Tidying Up At Virginia's Tides Inn - My Family Travels

Join a Virginia family as they slow up and wind down at this sleepy, multi-generational, riverside family resort.

The Tides Inn, in Irvington near the Chesapeake Bay, has been a summer staple for vacationing families since 1947. But the resort began losing its reputation for class and style in the 1990s – until recent renovations revitalized this 480-acre resort perched atop a 45-foot bluff above Carters Creek, a peaceful tributary of the Rappahannock River that feeds into the Bay.

The owners sunk $12 million into renovations – and the rooms and most public areas show it. The unassuming white clapboard building masks a graceful, intimate setting with manicured gardens, dogwoods, azaleas and rolling lawns that spill down to the river, docks, boats and views of tasteful river homes. Despite its small scale (only 106 guest rooms and 22 suites, perfect for our tastes), the resort offers enough activities and amenities to keep kids and parents happy for a long weekend or an extended stay.

The resort takes full advantage of its river locale and views. Our lovely, spacious Vista Suite had a large balcony overlooking the creek and the docks that were chockablock with lovely yachts. (The room really was comfortable and elegant, with a fabulous marble bathroom and British colonial touches, ceiling fans and plantation shutters.) The pool setting along the creek is deceptively relaxing, so we wound up spending much of our time there perfecting our son’s back flip and then flopping onto the sandy beach and splashing in the fresh water.

The casual, poolside Commodore’s Restaurant also overlooks the creek and serves solid food and fun drinks (including slushies for the kids) at the pool, or in air-conditioning. We dined al fresco on a moonlit evening overlooking the docks at the casually elegant Chesapeake Club, with its strong culinary ties to the South: Smithfield ham, fried oysters, buttermilk biscuits, cheese grits (reservations recommended). We skipped the evening formality of the pretty Main Dining Room (jacket required after 5pm) but ate wonderful breakfasts there from an elaborate buffet, seated next to a wall of glass overlooking the water.

Our 11-year-old daughter Maddy and 10-year-old son Jamie said they liked the Crab Net Kids program (for 4 to 12-year-olds, half day, full day and evening sessions for a fee; reserve spots in advance). Perhaps it was the indigenous pursuits such as exploring an oyster bed and catching blue crabs that won them over rather than the typical arts ‘n’ crafts, scavenger hunts and tennis and golf clinics. The evening kids’ program revolved around dinner and s’mores at the fire pit on the sandy beach. We returned to pick them up one evening to find Jamie buried in sand. Cute photo, messy cleanup.

Things to Do or Not Do on Summer Days

Although it was deadly hot, one late August morning Chris slung a small bag of clubs over his shoulder and led Jamie through the complimentary nine-hole, par-three golf course on the resort’s front lawn. While hardly a premier golfing experience, it was fun until Jamie tired in the heat. We all whacked balls around the regulation size croquet court on a back lawn overlooking the creek and then piloted a couple paddleboats (these and canoes are free for guests’ use) on Carters Creek. When the August heat got the better of us, back to the pool …

The View Room off the lobby is a drawing room with games and puzzles and cozy seating areas to curl up with a book and glass of wine or simply get out of the heat and relax (with or without the kids). We joined other guests one Saturday night for a competitive game of bingo, but gave up after a few games when the host kept choosing numbers that weren’t on our cards. Imagine. (A dollar a card, winner takes the pot).

We missed or skipped a few things at the Tides. For some reason, we never connected with the Saturday one-hour, complimentary “Whiskey Run” cruise through the coves that’s on the 127-foot historic Miss Ann, and we missed the complimentary cocktail cruise for adults on Friday evening (5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.) due to our dinner reservation. We passed over the Premier Sailing School on site that teaches individual and group lessons for any proficiency level (ages 6 and up; a family sailing package includes extensive four day instruction).

We chose the quickie nine-hole golf course rather than the Golden Eagle Golf Club‘s championship 18-hole, par 72 course (reportedly tough but beautiful; rates vary depending on time of day). Next time we would like to check out the newly renovated spa with eight treatment rooms… and perhaps the ultimate High Tide Massage, a one-hour private massage aboard a 60-foot yacht cruising Carters Creek (or perhaps not, at $295).

Don’t Miss The Town of Irvington

A short walk or bike ride from the resort is the small main drag of Irvington, with its crepe myrtle-lined block of charming shops, including a kitchen store, home and gift shop, clothing boutique, hip little coffee house and more. Small wrought iron signs pop out of the cute gardens, imprinted with clever witticisms: “It’s not how old you are, but how you are old” and “It is more important to be kind than to be right” and “Think about what your mother said sometimes” (a sentiment we plan to stencil on our kids’ walls).

One evening (without kids) we wandered to the much revered Trick Dog Caf̩ Рjust look for the giant bone on the rooftop Рin the heart of reviving Irvington. This hip restaurant is a slice of Soho in the serene Virginia countryside, minus the attitude. The eclectic food was as good as big city fare, and the sophisticated d̩cor fit comfortably with neighborly friendliness of the staff and regulars.

People we met said they come back year after year to the Tides Inn – and appreciate the recent renovations. Maybe we’ll join them and become part of the Old Friends Club that offers special in-room gifts at check-in, complimentary upgrades and 20% off room rates to those who visit at least three times.

Details, Details

Midweek room rates are especially reasonable and the website offers seasonal specials. Be sure to request a room with a balcony if you’d like – not all have them. Also note that rates do not include the $14/N “resort fee” which covers many of the cruises, use of bikes (helmets and kids seats available), non-motorized watercraft, use of the fitness center, the par-3 golf course, tennis, basketball, swimming and croquet. Reservations can be made through your travel agent or through the resort itself (800/843-3746; www.tidesinn.com).

Some additional travel tips:

• Clubs for the nine-hole course should be in better condition; bring yours if you have them. Tell the kids you pay a fee if you lose the resort’s golf balls.

• One wing of the resort is small-pet friendly and even offers pet-sitters for hire. They bring pet treats at turndown rather than the nifty bottles of locally made Carver’s Ginger Ale (a purported digestive and medicinal aid) that arrive for non-canine guests.

• If your drive takes you through nearby Reedville, stop at the simple Cockrells Creek Seafood & Deli (567 Seaboard Drive, Reedville, VA‎, 804/ 453-6326) for some of Chesapeake Bay’s finest: fried oysters or crab cakes. Grab a dockside picnic table if the “aromatic” breeze stays at bay.

Resort Report Card

Name: The Tides Inn
Address: 480 King Carter Drive
Phone: 804/438-5000, 800/843-3746
Seasonal Rates: $ – $$
Hotel Setting: A-
Hotel Staff: A-
Choice of Activities: B
Quality of Amenities: A-
Bonus: The quaint town of Irvington is just a short walk or bike ride away.
Note: This laid-back, gracious Southern resort that families have flocked to for years is much improved with its recent facelift.

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