The Greenbrier, West Virginia's Grande Dame

Author: Jeff and Stephanie Sylva

Tags : West Virginia

This historic resort pleases the fussiest family member with the same style it caters to dignitaries and celebrities.

Are kids and a famous, award-winning resort mutually exclusive? Not necessarily. Does a resort that has entertained numerous presidents and dignitaries make a good choice for a family vacation? It can, if the resort is The Greenbrier in West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, and you want to treat yourself and your family to a wonderful stay at one of the finest resorts in the world.

This National Historic Landmark is steeped in history dating back to the building of the Grand Central Hotel (commonly known as The Old White Hotel) in 1858, which housed visitors coming for the “healing waters” of the area’s sulphur springs. As many as 26 presidents and countless royalty, business leaders, politicians and celebrities have been guests and indeed, The Greenbrier has garnered an amazing collection of hospitality awards.

We spent three activity-filled days in the spring of 2007 at The Greenbrier, enjoying hiking a number of trails on the resort’s 6,500 acres, a carriage ride, historical tours of the grounds and the interior, some spa treatments, a presentation of the hotel’s intriguing Cold War bunker, an off-road driving lesson, and plenty of great meals. Because our 19-year-old daughter was off at college, we weren’t able to experience these activities with her; we know that she would have enjoyed most of them.

A Myriad of Outdoor Activities

Many of the outdoor activities, including horseback riding, are geared to adults and older children. If golf is your family’s choice, The Greenbrier offers an afternoon family golf package. From the history of its three courses to the immaculate attention to grooming, this resort takes great pride in its golf facilities. Younger children can enjoy pony rides, the pools and a supervised activities program.

An unusual activity that kids of all ages love is falconry. Yes, this is a bit different than arts ‘n’ crafts, but we saw kids enthralled when these majestic birds actually landed on their glove-protected hands. Beginner and intermediate falconry lessons are available.

Another unique activity for your older ones is the Greenbrier Gun Club, which has four combination trap and skeet fields and a 10-station sporting clay course. We didn’t do any shooting, but we did take a tour of the course through the woods on a golf cart and we very impressed. Children as young as 12 can enroll in the air rifle course, and 15- and 16-year-olds can take private lessons. These are not your routine resort activities, but they do reflect the exclusive nature of The Greenbrier.

Some of the 50 recreational activities available both on the resort and off are the Alpine Climbing Tower, croquet on a professional lawn course, fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, and whitewater rafting, and just plain swimming in the beautiful outdoor pool. Kate’s Mountain Outfitters and Greenbrier Outfitters, both on property, can help you plan these activities.

Indoor Fun Year-round

If the kids like more indoor activities, there are plenty of choices, such as swimming in the historic indoor pool. Adjacent to this pool is the bowling facility, with eight lanes, two billiard tables, table tennis, and electronic games. Complimentary movies are shown each night. There are five indoor tennis courts in addition to the five outdoor ones.

Or for some quieter moments, there is a variety of board games that the family can play together in the Main Lobby.

The supervised activities program, Adventure Zone, has a full day or evening schedule for ages 3-12. In a cooperative effort with Carnegie Hall, West Virginia, the Adventure Zone includes Creative Classrooms, an innovative series of hands-on workshops that help kids understand and appreciate the arts. The program also includes such activities as scavenger hunts, puppet show, games, carriage rides, swimming and bowling.
 
Children may partake of spa treatments designed specifically for teens and ‘tweens, such as the “M.E. 2” treatment for beginning spa-goers ages 6 to 10-years, teen facials, or treatments for the hands and feet such as “Hands Down” and “Footloose.”
 
There are also cooking classes in the culinary arts center with hands-on classes for children as well as adults.
 
Even if the kids don’t enjoy historical tours (we found the ones at Greenbrier to be fascinating), they will be intrigued by the tour of the former US Government Relocation Facility. This 112,000-square-foot bunker was built during the Cold War and was kept secret for 30 years. It was intended for use by Congress in the event of a national emergency. The bunker was reopened to tours in July 2006 after two years of renovations.
 

Noteworthy Style In Décor & Service

In case you haven’t guessed by now, we found The Greenbrier a special place. We were awe-struck the minute we drove onto the long driveway leading up to the hotel’s classic Georgian exterior and meticulously maintained grounds. The hotel’s interior – whose design was inspired by the famous designer Dorothy Draper and continued by her protege Carleton Varney – is a dazzling combination of brilliant florals, well-crafted woodwork, shining marble, and period furnishings that are unexpected because of the stately exterior. We came to love the “Draper influence,” as this unique style gives The Greenbrier its unmatched character.
 
We stayed in one of the many cottages that are spread throughout the grounds. With a large sitting room equipped with a working fireplace (wood burning, not gas) and wet bar, we found it quite easy to unwind after a long day of activity. We especially liked the service of calling for the fire to be ready upon our return after dinner. Don’t let the reference to “cottage” mislead you; these accommodations -- among the 721 guest rooms -- are first-class and perfect for families.
Another first-class touch to the resort is its cuisine. Under the watch of Executive Chef Peter Timmins, one of only 59 certified master chefs in the world, the staff prepares some outstanding culinary delights. The new Hemisphere will only serve special tasting menus of global cuisine paired with wine flights on certain evenings, for a truly gourmet experience. At our visit, we enjoyed meals at the formal main dining room, Tavern Room and Sam Snead’s at the Golf Club.

The Greenbrier's Future?

We admired the $50 million renovation project completed in April 2007, which added even more luster to the resort's facilities and gave it a firm foundation for a long and prosperous future. However, we heard the continuing labor disputes in 2008 by long-time resort staff caused some interruptions in the usually excellent service. And as the troubling economic picture of 2009 emerges, it seems that resort owners CSX Group may be putting the property up for sale. A January 2009 announcement that nearly 50% of the workforce is being let go due to poor occupancy levels left us feeling very sad, though one could say that the staff that remains will be as superb as ever.

So, is The Greenbrier a great family destination? Yes, as long as you understand that this resort continues to offer only the very best vacation experiences with rates suited to its exceptional quality.

 

Note! This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.