Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo – Florida’s Best Rodeo
Westgate River Ranch is somewhere that should be on everyone’s list that is visiting Florida. Brian has lived in Florida for most of his life, and I have lived here for over 20 years. We still have a Florida bucket list because there is so much to see and do. One of the things on our list was to visit Westgate River Ranch. That is until we enjoyed it for ourselves.
What is the attraction? Where do we start? Long before we experienced it, I had heard from others that it was a unique place that had a ton of things to do on-site, one of which is a real live competition rodeo. I had also heard this was one of the best Florida Rodeo’s. If you are not familiar with rodeo, it is essentially a competition of riding a bull or a bucking bronco. The goal of competition riding is to stay on the animal the longest.
I love the traditional elements of Florida. I’m a longtime fan of the south, a lover of cowboys, and an outdoor enthusiast. The mere idea of being on a ranch is exciting to me, much less a ranch that hosts a rodeo in style!
Many people refer to Westgate River Ranch as Westgate Ranch, The Dude Ranch Florida or River Ranch Resort. The official name is Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo, and it’s located east of Lake Wales and south of Kissimmee. Or, if you live in Orlando as we do, it’s about an hour and forty minutes away.
Considered by many to be the best rodeo in Florida, I’d been curious for a long time. Neither of us had been to a rodeo or a ranch, so I started watching for a deal. Before I tell you all about this place, let me clear up some of the obvious concerns that you have likely read elsewhere. Yes, the accommodations are slightly expensive. Not a budget trip if you pay to stay on site. Yes, the standard rooms are in what was once apparently a motel, and yes, the pool is not like resort pools. Based on other reviews, I had low expectations, yet I found this place to be amazing. You could easily spend a week here. Having experienced it myself, I don’t understand what people were expecting – it’s a ranch in the middle of nowhere. But, it is a ranch that is jam-packed with things to do. Just because the name includes “resort” does not mean you should be expecting a ritzy Carlton like a resort. This is a river ranch rodeo resort. Or, if that does not resonate, this is a cowboy joint. The deep south at it’s best.
Westgate River Ranch caters to adults and children alike, which I think is one of its unique draws. It’s nothing like a typical park built for kids with an occasional beer stand. Nor is it a park that is designed just for kids. This place is family orientated but it caters to all and with intention.
Westgate River Ranch is by far one of my favorite places we have stayed at in Florida, and I can’t wait to go back. Now that we have cleared that up, let me get to why I think it’s so fantastic.
Westgate River Ranch Resort Rooms
There are several types of rooms: Lodge rooms and suites, glamping tents, saddle club cabins, saddle rail cars, cottages, cabins, and luxe teepees. Also, you can pitch your tent or bring your RV.
We booked a lodge guest room. No glamping or teepee for us on this trip. They were way out of the affordability range for the dates we chose. I will say that I would splurge on the luxe teepees for a special occasion and I’m seriously considering it for next year.
There was a wedding there while we were visiting, and I immediately started thinking about event possibilities. You could get married, have your birthday party, anniversary and so on. You could host and celebrate any event here with ease.
We talked to many people staying in a luxe teepee or glamping, and they raved about their experience. No one was complaining about the cost; in fact, most said they felt it was reasonably priced. It’s also worth mentioning that everything except food and boat rentals is included if you book the luxe teepee.
I’m going to cover the three most popular accommodations, which are the lodge rooms, the glamping tents, and the luxe teepees.
Overall, while the hotel building is a motel style, all the rooms are entirely renovated tastefully. The beds were comfy, the linens plush, and aside from the exterior ascetics, it is what you would expect from Westgate. Our room was great, no complaints, what so ever.
Images courtesy of Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo
Glamping, also known as luxury camping or glamorous camping, is camping in style! Westgate River Ranches glamorous camping sites are set on platforms in a beautiful wooded area with spacious, fully-furnished, air-conditioned canvas tents.
Images courtesy of Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo
The most expensive of the accommodations at Westgate but also the most inclusive. Luxe teepee guests enjoy a world of unprecedented benefits including a personal Luxe Concierge, all resort activities, VIP rodeo tickets and seating at the Saturday night Rodeo, resort golf cart, morning coffee service, and pastry delivery, and a nightly campfire prepared for your indulgence in s’ mores and fireside story-telling.
Note: Luxe Teepees are available with a 2-night minimum length of stay. Pricing is based upon double occupancy. Extra-person charges will apply. Complimentary stay in Luxe Teepees for children 4 and under. Children 4 and under are included in the occupancy count for each teepee. Each teepee has a maximum occupancy of 4 regardless of age. Pontoon boats are excluded from the all-inclusive activity options.
If you don’t mind roughing it, you can camp on-site with your equipment for as little as $50 a night. Better yet, if you own an RV, bring it and stay in it!
If staying overnight is too costly, I would still recommend you go for the day if you are in Florida. There is still plenty to see and do. Just make sure you go on Saturday so that you can watch the rodeo.
Book A Room At Westgate River Ranch Resort
Westgate River Ranch Resort Timeshare
Some of you may know this; some will not. While anyone can book rooms at Westgate River Ranch Resort, the resort is a part of Westgate Resorts, which is a timeshare system. Do not freak out; you DO NOT NEED to own a timeshare or even take a tour to stay here. The River Ranch does not offer timeshare tours. Either you own a Westgate timeshare and book directly through your system. Or you own a different timeshare resort, and you book via RCI.
If you do not own a timeshare, you book online as you would any hotel – see the search above to reserve!
Owners of Westgate Resorts
If you own a Westgate Resort Timeshare and are staying at Westgate River Ranch Resort here is a list of complimentary items and discounts:
• Complimentary bicycle rentals, fishing poles, petting farm access, pony rides, mini-golf, bounce house, archery, Wi-Fi/local calls, sports equipment rentals (ports balls, tennis racquets, horseshoes, ping-pong equipment) and Fitness Center
• 15% discount at the Westgate Smokehouse Grill, at the Western and General Stores, on Horseback riding, Swamp Buggy Rides, Airboat Rides, Trap & Skeet, and Rodeo Tickets and the Adventure Park pass. Note: Wednesday is Owners Day at the Adventure Park: Owners will receive complimentary day passes with a valid Owners card.
The Rodeo at Westgate River Ranch
The main lure here is the Rodeo, which only happens on a Saturday night. You are nuts if you don’t plan your trip to include a Saturday night to experience the rodeo. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children, and what value for the money. It is a real competition and combines show elements in between the competition. At the halfway point, they let kids chase a calf to grab a piece of string loosely tied on its tail.
It is just silly harmless fun. If you are lucky (and we were), your kids will get to meet a real cowboy that participated in the rodeo.
Following the rodeo, there is a free street party. Line dancing outside the saloon that kids can join in and likewise, an adult version inside the saloon. I’m not an expert, but I can see why people say this is one of the best rodeos in Florida.
The Saloon at Westgate River Ranch
Centrally located, I would say this is the hub of the place. You can eat here, drink here, and it conveniently has a game room attached for kids. Nighttime in here gets kicking with a live band, line dancing, and the typical country atmosphere you imagine from an old-school saloon.
If that’s not your cup of tea, grab your water and head to the porch and enjoy watching everyone outside. Or, if you want peace to retreat to your digs. At night there a fire pit in front of the saloon next to the kids’ adventure park. They do smores and the typical fire storytelling. FYI, drinks are reasonably priced, nothing over the top.
Tip: Don’t forget your cowboy boots and hat.
Essentials You Will Need To Enjoy Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo
There is a kid’s adventure park that includes everything from a zip line, wall climbing to a mechanical bull. It’s not huge, but it is in front of the saloon. Think of enjoying a cold one while watching the rug rats play, and you’ll get the gist. And, it is cheap. I think it was $25 for a day of unlimited or close to. What I liked about the day passes is you can come and go as you like. The highlight of the kids’ adventure park is the mechanical bull and adults can ride too!
Westgate River Ranch has a full-service marina (BYOBoat), or you can rent a boat for $71.50 per hour. They also offer airboat rides for $30 for adults, $20 for children (ages 2-12). There are swamp buggy rides for $30 for adults, $20 for children (ages 2-12).
Don’t like any of the above options? Bring your gear and fish for free.
Lots of people ask does Westgate River Ranch have a pool? The answer is yes; it does have a pool; however, it’s a pool, not a lagoon, and it’s a tad dated by anyone’s standards.
Westgate River Ranch Resort is enormous, 1,700-acres to be specific. You either need to drive or rent a golf cart while on site. Most people rent golf carts. Why? Cause it’s cool…. It costs $60 for one day and $50 per day if you book more than one day. I regret not renting the golf cart. I must have been having a rock-bottom moment. Well, maybe. This trip was also on the heels on an onsite stay at Disney, which cost a fair bit. Perhaps that’s why I did not go all out.
The next time we visit, we are getting the golf cart or staying in the luxe teepee where it’s included.
Horseback Riding – $48.15 per ride, per person.
Petting Farm – Free.
Pony Rides – $8 per child per ride.
Trap or Skeet Shooting – $45 per person.
Archery Range – $10 per person.
Pontoon Boat Rental – $71.50 per hour.
Swamp Buggy and Air Boat Rides – $30.
Golf Course – $32 per 9 holes.
Driving Range – $5 per basket of golf balls and golf club rentals are available.
Bicycle Rentals – $15 per bike plus tax and deposit.
Sports Equipment Rentals – $3-5 rental fee for 24 hours for tennis, basketballs, horseshoes, volleyballs, kick balls, soccer balls, and more.
If you can’t find something to do at Westgate River Ranch, I want to hear from you because we were spoiled with choices!
Note: All activities are subject to availability and many require a reservation. Not all activites are available daily and prices are subject to change. Please call ahead to schedule activities.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the Rodeo? The Rodeo is every Saturday, at 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm.
Does Westgate River Ranch have a pool? Yes, there is a pool.
How far is River Ranch FL from Orlando FL? About an hour and forty-five minutes.
How many acres is Westgate River Ranch? 1,700 acres.
Are dogs allowed at Westgate River Ranch? Yes, you can bring a dog up to 60 lbs for an additional fee of $175 per stay, plus a $100 refundable deposit.
Book A Room At Westgate River Ranch Resort
From what I experienced, this place is not set up to entertain throughout the week. No rodeo and many of the activities are closed. If you are planning to go through the week, you need to verify what is open and what is not.
Once you are on-site, you can let the kids roam free. Outside of the kids’ adventure park, there are animals all over and a free petting farm. You’ll see kids feeding and petting goats all over!
Food was ridiculously cheap in comparison to the cost of the rooms. This made up for the cost as I expected to be paying Disney prices and not even close. All activities are reasonably priced, so overall, while rooms may be slightly pricy, the place is not set up to price gouge you.
We took my nephew (8) and his friend (9) with us. Two months prior, we took the same two children to Disney World for four nights and five days. We stayed at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village with a Savannah view. Guess what these same two kids said? They said that the River Ranch blew away Disney. Maybe it’s the lack of lines, no crowds, or being able to do everything 50 times. I am not sure, but they have been asking to go back. Every time we talk through plans, the River Ranch comes up. Now, if that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.
Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job, how to travel without breaking the bank, hotels, cruising, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com.