms. We had plenty of space to strew our stuff around and it did not feel crowded.
I was going to take picture after all our crap was packed up, but forgot, so let's just pretend I got a dye job and had a facial at the spa which miraculously transformed me into a tranquil Resort Model pondering deep philosophical questions over herbal tea.
So yeah, the decor was sufficiently subtle and tasteful so as not to alarm or offend; everything was clean and shiny. The only dumb thing was that the overall look of the room was dump-ified unnecessarily by a worn-out dresser. A lot of paint had worn off the top surface and not in an arty-farty, on-purpose way. It needed refinishing or replacing.
There was a deep, high-capacity bathtub with a shower, double sinks, a mini-fridge, and a coffee maker. There was a microwave a few doors down in the laundry room, though none in the room. Pets are allowed with an additional fee, hooray!
The TV was large and functional and had no problem bringing us Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin for New Years eve. (We were too old and antisocial to attend the on-site New Years Eve party).
The People and The Vibe
Employees: Almost without exception, the staff members at Red Mountain were incredibly friendly, helpful, warm, and accommodating. The hiking guides and dining staff stood out in particular, but everyone from the cleaning gal to the receptionists to the class teachers seemed to be genuinely approachable and knowledgeable and professional and eager to help in any way they could.
Fellow Guests: A really nice bunch! OK, there were a couple of "fitter than thou" types, humble-bragging about their previous trips and athletic achievements, but mostly: mellow and friendly and approachable and very, very happy to be there.
Females way outnumbered males, perhaps because men can be totally dense and clueless about anything that involves a "spa" type experience. Doesn't seem to matter how rugged the activity options or how good the food is; dudes just seem more prone to cringe at the notion of "healthy" cuisine on vacation, and must quake in their boots at the thought of accidentally ending up trapped and twisted into painful asana in a yoga studio with new age music torturing their tender eardrums.
The guys that were there seemed to be mostly "good sport" types accompanying their wives or girlfriends. But they sure seemed to have a great time, or else they knew to shut up about any televised sporting events they might be missing. And sheesh, if you are a single straight guy looking for outdoorsy gals? YOU MUST GO!!! The odds are so heavily in your favor.
But the many single women in attendance seemed quite happy and comfortable. Dining options included a community table, and even better for introverted types, there did not seem to be any pressure at all to join it if you wanted to dine alone. It seemed like at least a third of the tables were occupied by women dining contentedly solo, reading or doing things with their laptops or phones. The group hikes seemed like a great low-key way to be quasi-social. You could chat if you felt like it, or huff and puff in peaceful silence.
The were a variety of ages and body sizes and fitness levels; some people seemed to be fitness newbies trying to get a jump start on weight loss and exercise efforts, while others were uber-fit marathoners looking for new ways to torture... er, challenge themselves.
Mercifully, there were no children anywhere in sight. Well, perhaps there may have been a teenager that crossed my path once but it did not appear dangerous. Fortunately I didn't panic or scream and it left quietly, probably as scared of me as I was of it. (Note: any child-unfriendliness depicted in this paragraph is my own; I have no idea if kids are openly welcomed or subtly discouraged. As a childless curmudgeon, I just personally appreciated that Red Mountain was not a Disney theme park).
Prices and Packages
We went for one of the packages; there are various options, but this was a 4 day, 3 night package, which included all meals and most activities, plus a massage and a pedicure. Then we ended up extending an extra day a la carte.
Our package price was $235 per person per night, which yeah, is not cheap! And there were some add-ons we didn't figure in like the spa gratuities etc. so it ended up being $265 a night each. So it is not a screaming bargain, but compared to many resorts and travel adventures it is indeed at the low end of the scale, if you've ever been tempted before and you've done some research.
However, because we decided to extend, we discovered that the a la carte room rate this time of year was only $155 per night TOTAL, not per person, and came with breakfast for both of us and use of the facilities. (But not the classes or bikes or guided hikes or spa stuff or the lunch buffet or the amazing dinners).
This way cheaper room-only option is not something they highlight on their website.
This brings up a dilemma, right? To really get the most of the "resort" type experience, it is probably best to pay a bigger amount upfront and feel encouraged to take advantage of every damn thing you can because it's paid for and therefore "free." It really is a wonderfully indulgent feeling.
Professionally guided hikes (2 guides for each group!)
Do not come cheap.
However, if you've been before and are driving in, it's very tempting to think about going a la carte. You could drive to some of your own hikes or do just the nearby ones, eat off-site as well as on the premises, enjoy all the facilities, and do just the classes and activities and spa services that are most appealing. (We had champagne and junky takeout from Applebees of all places on New Years Eve when we were on our own dime, and had a grand ol' time).
Again, bottom line? Red Mountain Rocks!
Yet Another Bloggy Disclaimer Aimed at Regular Readers:
(If you just googled in to learn about Red Mountain, feel free to ignore.)
Sorry, More Adventure/Healthy Travel Coverage to Come!
So yeah, as some of you have noticed, I travel a fair amount. I am often either tagging along with my go-getter corporate spouse to exotic locations like South Africa (or Frisco Texas!), or we are vacationing somewhere I could never afford if my income were the sole determining factor.
I often blog about these trips when I get back, and I realize I feel kinda guilty doing it. These trips fall into my lap, I haven't "earned" them. And who wants to read about someone's 13th travel adventure of the year?
Yet there are many on-the-road type challenges to healthy living and I spend a lot of time thinking and scheming about them. And there are decisions to be made on where and how to best spend an active healthy vacation. Since the whole "on the road" aspect of my life doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, I hereby acknowledge:
My extended travel absences and blog-slacking will no doubt continue! And whenever I get back, healthy (or not so healthy) travel is probably gonna be a part of the blog. You've been forewarned and thank you for your patience!
What's your favorite kind of vacation? Would any of you consider a health resort?