Saddle up in luxury at Double JJ Resort Rothbury, Mich. By Cindy Richards

Two young cowboys get ready to saddle up.  

Wow," the kids said as they charged up the stairs to the cabin's loft bedroom. "This is really cool. Wait a minute… Where's the TV?

"Mom," they yelled as they charged back down the stairs, "there's no TV."

Thus began our weekend adventure at the Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Mich. My kids believe themselves to be seriously deprived because we don't have cable or satellite television—just a TV that gets fairly blurry reception via an ancient antenna. Vacation is their time to watch Cartoon Network in cable--ready hotel rooms. So they were a bit shocked to find themselves stranded in a TV--less land.

"We take some flak about that," owner Joan Lipsitz says of the decision not to equip the ranch's Back Forty family cabins with television sets. "But this is not a TV place."

Frankly, I can't imagine how we would have found time to watch television. The kids were far too busy with riding lessons, trail rides, the 150--foot--high water slide (which they braved despite the 60--degree temperatures), horseshoes, stilt walking, hayrides, marshmallow roasts, archery and generally having fun on the 2,000--acre resort.

We didn't even manage to do everything at the ranch. As novice horseback riders, we didn't pay the extra $40 per person to go on the three--hour cattle drive (two guests who did, sat down rather gingerly at breakfast the next morning). We didn't take advantage of the baby--sitting service so my husband and I could go over to the adults--only side of the resort for a night out. We didn't pay $10 a person to have the sled dogs pull us around on a wheeled carriage. And we didn't put our kids in the kids--only program that allows them to spend the morning or afternoon in the care of a counselor. (The 24--hour kids--only programs that allows kids 7 and older to sleep in a tepee or covered wagon while under the care of the counselors was not yet open for the season.)

The Double JJ Resort (pronounced double--j by those of us in the know) was founded in 1937 as an adults--only destination for young singles and couples who wanted to ride horses—the "original Club Med,' jokes Bob Lipsitz. The Lipsitz bought the ranch 15 years ago. They added a championship golf course in 1993 and built the Back Forty family resort in 1998. The original ranch and a conference center hotel remain adults--only except for select days and weeks in the summer when children are allowed there to use the paddle boats, fish in the lake and take advantage of the other amenities. Among the future expansion plans: an indoor water park to attract more off--season guests who come for the horse--drawn sleigh rides, dog sledding, cross--country skiing and other wintertime activities.

It might be called a ranch, but the accommodations are far from rustic. The 40 loft cabins come with a master suite (complete with jacuzzi tub) and a loft with twin beds. A fold--out couch can sleep two more. A small fridge and dining table are included, but unnecessary. Inclusive packages include three large buffet meals a day with an over--the--top brunch on Sunday.

We spent Memorial Day weekend there as guests of the resort. All--inclusive packages, available from May through October, are priced per--person so family members can choose a riding--only or an ultimate package, including access to the golf course. A weekend riding package is $329 for adults, $243 for youths ages 7--17 and $199 for children 6 and under. The weekend "ultimate" package is $412 for adults and $324 for youths (children under 7 are not eligible for the golf package). The Web site,, offers a variety of deals—three nights for the price of two was the Memorial Day special. In addition, the ranch has an RV park with primitive sites as well as electric and full hookup sites. Campers can purchase activity packages. Call 800--DOUBLE JJ for more information about packages.

While there's always plenty to do at the ranch, we snuck away for a couple of hours Saturday so the biggest kid—my husband, Scott—could indulge his love of submarines. A half--hour away in Muskegon, we toured the USS Silversides, a restored World War II submarine. The kids were intrigued for the first 15 minutes or so, but my husband was engrossed for more than an hour.

When he realized a volunteer who did much of the restoration was on site and willing to provide a behind--the--scenes tour, he eagerly accepted. The kids and I retreated to the car to listen to our book on tape.

If you go, cut out of work early on Friday so you can arrive at the Double JJ in time for the rodeo. It starts every Friday at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Chicago time) and it's well worth the trip. Not only did we cringe each time the bulls bucked off their riders and nearly trampled them, we roared when the adults and later the kids were lined up on the field and sent chasing after a calf with a ribbon tied to his tail. The game ended only when a guest had retrieved the ribbon.

After a weekend filled with dawn ‘til dusk activities, my kids admitted (without prodding from me) that the Double JJ is a place where television sets aren't necessary.

"You know," says Tess, 7, "I didn't really miss the TV. There's so much to do here."


Cindy Richards is the associate editor of Chicago Parent.


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